Culturally deprived and TV-less laggard that I am, I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD lately—for the very first time. First impressions: Joss Whedon can write rings around everybody else. Second impression: Dickens lives! By that I mean, Whedon seems to have hit on Dickens’ formula: Create a character you can invest a lot of empathy in, then spend the series visiting unbearable pain on that character. Is there any end to Buffy’s World O’Hurt?
Secondarily, I note that one of Whedon’s more fetching habits is to make his villains (notably Spike, the Sid Vicious of the Vampire World) extremely perceptive. Spike, even while being the punk vampire with an unbeating heart of gold, very often winds up being the guy who actually knows what’s going on and tells the truth about everybody else’s situation.
I think of Spike when I read the following take on faith vs. Squishtianity:
Wilson isn’t one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just “metaphors.” He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn’t waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he “allows” it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners. I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing. (Incidentally, just when is President Barack Obama going to decide which church he attends?)
That assessment of the difference between serious Christian faith and the fluffery of “progressive spirituality” is something many a conservative Christian would give warm assent to. But here’s the rub: it is written, not by a believer but by noted Atheist Fundamentalist Christopher Hitchens, whose hatred of God provides him with what Uncle Screwtape calls “the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords”. And that points us to a weakness to which too many serious believers are prey. For many conservative Christians do not seem to grasp that Hitchens scares the crap out of even so vicious an atheist as P.Z. Myers. Myers, despite being the sort of critter who thinks he’s really achieved something by piercing a Host with a rusty nail and throwing it in the trash, is appalled by Hitchens’ violent hatred of God and those who worship Him—as well he should be. After attending a conference of atheists in which Hitchens unburdened himself of his views on What’s Wrong with the World and What to Do about It, Myers came away sounding like a comparative voice of reason and sanity next to Hitchens:
[W]hile I agree with his goal of working towards a rational, secular world, a triumph of enlightenment values, I disagree entirely with his proposed strategy, which seems to involve putting a bullet through every god-haunted brain.
In the Buffyverse, poor Spike is a killer who gets neutered by a shadowy government organization that places a chip in his brain which keeps him from killing humans. For several episodes he is like a muzzled rabid dog whose itch to slaughter is restrained only by the bolts of pain he feels whenever he attacks humans. Then, to his deep joy, he discovers he can beat the snot out of monsters, demons and other vampires with impunity and so begins fighting at the side of Our Heroes. To the simple mind, it might appear that Spike is now on the side of good. But only to a very simple mind. He will have to go through a rather arduous process of repentance and learning to love before he gets there. Merely taking his violent rage out on Bad Guys does not make him a good guy.
The same lesson should be internalized by the Christians who, in their hatred of the monsters known as “radical Islamists” have clasped Christopher Hitchens to their bosom as a “treasure”. Hitchens fulminates with his customary eloquence against the numerous evils of Radical Islam much as Spike beats the living hell out of critters from the Hellmouth. But that’s not because Hitchens has a heart of gold way down deep. It’s because he has a deeply felt hatred of anything and everything related to the mention of God. Muslims are a target of opportunity. But Hitchens would do the same to every last vestige of theism.
Christians who have embraced the notion that enthusiasm for the secular West equals enthusiasm for the Western Christian tradition can and do credulously embrace the illusion that Hitchens is some sort of ally to Christians, merely because his hatred of Islam sometimes prompts him to denounce chicken-hearted refusals to face the obvious when jihadist violence rears its head.
But make no mistake, it is his insane desire to eradicate God, not his well-balanced love of truth, justice, and the American Way, that fires his remarks. Christians who think he is somehow on “their side” are fooling themselves. He is not an atheist who has looked at the evidence dispassionately and, gosh darn it!, just doesn’t find it credible though he sort of wishes it were just as we wishes Christians well. He is, rather, a self-described enemy of God who hates the Almighty and would blaspheme Him to His face if he could. When he speaks the truth, we must always recognize that he does so much as the devil does when he selectively quotes Scripture—and neglects other salient facts. He tells the truth—part of it anyway. But he also hates the most important part of the Truth: Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Hitchens would, if he could, see the whole Christian revelation destroyed in a sea of flame. In short, he’s rather like Spike: perceptive, often accurate, but (at least till he undergoes a radical repentance) with a face set resolutely toward evil. We can and must hope for his redemption. (Hey! If you can do it with Spike and see a payoff, you can do it for Hitchens.) But we can’t pretend he is some sort of guide or ally merely because he affirms some aspects of foreign policy beloved to conservative Christians.
He is our enemy—and must therefore be loved and prayed for, but not anointed as some sort of truthteller filled with “passionate honesty”. He is a fool who saith in heart, “There is no God.”