Ever since professional provocateur Christopher Hitchens published God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything he has become the patron saint of 21st century atheism. But is Hitchens really an atheist? Here at LivingHour.org we’ve always suspected no; that Hitchen’s diatribes were directed toward simply the literal sects of religion and those who anthropomorphize God as an old man in the clouds, living in a gated community with pearly gates.
Hitchens is currently starring in the new documentary Collision, with Pastor Douglas Wilson. Unfortunately, like most ‘religious’ experts who battle Hitchens, Wilson tries to out-intellectualize the Vanity Fair writer, fails miserably, and ultimately the whole debate devolves into two peacocks pruning. To promote their new movie, Hitchens and Wilson published opposing articles in today’s Huffington Post. Hitchen’s post is titled Religion Is Absurd, while Wilson’s counterpoint is elegantly titled Atheists Suck at Being Atheists.
In Hitchen’s article, the ‘atheist’ finally lets it slip that he is indeed not an atheist. He writes:
The great cultural question before us is therefore this: can we manage to preserve what is numinous and transcendent and ecstatic without giving any more room to the superstitious and the supernatural.
Numinous? Transcendant? Ecstatic? Let’s quickly run down what these terms mean. Numinous: describes the presence or power of a divinity. Transcendent: beyond and outside the ordinary range of human experience or understanding. Ecstatic: a feeling of great rapture, often used to describe a religious experience. These are all terms not commonly associated with atheism, but rather the Spiritual But Not Religious, which we suspected Hitchens of being all along (and whether he comes out and admits it or not).
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The old saying “there is nothing common about common sense” has never rung so true as it does today. We live in a course and relativist age where the noble drive for fairness and balance has been misdirected toward conflating opinions with facts, and where common sense lies buried beneath a rubble of truthiness. That being the case, it might be a good idea to return to the writer of Common Sense, Thomas Paine, for a little refresher on reasonable thinking.
Wrongly accused of atheism by the orthodox Christians of his time (and, later on, a strident Teddy Roosevelt), Thomas Paine is among the many American figures who form the bedrock upon which currenthas its house. With regards to an afterlife, Paine held the reasonable position that we can hope for happiness after this life but shouldn’t presume to guess what lies in store for us:
I consider myself in the hands of my Creator and that He will dispose of me after this life consistent with His justice and goodness. I leave all these matters to Him, as my Creator and friend and I hold it presumptuous to make an article of faith as to what the Creator will do with us hereafter.
It was by leaving the afterlife to God, and the dead to bury their dead1, that Thomas Paine was able to follow Christ, carrying the kingdom of God within himself, to fulfill the living hour of his time.
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- To another man Jesus said: “Follow me.” “Let me first go and bury my father,” said the man. But Jesus said: “Leave the dead to bury their dead; but go yourself and carry far and wide the gospel of the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:59-60 [↩]