Note: I don’t actually know any way to get this letter to Mr. Hitchens, and I have no idea how he’d respond if he read it. But I think some of the following needs to be said…and maybe someone who needs to will read it.
Dear Mr. Hitchens,
I’m a Christian, and I’d like to apologize to you.
I heard the NPR interview with you and your brother Peter yesterday, and I understand that Christians are coming out of the woodwork to let you know they’re praying for you, and to make a last-ditch effort to save your soul before the cancer gets you. I wonder if you must be feeling like the vultures are circling, waiting to take a bite out of your carcass–although in your case the disquieting reality is that those buzzards want their bite of you BEFORE you die. I wouldn’t be too pleased with that either. I regret the harrassment you’re getting in the name of my God.
You have expressed before, and expressed again in the interview, some pretty harsh objections to Christianity. Strange as it may seem, I think your criticisms have at times been spot-on. You said that you found the notion of a human sacrifice vicariously atoning for your sin to be morally offensive, and I agree completely. The funny thing is, if I’m reading my Bible at all correctly, God would agree too. The penal-substitution so loudly proclaimed by most Christians is a complex theory that does not hold up to serious scrutiny of the source from which they claim to derive it–that is the Bible–and I regret you’ve been sold such a bill of goods, that you believe that teaching to be integral to faith in God.
You also have pointed out on repeated occasions, the horrors that have been done throughout history in the name of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Again I agree with you, and the way I read my Bible, I believe God would agree with you too. The Inquisition and the Crusades, and right up to the wars of Bush, have at least partial roots in Christian institutions, and they were wrong and evil.
Of course I do think you’re making a category mistake by concluding those acts are the necessary outgrowth of religion. Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung also commited horrible atrocities–right up there in awfulness with the Christian ones–and they did it in the name of Communism. I would submit that a careful comparison of these guys with the writing of Karl Marx makes it patently obvious that what they did had nothing to do with Marxism, and that an equally-careful comparison of the medieval popes’ and crusaders’ and Bush’s actions with the Bible would lead to the identical conclusion: in fact public Christianity has just about as much in common with the Jesus of the Bible, as the Soviet Union, the Khmer Rouge, and Communist China have with Marx and his Manifesto. So I would submit to you that applying your journalistic chops to a comparison/contrast of the sacred texts of either group would be in order. Nevertheless, you have been sold a bill of goods by a violent, hateful mob claiming the mantle of Christ, and I regret the mischaracterization of Jesus has left you so repulsed by him.
I’m not trying to convert you, Mr. Hitchens. I know my powers of reasoning aren’t that stunning, and furthermore, though reason can inform faith, I don’t believe it can compel it. Frankly, I do not know, were you to confront the reality of Jesus instead of the bad counterfeit that’s been shoved in your face all these years, whether you’d like the real thing any better. I only dare you to have a serious look at the Jesus the Gospels actually portray, without all the baggage Christians have loaded onto him–baggage which I say again, you have rightly rejected.
I hope you will indulge me if I say that I do pray you’ll find peace–not only in an eternal sense (to the extent you may or may not feel you need it), but in the very earthly sense that the vultures will let you spend your last days, or months, or years unassaulted. In this, perhaps, the real Jesus might intervene…for what it’s worth, I’ll ask him.