RIP “Hitch”

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return. —Luke 6.37,38This past December while spending the holidays with my extended family, many of whom are current or retired university professors and teachers, the online responses of many Christians to the death of Christopher Hitchens on December 15, 2011, were painfully brought to my attention. The one that takes the cake though was Bryan Fischer’s. Fischer gained notoriety among many in 2004 when he founded the Keep the Commandments Coalition, whose purpose was to work to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments in Julia Davis Park in Boise, Idaho. I want to be careful not to disparage Fischer here. Each of us is coming from our own set of dysfunctions and life tragedies. And we must not forget that God gave up all for Fischer, which says to me that, in God’s eyes, Fischer (and Hitch too) are of inestimable worth. However, Fischer’s public response to Hitch’s death is a classic example of the spirit I wish to address in this week’s eSight. If you can stomach it, you can find Fischer’s comments on YouTube, but the line that has gotten so much publicity is, “If Hitchens is in Hell right now, he’s there because God loves him.” The question I was asked by my family was, “How does eternally tormenting someone for not believing in your existence and standing up for the abuse of people in the name of religion a byproduct of being loved by some Supreme Being?”

I have to admit that I too was severely saddened. I believe that, if any are lost at last, it will be because God honors their freedom of choice. No loving God would find any joy in someone being forced to be with him. However, as I shared with my family, I do not share a belief in Christianity’s traditional definition of Hell. I do not think it’s a secret that at RHM we hold the belief that if any are lost in the end, we find more evidence in the scriptures that suggests these will simply be “as if they never were” (Obadiah 1:16) rather than the Middle Ages idea of eternal torment. (See the presentation Love’s Eternal Flame on our website for more information on this.) But this is a tangent.

What I want to focus our attention on this week is the spirit in which Christianity ? praise God for the few exceptions ? is currently responding to its “enemies.” Take a quick look at Jesus’ words in the sixth chapter of Luke:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return (Luke 6.37,38; it would be good to read the entire chapter).

What Jesus is saying is that, regardless of the manner in which you relate to others, they will respond to you in kind. Turn Jesus’ words around and look at what He is actually saying. If you are judgmental, others will be judgmental of YOU! If you possess a spirit of condemnation toward those who are not like you, they will also condemn YOU! If you feel that you are morally superior to them, they will respond by feeling that they are intellectually superior to YOU! Whatever you set in motion toward others will come back on YOURSELF! As I look at the overview of history since Jesus ? and I will be the first to admit that this may be a tad oversimplified ? Christianity has not always followed the teachings of Jesus. We carry His name, but our actions don’t resemble His, especially when it comes to those who do not believe what we do.

I think that Voltaire’s famous statement in his critique of Christianity is applicable here: “Of all religions, Christianity is without a doubt the one that should inspire tolerance most, although, up to now, the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.”

What I want you to consider this week is the following questions:

Could the philosophies of our day ? the naturalistic worldview, the neo-atheism, the evolutionary philosophy that rejects even a hint at any intelligent design, post-modern secularism ? could these possibly exist because of our own embracing of an inaccurate picture of God and portraying that to the world through our failure to follow Jesus’ teachings on love in the way that we relate to others? The church of the Middle Ages was so antithetical to the God that Jesus revealed that, today, all of these philosophies, in my estimation, are simply the backlash, the response of honest people who want to have nothing to do with a god who is the kind of person that Christian history has portrayed Him to be. Some of you may be saying, “Ok, fine, but that was those Catholics back then. We are Protestants!” But are we, as American Protestants, innocent? Are we really that different? Haven’t we, too, embraced a very different picture of God, for the most part, as American Christians than what, in my opinion, Jesus actually taught? Are we, too, in our own way, failing to embrace the picture of God that Jesus came to reveal? Are we, too, failing to relate to those who believe differently from us with the same radical, self sacrificial, other centered love that Jesus died to teach us?

When I read Hitch’s work, yes, I see the hostility and anger, the controversial bluntness, but I also see someone who was wounded just like the rest of us. What I also notice is that many of the reasons for which Hitch rejected a belief in God were the very misplaced values that Jesus Himself also opposed, and Jesus was God. This makes me stop and simply say that there is a possibility that Hitch was closer to the Kingdom in some of his opinions and thinking than many of us are willing to admit. If what Jesus taught has any bearing, then we, too, have a moral responsibility to oppose the tyrannical representation of God, but I will add that our opposition must be done in the way that Jesus taught us. We must overcome evil with good, violence with love, anger with peace. It may take God a millennium to help Hitch sort out the difference between the religious abuses of this earth’s history and the truth about His character of love, but in the end, everyone, Hitch included, will be faced with one decision and one decision only. Do they want to live not a life of religion but a life of love (Ephesians 5:1,2)? When all the ugliness has been stripped away, when God and His beauty are actually seen, we may be surprised by whom we actually spend eternity as neighbors to.

During this new year, may we strive to love more like Jesus.

“Therefore mimic God, as children who are loved, and live the life of love . . .” (Ephesians 5:1,2)

Happy New Year to each of you!

Keep building the Kingdom.

I love you guys,

Herb