Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Hitchens: UUs 'don't give me enough to disagree with.'
At last we know what Christopher Hitchens, the latest dogmatic crusader against religion, thinks of Unitarian Universalism. Hitchens discusses Unitarians in an interview on the Atlantic Monthly's website:
[Jennie Rothenberg Gritz:] One complaint you've gotten a lot is that you lump all religious people together, throwing the moderates in with the extremists. What's your opinion on Unitarians, for instance?
[Christopher Hitchens:] They say Unitarians believe in one God maximum. And they do produce the Jefferson Bible. They keep it in print. Good.
I once read that only six percent of Unitarians consider God to be their primary religious motivation. Most of them are more focused on social justice and community service.
I've spoken at Unitarian churches very often. It seems to me, again, that they don't give me enough to disagree with. But as for lumping them in, I'll say this. Have you read Camus's La Peste? At the end, the plague is over, the nightmare has dissipated, the city has returned to health. Normality has resumed. But he ends by saying that underneath the city, in the pipes and in the sewers, the rats were still there. And they'd one day send their vermin up again to die on the streets of a free city.
That's how I feel about religion. Thanks to advances of science, education, political tolerance, pluralism and so on, religion can now be one option among many—who cares who's a Unitarian or who's a Congregationalist? But in the texts, the actual texts, there is always this toxin that's ready to be revived. What I say is, "Do you believe this stuff or don't you?" In other words, "In what respect are you different from a humanist?" The authority of the texts is always on the side of the extremists, because they do say what they say. So be aware of this danger. That's all I'm arguing.
Weirdly, Hitchens then goes on to berate Reform Jews and Unitarians — two openly liberal, modernist religious movements — for conscientiously revising their traditions while attempting to maintain some connection to their traditions. Why is this weird? Because he says that his family holds "a rather vestigial Passover seder so our daughter knows what the tradition is." And he wants kids to be familiar with the King James Version of the Bible. (But then how will he keep the rats in the sewer?) He favors religious literacy of a sort — and yet he's steadfastly oblivious to the academic disciplines of religious studies that could help him understand why and how people are religious beyond slavish devotion to dogma and he dismisses all forms of liberal theology before even acquainting himself with it.
Of course, it's always worth keeping in mind that Hitchens's definition of religion is grotesquely limited to one that a particularly obnoxious fundamentalist Protestant might hold: "Religion is saying that you know the mind of God and you want to obey His revealed commandments, on pain of losing your soul, at least," Hitchens says. "People who really live their lives in fear of that — God-fearing, as they used to say — I can respect. [Although they're bonkers!] People who are somewhere between Unitarianism and Reform Judaism — it just seems weak-minded to me."
("Transcending God," Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, Atlantic Unbound 7.12.07)
Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 17 July 2007 at 6:08 PM