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The party will go on without you February 26, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Religion.
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In a recent debate between Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Rabbi David Wolpe and Rabbi Bradley Artson on the topic “Is there an afterlife?”,  the rabbis repeatedly played the “sophisticated theology” card: when faced with a rational challenge to the core doctrines of your religion — doctrines that millions of people really believe and are motivated by (that the Bible stories are true, that the dead will be resurrected, etc.) — you accuse your opponent of caricaturing faith and ignoring religious “nuance.” Apparently, no prophet or sage ever meant anything literally: it’s all metaphor and allegory and peace and love. The unsophisticated masses have hijacked the true religion and misunderstood the true nature of God!

After one such move by Artson, Hitchens remarked that this is why he never tires of debating religious people: you never know what they’ll say next.

This evening we’ve already had your suggestion that God is only really a guru — a friend when you’re in need. I mean, he wouldn’t do anything like bugger around with Job to prove a point. Which, if I now tell you that must mean that that book is not the word of God, you’d say: Well, who ever believed that it was the word of God? Let me just tell you something: For hundreds and thousands of years, this kind of discussion would have been in most places impossible to have, or Sam and I would have been having it at the risk of our lives. Religion now comes to us in this smiling-face, ingratiating way, because it’s had to give so much ground, and because we know so much more. But you’ve no right to forget the way it behaved when it was strong, and when it really did believe that it had God on its side.

Earlier, Hitchens reflected on what religion is actually offering when it promises eternal life:

It will happen to all of us, that at some point you get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on — but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you. That’s the reflection that I think most upsets people about their demise. All right, then, because it might make us feel better, let’s pretend the opposite. Instead, you’ll get tapped on the shoulder and told, Great news: this party’s going on forever — and you can’t leave. You’ve got to stay; the boss says so. And he also insists that you have a good time.

Artson