How Christopher Hitchens Deepened My Faith

Renown Atheist author and thinker Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. A lot of people put in their two cents. Secularists and non-Christians are, expectantly, quite reverent and morose. Some of my seminary friends have said some very poignant comments as they paid their respects. And then we go to Twitter where some supposed Christians are just jerks. If you go to Twitter and search his name, a lot of things will come back very respectful. And then it seems whenever someone is disrespectful, you can click on their profile where they adamantly quote the Bible and claim to be a “Christ-follower”.

There was this one by a guy named James MacDonald.

Famous atheist Christopher Hitchens who mocked when Jerry Falwell died had an eye opening experience yesterday- he died #notlaughingnow

He later defended his tweet calling Hitchens’ death “righteous vindication by God”.

These kinds of asinine comments are made when someone has never dared to go outside of their comfort zone and have their views challenged. It’s likely that people who think like this have never read a single thing that Hitchens ever wrote. And I don’t mean to pick on this guy in particular. But there were countless tweets like this, this was just the first one I found.

Hitchens put God under the microscope. The religion of certainty, extremism and arrogance that has seeped into mainstream society was called out. Hitchens defiantly refused to believe in such a God.

Hitchens helped me gain defiance against that view of God too. I first read God is Not Great during my sophomore year at Concordia when I was trying to figure out what the heck it meant to believe or not to believe. I knew the faith of the Falwells and Pat Robertsons of the world was hollow and empty to me.

Reading Hitchens presented to me a road toward faith that’s paved in doubt. Even though we did not come to the same conclusions, I’m thankful for Christopher Hitchens because in the sea of purpose-driven-whatever, he critiqued common assumptions about God and religion and really propelled me to wrestle with a lot of things I hold central to what I believe.


Being a Christian Has Nothing to Do with Behavior

For so many years, the mainline church has had a very simple pattern for welcoming people into their community. The first step someone had to do is behave. The right morality could get you in the door. The next thing they had to do was believe the correct doctrine. So once the behavior was intact, the belief could surely follow. Then, once both your behavior and your beliefs were lined up, you (officially or otherwise) belonged to the community. This was the model of church for so long.

Old model of church: Behave ==> Believe ==> Belong

As a new generation of Christians emerge, they are crying false on this system of “welcome”. A new pattern is emerging, intentionally in some places and unintentionally in others. This new pattern wipes the behavior component out entirely. You could credit a heightened awareness and emphasis on privacy to this, or maybe it’s that behavior connotates a certain subjectivity. What behaving is one place, is not behaving in others. These lines aren’t black and white for everyone, but merge into an amorphous area of grey.

I think this new model of church actually starts with belonging. The emphasis now is creating communities where everyone feels welcome and like they can contribute to the greater goal of whichever community they choose to invest their time in. Once someone establishes a sense of belonging in the community, then the move is toward belief. This doesn’t imply that everyone in the church must believe exactly the same thing about every little thing. But there are some certain foundations that guide communities. It’s a good thing.

After the belief comes a new level in the chain of welcome — becoming. In 2 Corinthians Paul writes that “if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation.” The ongoing creation of God transforms us as we become members of the body of Christ. We are new creation. I’ve purposely left out the article in the verse because when we say “there is a new creation”, it can get tempting to see everyone running around as their own separate, individual creations — and that’s not Paul’s point.

The apostle Paul is getting at the idea that when we experience community together, we are participating in the new creation of God. This is what it looks like in the new model of church.

Belong ==> Believe ==> Become

This is the way forward if the church is going to be anything more than the behavior police. We need to get away from dictating morality and, as a community, living into our communal life as new creation.


The Anatomy of a Tantrum Cartoon

I was checking Facebook this morning and found a wonderful cartoon that perfectly describes what I was talking about in yesterday’s post. Check it out! [Thanks to my friend Greg Bolt for posting it]


The Anatomy of a Tantrum

This past weekend, we had a Christmas party for the youth at the church I work at. Lots of food, games, ugly Christmas sweater contests, Christmas songs, a White Elephant gift exchange… All the makings of a wonderful party. And it really was a great time. But there was something I noticed in the wake of the White Elephant gift exchange. People were pissed. Like go-in-the-corner-and-pout, throw-things-at-other-people-because-they-got-the-present-that-I-wanted pissed. This said something loud and clear to me.

We’ve completely lost what Christmas means. And this is NOT going to be a “he’s the reason for the season” post because God knows we have enough of that [stuff] around. If we didn’t happen to live in a country where Christianity was normative for so long, we’d be celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter solstice or any other of the many holidays that are celebrated worldwide.

So when we hear all of this Fox News “War on Christmas”, how-dare-anyone-wish-me-happy-holidays [stuff] going on in the adult realm of things, it’s not hard to see where these kids get it. Not indicting any particular kid or parent, just painting in broad strokes here. But it’s basic psychology that kids pattern behavior off the adults they witness. So when kids are literally beating each other because they didn’t get what they wanted out of a gift exchange at church, it has to make you wonder if we’ve lost our way completely.

SO… in place of entitlement and belligerence this holiday season, I’m proposing something a little different. Humility and gratitude. Christmas is a time when God goes so entirely outside of the box and, in such a game-changing act of humility, would dare to become human in order to suffer with us. This took place long ago and still has power to impact anyone, regardless of nationality or birthplace.

The most important thing to remember, nobody is “taking the Christ out of Christmas” for antagonistic or malicious reasons. They’re merely mentioning other December celebrations as a way of including everyone in the festivities.

And that’s okay.


[The ideas for this post were prompted by my own reflection on my experience this past Friday, while also coming across a great post from Rachel Held Evans. Check it out for a slightly different approach to what I’m talking about here]

4 (of many) Things Wrong with Rick Perry’s Abysmal Ad

Within the last week, Rick Perry has managed to stir up a lot of controversy with a new ad he has released declaring war on Obama’s war on religion. There are a number of things wrong with Perry’s ad, and I am here to point out a few of them. Just so we’re on the same page Here’s a full text of the ad, just to catch people up. (I’m posting the text of the ad because I refuse to post a video link of that garbage on this site.)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.

As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.

Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.

I’m Rick Perry and I approve this message.

Here we go.

1) We need to stop declaring wars on emotions and concepts. Obama doesn’t have a war on religion. He’s the Muslim with the controversial United Church of Christ pastor, remember? That’s like doubly religious. Wars have real enemies. The wars on religion, drugs, terror etc are insane because their target is amorphous. In my opinion, wars are the last thing Perry will ever look to end. Which brings us to…

2) There’s something wrong in this country when gays CAN’T serve openly in the military. The object of someone’s sexual desire does not hinder their ability to serve and protect this country. It’s like saying all left-handed can’t serve in the military (not a perfect metaphor, but close). In the end, when you’re in battle, it just does not matter who the other person goes home to at night.

3) Your kids can pray in schools all they want. This whole thing about how kids can’t pray in school is absurd. Of course they can. The law you are thinking of simply states that teachers are not allowed to lead the class in prayers. Which is fine, and do you know why? Because…

4) This whole thing is about respect. You know what doesn’t contribute to the overall respect for people? When a candidate who is supposed to be a leader, spouts a philosophy of “us vs. them” politics which fundamentally divides. As someone who is going to be a pastor, I whole-heartedly agree that faith can make us strong. But faith that is belligerent in the face of such blatant disrespect makes us all weaker.

So Mr. Perry, Governor Perry… do us all a favor and leave. Ride off into the night. Tuck your tail between your legs and get out of public discourse. Because what you’re saying is not good for anyone. Much less Christians.


Also… how funny is it that he’s wearing the same jacket as Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain”? You can’t make it up.

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