Hitchens’ Challenge

Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.

A challenge for any reader, the new-agey types as well as the Christians. Do leave comments with your answers.

Its logical flaw is that if the non-believer cannot make the ethical statement, then he cannot recognise its value. So the non-believer will challenge that value, because he cannot make the statement, and that does not mean that the ethical statement has no value. The non-believer cannot declare the challenge met, apart from by becoming a believer.

My counter-challenge for atheists is, can you see beyond the stupid rules on homosexuality, etc, and find value in religion? Are religious people merely fools and self-deceivers, so afraid of death that we imagine an afterlife beyond it, which has the added advantage of punishing our enemies? Billions of us. Again, comment.

I have sufficient respect for atheists to blanch at Hitchens’ challenge. An atheist funeral can acknowledge the grief and celebrate the ended life.

It does not have the “sure and certain hope” of the Anglican funeral, but then the conscious “I” I identify with, with the unconscious and autonomic drives and promptings below it, can hardly conceive of an afterlife. An atheist wedding can acknowledge the celebration, commitment and love. Atheists can come together and build community: my karate club has as much fellowship as some churches.

An atheist can formulate moral ways of behaving without stupid rules that the religious fall into, whether outmoded like avoiding pork, or wicked like condemning homosexuality. An atheist may be cosmopolitan, accepting that there are no out groups or enemies, just people with different aims with whom we may find common ground, where religious folk often see the outsider as the enemy.

I distinguish rules-based from mystic religion. Much of the harm of the “Christian Right” comes from the legalist, rules-based Christians. My mysticism centres on trying to be open to reality, and to challenge my own perceptions, to leap into the truth I cannot express in words. Atheists can perceive paradox, but religions have produced koans and the sort of productive contradiction of “whoever is not against you is for you” and “whoever is not with me is against me”, endlessly confronting their believers with paradox.

Even the kind of Christian who boycotts JC Penney because it uses a gay woman in its advertising knows the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, and could retell them with a high degree of accuracy. They are exposed daily to the command to love others as themselves. We have the stories of Jesus, so perplexing and challenging. Oh, come see, we have something so beautiful!

2 thoughts on “Hitchens’ Challenge

  1. Hi Clare

    Have you ever gone to a Sacred Harp singing? There is something there for the believer and the non believer. I enjoy your writings and the accompanying art work. All the best.


    On Wed, Jan 2, 2013 at 6:07 AM, Clare Flourish


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