One of the biggest things Manhattan taught me in my seven years living there is that I can learn all kinds of things conversing with atheists about their disbelief in God.
Thankfully, I realized I only impaired my ability to really “hear” them by putting up basic Christian defense mechanisms that, for me, were first developed in early childhood as a missionary kid in the jungles of Ecuador who was taught by missionaries from around the world.
Many of the atheists I met in NYC—and, believe me, there are plenty of them there!—turned out to be thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent people who made it clear they had put a great deal of thought into their convictions.
So, when Jordan informed us in a sermon the other week about a magazine transcript he found on the internet in which world-renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens is interviewed by popular Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell (for Portland Monthly Magazine), I knew I had to read it.
Here’s an excerpt that is truly classic for getting into the mind of Hitchens:
Sewell: In the book you write that, at age nine, you experienced the ignorance of your scripture teacher Mrs. Watts and, then later at 12, your headmaster tried to justify religion as a comfort when facing death. It seems you were an intuitive atheist. But did you ever try religion again?
Hitchens: I belong to what is a significant minority of human beings: Those who are—as Pascal puts it in his Pensées, his great apology for Christianity—“so made that they cannot believe.” As many as 10 percent of is just never can bring themselves to take religion seriously. And since people often defend religion as natural to humans (which I wouldn’t say it wasn’t, by the way), the corollary holds too: there must be respect for those who simply can’t bring themselves to find meaning in phrases like “the Holy Spirit.”
Sewell: Well, could it be that some people are “so made” for faith. And you are so made for the intellectual life?
Hitchens: I don’t have whatever it takes to say things like “the grace of God.” All that’s white noise to me, not because I’m an intellectual. For many people, it’s gibberish. Likewise, the idea that the Koran was dictated by an archaic illiterate is a fantasy. As so far the most highly evolved of the primates, we do seem in the majority to have a tendency to worship, and to look for patterns that lead to supernatural conclusions. Whereas, I think that there is no supernatural dimension whatever. The natural world is quite wonderful enough. The more we know about it, the much more wonderful it is than any supernatural proposition.
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 distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
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.
Regarding this last quote from Hitchens, Jordan reasons, “What a delicious irony that an outspoken atheist grasps the central tenet of Christianity better than many Christians do! What you believe about Jesus Christ really does make a difference. ”
While Hitchens testifies he simply can’t bring himself to find meaning in the term “Holy Spirit,” and to him it’s all “white noise” and “gibberish,” the reality of the Holy Spirit being one-third of the Trinity has absolutely EVERYTHING to do with quality of life on the planet today, protecting even the most hard-core atheists from pure hell on earth.
“When you think about the Holy Spirit being here, there’s a difference between the Holy Spirit being gone and the Body of Christ being gone,” explains Jordan. “The Body of Christ is what the Holy Spirit is forming today and that’s what restrains the prophetic program today. After the Rapture, though, the Holy Spirit will be here forming the Little Flock (of Jewish Believers) and His purpose will not be to restrain the working of ‘the man of sin’ (the Anti-Christ). It will be to equip the Believers in the Little Flock to endure through it. So, it isn’t so much a question of the Holy Spirit’s presence or absence as it is the change in the program.”
As an old song, “The Holy Spirit, Lord, Alone,” sums it up, “The Holy Spirit, Lord, can give the grace we need this hour; and while we wait, O Spirit, come in sanctifying pow’r.”