Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Hitch Remembered

Christopher Hitchens was a unique man of immense intellect. All one needs to do is type his name into YouTube and tune into one of the dozens of videos to get a sample of his incredible command of language, his rational approach to any debate, and his wit. Hitchens achieved his greatest fame when he tackled the issue of religion, and it was not until the last five years or so of his life that he became a real household name. As one of his contemporaries describes, Hitchens hated dictators and he gradually progressed in his writing towards the greatest controlling dictator of them all: God. It was his book God is Not Great that really brought him into the limelight, probably due to the negative reaction of so many religious people. But, as they say of The Hitch, love him or hate him, you could not ignore him. Sadly, Hitchens passed away last December.

Martin Amis was by all accounts Christopher's closest friend. Just hearing each of them describe their friendship makes one envious of the strength of their relationship. The following video clip is Martin Amis giving the eulogy at a Christopher Hitchens memorial, in which he attempts to unearth why Hitchens was so beloved by so many. With his characteristic dry humour, Amis recounts a few tales of this four-decade long friendship with Hitchens: 

The previous evening, Charlie Rose spends an hour interviewing four of Hitchens' friends, writers Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, James Fenton, and Martin Amis. These are the men who knew Hitchens the best. Some of them knew him since he was a young man at Oxford. Though this clip is an hour long, it is a very good window into the character of "The Hitch", it is also very funny at times, and of course sad when they discuss his eventual death. Well worth watching and remembering what the world lost when The Hitch passed on:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Questioning your Faith Part I

Are you a Christian?

If you are, the first question you should probably ask yourself is why you find yourself on this blog. Why are you reading a blog about atheism, written by someone who used to be a Christian? Is there something about your religious faith that nags at your subconscious? Or perhaps your doubts are more obvious to you. Perhaps you have started to have serious questions about your religious beliefs. Either way, maybe you have doubts, and maybe you are wondering...what next?

I thought I would aim my writing towards those who consider themselves Christians or religious but who may be wondering about their religion or their God. Does God really exist? Are there really people who don't believe in Him? Am I alone in having doubts about the religion I have believed for so long?

Firstly, if you don't have any interest in questioning your religion, then there is probably no point in reading any further. Questions, whether big or small, are the key to understanding your religion in a new light. If you still believe that God exists and you have a personal relationship with Him, if it makes you angry when people deny His existence, then these writings are unlikely to be of interest to you. But, if you've ever wondered whether it is OK to question God's existence, please read on.

I've written earlier on my blog about the time when I started to question my religion and my belief in God. It can be a frightening propostition to question the existence of God. You fear what He might think if you question Him and if you wonder if He even exists. You worry where it might lead. What questions might come next. Put aside your fear. If God exists, surely he would want followers who do ask difficult questions. Surely he would want you to ask every difficult question, even the ones that seem to have no answer. Surely your loving Heavenly Father isn't going to strike you down in anger just because you question His existence. On the other hand, if God does not exist, then that is a question you really, really need to ask. The stakes are very high, there is the rest of your life to you want to take the chance that you will waste the one life you'll ever have by believing in something that doesn't exist? After all, hundreds of millions of people from other religions do just that, don't they? What makes you right and them wrong?

Christianity doesn't like difficult questions. Some Christians even teach that questioning God is the Devil's work. See, that's the trick of it all. If you have been taught your whole life that you shouldn't question something, and have fear put into you of what might happen if you do, then you're going to stay in line. Just ask anyone who lived in the Soviet Union. Never question the authority. Just keep your head down and believe, right? No. Put your fears aside and question. Ask yourself the really difficult questions that might have been nagging at you.

If God exists and loves everyone, why did tens of thousands of children die painfully from hunger this week? Is it really all part of his loving plan for humanity? Is it really the result of original sin that entered the world through one man and one woman, and it's just too bad that all those children are suffering as a result? Or is it just the painful and sorry reality of the world we live in, without a God?

If God exists, why has He never once really shown himself to you? Oh sure, you've "felt" his presence from time to time, but there's never been anything conclusive, has there? He's never appeared to you in the same way as another human being does. You've never heard his voice as clearly as you hear the radio out loud, have you? It's always just a feeling that you have that He wants you to do something or to live a certain way. Why?

If God exists, then why is there not a single documented case ever of an amputee being healed by Him? Sure, there are lots of wonderful miracle stories of invisible diseases like cancer being cured, but it's never the obviously visible ones that God tackles. Why? Does he really have a problem with amputees? Or is he really trying to keep himself that hidden, so that only those who really, really, really seek Him will find Him? Or, is it more likely that there are no miracles at all, and that sometimes people are cured of diseases for unexplained reasons but that incurable things like amputations do not happen without explanation?

If God exists, then why were there relgions around before the Abrahamic religions of the Bible? Wouldn't He want His one true religion to be the first documented one? Yet it is not. There were religions in the Americas before the time of Christ. Did Satan really mislead all those tens of millions of Native Americans before they had a chance to even hear the Gospel? Why not just leave them alone and let them have no religion at all? Doesn't make any sense, does it?

If God exists, then why did most human beings in history die young, painful deaths? Before science discovered the incredible finds of modern medicine, you'd be lucky to make it to 35 years of age. Many, if not most, children died in infancy or childhood. Doesn't that sound a bit of a cruel way for a loving God to set up the world? Is all that death really fair punishment just because one man and one woman once ate the wrong piece of fruit?

Why are there so many "paradoxes" (i.e. contradictions) in the Bible? Anyone who has gone to Sunday School must have noticed them. First God tells people to not eat certain foods and to be circumcized, then he says it doesn't matter after all. First God tells you that he is all-loving, but then he lashes out in anger all the time at innocent people and animals. Then there are all the things in the Bible that contradict known facts in our world. In the creation story, why was time divided into day and night before the creation of the sun? A global flood at the time of Noah is physically impossible. There is no way to cover the earth with water to a height of the highest mountains on earth (roughly 30,000 feet). There is not enough water on earth for that too happen. Where did it all go afterwards? Et cetera, et cetera. All of these contradictions can be explained away if you want. Most Christians will find a way to reconcile the Biblical contradictions with their belief in God...but that's not why you are here. You already raised these questions yourself, didn't you? So, why are there so many contradictions in the one book handed to humanity from an all-wise, all-knowing God?

Perhaps the hardest part of questioning one's faith is not wondering about these few questions I've raised. The harder part is accepting that it is OK to question. It is very hard to set aside one's fear of what is going to happen if you question your faith. What happens if you lose your faith? Won't you go to hell?

It is time to ask yourself to answer a question very honestly. If there was no such thing as an afterlife, would you still stick with your religion? If Christianity ended when you die, and you just ceased to exist like a plant does when it dies, would you still be a Christian for the rest of your life? What would be the point? Sure, you might like to think that life would have more meaning being in a relationship with God, and following his lead in your life, but be honest, would you really stick with it? If not, then consider what you are really saying is that you are only a Christian because of fear of Hell. Time to set that irrational fear aside and ask yourself some more questions.