May 22, 2007

CliffsNotes: the Post-Show Hitchens Comment Thread

CliffsNotes: the Post-Show Hitchens Comment Thread

Last night’s conversation continues on, even without the voice of Christopher Hitchens. Here are some highlights:

I tell students in my high school philosophy club that only when you understand someone, do you THEN earn the right to disagree with them. I don’t get any sense that Hitchens understands any of the myths he claims to disagree with.

bousquet, in a comment to Open Source, May 21, 2007

I wish to thank Mr. Hitchens for standing his ground. Like knocking on the door of a vacant home, more knocking is superfluous; the result is the same. Arguing faith with a person who believes is superfluous; reason isn’t home. Only faith. And faith is not a debatable concept. His counterpart’s pressing against reason with the concept of “plurality of dogma to excercise the human experience” was simply void of meaning, and Mr. Hitchens was correct to ask what he was supposed to respond to. His response, “punching at air” seemed to work just fine.

rtrco, in a comment to Open Source, May 21, 2007

Mr. Hitchens is clearly very articulate and intelligent. It is unfortunate that his understanding of “rational” excludes the evidence of anyone who doesn’t agree with him. So, he has all the rational evidence, and the rest of us are simply talking nonsense. I’m sure his book will be a big sensation, and that is clearly what is foremost in his mind. I congratulate him in his notoriety.

The complexities and the ambiguities of what human beings have come to call “moral” behavior – ambiguities that much (certainly not all) religious thinking has grappled with over the years – have, quite evidently, escaped as formidable a rational thinker as Mr. Hitchings. If only the great artists over the course of history had tamed their imaginations and followed a more rational path, how much better a world we would be living in today.

housecalls50, in a comment to Open Source, May 21, 2007

I’m frustrated, too, by the continuing failure to differentiate religion from spirituality. Every defense of “religion” I’ve seen here is really a defense of what I called “weak faith,” or spirituality. Is there anyone here who will defend from Hitchens the capital-T Truth of either the empirical claims or the specific ethical claims (thou shalt not X or Y or Z) made by a particular religion, qua religious claims? (I agree it’s bad to kill and steal, but what I want to hear is a defense of the distinctively religious origin of those moral precepts.) If there’s no defense of those, then I need to know why people — smart people like Christopher Lydon and many here — are willing to adhere to religions that ask for (or demand) their acquiescence in these factual or ethical claims.

Sutter, in a comment to Open Source, May 21, 2007

I’ve often wondered what people mean by ’spirituality’. How does it differ from religion? Would you define 1) religion, and then 2) spirituality for me, please?

(To me, one is organized and the other nebulous — but I’d like to read someone else’s definitions, since mine are more intuitive ’senses’ and not really definitions at all.)

Nick, in a comment to Open Source, May 21, 2007

It seems to me that Hitchens is arguing against the primitive neolithic view of God, the “Big Daddy in the Sky” which we in the West have inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition. This has nothing to do with who or what God is per se. Many other traditions have a different view of God. Many of us also experience “God” as the Great Mystery which is the very Ground of Being. One does not necessarily have to believe in the Big Father in the Sky god in order to have an experience of the deep mysterious God of our Being.

fenwizard, in a comment to Open Source, May 22, 2007

If “the human condition” is a generalization so broad it’s as effectively meaningless as “the Blue-winged warbler condition”, “the plankton condition”, or “the iguana condition”, maybe “God” is a generalization we all similarly accept without really knowing why. Maybe “God” is the generalization for all the universe’s mysteries science has been demystifying for the past two and more centuries – and as the mysteries steadily recede, the generalized concept “God” becomes more and more meaningless to many of us following the trend.

Nick, in a comment to Open Source, May 22, 2007

Only certain cosmological religious postures stand beyond proof. A transcendent god who starts it all off then sits back and doesn’t touch creation: very difficult to disprove. The popular conception is that it is beyond provability, but physicists are beginning to pose questions and even conceptualize experiments to probe beyond the big bang. As a final refuge for the ‘god of the gaps’ even a transcendent god might not be safe. The conception of an immanent god, who makes statues cry blood, or talks to you before bedtime is well within the realm of disproof.

Orlox, in a comment to Open Source, May 22, 2007

Oh, for crying out loud, can we please stop the “neo-atheism” and “new atheists” schtick now. There’s nothing new about the atheism of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris. It’s the same atheism that almost all atheists have. It’s the atheism which caused me – at age 11 – to simply say ‘there is no God, just as there is no Santa or tooth fairy’. The only thing new about new atheism is that has come at a time when so many people are unable to come to the same, sensible conclusion.

Tom Morris, in a comment to Open Source, May 22, 2007

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  • Nick

    Thank you for quoting Tom Morris’s complaint — it mirrors my own. None of this argument over the irrationality of faith, none of this growing despair and impatience over religious certitude and conceit, is new. (For example, George Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God, was published in 1979.)

    What’s new is the willingness of non-believers to say, “Enough!” Which is a sentiment even I refrained from uttering — out of meek politeness — until religiosity began to claim a growing and irrational hold over our government, and over the minds of anti-Western activists elsewhere in the world.

    And I object to “neo-atheism” because it’s much to close to a kind of slur — ala the now publicly pilloried term “neocon”.

    The atheists I read aren’t immoral or demonic. They’re just fed up. Fed up with godly arrogance and moralistic bullying. Fed up with religious attacks on reason and on people’s sexuality and sexual choices.


  • Dora

    As I heard Hitchens browbeat Glaude about “the sons of Ham” I couldn’t help but think that being a member of an ethnic minority really does train one to read texts differently. Members of ethnic minorities are pretty accustomed to being disparaged in all kinds of canonical texts–not just the Bible, but Shakespeare, Chaucer, etc. The fact is, the seminal texts of our society are full of stupidity–and full of genius, too. That’s why we learn to read all texts with a critical eye, and to embrace the wisest parts and ignore the rest. (Which is what Glaude was doing–and why shouldn’t he? Why does Hitchens get to be the one to decide that being a Christian requires one to uncritically accept every word of the Bible?)

    “What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross,” I always think. Of course, that’s a very wise line from the notoriously unhinged and often quite hateful Ezra Pound.

  • Waterston

    To me it’s simple. Man created God in his own image and not vice versa. God is the personification of human ideals of behavior toward one’s fellow. There is a cultural component as the definitions differ from community to community. Defined in this way no atheist can say this God does not exist. So what’s all the commotion about?

  • orlox

    Defined in that way, no atheist could say that Santa doesn’t exist.

  • shunpiker

    Listening to Hitchens dismiss Eddie Glaude with the argument (if you can call it as much) that he could not parse what Glaude was saying, that it was “white noise” — I’m reminded vividly of what Freud said in “Civilization and Its Discontents”: Something to the effect that he suspected that religion was based on an “oceanic feeling,” but that he had never personally experienced it. Could it be that Hitchens is similarly “tone-deaf” in these matters?

  • johnhartwell

    Hitchens may be right about god and religion. He’s clearly very intelligent. He’s also clearly a repugnant, patronizing bully who’s so convinced of his own rightness that he’s profoundly uninterested in anything anyone else has to say.

  • Christopher Hitchens is a bit of a bully. It’s part of his public personae by which he garners attention in the media. It’s at once off putting and entertaining. But when he responded to Glaude’s arguments with with befuddlement I felt vindicated! Maybe I’m not so dumb after all if Hitchens couldn’t cut through the verbal fog.

  • Rillion

    I understood Glaude’s arguments perfectly well, and so did Hitchens. He simply doesn’t care to consider any concept of religion other than the very narrow one he has outlined. Never mind if the vast majority of those who consider themselves religious don’t fit it! He was, frankly, an ass to Glaude and I wouldn’t have blamed Glaude at all for hanging up on the conversation. And I say all of this as an atheist.

    The key for productive conversation between atheists and theists is for the atheists to avoid assuming that theists are stupid, and for theists to avoid assuming that atheists are immoral or lacking in awe and wonder. Both are caricatures which arise in the heat of discussion and only serve to inhibit understanding.

  • Waterston

    God, at least as a human invention, exists as soon as he/she is invented by someone and finds adherents. If an atheist says God does not exist, the atheist must be talking about a different definition of God than one invented by humans. It then becomes important to know which kind of God the atheist has in mind before he denies its existence. If the atheist is denying God as a humanoid in the sky who created men in his own image and women using a man’s rib and who uses magic tricks to win adherents, then, sure, that God is absurd and cannot possibly exist. But let’s posit that God is an invention of humans, and He was invented by humans as a humanoid in the sky who did various things including create the world. Here God is defined as a human invention which claims not to be a human invention, but is nonetheless a human invention. In this case, no atheist could say He does not exist, because the proof is in all the churches that dot the landscape. There is nothing to disagree with. Do religious people not want to believe in a God so defined? Why not? Does religion have no value if it is a human construct? Why not?

  • Being non-religious I will not self-identify as either atheist or believer; but I struggle with the urge to be *anti-religious* which Mr. Hitchens has proclaimed to. I can not say from experience that being religious offers any odds on whether or not a person is *good* (which is to say whether they do habitual unrecompensed good to others). And yet, as Mr. H points out, one can easily find many instances of the bad things religious institutions inflict on the world (possibly I hang out with the wrong crowd to see the ugly individual performances). I sadly have to conclude that my religious friends are, in the language of therapy, *enablers* of these evil religious effects. This model of using the noble to empower the base is omnipresent, and becomes more personally irritating the wider the divergence between its human adherents’ sloganeering and the reprehensible institutional effects.

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  • Rillion

    Waterson, most people who believe in God do not define him/her/it as a human invention. Whatever you may find atheists believing, it is almost certainly not a denial that gods have been invented by humans.

    Most theists do not want God defined as a human invention (and here I paint with an admittedly broad brush) because for them God needs to represent something absolute, something which humans are not capable of attaining. They want something greater than themselves to give authority. If humans were good enough– human morality, human understanding, human power — then God wouldn’t be necessary. And an unnecessary god might as well be no god at all.

    Evolution, for example, is perceived as a threat by some because it compromises God’s job description. They see God as having created humans with a special purpose, separate from that of the rest of material existence and not subject to its deterministic forces. If this depiction turns out false, then their idea of God, which suits a particular need, is in peril and the world seems meaningless. When it comes down to brass tacks, it’s not so much about whether God exists as what God is for. Again, our tendency toward teleology comes back to bite us in the arse.

  • Rillion

    WatersTon, with a two t’s. Apologies for spelling your name wrong.

  • davispeter

    Re: “deep mysterious God of our Being” vs. “old white-bearded guy in the sky,” it would be helpful to get a paragraph or two by the former (deep mysterious) believer describing his concept of God. Does his God take a personal interest in homo sapiens? Is his God omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent. Or is his God simply a punctuation mark (?) at the beginning and ending of what he sees before and after he turns out the lights?

    For me, God and organized religions are to the universe as revealed by science as More Fun With Dick and Jane is to The Brothers Karamazov.

  • Igor

    I don’t understand what’s meaningless about the human condition, we all are born into this world without anybody asking us whether we want it or not, and then we struggle to live our lives, most of us marry, have children, struggle to raise them, then we get old and finally die. The whole branch of philosophy sprung from exactly this notion of the human condition, I’m sure most of the readers of this thread know the name.

    I guess there is also “the Blue-winged warbler condition”, the difference is that blue-winged warbler doesn’t understand a lot about it, just like our learned friend Nick pretends not to 🙁

    > Maybe “God” is the generalization for all the universe’s mysteries science has been demystifying for the past two and more centuries – and as the mysteries steadily recede

    Maybe, for some. And science isn’t demystifying anything, it’s quite a mystery in itself. Like, what makes Zermelo-Fraenkel axioms correct? Nobody knows 🙁 And without Zermelo-Fraenkel or similar set of axioms there would be no mathematics, therefore no physics, and no natural sciences as we know them. And for those brave positivists on this thread who demand definitions, the whole of mathematics is based on undefinable notions of sets and elements of sets.

    Then there is the argument about the infinity of the Universe and finiteness of the human mind, both in informational/computational capacity and WRT temporal and spatial constraints. There is no chance humans will be able to understand but miniscule part of the Universe, infinitesimally small, if you wish… Thinkers like Nick might be as proud as they wish, but on Universe’s scale of things this is nothing, even less than nothing…

    Interestingly, in these paragraphs I was playing devil’s advocate, these things should have been said by atheists, they are logical (and honest) conclusions from their premises. Instead they prefer to talk about steady pace of progress and other teleological things, which are by tradition religion’s domain. This is why I don’t believe they are atheists, they don’t believe in God in the sky, that’s true, but they believe in God in things (science, progress, rationality, civilisation, evolution, etc.) instead, not that it makes any difference…

  • chilton1

    I finally listened to the Hitchens show and found it enlightening in a surprising way. While I align naturally with his arguments against religion (being a refugee/orphan from a fundamentalist family), I found myself swaying in the other direction after this conversation. Firstly, CH certainly hasn’t embraced much ethics in conversation (even resorting to sarcasm –the least rational tool that can be used in debate) – but more importantly he has not arrived at any humility –a rational conclusion, if you believe that our minds are shaped by evolution i.e. to survive and reproduce – hence we only know what we need to know –which ain’t much. This is very humbling for me. The most important statement for me was made by CL when commenting on his experience with church goers – that they tended to be people who were trying to reach beyond there intellect. For me that is it – because pretty much everything is beyond our intellect. So, despite my own anti-religious fervor – for the first time I find myself understanding the sin of pride.

  • SourcePatchKidd

    Christopher Hitchens’s abrasive, arrogant, condescending remarks left me with the impression that his only true aim is to better establish himself among the ranks of other ‘squeaky wheel’ social commentary demogogues such as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. Their collective aim isn’t to enter truly meaningful discourse into the public arena; it’s only to stridently appeal to the prejudices of one group while offending the sensibilities of an opposing group and, in the process, sell a lot of books and vainly draw attention to themselves. It’s all about selling books and nothing more. The only viable reaction to Christopher Hitchens and his ilk is to simply stand aside and allow them all to go quietly into that good night.

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  • wowpowerleveling

    I finally listened to the Hitchens show and found it enlightening in a surprising way….lol,me to

  • olivermsun

    What’s the point of atheism when one merely aims to replace the tyranny of God with the bullying of an admittedly clever man?

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