is often referred to as a "loyal opposition." I have sometimes thought that the
epithet "loyal" is probably used to masque the fact that, given the opportunity,
they would lop each others' heads off. In a sense, it provides a bit of
security. "Loyal" also infers that while we may disagree over policies, we agree
on the preservation of our nation.
The value of a loyal opposition is that it provides for a process of checks
on the ruling party's power. While the ruling party may eventually overrule, if
it has a majority, the loyal opposition can raise questions during sessions of
parliament, as well as in the court of public opinion.
Although he viewed religion with some disdain, and probably would not have professed any loyalty to God,
Christopher Hitchens, the writer who died last month, served this purpose for
many religious people. In books, such as God is Not Great, as
well as his numerous articles on religion, Hitchens questioned the absolutism
and tribalism of much of organized religion. One of the best-known examples of
this came when Iran's ruler, Ayatollah Khomeini, slapped a fatwa or
murder target on Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses.
While many other writers chose not to get involved, Hitchens did not
hesitate to call it what it was—a barbaric and vain attack on someone with an
opposing view. Hitchens, like most of us, knew that it had more to do with
Khomeini’s ego than any offense to religion. Of course, Christianity had a
similar history with its blasphemy, heresy, and witchcraft trials. I often
wonder whether the willingness to kill those who are different is a part of the
human condition that we have not fully acknowledged or confronted.
Hitchens was well-read, and sometimes appeared every bit as vain and
egotistical as those he lampooned. He was far from perfect, but so are we all.
What infuriated some who claim to be religion's official spokespersons was that
Hitchens had the audacity to infer that the idea of a perfect God was also an
absurdity. Furthermore, he did it with a biting sense of humor.
He also taught us the importance of religious questioning. Just because
someone claims to speak for God, does what they say make sense?
In this way, he helped keep us honest and reminded us not to become too full
of ourselves, or of God. Or, more importantly, to confuse our own beliefs with
God's. As numerous writers have said, claiming to read the mind or know the will
of what we call God is a fantasy. And killing people for a fantasy is a tragedy.
Stan Sears, Minister