"They talk to me and say, ‘Without religion how will you know right from wrong?’ I say, ‘Well I don’t need your advice.’ " -Christopher Hitchens
Krattenmaker: Marcus, tell him how the definition of believe has evolved. Isn’t that something that you talk about?
Borg: Oh sure, sure. And not just me, but very persuasive intellectual study not done by me, but by others. I’m told that roughly the year 1600 the word “believe” never had a statement as its direct object, but always a person. And that it meant something more like I be-love, in the sense of I commit myself to, I give my allegiance to, I pledge my fidelity to, and so it wasn’t about believing a set of statements that were literally true.
Hitchens: So what is your understanding of the meaning of the word creed?
Borg: Creed? It comes from the credo the Latin word which means I give my heart to. And I give my heart to, I give my loyalty to, I pledge my allegiance to God, and who’s that? The one we say he’s thinking about and to Jesus.
Hitchens: Credo means, in Latin, “I believe.”
Borg: But you’re plugging the modern not the 1600 meaning of believe into that.
Hitchens: The definition of “creed” is not from 1600.
Borg: No, no credo is in that, but credo meant “I commit myself to, I give my allegiance to not…”
Hitchens: Which you would do to something you didn’t believe or someone you didn’t believe in?
Borg: Well, I think you’re wrong in that.
Hitchens: I take this as very poor theology, I’ve got to say, and very poor Latin. Do you think the people who got themselves burned and burned other people said I’m killing you because you don’t say you love or you don’t say you give your heart to…
Borg: That’s a separate issue as to how the creed has been often times used in the history of Christianity to exclude, to persecute, to murder. I mean I’m with you on that.
Hitchens: I would be opposed to it, even if they didn’t do any of those things. It doesn’t say if you don’t believe this you should go to hell, it says this is what I believe. I’ll lay my life on it, it’s better than the other creed in Nicaea. And it says I believe the following things: creator of heaven and Earth, who had a son… I take this stuff a lot more seriously than you do.
Borg: You take it more seriously so you can reject it out of hand.
Hitchens: I’ve studied this stuff. Credo is a creed that says you must believe the following or you’re not a Christian. It’s incanted everyday and children are made to do it and you’re saying, “Oh don’t take that too seriously, it’s just I give my heart.” Centuries of incantation. What a very magical thought that your sins can be forgiven.
Borg: It’s not primarily about intellectual ascent to the liberal meaning of these words or whatever meaning you would take them.
Hitchens: No one said the ascent was intellect.
Borg: Mental ascent?
Hitchens: I would say ecstatic ascent, for example the more you recite it with the more music and stained glass and architecture around you, the more they might believe it. People who said they didn’t believe it, met a very short and sharp end. The faith would not be what it is now – insipid, relativistic, open-minded, purist, as strong as it was then – the reason it was strong then was because you didn’t dare doubt it, didn’t dare. No right to discern the past that gave them the power that they now have. Who would listen to the Pope now? Benedict of Bavaria who put on a business suit and appeared on a balcony in Milan in his own person. Who would? No one…you couldn’t get the chickens away.
Hitchens: He’s only there because of the Inquisition, the Crusades, those that built St. Peter’s. You’re telling me that all they were saying was, “We give our heart.” No, come on. The reason I never get bored with this subject is I take religion very seriously.
Zukor: I’m curious you keep equating religion and relativism yet many Christians like to say that it is the Atheists that are promoting relativism.
Hitchens: Why do you think I’ve been doing this so long? I’ve been working for years to turn that question round on them. They have no guarantee that their morality is absolute. Their rule would be more strict, more…they leak at every joint. They always will. People say, ‘Okay it’s true that the Christians were pro-slavery, but in those days it was different.’ So what? God didn’t know slavery was wrong. No, of course not. If you remember a church like that don’t tell me I have no objective place in morality that’s all I’m saying. That’s what they get them to do. They talk to me and say, “Without religion how will you know right from wrong?” I say, “Well I don’t need your advice.”