Eric Reitan writes at Religion Dispatches’ (A)theologies:
Not long ago, Christopher Hitchens—pugilistic author of God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything—sat down for an interview with retired Unitarian minister (and self-professed “liberal Christian”) Marilyn Sewell. It wasn’t the usual sort of conversation that Hitchens has with “believers,” since his preferred sparring partners tend to be religious conservatives and apologists for fundamentalism (such as Douglas Wilson).
Not surprisingly, early in the interview Hitchens was quick to announce who was a real Christian and who wasn’t, and to insinuate that Sewell fell into the latter camp; a comment that has inspired more than a few raised eyebrows among religious progressives.
But it’s easy to let Hitchens’ arrogance on this matter obscure some broader themes—and some surprising concessions on Hitchens’ part—that emerged in the course of the interview.
One of these themes has to do with just how much Hitchens and Sewell have in common. They agree that nonbelievers are just as capable as believers of acting morally. They agree that much wickedness has been done in the name of God. They share an aversion to claims at odds with science and reason. But what struck me the most as I read the interview was that they even shared an appreciation for “the transcendent” and “the numinous”: terms that Hitchens himself introduced into the conversation.
It wasn’t simply Hitchens’ invocation of these terms that caught my attention as I read the interview. After all, Hitchens has used them interchangeably before, especially the term “numinous” (coined by the Christian theologian Rudolph Otto as a name for the essential core of religious experience).
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