David Brog responds


David Brog, the CUFI director replies to my blog post this morning on his blog post on Christopher Hitchens, the atheist who recently discovered that he is suffering from cancer.

Dear Ron:

I found your critique on my article on Christopher Hitchens to be interesting, but largely wide of the mark.  

I of course recognize that Hitchens doesn’t want us to pray for him.  That’s not the point.  My point was that these prayers are a manifestation of an attitude towards those with whom we disagree that I think is ultimately safer than enmity.  Better to love those with whom we disagree — or at least try to — than to succumb to hate.  

I did wrestle with whether it was fair game to criticize Hitchens now that he is ailing.  But I thought the juxtaposition between the sympathetic religious response to his illness and his harsh response to Jerry Falwell’s death was instructive.  I decided that it is still fair game to criticize Hitchens’ beliefs without crossing the line into the inappropriate.  Do you think all criticism of ideas should cease once the proponent of those ideas falls ill?  I agree — the calculus demands sensitivity.  I hope and believe that I did not cross the line.  

Finally, you note that you were on the front lines of the struggle for human rights and that you saw there both secular and religious folk.  I’m not surprised.  Upon reread, I am open to the critique that I should have made my own language less absolute in this regard.  But as I admit in my own piece, I’ve never been there.  I am writing about people I admire from the sidelines.  Thus I must rely on the reports of those who spend time on these front lines.  In my new book, In Defense of Faith, I quote such observers at length.  For example, here is what the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof wrote in 2008:

"In parts of Africa where bandits and warlords shoot or rape anything that moves, you often find that the only groups still operating are Doctors Without Borders and religious aid workers: crazy doctors and crazy Christians."

Yet, as I further noted in my book, the founder of Doctors without Borders, Bernard Kouchner, has stated that most of the volunteers for his organization he meets these days happen to be religious.  In other words, even the "crazy doctors" are largely "crazy Christians." 

As you know, Ron, I don’t consider myself a very observant Jew.  I’m not looking to glorify my own beliefs and views.  I’m searching for the source of compassion and good works in the world.  Despite stereotypes, I see the Judeo-Christian tradition as a rich source of these values, and religious Christians and Jews as people who walk this walk far more often than they are given credit for in secular outlets such as the Huffington Post.  This is a point that I believe is worth making.  

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