Wishing Death or Wishing Life
A recent article in Time Magazine speaks of a well known writer’s crusade against anything religious. Here’s how it starts:
Christopher Hitchens once devoted an entire book to portraying Mother Teresa as a phony, so perhaps Billy Graham got off easy when Hitchens described him, in a recent C-Span appearance, as "a self-conscious fraud," who didn't believe a word of what he preached, but was just in business for the money. The celebrated atheist, whose latest polemic, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, is firmly entrenched on the bestseller list, also called Graham a power-worshiping bigot who made a living by "going around spouting lies to young people. What a horrible career. I gather it's soon to be over. I certainly hope so." (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1662757,00.html)
I’ve only read parts of Hitchens’ latest book, so I can’t speak fully to his argument, but I do know that he thinks religion is the cause of most of the horrors in the world. In some ways, he may be right. Most thinking people are pretty horrified at the toll that religious wars have caused. There is just something about the nature of our religious beliefs that often leads to extreme intolerance and even hatred and violence. No question that it is disturbing.
I also know the other side: the enormous amount of good that has been done in the name of religion. Here, Christianity leads the pack. I have no clue how many hungry have been fed, naked clothed, prisoners visited, immigrants welcomes and sheltered, or hospitals built and maintained in the name of Jesus because people know that God’s call on them is to relieve suffering wherever they find it.
Now, are good things done by those who have no religious beliefs? Of course. But the argument holds the other way as well. Horrible things are done by people who have no religious belief.
I wonder sometimes if Hitchens is raging not so much against religion but against the power of the human soul to do evil. There’s certainly plenty of evidence to support that contention. What fascinates me about the quote above is that Hitchens’ freely wishes death upon another person, i.e., Billy Graham. He himself in that statement is guilty of just as much evil as anyone else who has wished death upon another person, whether that person is doing it in the name of religion or some other cause. Like most of us, however, it looks like Hitchens has a well-developed ability to stay blind to his own shortcomings while feeling very, very free to point out anything he doesn’t like in others. And to feel free to wish something upon others that I’m betting he doesn’t what to happen to himself.
John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, spent his life seeking to be a true Christian. He knew that such a goal meant much more than saying words that brought eternal salvation. He knew there must also be a component that actively sought to do powerful and transformative good in the world around him. He was not afraid to examine those parts of his soul that might wish death upon another person and then to actively repent and learn to give life instead. Sometimes that is a very difficult process. It means an active and sometimes personally painful choice to love those who differ violently from us. It means doing what Jesus did—going to the cross for others by saying, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do,” in the midst of our own suffering.
I ache for the Christopher Hitchens’ of the world, for those people whose only exposure to religious thinking has been that of hatred and intolerance and rigidity and an inability to be graceful. How sad that those called Christians have failed to live out our call to love one another as Jesus loves us. Unfortunately, I’m betting that these words from Hitchens that were quoted in the Time Magazine article will lead to more hatred poured out upon him by those acting in the name of Jesus. That would only vindicate him. Surely God’s heart breaks when we refuse to love, no matter how painful it is. It’s time to change this pattern once and for all and learn to give life, not death. That is the way of Jesus.