A few days ago the ever provocative Atheist Missionary made the following observation:
“I think Hitchens was right: Christianity posits ‘a celestial North Korea’.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I like TAM. Among other things, he has long been a great support for my books and blog and I appreciate it. But that doesn’t mean he can get a free pass to say dumb things. And this is pretty dumb. In fact, I find comments like this to be indicative of the general denigration of civil discourse in the open society as they forgo careful, measured attempts to understand the other in favor of inflammatory equivalencies.
Of course it does no good to respond in kind. The better approach is to take a deep breath and then carefully deconstruct the rhetoric. So let’s take that higher road. And to do that we should start by getting Hitchens’ claim in view. While he made the equation between theism and a totalitarian state on many occasions, I’ve included a representative example here:
So Hitchens says here that belief in God is a “totalitarian” belief, a “wish to be a slave”. It is “the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengable, tyrannical authority”, one that subjects you to “total surveillance”. It is a “celestial North Korea.”
But let’s think carefully about the actual claims of Christianity for a moment. It posits not a “tyrannical authority” but rather an omnipotent divine mind of supreme love and benevolence that created and sustains all things. The problem seems to come in with the fact that God, as morally perfect, will see ultimately that his own perfect justice is satisfied as those who commit wicked acts are punished. This is clearly distressing to Hitchens.
But if the claim is that God is omnibenevolent and perfectly just, why should that bother anybody? I am reminded of another character, admittedly not perfect and certainly not divine, but one who still knows if you’ve been naughty or nice and who sees the scales of reward and punishment met accordingly. And that means that Hitchens sounds rather like a petulant child calling out to all the bad apples in the world to raise a revolt against … Santa Claus!
“Belief in Santa Claus is a totalitarian belief! It is the wish to be a slave! It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengable, tyrannical authority that subjects you to total surveillance. He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice my fellow children, and goodness knows we’ve been naughty! Rise up children, cast the elf off the shelf, throw the lump of coal back, refuse to live in a Christmasy North Korea!”