The Portland Monthly recently invited Hitchens to participate a conversation with "a liberal believer"—the recently retired minister of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, Marilyn Sewell. Formerly a psychotherapist and teacher, Sewell has also authored a number of books.
In this exchange, Hitchens, the atheist, demonstrates a clearer understanding of orthodox Christianity than Sewell, the person who claims to be a Christian. Ouch!
Sewell: 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?
Hitchens: 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.
Sewell: 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?”
Hitchens: I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning—at all.”