Crises of Faith and Vitriolic Reversals

Christopher Hitchens has been accused of earning atheism a bad name. Like believers, atheists come in all shapes and sizes. It would indeed be unfortunate if some with a penchant for publishing are making their attacks too personal. Conflict does sells books, newspapers and movies because people are drawn to conflict in all its forms: professional sports, soap operas, wars. 

Dinesh D’Souza, author of a book entitled The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, is not someone with whom I’d expect to agree on much. In Mother Theresa’s Dark Night of the Soul, D’Souza misses the point that so many Christians have a crisis of faith precisely because all the evidence points away from a God, rather than merely not providing evidence for belief. However, the emotional emptiness that Mother Theresa described cannot be taken as equivalent to knowing “that “religion is a human fabrication,”” It could be, it could not. It could simply be that the fact that there is not a loving God who actually touches lives and hearts leaves some who have relied on the promises feeling, as Mother Theresa describes, empty and lonely. Since there is no God, those who imagine there to be one are either deluding themselves over a personally generated sense of connection or, like Mother Theresa, are deluding us.

According to D’Souza, upon reading of her crisis in Time, Hitchens changed his line of attack on Mother Theresa from “self-satisfied dogmatist” to depicting her “as a secret unbeliever.” Not that “secret unbeliever” is a particularly inflammatory remark, particularly in view of the fact that, based on Mother Theresa’s diaries, she was at the very least a secret doubter.

I have not read Hitchens’ books, and as an atheist, I have no need to. I am already convinced that the supernatural does not exist, so why would I spend money to read what is widely touted as personal vitriol? I can find that in abundance on the Internet.  

However, I would agree with D’Souza that indiscriminate attack of iconic believers would give atheists a bad name. Expressed hatred attracts animosity toward those religiously motivated bigots and zealots who attack others. Indiscriminate attack on believers is as unconvincing to the fair-minded as accusing all atheists of virulent attitudes simply because some write as Hitchens reportedly writes. 

Has D’Souza merely taken a couple of words from Hitchens’ books and distorted Hitchens’ level of animosity? This certainly appears possible and would be in line with the thinking of someone who would blame an Islamic atrocity on the cultural left. Judging by Teresa, Bright and Dark, Hitchens actually takes a fairly soft line on Theresa.

However, Hitchens does point out that private doubt can drive individuals to even greater public protestations. The public anti-homosexual protestations of U.S. Senator Larry Craig, arrested for soliciting gay sex in a public washroom and subsequently pleading guilty, are a recent example of this phenomenon of protesting too much. I am not fooled, as some have been, by Craig’s accusations against the police that he only levelled after the story leaked into the media. In Craig’s case, I think that the root cause of problems such as his lie in American entrenched bigotry. In Canada, the gay marriages of elected politicians are mostly well received by the public.

Back to the original topic: So, Mother Theresa had a crisis of faith! So what! My sympathy is actually with the sense of loss that she endured. I think that the real point is that whatever her private religious anguish, she continued to be dedicated to humanitarian values. She is not the only person to have dedicated a life to alleviating suffering, and probably not the only person amongst those to have suffered a loss of faith. My only objection to Mother Theresa’s particular case of failed faith centers on her having crusaded crusade against divorce, abortion and contraception. I should have objected to such narrow moralism whether or not she imagined herself to be communing with some imaginary God or suffering a crisis of failed expectations. 

Hitchens is undoubtedly expressing some personal angst in his books and he and his publisher undoubtedly know that colorful language sells better than logic. Having read Hitchens’ quite moderate and intelligent remarks in the Newsweek article, I’m inclined to think that I should buy his books and see for myself. 


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