An interview with Christopher Hitchens, which aired earlier this week on Jian Ghomeshi’s show Q on CBC Radio One, caught my ear.
Hitchins likes to place himself at the forefront of a new wave of angry atheists with others, such as Richard Dawkins. A couple of years ago, he sought to solidify this position with the publication of his book, God Is Not Great.
Today “Religion serves only the self-satisfied and the conceited,” according to Hitchens. Its origins harken back “to a period of prehistory when nobody—not even the mighty Democritus—had the faintest clue what was going on and God was needed not just as an explanation, but as an instrument of social repression ....”
Hitchens just wants to be left alone, he said.
“But this, religion is ultimately incapable of doing,” Hitchens argued. He sees the 85 per cent of the world’s population who hold some form of deistic belief as “in their different ways, planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon.
“Religion poisons everything,” he claims, emphatically.
From al-Qaida’s proclamations and the ongoing religion-tinged violence in many quarters of the Middle East to the recently released 2,600-page report of a nine-year investigation by Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, which detailed the victimization of children in church-run facilities, critics clearly have more points for furthering a damaging case against religion.
Are they enough?
Can the secularization they hold dear and its post-modernistic philosophical counterpart, deconstructionism, which places its faith wholly in concrete experience and scientific thinking, rather than abstract ideas, idealized goals or theological visions, build a just, sustainable world?
Will they successfully thwart any attempt “to produce a history, or a truth” that seeks to do so?
There is certainly no question that similar arguments can be made against religion here in the Yukon.
The residential school experience harmed many. On April 29th a delegation of Canadian First Nations and church leaders met Pope Benedict XVI in Rome seeking closure to this sad chapter in Canadian and church history.
“Many good and decent men and women of faith were tainted and reviled because of the evil acts of some,” noted Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine in his presentation to the Pope. “Hundreds of years of goodwill and hard work by courageous and committed missionaries were undermined by the misguided policy Catholic priests and nuns found themselves enforcing.
“The reputation of the Catholic Church was impoverished.”
Father Tim Coonen, the former pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Dawson City was a member of the delegation.
“The national chief’s comments on the harm done to church groups by the legacy of the schools are certainly true,” wrote Coonen in an Oblate letter.
“All parties need healing, forgiveness and reconciliation to move forward in faith and hope toward a new beginning.”
The Assembly of First Nations is calling on Canadians to participate in a National Day of Reconciliation on June 11, the first anniversary of Canada’s apology for its policies of assimilation. I hear that an event is scheduled at the Front Street Park in Mayo at 11 a.m. on June 13 to mark this occasion.
Last Friday, Father Pierre Rigaud enjoyed his 89th birthday. For well over 60 years Rigaud selflessly served Yukon communities, such as Faro and Haines Junction.
This Saturday at 2 p.m. people will gather at Christ Church Anglican Cathedral in Whitehorse to pray for and remember the late Reverend Arthur Privett.
There, along with his three sons and one daughter their spouses and children and grandchildren, the community will have an opportunity to celebrate another long life of service inspired by strong spiritual beliefs.
The lives of both of these men and those of many other Yukoners, living and dead, provide a sharp rebuttal to Hitchen’s limited notion of the role of religion in society.
In a world facing dramatic, some say desperate, challenges, we need not only the solace religion can provide, but also the faith to motivate us to act despite the overwhelming odds apparently stacked against us.
Saturday, June 6—According to Dr. Martin L. King Jr., Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican leader “was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny.” He died in 1940. Rastafarians regard him as a religious prophet.
Sunday, June 7—Trinity Sunday honors a central Christian belief in one God with a threefold nature. A suggested reading is Matthew 28: 16-20.
Sunday, June 7—Pentecost Sunday is celebrated by Orthodox Christians.
Thursday, June 11—Corpus Christi first celebrated in 1264, recalls the institution of the Blessed Sacrament for Catholics.
Friday, June 12—Medgar Evers, US civil rights activist, was assassinated in 1964.