What’s the Unitarian?

It is little wonder that the well-known ‘angry’ atheist Richard Dawkins wrote the anti-thesim book The God Delusion.  It is easily understandable especially after one reads the interview (excerpted and linked below) between a Unitarian Minister Marilyn Sewell and another anti-theist atheist the former Christopher Hitchens (Hitch).

 As evident from the interview, Marilyn Sewell, a minister, is utterly delusional in her understanding of God and Christianity.  And it is blatantly obvious that Hitch has a better understanding of Christianity than this Unitarian minister.

 Apparently from her bio Sewell has studied theology but I contend it is not Biblical theology.  Her questions and remarks as interviewer reveal her embrace of syncretism – a diversity of false beliefs and humanism blended with the truth of Christianity. Unitarian could be another term for syncretism.

 From her eponymous blog we are told that liberal believer and retired minister of the First Unitarian Church of Portland Marilyn Sewell is a former teacher and psychotherapist.  She has authored numerous books. Over a period of 17 years Sewell helped grow Portland’s downtown Unitarian congregation into one of the largest in the United States. At this point I must say that the fact that this woman and the Unitarian Church are misleading many is of serious concern to me. I must contend for the truth of Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 It troubles my spirit greatly when people like this liberal Unitarian minister use the name of Jesus Christ to preach “another gospel” and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her message is a mish-mash of new age religion, liberal theology, social justice and cheap grace.  The ultimate message becomes half lie half truth:  “It’s not what you believe but how you live.” Ergo an embrace of diverse beliefs and social justice activism are at the forefront of Unitarian creeds.  As you’ll read, for Sewell just like the Episcopalian minister ghost in C.S. Lewis’, “The Great Divorce” all is metaphor, and therefore, cannot be taken seriously

 The deity of Christ, His death on the cross, His atonement for sins, judgement, heaven and hell, all are dismissed as being metaphorical, as not relevant to present human need and too exclusive a message to preach and teach.   Clearly this is syncretistic thinking and delusional with regard to the truth.  And because of its soft, socially acceptable version of theology the tentacles of Unitarian tenets are quickly creeping into evangelical churches across the nation.

 As a follower of Christ I am posting this information expressly to note the deception hidden in Sewell’s misguided words.  I have no problem talking about this interview in no uncertain terms. From the public record it can be noted that Sewell is a social activist and polemicist as was Hitch. They are/were each able to dish out pious platitudes at will and certainly, as their backgrounds would support, are/were able to hold their own in conversations regarding issues of faith and God.  So here goes.

 The interview took place prior to Christopher Hitchen’s January 5th, 2010 appearance as part of the Literary Arts’ Portland art and lecture series at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.  Hitch was political columnist for Vanity Fair, Slate, and other magazines, and known for his frequent contributions on the political TV circuit.  Hitchens’ pointed attacks against all religion has earned him regular debates across the country, often with the very fundamentalist believers his book, “God is Not Great”, attacks. Sewell, the interviewer, though, knows nothing about the fundamentals of Christianity. It would seem that Hitch is in a joust with Jello.

 Here are excerpts from that interview,  linked here

 Marilyn Sewell: In the book you write that, at age nine, you experienced the ignorance of your scripture teacher Mrs. Watts and, then later at 12, your headmaster tried to justify religion as a comfort when facing death. It seems you were an intuitive atheist. But did you ever try religion again?

Christopher Hitchens: I belong to what is a significant minority of human beings: Those who are-as Pascal puts it in his Pensées, his great apology for Christianity-“so made that they cannot believe.” As many as 10 percent of is just never can bring themselves to take religion seriously. And since people often defend religion as natural to humans (which I wouldn’t say it wasn’t, by the way), the corollary holds too: there must be respect for those who simply can’t bring themselves to find meaning in phrases like “the Holy Spirit.”

Well, could it be that some people are “so made” for faith. and you are so made for the intellectual life?

I don’t have whatever it takes to say things like “the grace of God.” All that’s white noise to me, not because I’m an intellectual. For many people, it’s gibberish. Likewise, the idea that the Koran was dictated by an archaic illiterate is a fantasy. As so far the most highly evolved of the primates, we do seem in the majority to have a tendency to worship, and to look for patterns that lead to supernatural conclusions. Whereas, I think that there is no supernatural dimension whatever. The natural world is quite wonderful enough. The more we know about it, the much more wonderful it is than any supernatural proposition.

The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God-as you might as a matter of fact-as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish-fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”

I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning-at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.

Well, probably not, because I agree with almost everything that you say. But I still consider myself a Christian and a person of faith.

Do you mind if I ask you a question? Faith in what? Faith in the resurrection?

The way I believe in the resurrection is I believe that one can go from a death in this life, in the sense of being dead to the world and dead to other people, and can be resurrected to new life. When I preach about Easter and the resurrection, it’s in a metaphorical sense.

I hate to say it-we’ve hardly been introduced-but maybe you are simply living on the inheritance of a monstrous fraud that was preached to millions of people as the literal truth-as you put it, “the ground of being.”

Times change and, you know, people’s beliefs change. I don’t believe that you have to be fundamentalist and literalist to be a Christian. You do: You’re something of a fundamentalist, actually.

Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously.

If you would like for me to talk a little bit about what I believe . . .

Well I would actually.

I don’t know whether or not God exists in the first place, let me just say that. I certainly don’t think that God is an old man in the sky, I don’t believe that God intervenes to give me goodies if I ask for them.

You don’t believe he’s an interventionist of any kind?

I’m kind of an agnostic on that one. God is a mystery to me. I choose to believe because-and this is a very practical thing for me-I seem to live with more integrity when I find myself accountable to something larger than myself. That thing larger than myself, I call God, but it’s a metaphor. That God is an emptiness out of which everything comes. Perhaps I would say ” reality” or “what is” because we’re trying to describe the infinite with language of the finite. My faith is that I put all that I am and all that I have on the line for that which I do not know.

Fine. But I think that’s a slight waste of what could honestly be in your case a very valuable time. I don’t want you to go away with the impression that I’m just a vulgar materialist. I do know that humans are also so made even though we are an evolved species whose closest cousins are chimpanzees. I know it’s not enough for us to eat and so forth. We know how to think. We know how to laugh. We know we’re going to die, which gives us a lot to think about, and we have a need for, what I would call, “the transcendent” or “the numinous” or even “the ecstatic” that comes out in love and music, poetry, and landscape. I wouldn’t trust anyone who didn’t respond to things of that sort. But I think the cultural task is to separate those impulses and those needs and desires from the supernatural and, above all, from the superstitious.

Could you talk about these two words that you just used, “transcendent” and “numinous”? Those are two words are favorites of mine.

Well, this would probably be very embarrassing, if you knew me. I can’t compose or play music; I’m not that fortunate. But I can write and I can talk and sometimes when I’m doing either of these things I realize that I’ve written a sentence or uttered a thought that I didn’t absolutely know I had in me… until I saw it on the page or heard myself say it. It was a sense that it wasn’t all done by hand.

A gift?

But, to me, that’s the nearest I’m going to get to being an artist, which is the occupation I’d most like to have and the one, at last, I’m the most denied. But I, think everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there’s more to life than just matter. But I think it’s very important to keep that under control and not to hand it over to be exploited by priests and shamans and rabbis and other riffraff.

You know, I think that that might be a religious impulse that you’re talking about there.

Well, it’s absolutely not. It’s a human one. It’s part of the melancholy that we have in which we know that happiness is fleeting, and we know that life is brief, but we know that, nonetheless, life can be savored and that happiness, even of the ecstatic kind, is available to us. But we know that our life is essentially tragic as well. I’m absolutely not for handing over that very important department of our psyche to those who say, “Well, ah. Why didn’t you say so before? God has a plan for you in mind.” I have no time to waste on this planet being told what to do by those who think that God has given them instructions.

You write, “Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and the soul.” You use the word “soul” there as metaphor. What is a soul for you?

It’s what you might call “the x-factor”-I don’t have a satisfactory term for it-it’s what I mean by the element of us that isn’t entirely materialistic: the numinous, the transcendent, the innocence of children (even though we know from Freud that childhood isn’t as innocent as all that), the existence of love (which is, likewise, unquantifiable but that anyone would be a fool who said it wasn’t a powerful force), and so forth. I don’t think the soul is immortal, or at least not immortal in individuals, but it may be immortal as an aspect of the human personality because when I talk about what literature nourishes, it would be silly of me or reductionist to say that it nourishes the brain.

I wouldn’t argue with you about the immortality of the soul. Were I back in a church again, I would love to have you in my church because you’re so eloquent and I believe that some of your impulses-and, excuse me for saying so-are religious in the way I am religious. You may call it something else, but we agree in a lot of our thinking.

I’m touched that you say, as some people have also said to me, that I’ve missed my vocation. But I actually don’t think that I have. I would not be able to be this way if I was wearing robes or claiming authority that was other than human. that’s a distinction that matters to me very much.

You have your role and it’s a valuable one, so thank you for what you give to us.

Well, thank you for asking. It’s very good of you to be my hostess.

[end of interview]

 Note above that after Sewell’s reference to theologian Paul Tillich’s take on God as “an invincible tyrant” and after mentioning Freud’s dismissive take on faith (also well-known to Hitch), she wants to hear from Hitch about Tillich’s concept of God.  Listen closely to Hitch’s response:

I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning-at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.

 Wow!  The money line: “If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.”

 Even Hitch knows that this woman is way off the mark in her ‘theology’.  In this case Hitch doesn’t drop famous names from history like Sewell.  Hitch cuts to the quick with the truth of the Gospel as he knows it.  He quotes from Scripture:  “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (I Cor. 15:19). 

 Hitch has known Christianity from standing outside looking in while.  He does not like Christianity’s authority and the abuse of that authority (as I do not).

 Sewell, on the other hand, knows the hodge-podge Unitarian philosophy from inside out.  She knows all of its labyrinthine pathways leading to the utopian fields of humanism, new age philosophy and God is love-ism. The irony:  Unitarian ‘theology’ clearly advocates the contention of atheists that religion is about wish-fulfillment and fear of the unknown.

Here is Marilyn’s take on the conversation from her blog:

“The man is brilliant, but not wise; clever, but not deep; and a fundamentalist, in regard to religion, rejecting any form of liberal Christianity as bogus religion, not to be respected

Hitchens clearly has never studied theology, (This is rich.  See my comments above) and most of the comments he made concerning the Bible, Jesus, salvation, etc., were shockingly naïve (Hitch’s knowledge of Christianity trumped yours, Marilyn).  Where he has something to offer, of course, is his critique of religion and society, and all of the horrors and nonsense done in the name of religion, which I have no argument with.  It’s not exactly news that the Inquisition was a bad thing.  And that Catholic priests shouldn’t abuse altar boys.  And (his particular nemesis) jihadists shouldn’t blow up innocent civilians. 

Hitchens is the ultimate intellectual “bad boy.”  He performs.  He “debates.”  He entertains. All of which he does very well.   But this should not be confused with thoughtful discourse. “(I agree with this last paragraph of Marilyn’s)

 I would certainly argue from the details of the interview that Hitch knows Christianity well enough to be convicted by its message – but he rejects it outright.  Sewell, on the other hand, doesn’t know the truths of Christianity and appears to only embrace the parts of the Gospel that fit with the Unitarian belief in humanism – a theology of a coddling, benevolent and indulgent God who accepts you no matter what.

 Gospel truth convicts people of their sin and their separation from God whereas the tepid mollycoddling theology of Unitarianism destroys lives with its abandonment of truth and its good intentions. And as we all have heard, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or, hell is full of good wishes and desires.  In the end Truth matters.

Are you seeking the truth?

 To find the truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ read the four gospel accounts that record the life and death of Jesus Christ:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  These historical eye-witness accounts are not metaphors as liberal theologians (Sewell, Elaine Pagels and others) would have us accept.

 Follow the Truth wherever it leads you and it will eventually lead you to Jesus Christ.  He is The Way, The Truth and the Life. I have been on the road of truth with Jesus for many years now.  I know Him and he knows me. 

 Truth and Love go hand-in-hand or not at all.

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