Why are religions so hostile to health and human rights? Hitchens says:
The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile. A modern believer can say and even believe that his faith is quite compatible with science and medicine, but the awkward fact will always be that both things have a tendency to break religion’s monopoly, and have often been fiercely resisted for that reason. What happens to the faith healer and the shaman when any poor citizen can see the full effect of drugs and surgeries, administered without ceremonies or mystifications? Roughly the same thing as happens to the rainmaker when the climatologist turns up, or the diviner from the heavens when school-teachers get hold of elementary telescopes.In summary, because religions aim to retain power, they will always oppose scientific and sociological advances that undermine their authority. In many cases, scientists and sociologists have offered better explanations of the world than have their religious counterparts.
Again, Hitchens is right about a lot. (For those of you keeping score, this makes me three-for-three in at least partially agreeing with Hitchens.) There are a lot of religious authorities that feel threatened by scientific and other advances that undermine their authority. Many of Hitchens’ examples are valid.
But, as I was reading this chapter, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of exposure Hitchens had to mainstream religions. I will in no way defend the people Hitchens assaults, but I will say, That looks nothing like my religious experience.
How many hospitals in the United States are run by the Roman Catholic Church or other religious organizations? (If the name of your local hospital begins with “Saint,” be careful about rejecting religion’s involvement in health care.) How much work have organizations like World Vision done globally to combat hunger and preventable diseases? Has Hitchens heard about how much Rick Warren and Saddleback Community Church has done to alleviate the destruction caused by AIDS in Africa? Has he heard of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bishop Desmond Tutu, or Mahatma Gandhi, whose faiths compelled them to champion human rights and racial reconciliation? Has he heard of the International Justice Mission? Where are their stories?
I have seen first-hand the benefits that Christianity can have to society. The local food bank is faith-based and supported mainly by donations and volunteers from local churches, including my own. My church also supports (with money and volunteers) a youth center that recently opened in Tillicum, one of the poorest neighborhoods in our community. Now kids and that community have something else to do rather than wander the streets and get involved with gangs. They have a safe place when they can do their school work or just hang out with adults who care about them. I could go on.
I do not deny that there are some bad apples in the bunch who call themselves “religious.” I won’t even deny that some of those bad apples are of the same variety as me. But there are also some really good apples, and you can’t argue the bad without accepting the good as a counter-argument.