FRIDAY, FEB. 10:

Dear Sir,

When I learned that Ken Ham, that Pied Piper of fundamentalist Creationism had recently journeyed to Bermuda to lead the credulous by their noses into the seventh circle of irrationality, I reflected upon how much I will miss the cantankerous, bloody-minded polemics of Christopher Hitchens, New Atheist, slaughterer of sacred cows and bane of the Christian world.

Before succumbing to cancer this past December, Hitchens spent the last few years of his storied career in letters attacking religion and admonishing a post-9/11 world to stamp it out entirely.

He claimed he was not even so much an atheist as an anti-theist.

Sky fairy

As much as I disagreed with Hitchens, I always enjoyed reading and listening to him. When God handed out gifts he surely presented Christopher with a golden quill.

His enormous personality was always present in his writing. He could pontificate on virtually any topic with great style and erudition.

When it came to Christianity, in particular, no one could malign the Good, the True and the Beautiful with such primal elegance.
Hitchens lambasted Christians for their belief in a ‘sky fairy’ for whom there is no evidence, and asserted that the onward progress of science had driven this mythological “divine North Korean dictator” out of the universe.

As soon as scientists poked their heads into the heavens, this repulsive chap had thankfully vanished in a puff of rhetoric.

But Hitchens was always tilting at windmills in his quest to banish God, because his exiled anthropomorphic deity is not what classical theism understands ‘God’ to be.

The creator of the universe is separate and distinct from the universe.

We do not look for God in the same way that we search the solar system for planets, or audit reports for evidence of Government misspending.

Thomas Aquinas made the correct distinction when he recognized that God is not simply the greatest being among many, but rather God is the sheer act of Being itself (‘to be’).

God is the reason that there is something rather than nothing at all; God is the reason why there is a chain of cause and effect; God is not the most true, the most just and most good of all beings — he is Truth, Justice and Goodness.

In other words, everything that exists finds the ultimate reason for its being in God.

That is whom classical theists are referring to when we say ‘God’. Not some finite Zeus-like figure, but the prima causa.

It is from this starting point of a God grounded in Aristotelian reason that classical theists begin to grapple with the truths of Christian revelation.

The Trinity, for example, is a concept formulated by reason, derived from revealed truths, which are accepted on faith.

There is thus a deeply intertwined relationship between faith and reason which is intrinsic to the practice of theology.

Mistaken

Followers of the early Church Fathers thus have no quarrel with science but can instead rejoice in exploring a vast universe that owes its intelligibility by rational minds to the prima causa.

Unfortunately, a large portion of Bermuda’s religious population remains mired in Biblical fundamentalism.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC) began as a reactionary response to 19th century modernism, which rejected the Bible because Genesis appeared to conflict with modern science.

Modernists made the error of reading the Genesis account of creation like a scientific textbook, with no consideration of genre or attempt to discern the author’s intention behind the text.

The deep and tragic error of YEC is that they adopted the same modernist method of reading Scripture. In doing so, they broke with 2,000 years of scholarly Biblical understandings of genre, exegesis and hermeneutics.

YEC is the preferred target of the New Atheists because it is so clearly anti-scientific.

There is, however, such a thing as an intellectually-responsible Young Earth Creationist.

He/she is the person who acknowledges that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of an old universe, but is prepared to hold out hope that one day science will vindicate their modernist reading of the Biblical text.

I think they are mistaken but I certainly empathize with and respect their desire for fidelity to Scripture. What I cannot abide are the Ken Hams of the world who peddle falsehoods about the scientific ‘evidence’ for a young Earth and rely on claims of diabolical conspiracies to explain away all conflicting evidence.

Innocent, decent, God-loving Christians without a scientific background are being deceived by people who know or ought to know better.

Humanity truly lives in the best of all possible worlds, a universe that is drenched in the supernatural and yet discoverable by reason.

We can accept the reality of objective moral values and the natural law; of sin and salvation; of miracles and Resurrection, all without surrendering our rational minds.

Christianity is a robustly intellectual tradition, the product of a God who called us to love Him with all of our minds.

Which leads me back to Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens’ thought exhibited deep moral convictions even to the point of moralizing about what is right and wrong.  

Sadly, at times he disgraced himself by demonstrating a willingness to practice shoddy journalism to achieve a desired moral end.  

For example, any critical reader of his poisonous tract, The Missionary Position, can easily discern that his grandiose condemnations of Mother Theresa were based on the slimmest of evidence, motivated by what he believed to be a righteous moral crusade against the Roman Catholic Church.

On the other hand, I am not willing to stand by silently and let people wantonly condemn Christopher while making excuses for the snake-oil salesmanship of a certain spokesperson for Young Earth Creationism.

I know that many of my fellow believers think they can confidently pronounce judgment upon the fate of Hitchens’ soul.  

Struggle

He certainly was very public not just in his denial of God’s existence, but his contempt for the morality taught by Jesus of Nazareth.  

But it is worth remembering that only God is qualified to know the deepest contents of a person’s heart.  

A heart that though perhaps tragically estranged and misaligned, in at least his desire to champion the rights and liberties of humankind often appeared connected to the Just.

For that reason, I nurture the hope that beneath the fiery rhetoric of the self-proclaimed anti-theist was, in fact, a deeply spiritual man locked in a titanic personal struggle with God.  

A fellow traveller whose presence I will dearly miss and whose soul we now entrust to the perfect Justice of a Good, Loving and Merciful Father.

Stephen Notman
Paget