A lovely tribute and comment on Christopher Hitchens is to be found at the Huffington Post, written by the Revd. James Martin, S.J. “Someone asked me this morning what I hoped for Christopher Hitchens, the fierce atheist who died after an agonizing bout with esophogeal cancer, and my first response was to say that I hope he's pleasantly surprised,” he writes. Do read the whole comment, it is so thoughtful and respectful. And indeed Martin’s words are a far cry from the rant from Richard Dawkins – that I frankly found quite unnecessary and opportunistic – especially doubtful behavior from someone who counted himself as a close friend of Hitchens. Dawkins yesterday on Twitter said: Christopher Hitchens, finest orator of our time…valiant fighter against all tyrants including God.” God a tyrant? Not in my religion Richard. Cheap point scoring I call that.
Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, by contrast said that to those who knew him well, Hitchens “was a gift from, dare I say, God.” You certainly may dare to say that, Graydon!
I can accept that Hitchens was a great man in many ways, although like the Revd James Martin I could not agree with his atheist views. Best selling author he certainly was with his book God is not Great, and his memoirs that he wrote up to his dying day, to be published next year, will no doubt also be a huge best seller. But I firmly believe that the best selling atheists of our time are misguided in their efforts to evangelize their own particular brand of religion: and they are ill advised in their fundamentalist campaign to quash other religions. They call for the abolition of those religions on the flawed assumption that such are the cause of most if not all our wars and violent episodes. They say that only by abolishing religion will violence and war be eliminated, will there be any chance of a better future for us all.
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once wrote that excuses abound for war and violence without any need for religion. And far from religion losing its bite, there is a move back to the wisdoms of the sacred texts of all the great religions, to recognizing that they can have relevance again in today’s world. It is certainly true that these religions also need to change, to be more true to their original teachings, to become more relevant for the lives we now lead, and to help us live those lives true to our faith and our ancient and spiritual values. But the reality is that healing our world depends now more than ever before on at least supporting the religions and faith groups, not knocking them.
So to atheists everywhere I say - you do not have to believe in God – that is your choice. But please leave the religions alone. Please respect where we are coming from and don’t feel you have to join a crusade of abuse, a quest for the abolition of religion. Because such a crusade could prove as deadly and costly to mankind as the original crusades you so vehemently criticize.
My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.
"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden