One of the problems with Christianity is that Christians are so exclusivist. Christians think they have the only true way. Why can’t Christians be like the nice inclusivist Buddhists? You would never hear the Dalai Lama make an exclusivist claim!
“Liberation in which ‘a mind that understands the sphere of reality annihilates all defilements in the sphere of reality’ is a state that only Buddhists can accomplish. This kind of moksha or nirvana is only explained in the Buddhist scriptures, and is achieved only through Buddhist practice.” – Dalai Lama
While western religions are normally the target of the harshest criticism, Christopher Hitchens shows he is an equal opportunity critic with his chapter “There is No ‘Eastern” Solution.” As stated before, I am in no position to provide a detailed response as this is not my area. But I have few thoughts. I do appreciate that Hitchens has exploded the myth that Buddhists are the only religion that never causes problems and that Buddhists are always well behaved. Still, Hitchens has not demonstrated that eastern religions are bad in general or that his description holds to the majority. All he has shown is that he can find some bad examples, something no one should be surprised at.
In “Religion as an Original Sin,” Hitchens seems to try and pull together some of the things he hates about religion but does not fit any where else. However, what Hitchens presents does not fit together. Hitchens criticizes religions such as Christianity that set too high of a standard. At the same time he speaks against the Christian doctrine of atonement whereby Jesus pays the price for the standard we can’t attain. Hitchens can’t have it both ways.
Hitchens makes his most outrageous claim in “Is Religion Child Abuse?” I was shocked at the weakness of his arguments. He gives examples of religious teaching that seems to manipulate children to shape their worldview. I am assuming that Hitchens would have no problems using the same techniques to develop a humanist worldview in children. Some of the new atheists have actually adopted Christian style techniques to turn their children into stronger humanists. He also gives examples of religious teachers that have gone over the top with gruesome descriptions of hell and damnation. This is a pretty small portion of religious education and something I have never encountered. Strangely he gives circumcision as a form of religious child abuse. I, like everyone else I know, condemn the practice of female circumcision. Again this is very rare in comparison to religious families in the world. As for male circumcision, in my generation it was the norm, and I have never known a friend who is tormented by the loss of his foreskin. Hitchens concludes with one of religion’s greatest crimes: criticism of masturbation. He spends a fair amount of time on this. While perhaps some traditions have been interested in this subject, after twenty years in evangelical churches, I have never heard messages against this. It really is a non-issue.
On a positive note, I liked what Hitchens had to say about abortion. He has a surprisingly pro-life view, or at least a view of the fetus as a human being.
One of the problems with conservative Christians is that they are intolerant of other religions. The religious right insists that their beliefs are correct and all the other religions are wrong. In our pluralistic society, that is unacceptable. This makes Christianity dangerous and creates some anger on the part of Christianity’s critics.
It is true that conservative Christianity (unlike some liberals) believes that Christianity is the truth and that other religions cannot bring someone to salvation or right relationship with God. We hold to the words of Jesus: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) Salvation is only found through faith in Christ.
But is that really a reason for people to be angry with Christians? First of all, Christianity is most definitely not the only exclusivist religion. Jews believe that they and only they are the chosen people. Muslims believe that salvation is only found in the affirmation of Allah as the one God and Muhammad as his prophet. Buddhists believe that enlightenment comes specifically through the teachings of the Buddha, such as the Eightfold Path. Hindus have too wide of a belief system for me to summarize here. Even the Baha’i, who claim to be the most inclusivist, as they include parts of the other world religions, have their own form of exclusivism. If I walked up to a devote Jew or Muslim and said “Hey, our religions are really just the same,” that would not be tolerant, it would be offensive to them. We are not doing other religions any favors by reducing everything to the lowest common denominator. We are actually being more respectful toward other religions when we allow each of us to retain our exclusive claims to the truth.
There is something else that needs to be said. When Christians say that Jesus is the only way, it is not because we hate people who are different from us and want to insist that everyone is like us. We begin with the conviction that faith in Jesus is the only way and the natural result is conversations with people of other religions. We want Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus to come to Christ, not because we hate them, but because we love them! You may disagree with our starting point, but I hope you can respect what we do with it. I know I respect people such as Muslims or Jehovah’s Witnesses who share their life with me. If they knew something I needed, I would want to hear it. If you knew some information that life or death consequences for someone, what would you do? Would you keep it to yourself because you would not want to impose your beliefs? Or would you pass on the information so as to allow the person the choice to accept or reject the information? That is where conservative Christians are coming from when it comes to sharing our faith with people of other religions.