I also wish to note that, in spite of the ways in which Hitchens misrepresented religion, Matt Kennedy is right: "Factually speaking [Hitchens] understood the implications of the gospel far better than the average liberal protestant." I note, for example, this exchange between Hitchens and Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell (my comments are in italics):
Sewell: The religion you cite in your book [God is Not Great] is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
Preach it, brother Hitchens!
Sewell: Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might as a matter of fact—as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”
Hitchens: I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning—at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.
Notice how quickly Sewell changes the topic of conversation after Hitchens undermines the false dichotomy of fundamentalist faith vs. liberal religion with a single sentence! Of course, Hitchens is wrong about one thing: St. Paul did not invent Christianity. But Hitchens' statement that a core concept of Tillich's theology has "no meaning - at all" humors me. It reminds me of a story (I don't know if it's true) about a time when Karl Barth was visiting New York City. Tillich was teaching at Union Theological Seminary at the time. There was a really thick fog one day, which prompted Barth to say: "I see that Professor Tillich is thinking."
But back to the interview:
Sewell: Well, probably not, because I agree with almost everything that you say. But I still consider myself a Christian and a person of faith.
Hitchens: Do you mind if I ask you a question? Faith in what? Faith in the resurrection?
Sewell: The way I believe in the resurrection is I believe that one can go from a death in this life, in the sense of being dead to the world and dead to other people, and can be resurrected to new life. When I preach about Easter and the resurrection, it’s in a metaphorical sense.
Hitchens: I hate to say it—we’ve hardly been introduced—but maybe you are simply living on the inheritance of a monstrous fraud that was preached to millions of people as the literal truth—as you put it, “the ground of being.”
In response to Sewell saying that while she agrees with almost everything Hitchens says she is still "a Christian and a person of faith," Hitchens turns the tables by asking Sewell simple, direct, and probing questions that go to the heart of Christianity: "Faith in what? Faith in the resurrection?" Well, sure, if by "resurrection" you mean a metaphor rather than an historical event that really happened to a person called Jesus of Nazareth. Hitchens will have none of it as he suggests that Sewell's liberal Christianity lives "on the inheritance of a monstrous fraud." One gets the sense that while Hitchens hated religion per se and thought of all forms of Christianity as "a monstrous fraud," he was particularly impatient with watered-down versions of Christianity that revise or evade the substantive truth claims of the Christian faith.
Read all of the interview.