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Hitchens on Religion: "Somehow if I could drive it out of the world, I wouldn't."

Matthew Boudway points me to a clip from the documentary film Collision, where Christopher Hitchens debates the Presbyterian pastor Douglas Wilson. In it, Hitchens acknowledges the difficulty of the so-called "fine-tuning argument" from the atheist perspective, and then notes an important point of disagreement between himself and Richard Dawkins: if Hitchens were able to rid the world of belief in God entirely, he says, he wouldn't want to do it. He can't really say why, though. Skip ahead to 5:36 in the frame below, or just click here:

About the Author

John Schwenkler is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University.



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I think it was Hitchens' honesty that was so appealing. There is so much hype, so much lying in this world, inluding fooling ourselves. Sometimes he was awful, but I never doubted he was saying the truth as he saw it, I just wonder why he seemed so angry most of the time. Rare man. R. I. P.

Strange video. I suspect, Ann, that Hitchens simply had an appealing public personality. Some people are likeable and others aren't. In our media-driven age, likeability is tremendously important, especially if it works well in front of a camera.

The Marquis de Sade could have said the same thing!

I have to say that while Dawkins and Hitchens had many admirable qualities their way of talking about religion is ignorant and superficial.

Those who are speaking ill of the recently departed Christopher Hitchens are revealing waaay more about themselves and the beliefs they hold or pretend to hold than they do about the dead man they're reviling.

Well said! "Speak no ill of the dead."

Speak no ill of the dead.As I said in my earlier post, I can hardly think of a sentiment Hitchens would have been less likely to endorse. What better tribute to the dead than an honest criticism of their views?

Agree, John! Hitchens would not endorse the limp notion that the dead may not be criticized. He would probably enjoy the comments you posted about his shallowness, his boosterish bromides, etc., etc., etc. (He could have used the adjective-rich McCarraher piece in his writing class.)

I was greatly saddened at the news some while ago that Christopher Hitchens was terminally ill. He knew of course that his dying would be a kind of public act, a testimony to his own beliefs; and I believe he carried it off honestly and admirably. I had one major problem with Hitchens, a problem that I have with many British writers. They appear to be brought up with an abiding conviction -- I think that Hitchens actually wrote this somewhere and I forgot to note it -- that the only real sin is to be boring. Naturally, I greatly resent this attitude, first because I have an enormous and carefully nurtured capacity to be boring myself, but secondarily because it raises some serious dangers to the truth. A few years ago, Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, started an institute for the study of secularism. Mark Silk asked me to be on a panel with Susan Jacoby, author of "Freethinkers," a history of religious sceptics in American, and Hitchens, who had just followed Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins in leading the charge of "new atheism." Mark Silk referred to this invitation as throwing a Christian to the lions. I can't remember anything that Hitchens said (my own remarks were brilliant although I doubt that he remembered them either); but we got into an argument about the grave threat to innocent Jewish babies posed by unhygienic ritual circumcision. I agreed that this could in principle be a matter for public health measures but that it would take more to convince me than the one "horror story" article that had recently appeared in the New York Times. He traduced my remarks in something he wrote. I thought of replying and asked Silk for a tape recording of the panel, which no one could find, by which time I realized that my reply, unlike Hitchens' clever version, would doubtless be boring. The high point of the panel, for me at least, occurred while Susan Jacoby was delivering an uplifting paean to "free thought." She quoted Sam Harris. But I then learned that Harris, in Hitchens's eyes, had blotted his copybook by appealing to some kind of non-theistic mindfulness. At Susan's mention of his name, Hitchens leaned over to me in disgust and blurted out, "Sam Harris!- the man's a fucking Buddhist!" That's my lasting impression. Stick to your guns and take no prisoners. RIP.

Thank you, Peter Steinfels. That helps me clarify why I admired Hitchens' brand of truth telling. LIke the honorable dissenter he was, his loyalty to truth-telling took precedence over his loyalty to his own in=group.

"Speak no ill of the dead" -- that would put an end to all debate in the humanities if taken literally. I know there are a lot of Catholics out there who wanted a deathbed conversion as a trophy -- yes, one thought that mentality had gone, but like so many other retrograde attitudes it is having a revival. These deathbed vultures are now pondering Hitchens' postmortem destination. But it is perfectly right that the quality and content of Hitchens' very influential journalism remain open to critical question.Meanwhile, here is a story that Hitchens would surely have used his critical mind on to good effect: the idea some Catholics have that if you are Oxonian you must be "one of us"! Hitchens loved Waugh but saw his Catholicism as the source of Waugh's obnoxious vices. Many Catholics similarly treated Iris Murdoch as "one of us" despite her declared atheism.

Thanks for the article, Gene. It certainly is an alternate understanding of HItchens. I was particularly interested in what Cooper had to say about the "internationalists" who aren't Communists. It seems to me that an international outlook is shared by Communists and Roman Catholics and by non-Communist internationalists. (By "internationalist" I mean someone whose moral vision extends worldwide rather than just locally.) The article also throws some light on the knee-jerk negativity of many young and middle-aged liberals towards anything having to do with the US government.

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