I can’t say it is very often (if at all in the past) that I would find myself saying “Amen” to something that Christopher Hitchens, the author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, would say.  In an interview between atheist Hitchens and Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell he says something I can wholeheartedly agree with:

Maryiln Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and [sic] distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Christopher Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Yes there is a distinction, and no people who reject what Hitchens brings up really can’t call themselves a Christian.

Amen and amen.

HT: Melinda Penner st Stand to Reason

30 comments
  1. I have noted that Jesus Himself separates out those nations who are not interested in helping the poor and the sick and otherwise marginalized people in society as not being His followers (Matthew 25). According to polls 70% of white American “Christians” do not want our nation to follow His teachings in this respect. If you take away the designation Christian from those who want to follow Him but have a metaphorical understanding of theology as well as those who don’t want to do what He taught, there are very few of us left who should call ourselves “Christian”.

    1. @Roger Fast, Roger, thanks for misinterpreting Matthew 25 to mean governments taking care of the poor and the sick. It’s talking about individuals, not nation-states. Not mention you are making a big assumption that all Americans are Christians. Also, many people who are against government run health care are extremely charitable, and the church has done more in this regard than any other group. We just feel it should stay that way. Governments don’t do charity very well.

  2. I assume you are being sarcastic when you “thank” me for what you think is a misinterpretation of Matthew 25. You probably can translate the word “nations” to mean “peoples”, but I don’t think any translations say “individuals”. But even if it does mean individuals, in the US we vote as individuals and we can vote (indirectly) to help the poor and uninsured or we can vote as individuals against it. I know that political ideologies, both conservative and liberal, carry moral convictions as strong as religious convictions, but I don’t think that we should label our particular political belief as “Christian” just because we believe it so strongly. As a lifelong follower of Jesus, I have become leery of using the label Christian anymore because for some it stands for a political view rather than a view inspired by Jesus.

    1. @Roger Fast, Yes I was being sarcastic. Nations will be gathered, people will be judged, (Matthew 25:32). He will separate people one from another, (v.32).

      Nations do not get separated one from another… people do. By the way, this particular post for me had nothing to do with politics. I have no problem with a Christian believing that the government should health care. I do have a problem with blanket statements saying that those who don’t feel the same aren’t acting as Christians.

      Like I said, God requires us to show mercy and compassion; to love the least, the last and the lost.

      What did Hitchens say, “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

      Ultimately it is about the Gospel.

  3. Hitchens is, in his own way, a stand up guy. He wrote a very complimentary article recently about his experiences debating Christians around the country. Basically he said he was treated respectfully and that Christians were a lively, thoughtful, and intellectually engaging bunch even if he disagrees with them. He has far more respect for Christians than he does liberals, who he finds mostly fascist and hypocritical, like the woman mentioned above.

  4. I’ve often told people that Bishop John Shelby Spong was a religious leader for atheists.
    Hitchens is entirely correct.

  5. “Yes there is a distinction, and no people who reject what Hitchens brings up really can’t call themselves a Christian. Amen and amen” (Shane)

    Ok, someone needs to talk some actual sense here…second time I have come across more conservative Christians supporting what Hitchens has said – with basically no back up for their point whatsoever.

    I am here to put Hitchens, and Christianity of the stripe that would applaud this man for his ‘comment’ (which I think is absolutely ignorant).

    “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian” (Hitchens)

    (a) The woman never denied the claim of Jesus being messiah. However, if we are going to discuss a term like ‘messiah’ with any shred of honesty within the very sphere of Christianity then let’s do just that and see who comes out with the correct label based on ‘facts’ and ‘integrity’.

    Let it be strongly noted that Hitchens only says ‘believes Jesus to be the Christ and Messiah’…that brilliant scholar did not even recognize they are the exact same term (first off). He does not say Jesus as messiah is equal to God…which actually is consistent with the idea of messiah from Judaism – even during Jesus’ time. So Hitchens is not asking more than a simple belief in the messianic idea.

    (b) To me the resurrection is key to the ideas of the faith – it really is our hope as Paul once put it. However, it should be noted Paul followed a Pharisee interpretation of the faith (and so did Jesus it would seem)…they believed in the resurrection. The resurrection was not actually believed by the Saducee’s (who ran the temple) and various other sects in Judaism. However, the resurrection is now believed by Judiasm (in general – some still question it) and a mainstay in Christianity. I think the idea is key, but I can also accept someone that may not believe it to be true (but still see’s meaning in it).

    (c) Atonement is a relatively newer concept in the biblical stories. Jesus never taught on the actual idea – none of the earliest gospels record such an idea (Matt/Mark/Luke)…and Paul, not an apostle of the original Jesus crew (since he did not know Jesus during his fleshly life), seems to have developed this idea only to small pieces of a doctrine. Acts does mention some of it but I think we all know Hebrews (a letter with questionable repute) is where the doctrine actually comes from.

    And yet atonement is a mainstay in Christian tradition, the washing of our sins away with the blood of a ‘man-god’. It can be obviously ascertained certain Christian communities of the earliest writers did not follow such a concept (like the writers of some these letters and books)…and are we going to dispute if they went to ‘heaven’ or ‘were Christian’? We probably won’t second guess people like James, Jesus’ actual brother, who writes nothing on such an idea…nor Mark (who people believed wrote for Peter). Think about it.

    (d) Finally, Hitchens determines the person is “not in any meaningful sense a Christian”. How can Hitchens make a detrmination in an arena he is admittedly not a scholar in…theology and the cross comparison study of scripture (from Torah, to Writings, to Prophets, to Gospels, to Letters). It would be an absolute joke to let that man determine what constitutes and does not constitute being a Christian…because I think if Hitchens had has way – no one would be an actual Christian…and we’re gonna pay him some homage in this case…it just seems weak.

    So there ya go, some things matter and some don’t…and we need to be able to start opening out minds and hearts to accepting more people into this faith and stop trying to determine who is and isn’t in the ‘in crowd’…at the end of the day that is not anyone’s call to make.
    .-= Societyvs´s last blog ..You May Not Always Get What U Need… =-.

  6. Avast ye scallywag! Thar be something sickening that ye would side with an outsider against those who are in yer own flock. Sickening even to a swashbuckling pirate. Loyalty be something rare in pirate circles but ye got to have some of it, ye cannot be stabbing maties in the back all the time.

    That’s what I see ye be doing here with this post, stabbing fellow maties on Christ’s poop deck in the back.

    ” I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

    Under this definition then, Mark, Matthew, Luke, Acts, and James the brother of Jesus are all not Christian as there is not a word of substitutionary atonement or divinity in these books. Looking at the history of Christian theology, ye will see at least 14 atonement models, all biblical. The metaphorical resurrection I too have trouble with, but if “Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:40). Hitchens is against us, yet ye go after those in the Lord’s flock? Does not the Holy Writ tell us to “contend for the faith” keep oneself “in the mercy of God” and “have mercy on those who are erring?” (Jude v3, 21, 22-23).
    .-= DreadPirateScetis´s last blog ..On Pirates and Corsairs =-.

  7. “I was just agreeing with his particular comment. Don’t interpret that to mean support for Hitchens.” (Shane)

    I get it – but in a way it is some sort of tacit agreement on his version of what Christianity is to be determined as. For some reason, having that person decide what is and isn’t a Christian seems foolhardy for some reason.

    So I figured I would answer at least some of the comments back that tacitly agree with Hitchens definition of what a Christian is…I just felt something within the direction the comments were going was ‘unfair’.
    .-= Societyvs´s last blog ..You May Not Always Get What U Need… =-.

  8. According to Hitchens, mark me down as not a Christian. What a convoluted, random definition. Although, as a former fundie and conservative for 59 years, most of my former Christian associates would not now consider me a Christiian.

  9. “It’s the crux of the Gospel. So how could it be convoluted and random?” (Shane)

    Which parts are the ‘crux’ of the gospel exactly and why? The resurrection I won’t even debate – I think it is the actual crux thing mentioned in that whole sentence. The rest, as in terminology, is really up for some serious debate as to how and what they mean.

    As for the gospel (which you mentioned) – which one is this the crux of? There are at least 2 seperate categories of gospels – the synoptics and John’s. Within the synoptics only 80% is shared by each (which is a lot) – making Matt/Mark/Luke also somewhat unique. I would contend the message from within the synoptics doesn’t change much (as we all know) – but John is really quite different.

    Your biblical text for the gospels comes from John – which we can prove quite easily has a totally different message than the synoptics (via cross comparison of the 2 gospel categories). So, in essence, for you John must define the synoptics and not vice versa (since you pulled your verse for the gospel from that book).

    Statistically, 3 books (synoptics) contain 80% of the same stuff – which to me makes them the strongest case for the best and most accurate story on Jesus (my studied opinion…even Acts backs up most of their story). John, a gospel unto itself, contains maybe 20% of what the synoptics do, is written about 125 AD (last gospel), and introduces new terms into the Christian imagination is the strongest case for solid Christianity? I would love to see a debate on that issue alone.

    I guess what I am getting at is – cut out figurines of Christians from children’s books is not how we make Christians – we are not all going to be in the exact same mold…in fact our canon of 27 books and letters (which vary in content) assured that.
    .-= Societyvs´s last blog ..Free Will…is Freeing! =-.

  10. Just a quick correction. Marilyn Sewell is not a Unitarian. She is a Unitarian Universalist. Around 1960 the American Unitarians and Universalists joined to form the Unitarian Universalist church. Around 2005 a group of Unitarian Universalists broke off from the UU church and formed the American Unitarian Conference. A lot of members got fed up with the mixing of politics and religion. UU priests were using the pulpit to preach leftist politics, and the congregations were becoming highly politicized. The new Unitarians wanted to get back to their true Unitarian roots.

    True Unitarianism is the belief in a single God, that does not accept the Trinity. Unitarianism holds Jesus as a great moral teacher, but not the living embodiment of God. Unitarianism doesn’t generally accept the ideas of original sin and atonement. Unitarians generally believe that living virtuously means more than does believing a specific creed.

    Unitarianism has a strong tradition in America. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams can properly be called Unitarians, although the formal Unitarian church didn’t form until after their time. In the time of Jefferson and Adams, American Christianity was predominantly Unitarian. Jefferson believed that America would eventually become a Unitarian nation. Both Jefferson and Adams would be revolted by Marilyn Sewell’s UU church.

    I live in Portland Oregon and I’ve seen their church. It is an ugly old, dingy grey concrete thing, about two or three stories in height in the middle of downtown Portland. When the fighting during the Iraq war was going on, they hung a giant sign on the top outside wall protesting the war. The sign was bright orange with white lettering. The whole thing looked both bizarre and cheesy at the same time.

    America is essentially a Deist nation. A lot of our values are Christian, so we are more Unitarian in character than anything else. We commonly acknowledge God in matters of state, but we don’t acknowledge the divinity of Jesus in matters of state.

    But I’m getting away from my point….

    Let’s not confuse the Unitarian Universalists with the Unitarians, please. The Unitarians have a noble history in America, and should be respected. I’m glad to see that the American Unitarian Conference has broken away from the radical leftists of the Unitarian Universalist church, and are returning to the spiritual traditions of Jefferson, Adams, and Lincoln.
    .-= Scott´s last blog ..36th cause for impeachment added to The Big List =-.

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