Christopher Hitchens, a prominent atheist, has written a book entitled "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," which covers great breadth and depth as it looks at major religions through history. Hitchens criticizes religion, and his criticisms are accurate. All too often, religion has been a destructive force. People have perpetrated cruelties on each other, all in the name of their religions.
In "The Gift," Hafiz, the Sufi poet, says, "The great religions are the ships; poets the lifeboats. Every sane person I know has jumped overboard." So Hitchens is not alone in his contempt for religion.
Nevertheless, religion fills a great human need. At their finest, people, in the name of God, act in loving and courageous ways, which can be so surprising to themselves that they are convinced that only that which is beyond their human abilities is at work.
In the New Testament, in his famous passage on love in First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul claims, "Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." When Jesus of Nazareth calls Nathanael to himself in John's Gospel, Nathanael asks, "Where did you get to know me?" That Jesus claims to have seen him before they met convinces Nathanael, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"
People in all religions experience the deep sense of being known. It is called the unitive experience; the mystic connection. Because of this, they are able to realize feats outside the range of their everyday capabilities.
The unitive experience meets a deep need. Some people say there is a God-shaped hole in us that only God can fill. When that happens, we begin to live differently. We realize that we are kin with the entire world. Our English word, "kind" is an illustration. To be kind is to know that we are kin.
Hitchens does feel connected to other rational thinkers. That provides the sense of community for him. But those communities do not seem centered on ways in which they can reach out to help those who need it. There may be a sense of kin, but doesn't seem to lead the individual or the community to kindness.
So, although Hitchens has been able to delineate the failures of religion, he does so without understanding that, at heart, people are connected to God, and through God, to each other.
The Rev. Dorothy Price Knudson, is retired from active ministry in the Presbyterian Church, but preaches regularly at Congregational and Presbyterian churches in the Eastern Oregon Presbytery. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.