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Christopher Hitchens new book, God is Not Great, is making quite a splash. It is the most damaging and moronic thing he's written to date.

Now, I don't believe in God. Not even a little bit. But what I do believe in is not being a smugly dogmatic asshole. Hitchens' polemical "antitheism" is just as exclusionary rigid in its orthodoxies as any religious extremist position and is, even worse, its based on the same misunderstanding of intellectual history as much of the rest of his work.

It's a point almost too obvious to make, perhaps, but when the nation and the world are being threatened by tyranny, absolutism, and a resurgence of imperialism, it may not be the right time to drive wedges between those who stand together in opposition.

The coalitions between religious and secular opponents of war, corporate greed, and the violations of civil and human rights, need to be fostered, not weakened. Just as it is commonly noted that only Nixon, as a Republican, could have made overtures to China, so too I think that in the struggle against religious totalitarianism it will be the religious moderates who will ultimately be the most successful (it's a shame our policies are systematically destroying or radicalizing the Muslim moderates, but perhaps that's best left for a different post).

But what annoys me most about Hitchens' position is his refusal to analyze or historicize his own idols. Hitchens bases his attack against religion--or rather, against belief--in the values of the Enlightenment. He has said that since 9/11 his mission is "to defend the Enlightenment, to defend and extend the benefits of rationalism. By all and any means necessary."

Hitchens poses these values of "enlightenment" and "rationalism" against the superstitions of religion. But while he is eager to argue that religion is part of an historical moment, his historical understanding is too impoverished to see that his own values are historically conditioned and carry with them their own myths and superstitions.

In a recent interview, Hitchens had this pseudo-anthropological nonsense to say about religion:

   

Religion is an attempt at philosophy. It's what stood in for philosophy in primitive times, and it does raise some quite important questions, for heaven's sake. You can't deny that, right? So where it ends, I think, real philosophy does begin, just as where alchemy ends, chemistry begins and so forth. Astrology with astronomy and all the rest.

Where to begin? First of all, Hitchens engages in a bit of question-begging, with his falacious (or at least uninterrogated) presumption that the human sciences are progressive in the same way the natural sciences are. This, on the face of it, is bullshit.

Tony Kushner is great. He isn't better than Shakespeare. He isn't better than Sophocles. Wittgenstein is great. He isn't better than Hegel. He isn't better than Empedocles. There just isn't progress in the humane disciplines in the same way that there is in the hard sciences.

But even overlooking this error, Hitchens' assertions are just plain wrong. Chemistry doesn't have its genesis at the termination point of alchemy, but within alchemy. Many natural philosophers of the Early Modern period, such as the great scientist and occultist Paracelsus (who posited a chemical understanding of the body, overturning the Galenic model of the four humours), considered their work alchemical. Likewise with astronomy and astrology.

And for Hitchens, who is so enamored of the Enlightenment, to say that "real philosophy" begins only at the end of religion is utterly preposterous. The Enlightenment was not a godless intellectual phenomenon by any means and what Hitchens means by "reason" is not a stable and timeless concept.

First off, if the only real philosophers are those who reject religion, the philosophical underpinnings of both the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution collapse:

~ The thinker from whon we get Hitchens' beloved term "Enlightenment," Immanuel Kant ("Aufklarung") did not reject God, but rather thought that presuming his existence was a practical necessity for a philosopher.

~ The father of experimental science, Francis Bacon, rejected the idea of a "Mosaic physicks"--i.e. one that was grounded in the Bible--and advocated keeping science and religion separate. But this is not a rejection of religion--he thought that the "unwholesome mixture of things human and divine" makes not only for bad science "but also a heretical religion."

~ Rene Descartes, the great mathemetician whose programmatic doubt in everything but reason provides the model for radical skepticism, was deeply religious and he saw his work as fulfilling a spiritual and worshipful purpose.

~ Pierre Bayle, one of the first organizers of an encyclopedia (a very Enlightenment project) argued that God could not be known by reason. And as much as Bayle advocated reason, it didn't stop him from being a Catholic.

~ John Locke, the great popularizer of empiricism (which, while very unlike Descartes' Rationalism, was nontheless part of a continuing trend), the sine qua non of the Enlightenment was utterly devout.

~ The one true atheist among the Enlightenment philosophers, David Hume, was no proponent of the rationality that Hitchens' promotes: "Reason," he wrote, "is and ought only to be a slave to the passions."

The list, of course, could go on forever. Hitchens wants to delegitimize any philosopher who has not repudiated religion, but this leaves us with a scant handful of philosophers and even less math (take away Newton, Leibniz, Pascal, and Descartes and you're left without analytical geometry or calculus or probability. I guess being a math major would be easier at the University of Christopher Hitchens).

What's even more maddening about Hitchens' pompous dismissal of the "primitivism" of religion in favor of the more evolved "rationality" is that it presumes that "rationality" doesn't have its own range of meanings and its own set of myths.

Like all fundamentalism, rationalist fundamentalism is dangerous. Because like all fundamentalism, rationalist fundamentalism asserts its own infallibility. It's stunning the religious fervor with which Hitchens praises reason as the answer to everything.

Now, I'm all in favor of reason, but I think that there's something important to be learned from that place where religion and science intersect: both tell us that there is more to the universe than the phenomenal world, than the world of perception.

This is true for the moral universe, as well. Shutting people out because they don't agree with you isn't rational or reasonable. Trying to fight the violence of religious fanaticism with secular fanaticism is not reasonable. Churchill once said something about the cure for what ails democracy being more democracy. And I think that the cure for what ails religious tolerance is more religious tolerance.

And as far as the Enlightenment goes, I think Theodor Adorno says it a lot better than I ever could:

   

In the authority of universal concepts the Enlightenment detected a fear of the demons through whose effigies human beings had tried to influence nature in magic rituals. From now on matter was finally to be controlled without the illusion of immanent powers or hidden properties. For enlightenment, anything which does not conform to the standard of calculability and utility must be viewed with suspicion. Once the movement is able to develop unhampered by external oppression, there is no holding it back. Its own ideas of human rights then fare no better than the older universals. Any intellectual resistance it encounters merely increases its strength. The reason is that enlightenment also recognizes itself in the old myths. No matter which myths are invoked against it, by being used as arguments they are made to acknowledge the very principle of corrosive rationality of which Enlightenment stands accused. Enlightenment is totalitarian.

Originally posted to Feemus on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:30 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Nice post (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rapala, kmiddle, Feemus

    but I have to admit when I saw the title my response was, "well duh!"

    Hitchens is a drunken idiot. I thought everyone knew that.

    "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, but already it was impossible to say which was which."

    by Lefty the playwright on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:29:59 PM PDT

  •  Hitchens is a self-important asshat (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mcfly, Feemus

    with an outrageously huge ego.  He isn't happy if he can't beat everyone over the head with his presumed superior itellect.

    "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." -- Thomas Jefferson [-4.25, -5.33]

    by GTPinNJ on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:30:44 PM PDT

  •  Hitchens proves once again (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Feemus

    what a complete schmuck he is.  

  •  Loved the book (7+ / 0-)

    Learned a great deal.

    I only wish that he had taken on Scientology.

    What is essential is invisible.

    by bebimbob on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:33:05 PM PDT

    •  Scientology! (0+ / 0-)

      What did you like about it? I have to admit I haven't read it all yet, so I am curious.

      I read Dawkins' latest about the religion thing, and I liked it. But Hitchens' rhetorical style gives me hives!

      •  I loved the book, too (6+ / 0-)

        Is he arrogant? Sure. He's an iconoclast. And yes, he drinks... I'm outraged too. I'll concede many of the other ad hominem attacks are valid too. He's mean, he supported the Iraq war, etc.

        I was raised Jewish and struggled with some of the philosophical and metaphysical claims of monotheistic religion, and Hitchens deals with this quite well; it's a subject that Dawkins doesn't touch at all and Sam Harris attacks quite differently, so I welcome his book and happily recommend it.

        Hitchens expends considerable energy talking about the relationship between morality and religion, which is what I consider to be the most important part of the book.... I wish I had more time to write about this but I have a tennis match in 20 mins, so I'd better get going...

        More later.

      •  What I liked (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Feemus

        I learned a few things about current orthodoxy that would turn your stomach.

        I agree with him that much of organized religion, at least the catholicism I experienced, is child abuse. Read the section about Jewish orthodox circumcision in NY, and how Bloomberg handled it: it'll make you puke.

        I wasn't bothered by his writing style, although it may be a little compound-complex for the Hemmingways amongst us.

        I think he covered his tracks well re himself, by letting the reader know of his own background.  IOW, he was self-honest.  He did not strike me as a know-it-all, just someone who has done his research.

        He has clearly traveled the world over, and met many religious leaders in his capacity as a journalist.  He had some quite interesting comments about the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa's miracles, etc.

        He addressed Aquinian arguments about the existence of God, St. Anselms' argument about a priori knowledge of God, etc.

        He discussed the extreme violence that religion often creates, both historically and comtemporaneously.  This part of the book was quite comprehensive.

        Hitchen's is clearly extremely well read, and passionate about his beliefs.  Here on Daily Kos, many readers, secular and religious, are rightly concerned about the infiltration of fundamentalist religious beliefs into the working of our government.

        Hitchens is expressing his opinion that religious beliefs are dying, as the enlightenment of science shows how silly they are.

        The Universe is 14 billion years old, the Earth 4.5 billion years old.  We are mammals, animals, and that's OK with me. I can't comprehend wasting my time with someone who believes the Earth is 6000 years old, but that person can have that belief, as long as it is not foisted on me, which is what Hitchens says repeatedly throughout his book.

        Hitchens is very fair about the abortion question, which surprised me.

        It's certainly true that Hitchens grounds himself both in the golden era of Hellenic discourse (with a long passage about the honesty of Socrates), as well as the Enlightenment period of Paine, Jefferson and Voltaire.

        Overall, the book is depressing, but so, often, is reality, if you let it seep in.

        What is essential is invisible.

        by bebimbob on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:07:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  great (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Karmafish

          thanks for taking the time to recap! He's been sort of writing this book in pieces for years. I should finish before I post on it, perhaps.

          I am certainly concerned about the growth of fundamentalism and the encroachment of any sort of religion into government.

          But what bothers me is his oppositional stance toward all belief. Some of the most vocal opponents of religious craziness are people of faith and I think it's silly to vitiate the potential alliance between the religious and secular left.

          I really appreciate your comments!

          •  If you're opposed to false beliefs... (0+ / 0-)

            then you should be opposed to theistic beliefs of all stripes.  I'm sure that's how Hitchens views it.  Personally, I appreciate the good deeds of the religious left, but that doesn't stop me from thinking that they are completely wrong in thinking there are gods or in thinking that reading a strange compilation of ancient near eastern history, prophecy, and poetry mixed with some letters and life-stories is a great way of deciding how to live your life.

      •  Really? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ortcutt, mr science, Feemus

        You liked Dawkins book?

        From your diary:

        But what I do believe in is not being a smugly dogmatic asshole.

        That's exactly what folks call Dawkins as well.  Harris too.  And any other atheist who is not afraid to stand up for themselves.  So, I don't see why you liked Dawkins book, but disliked Hitchens book.  I'm just happy that these books are finding an audience.  We've been bombarded by religion over these last few years, it's time for non-believers to start making some noise.

        "My chief political consultant will be my conscience." - Theodore C. Sorensen

        by 0wn on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:14:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't know why (0+ / 0-)

          There's just something about Dawkins I find appealing (even though I hated The Selfish Gene). Maybe it's just his prose.

          I do have a friend who's an evolutionary biologist and she absolutely loathes Dawkins because she think he gives biologists a bad name!

          I think it's funny, and I'm not really sure what I make of it, but in the academy, the people in the sciences tend to be WAY more religious that people in the humanities.

          •  whoops (0+ / 0-)

            what I meant to include in there is that maybe I take Hitchens personally in the same way that my friend takes Dawkins, as someone who reflects badly on belletristic pursuits.

          •  There is a point (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Karmafish, Feemus, Boisepoet

            made that Dawkins gives ammo to creationists who say evolution leads to atheism. Although I understand the frustration, I disagree with Dawkins critics here. What he and the other "new atheists" are doing is so necessary. We are finally talking about atheism as a legitimate point of view and not as a disease.

            "Enough with the negative waves Moriarty" - Oddball

            by mr science on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:34:49 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Religion has been going after athiests forever (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              0wn

              Which is why it is sad to see people here who fall into that same pattern and blame atheists for expressing their views.  Why shouldn't Dawkins and others express their views?  Why should only religious people be able to pontificate about "THE TRUTH" and if you disagree you can't say anything because it is "insulting" those who believe?  

              Give me a fucking break!  

              Don't like XOM and OPEC? What have YOU done to reduce your oil consumption? Hot air does NOT constitute a renewable resource!

              by Asak on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:42:36 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  well (0+ / 0-)

              I totally disagree with those critics (and, of couse, I have a soft spot for Dawkins). And I think it's important to, as you say, not treat atheism as a disease. It's Hitchens "antitheism" that bugs me. I think that treating religion as though it is poisonous is intolerant and dangerous.

              Most religious people I know are very smart and very decent.

          •  Probably good reason for it (0+ / 0-)

            I suspect that people going into sciences tend to have more of a structured way of thinking, where they learn what the rules are and apply them (ironic as that may seem under the circumstances, they learn religion as being one of the rules), whereas I would guess people going into the humanities would have more of an open minded attitude about things.  

            Humanities by their nature are greatly subjective and open to interpretation and debate.  The sciences on the other hand are supposed to be absolute rules (in general, even though sometimes the rules are wrong and it takes a long time to finally get people to admit it).  

            Honestly your observation does not surprise me.  Even the biologist who does not like Dawkins may dislike him because he breaks the mold.  

            Don't like XOM and OPEC? What have YOU done to reduce your oil consumption? Hot air does NOT constitute a renewable resource!

            by Asak on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:41:05 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Is there evidence that there are more believers.. (0+ / 0-)

            in the sciences than the humanities or is that just from your experience?  I think it would be an interesting thing subject for research.  I've never heard of any such research or even whether it would be possible given what I would imagine would be reluctance to answer the question.

  •  What the Hell (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jfadden, Feemus

    Is Adorno talking about???!!!

    _________________________________

    We need an Adult. Clinton '08.

    by Edgar08 on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:34:18 PM PDT

  •  Nicely done... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Feemus

    you could also add Spinoza in there as well...

    The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it -- GB Shaw

    by kmiddle on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:34:48 PM PDT

  •  Well stated (5+ / 0-)

    As a believing Christian and aspiring clergyperson, I take it upon myself to read all the anti-religious bestsellers that come out, so that I can become conversant in their arguments and hopefully, learn from where they are helpful and critique where they go astray.  I'm growing weary of Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens.

    I just hope and pray the church will find people to preach the gospel with as much evangelical fervor as Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens preach against it.

    Thank God that "Love thy neighbor" will outlive Christopher Hitchens.

    The Christian right is neither.

    by Lucky Ducky on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:40:37 PM PDT

    •  Unfortunately, "love thy neighbor" (0+ / 0-)

      will only outlive Hitchens in aphorism and platitude. Reality has shown it to be a quite different matter.

    •  I guess you haven't noticed Pat Robertson (0+ / 0-)

      or a number of others.  

      If you really think "Love thy neighbor" has any bearing in modern society then I think you have your head in the sand.  

      Don't like XOM and OPEC? What have YOU done to reduce your oil consumption? Hot air does NOT constitute a renewable resource!

      by Asak on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:44:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hitchens is an Idiot. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mcfly, Feemus

    A smarmy, obnoxious idiot.

    Let's not forget that he's convinced that women aren't funny.

    I'd love to meet Hitchens. Not just because I'm a laugh riot, but because I'd enjoy telling him what a total dolt he is.

  •  As the proprietor (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, Karmafish, Feemus

    of ProgressiveHistorians, a community site dedicated to the intersection of history and politics, I would be honored if you would cross-post this excellent diary there.

  •  snitchens worshipped (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jfadden, Tuba Les, Feemus

    at the church of neoconservative warmongering for a few years, that sure worked out for him.  People who defend the Iraq war even now are in no position to question the dogmatism of others.

    •  well put (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mcfly

      that last sentence pretty much says it all!

    •  Huh... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      0wn

      People who defend the Iraq war even now are in no position to question the dogmatism of others.

      What's one got to do with the other?

      "Enough with the negative waves Moriarty" - Oddball

      by mr science on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:48:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  if he is going to ridicule the religious (0+ / 0-)

        because they believe in things that cannot be scientifically proven, he should probably not believe in moronic neoconservative theories about how we will be greeted as liberators in Iraq, etc.  IOW, regardless of the merits of his anti-religious argument, a liberal-hating neocon like Snitchens is not the best person to make it.

    •  Qwerty... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mickT

      snitchens worshipped at the church of neoconservative warmongering for a few years

      The neocon warmongers strike me less as a broad church and more as an insular cult. And Hitchens is the Tom Cruise of that cult.

      'If [voters] can be reached out to with respect...I think a lot of them will come back' to the Democratic Party -Jim Webb

      by assyrian64 on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:59:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for this diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Feemus

    I am, for one, sick and tired of people who constantly pit religion against reason.

    The Evangelicals constantly do this because their literalist religious views cannot withstand science.

    Unfortunately, atheists often do the same thing, only the other way around.  They seem to believe that religion is wholly irrational and must be an enemy of reason.

    This is nonsense.  

    I am an agnostic, but even I recognize that religion serves a whole host of functions that cannot simply be reduced to the irrational.

    Good diary.

    "War does not determine who is right - only who is left." - Bertrand Russell

    by Karmafish on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:50:00 PM PDT

    •  reason vs. religion (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jfadden, 0wn, Feemus

      I am, for one, sick and tired of people who constantly pit religion against reason.

      Why should religion be given a free pass?

      "Enough with the negative waves Moriarty" - Oddball

      by mr science on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:51:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A free pass? (0+ / 0-)

        What do you mean?

        I am not saying that religion should be given a "free pass."  All I am saying is that religion, per se, is not necessarily inconsistent with reason.

        "War does not determine who is right - only who is left." - Bertrand Russell

        by Karmafish on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:52:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  So being "sick and tired"... (0+ / 0-)

          means you simply disagree with a reasonable argument? Why would you be "sick and tired" of that?

          "Enough with the negative waves Moriarty" - Oddball

          by mr science on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:56:01 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Whaa? (0+ / 0-)

            I am not sick and tired of reasonable argument.

            I am sick and tired of people who dismiss religion based on the idea that it's not rational.

            There's a difference.

            "War does not determine who is right - only who is left." - Bertrand Russell

            by Karmafish on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:59:10 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  You're arguing in circles (0+ / 0-)

              If we shouldn't pit reason against religion, as you seem to saying, we are in essence giving religion a free pass that we wouldn't give any other subject.

              "Enough with the negative waves Moriarty" - Oddball

              by mr science on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:09:24 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  This is only true if you take religion literally. (0+ / 0-)

                The problem with the Evangelicals, imo, is that they do precisely that.

                They literalize religious mythology and thus, for example, claim that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

                This is theologically very unsophisticated.

                However, when we criticize religion from a literalist perspective we are engaging in the same thing, only from the other side.

                All I am saying is that we need not take religion literally.  When religion is viewed as metaphorical it needn't be pitted against science or rationality.

                "War does not determine who is right - only who is left." - Bertrand Russell

                by Karmafish on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:14:09 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Well.. (0+ / 0-)

                  Are you saying that all religions should be taken metaphorically or just certain parts of religion?

                  "My chief political consultant will be my conscience." - Theodore C. Sorensen

                  by 0wn on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:18:22 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  That's a fair question and I have no (0+ / 0-)

                    definitive answer because "religion" encompasses a whole host of various beliefs and practices and social functions, etc, etc.

                    Let me say this, however.  

                    When it comes to religious mythology, obviously they're virtually always non-rational, non-scientific.

                    This does not mean that they have no value.

                    A religious myth can be a story that has a valuable moral message or a story that can lead a person to a whole new, and better, way of conceiving of themselves.

                    The problem is not necessarily with the myth, but with how we interpret it.

                    For example, the Judeo-Christian myth of "God."

                    If we literalize that then we posit an actual deity,  a literal being, who created the universe and has consciousness of self.

                    But the word can have other meanings beyond that literalist take.

                    It can refer to way of being, or a way of knowing, characterized by a sense of unity and oneness with the larger world.

                    "War does not determine who is right - only who is left." - Bertrand Russell

                    by Karmafish on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:24:46 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                •  But that's the problem... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Karmafish

                  Religious moderates are part of this social construct that enables fundamentalism. When religious moderates say we must give religion special respect, hucksters like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson get away with the things they do because the have "Reverend" in front of their names. We (not you and me but society) accord them the respect of the faithful. I say we shine the light of reason on all religious belief and criticize it the same we would politics or anything else.

                  "Enough with the negative waves Moriarty" - Oddball

                  by mr science on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:23:15 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Fair enough. (0+ / 0-)

                    My argument is against the literalization of religion.

                    The fundies, because they themselves literalize faith (and because they are often dishonest, bigoted, and politically poisonous) should be castigated according to principles of reason.

                    They also need to be castigated from a religious perspective that emphasizes values of peace and generosity.

                    "War does not determine who is right - only who is left." - Bertrand Russell

                    by Karmafish on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:30:07 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                •  But... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Asak

                  How does religion differ from fiction?  I certainly wouldn't criticize King Lear for not being true.  But I don't see people organizing their entire lives around King Lear either.  That's what I find odd about the metaphoricalists.  How can you think that "God exists" is a metaphor and still give a damn about religion?  I've had this experience at Seders where people are reciting blessings saying that God is the king of the universe and thanking him for his bounty when I know full well that most of the people there don't believe there is any God.  It ends up feeling more like we're rehearsing a Seder and enjoying good food rather than engaging in an religious ritual.

                  •  That's a terrific question. (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    ortcutt

                    I guess I would say that a person can, for example, undertake the study of Zen meditation, and gain the benefits of that religious practice, while considering notions of "God" as metaphorical.

                    There's no inconsistency there.

                    "War does not determine who is right - only who is left." - Bertrand Russell

                    by Karmafish on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 04:12:01 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

    •  and what's wrong with the irrational? (0+ / 0-)

      Some of the best things in life aren't rational.

      Strawberries, for one.

      Or my love for The Dave Clark Five.

  •  I don't know where to start with this (8+ / 0-)

    I certainly can't endorse Hitchens' political views, but his claims that you cite here seem spot on to me and your criticisms are half-baked.

    Religion is both a primitive way of understand what the world is like and a primitive way of thinking through how we should live our lives.  Science and Philosophy are simply better techniques for achieving those tasks.

    Furthermore, I don't see the point of citing theistic philosphers from the past.  Should it surprise anyone that there were theists in the 17th Century, such as Descartes and Locke?  The significant thing is not the philosophers' personal beliefs but what role God played in their philosophies.  The history of modern philosophy has  been one of continuing diminution of the place of God, whether in metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, etc...

    The transition to a philosophy that doesn't seek theistic explanations either for understanding the world or understanding ethics was basically complete by 1900, at least in English-speaking countries.

    And Adorno?  Oh Jeebus.  His understanding of the Enlightenment is beyond ridiculous.  

    •  maybe it depends on what we mean by "primitive" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Karmafish

      Bacon's "Idols of the Marketplace"...

      Religion's primitive from a purely descriptive point of view in that it's very ancient. Poetry, in that sense, is primitive, too.

      But to say that philsophy only begins when relgion ends is preposterous. I mean look at 20th century philosophy. Everyone, from Derrida to Deleuze, is STILL trying to come to terms with Plato. He might be primitive, but he's still sitting at the philosophical table.

      •  Huh? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Asak

        Religion is primitive because its techniques for answering questions about the world and about how we should live our lives are ludicrous.  I can either learn about what the world is like by reading this book written more than 2000 years ago, or I can find out about the world by observation, theory construction, peer review, etc...  Frankly, it's no contest.  Religion is in that sense a very primitive way of understanding what the world is like compared to science.  Religion comes out equally behind philosophy with regard to questions of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, etc... for the same reason.  The techniques of philosophy are simply better than someone looking something up in a book.  People look back to ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle because they originated some of the debates and pioneered the techniques to think about philosophical questions in a fruitful way.

  •  Couple of thoughts... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jfadden, Feemus

    Enlightenment is totalitarian.

    "Enlightenment" like anything else, is corruptible and capable of collapse. However it is not, by definition, totalitarian, it is in fact the opposite.

    I have not read his book, but if Hitchens is dismissing those who have faith while firmly holding onto a quite similar atheistic faith, he is, in effect, disregarding the principles of the Enlightenment in favor of a primitive form of thinking.

    Healthy skepticism is, I think, broad skepticism, directed not only at others, but also at one's own beliefs.

    'If [voters] can be reached out to with respect...I think a lot of them will come back' to the Democratic Party -Jim Webb

    by assyrian64 on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:55:11 PM PDT

    •  I Heard Hitchens (0+ / 0-)

      I was listening to NPR one morning on a drive and from what I could tell, he liked listening to his own voice. He constantly interrupted his interviewer and went off on tangents. It was hard to pin him down on any topic because he wanted to impress everyone that he knew everything that there was to know.

      I found him entertaining, but frustrating.

      "Vice President Cheney is expanding the administration's policy on torture to include tortured logic" Sen. Dick Durbin D-IL

      by Tuba Les on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:12:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Ridiculous argument (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ortcutt, 0wn

      Since there is no scientific evidence to support belief in a deity, why the hell would you expect Hutchins to be constantly questioning his beliefs?  You don't question something for the sake of questioning it, or in order to call yourself a skeptic, you do so in order to come to the true conclusion.  

      If there was some evidence that would cause him to question his beliefs then maybe he would or wouldn't.  But right now there is no reason for him to question them.  

      This is the mistaken assumption a lot of agnostics make.  There being no evidence of god does not mean we have to assume it's a possibility until conclusively proven false.  On the contrary, if there's no evidence of something the default assumption is that it does not exist, until the point where there is some evidence to suggest otherwise.  

      Don't like XOM and OPEC? What have YOU done to reduce your oil consumption? Hot air does NOT constitute a renewable resource!

      by Asak on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:50:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We're all agnostics. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Asak, Karmafish, 0wn, Feemus

    None of us has any clue what's on the other side.  But I enjoyed Hitchens' book quite a bit.  It's about time someone exposed the rampant corruption, greed, violence, murder, hypocrasy, and scare-mongering that organized religion has imposed upon the world for thousands of years.

    I didn't leave "God is Not Great" with any new insight into whether there is a god or not (no one will ever know until they kick the bucket), but I did leave with a new appreciation for just how far some members of the human race will go to achieve and maintain power.

    Remove religion from the current crises in the world---from an American president who thinks he's taking orders directly from an old man sitting in a chair high above the clouds, to Islamic fanatics who believe they'll get to shack up with 72 virgins if they blow themselves up in a crowded marketplace---and we'd be much better off than we are now.

    -

    "Judge me on the content of my character, not the underwear on my head."

    by Bill in Portland Maine on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:25:37 PM PDT

    •  I totally agree (0+ / 0-)

      with what he has to say about corruption in religious institutions.

      Where he loses me, though, is when he stops talking about bad institutions and starts bagging on the whole notion of faith or belief.

      •  Why does that bother you? (0+ / 0-)

        If drugs destroy people's and on the whole cause problems, should we not criticize them because maybe one or two musicians came up with a good song while wigged out?  If something inherently results in much more bad then good, then should it not be criticized?  Would it not be accurate to say that it is generally bad, regardless of a few minor counter examples?  

        Don't like XOM and OPEC? What have YOU done to reduce your oil consumption? Hot air does NOT constitute a renewable resource!

        by Asak on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:53:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  well, take that analogy (0+ / 0-)

          drug ABUSE causes lots of problems. But drugs don't "inherently" cause problems. How many people drink or smoke weed without it causing any problems? Lots and lots. There's nothing inherent about it. Same with religion.

    •  you assume (0+ / 0-)

      that there's an "other side" to contemplate yet you offer no evidence whatsoever that such a place even exists. why do you assume duality? because it's "hardwired" in your brain to think that way. this isn't evidence of any "other side" it's just how your brain evolved.

      "Enough with the negative waves Moriarty" - Oddball

      by mr science on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 10:10:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  hitchens and silliness (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marykk, Feemus

    I haven't read hitchen's book.  I have seen him argue with, of all people, reverand Al.  I have read Dawkin's  "the god dilemma," which wasn't that good.  I've also read "The ancestor's tale," which is one of the greatest books ever written; better, I think than "Origin of the species," since it benifits from 150 years of scientific endeavor.  Recent MRI's have proven descarte's "I think, therefore I am" to be a laughable mistake. Locke's noble savage never existed, anywhere, ever.  What Bacon thought at the outset of empiricism is irrelevent. believe your eyes and ears and in the case of a lordly sbd, your nose.

    •  ? (0+ / 0-)

      Recent MRI's have proven descarte's "I think, therefore I am" to be a laughable mistake.

      Uhh, what?  I think that "I think, therefore I am" was an odd move in an misguided epistemological project, but I fail to see what impact MRIs could possibly have on the subject.

      Furthermore, Locke has nothing to do with noble savages.  Rousseau believed that civilization was a degenerative force and the term is generally associated with him.

  •  Hitchens (0+ / 0-)

    (and Dawkins, and Harris, btw) always seems awfully angry with someone whose existence he claims to deny.

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 03:45:01 PM PDT

  •  Hmmmmm... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Feemus, dantyrant

    But what I do believe in is not being a smugly dogmatic asshole.

    And yet you read Hitchens's book anyway? This guy is the poster child for smugly dogmatic assholes.

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