Andrew Sullivan continues to post transcribed portions of a conversation he had with Christopher Hitchens at Hitch’s dining room table several years ago. The conversation is fascinating and, though I admire Sullivan in many ways, Hitchens is clearly getting the best of it. This passage really jumped out at me:
H: One can’t be neutral about religion. One can’t just say it’s wrong — one has to say it’s a wicked thing to desire. I mean, why would anyone want it to be true that one was subject to permanent round-the-clock supervision, surveillance, and possibly even intervention, all of one’s waking and sleeping life? And one couldn’t escape it by dying.
It’s worse than any kind of totalitarianism; it means you’re absolutely held as property, that you have no autonomy, that you throw yourself permanently on the mercy of somebody. That is the description of the servile condition; that’s why both Islam and Christianity were both perfectly adapted, and still are in many ways, to feudalism or absolute monarchy, which of course is one of feudalism’s counterparts.
I think this is exactly right. Nor do I find the least bit comforting the notion that God is in control of what happens to us. When someone suggests that something good happened to me (or them, or someone else) because God willed it to happen, or that something bad was avoided because God chose not to put me (or someone else) through such an ordeal, I find that horrifying rather than consoling. Because if that is true, then the same is true for every other person on earth. That means God is literally choosing to make Bill Gates rich while causing a child in Darfur to die of starvation, or someone in Cambodia to step on an old land mine and be torn limb from limb. It means we are the playthings of a deity who deliberately inflicts cruelty.
We would not accept such behavior from any human. If someone raised dogs and decided that one of them will be loved and fed while another will be fed into a wood chipper and a third would be thrown under a moving bus, not a soul would consider that person anything but cruel and barbaric. Yet they somehow find the notion of a God doing exactly that with every human that has ever lived to be a source of comfort rather than disgust. It baffles me.
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