A Hitch in Evidence | Al Kresta | April 8, 2009 | Ignatius Insight
A Hitch in Evidence | Al Kresta | April 8, 2009 | Ignatius Insight
I've never gotten use to shameless manipulation of the
truth, but I'm getting better at it after spending a half-hour this week with
anti-theist bad boy Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion
Poisons Everything. Like his fellow atheist
and Englishman, Richard Dawkins, whose documentary movie about religion is
called Root of All Evil, Hitchens
claims that all of society's ills can be chalked up to religion, while all
social progress stems from materialistic thinking.
I thought it was Christians who get accused of dividing the
world up into good and bad guys, of holding a na•ve belief in angels and
demons. Apparently, materialism doesn't bring the cure. Hitchens demonstrates
that materialists can be as guilty as any believer of demonizing his opponents.
So I accused Hitchens of special pleading i.e., employing a
double standard or claiming omniscient insight into a topic and thereby
exempting oneself from the normal rules of evidence or logic.
Why? Examples could be multiplied, but in this instance I
went after him because he wrote that Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist pastor,
was not a Christian in any "real sense" but was rather merely a "nominal
Christian." As per Hitchens, King's historic civil rights leadership and
achievement should be attributed to more secular humanitarian impulses than
fidelity to the Gospel. So here's the equation: civil rights=good=secular
But the book gets worse. Joseph Stalin, who led an atheistic
regime responsible for slaughtering up to 40 million of his countrymen achieved
his place in the annals of brutality, according to Hitchens, through the
inspiration of a quasi Russian Orthodox czarism! Murderous regime=bad=religious
When I chuckled at his chutzpah, he took pains to instruct
me: "[The Russian Orthodox Church] ... is now producing new icons [which] show
Joseph Stalin with a halo around his head...They (the Russian Orthodox Church)
are selling them ... Stalinism is a religion and is thus recognized by the Russian
Orthodox Church." My instincts assured me that this was nonsense. But like many
urban legends, there was probably some morsel of fact buried in the dung heap.
What in the world could he be referring to?
Sure enough, Hitchens had pulled a bait and switch. Paul
Globe, a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia and,
until recently, the director of research at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy,
had posted a story in late November of last year. I borrow liberally from his
November 27, 2008 blog post.
A dissident Orthodox priest in a town near St. Petersburg
had sparked controversy by putting up an icon of Blessed Matrona of Moscow.
Stalin was portrayed on the icon but without any of the attributes of
sainthood. He was simply standing next to her. Thus, technically, it was not an
icon of Stalin at all.
According to an unconfirmed legend, Stalin secretly visited
her at the house of a friend where she predicted that Moscow would not fall to
the Nazis. This is how Stalin ends up on an icon of Matrona of Moscow.
In posting the icon, the priest, who has a history of
provocative actions, stepped outside his authority and was denounced by the
Moscow Patriarchate. According to one report, he was so severely reprimanded by
his superior that he became physically ill. Many of his parishioners forced him
to remove the icon from the altar calling it blasphemy.
I emailed Paul Globe to see what had developed since his
November post. First, the original "Stalin" icon was taken down.
Second, the priest was transferred. Third, copies continue to show up at
various Russian nationalist meetings. But even the dissident priest specified
that "this is not an icon glorifying Stalin. This is an image of Matrona of
Moscow and [Stalin] ... is one of those people whom she blessed. She blessed many
According to one Russian Orthodox blogger, "all this fuss
about canonizing Stalin comes from two marginal groups but gets spread around
because it sounds funny to journalists." One group is a dissident Orthodox
faction. The other is a restorationist communist group whose size may not be
above double digits. The Weekly Standard,
whose name Hitchens' threw out as a source, reports it this way: "[O]n the
fringes of Stalin worship, a small, bizarre cult regards the Communist dictator
as a closet Christian and even advocates his canonization."
Rather than produce and sell these icons, the Russian
Orthodox Church has spoken out against them. Nor has it recognized the saintly
origins of Stalinism.
Perhaps Hitchens' socialist and revolutionary past—he
greatly admired Che Guevara—renders him more susceptible to telling lies
about the Russian Orthodox Church or seeing haloes around Joseph Stalin. St.
Paul warns that those who refuse to give thanks to their Creator "become
fatuous in their argumentation..." Sin in the heart is often the source of error
in the head.
Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood ... Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light
for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in
their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! Woe
to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong
drink, who line their pockets with bribes from the guilty and deprive the innocent of his right! (The
prophet Isaiah 5:18ff).
Click here to watch Al Kresta's full debate with Christopher Hitchens.
This column has been reproduced by kind permission of the
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Al Kresta is a broadcaster, journalist and author who is, first of all, a missionary. He is
the author of Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories From Well-Known Catholics,
Why Are Catholics So Concerned about Sin?: More Answers to Puzzling Questions
about the Catholic Church, a follow-up to the best-seller Why Do
Catholics Genuflect? And Answers to Other Puzzling Questions About the Catholic
Faith, as well as a contributor to Shaken
by Scandals: Catholics Speak Out About Priests' Sexual Abuse, Loving Your
Neighbor, and the original Surprised
by Truth. Kresta in the Afternoon is broadcast on over 120 stations nationwide
including the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network and Sirius Satellite Radio. It
is produced by Ave Maria Radio every weekday afternoon from 3-6 p.m. Eastern
Time. Kresta in the Afternoon
takes a closer, Catholic look at current events, issues and ideas. It is
conversation with consequence.
For all media inquiries, contact Nick Thomm, Executive Producer of "Kresta in the Afternoon," at 734-930-3164.
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