Hitchens on Rick Warren

Christopher Hitchens seems a bit disappointed to find Barack Obama engaging in the same sort of pandering that caused Hitchens to bail out on John McCain: If we must have an officiating priest at the inauguration, we can do much better than Rick Warren.

It is a fact that Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., was present at a meeting of the Aspen Institute not long ago and was asked by Lynda Resnick—she of the pomegranate-juice dynasty—if a Jew like herself could expect to be admitted to paradise. Warren publicly told her no. What choice did he have? His own theology says that only those who accept Jesus can hope to be saved. I have just missed the chance to debate on CBS with one of Warren’s leading allies and defenders, the Dallas preacherman who calls himself Dr. Robert Jeffress. In the opinion of this learned fellow, even though Mitt Romney “talks about Jesus as his lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity.”

It is also a fact that Rick Warren proclaims as his original mentor a man named Wallie Amos Criswell, who was the inspirational figure in the rightward move of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1960s. Rightward in that time and context meant exactly what you might suspect it did—a cold hostility to any civil rights activism on the part of the churches. Theologically, it also meant the crack-brained idea of “dispensationalist premillennialism,” or, in other words, the imminence of planetary death and the corollary joys of the “rapture” that would snatch the true believer into the skies just in time.

In his own “purpose-driven” words, Warren has described the dismal nutbag Criswell as the “greatest American pastor of the 20th century” and has told us of the mystic moment in the 1970s when he himself was granted a laying on of Criswell’s hands. (The promise, you may not be startled to hear, was of a large and prosperous congregation in the young man’s future.)

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