New Atheist vs. UU Minister

Here’s an interesting exchange: New Atheist Christopher Hitchens interviewed by UU minister Marilyn Sewell. I found the article via Religion Dispatches, where it was summarized / reviewed by Eric Reitan of Oklahoma State University.

As I think I’ve made clear, I find it frustrating when Hitchens et al claim that fundamentalism is the only “real” religion. Sewell describes herself as a liberal Christian, Hitchens responds “you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.” I don’t know how Hitchens is qualified to judge who is and isn’t a Christian, although from the responses in the comments section of the interview, plenty of fundamentalists agree with him.

Once the interview turns to matters of fact, Hitchens and Sewell are mostly in agreement. That should be no surprise to any UU. What is surprising is how Sewell gets Hitchens to explain his thoughts on the transcendent and the numinous. He says:

I don’t want you to go away with the impression that I’m just a vulgar materialist … I know it’s not enough for us to to eat and so forth. We know how to think. We know how to laugh. We know we’re going to die, which gives us a lot to think about, and we have a need for, what I would call, “the transcendent” or “the numinous” or even “the ecstatic” that comes out in love and music, poetry, and landscape. I wouldn’t trust anyone who didn’t respond to things of that sort.

But when Sewell suggests that might be “a religious impulse,” Hitchens insists “absolutely not.”

I’ll end with a quote from Reitan’s critique – it sums up my own thoughts quite nicely.

When it comes right down to it, the biggest difference between Christopher Hitchens and Marilyn Sewell is not in their substantive views but in the emotive sense they attach to the word “religion.” They both dig through the complex phenomenon that is religion—one searching for the jewels amidst the junk, the other lifting up the garbage and yelling out “See!” But if Sewell should unearth a treasure, Hitchens may be the first of the New Atheists to acknowledge its worth.

He’ll just refuse to call it “religion.”

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