It Ain't Easy Being Mean


For those of you who enjoy seeing the Kennedys and their worshippers kicked while they're down, and/or who revel in watching Christopher Hitchens in full gleeful nastiness mode, this book review is probably for you. Atheists and others might also chuckle at his mockery of the Ten Commandments.

NEXT: Blame It On RIAA

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Hitchens does little more than reveal the profound depths of his ignorance in his ten commandments screed. For instance, his questioning of whether the ten commandments can be legitimately dated to the pre-Christian era could be answered very easily if he weren’t too lazy to consult just about any encyclopedia or history text. His failure to understand Paisley’s objection to giving an interview on Sunday shows a complete lack of knowledge of the presbyterian tradition’s understanding of Sunday as the sabbath, and what sort of activities are considered permissible and which are not. In claiming that the injunctions against killing and stealing are vague, he ignores the fact that the ten commandments occur in the context, or rather, as the prelude to, a reasonably sized body of case law that gives enough data for responsible casuistry.

    It’s one thing to understand a position and disagree with it. It’s another thing entirely to demonstrate that one is so unfamiliar with a topic that he could be bested by the average eight year old who had spent any amount of time on it. If this is indicative of the quality of Hitchens work in general, I’ll be ignoring him.

  2. joe,

    If God doesn’t compel us because isn’t a complete asshole (your words) where does that leave you and the rest of the state beauracracy?

  3. I could have sworn Hitchens wrote a nearly-identical review of a JFK biography (incl. the obligatory crack about Ted Kennedy’s weight) in Vanity Fair about five years ago. He barely mentioned Bobby in that review as well.

  4. Mark A, thanks for straightening me out.

  5. It leaves us doing the work the people pay us to do.

  6. twisted,

    no problem


    I knew all that, but thank you anyway

  7. I think you’re right,Mr. Smith,about the Vanity Fair/Kennedy piece.Did he compare Teddy to a load of condemned veal?-that’s one of his stock wheezes(and I don’t think it’s his,originally).I have the feeling he’d like to appear on television more frequently than he does.To that end,if people think Bob Hope and the Marx Brothers funny and Drew Barrymore pretty,he’ll say they’re not.Christopher Hitchens-just contrarian enough for TV.

  8. fredH,

    He also made significant discoveries regarding the nature of light, which he documented in ‘Optiks’. This alone would have been a significant life’s work for an ordinary scientific mind.

    Regarding your speculation on what might have been — you could make the same argument vis-a-vis his appointment at the Mint.

  9. George Carlin also does a great job of deconstructing the commandments; he pretty much picks up where Hitchens leaves off. I recommend his CD “Complaints and Grievances,” for the routine in its entirety.

  10. Rob,

    I took the piece to be somewhat humorous in its intent, although I understand how someone with strong religious beliefs would take offense at it. Of course he knows that Moses was in the ‘pre-christian era’, it’s just that Moses and the ten commandments are central to the Christian belief system yet they both existed well before Christ, and hence any Christians. Yet it is understandable that many Christians would claim this as part of their Christian history (as would Jews). I think he was just going for irony on this issue.

    You are correct about the murder and theft stuff… like the Constitution, we need to understand meaning in historical context. Since he already effectively granted the moral legitimacy of these two (and also to false witness) he’s reaching in his attempt at a conclusive debunking of the morality of the ten commandments. Basically as a secularist libertarian, I can go along with those three (with reasonable interpretations) as being legitimately legally enforceable in modern times, and adultery conditional on the premise that it would violate most any marriage contract (exceptions being ‘open’ marriages or polygamous marriages, neither of which are overly common). Other than that, most of his criticisms are ‘spot on’ as I said above. There are noticable things missing, as the fact that Moses had to add commandments later attests to.

    The overall point I think is that the Ten Commandments are better understood as a human document, not as divine revelation from God. (Or, to be charitable, a complete and comprehensive divine revelation).

  11. One more point – his dismissal of the Sabbath as not having moral or ethical content (or the first three commandments) is in the context of understanding it’s application to secular law – if you read it again, that’s the tone of the whole piece. It is sarcastically anti-religious, but even if you leave that aside, his point is basically it has relatively little value as a guiding principle for modern law in secular democracies that respect freedom of religion. Of course if you are a practicing Christian or Jew, all of them have moral relevance to how you would choose to live your life.

  12. H&R has the best headline writers, bar none. $20.00 to the first one who can use a variant of the following: Bake the hall in the candle of her brain!

  13. “It leaves us doing the work the people pay us to do.”

    I’m not sure how pointing out that people are compelled to pay you to compel them helps your case. Also, God only asks for %10.

    Is there a degree beyond total?

  14. Hitchens’ criticism of Paisley (for refusing to do interviews with Sunday papers) was that doing an interview with a Sunday paper wouldn’t require him to do anything on a Sunday. If he wanted to refuse to answer questions on the Sabbath, then he should have refused to do business with Monday papers, not Sunday ones.

  15. Well, it’s not all bashing. We can take heart in this:

    “Certainly, when one reviews Kennedy?s White House schedules, he does not seem to have been derelict about anything he considered a major problem . . . . But the supposition that he was too busy chasing women or satisfying his sexual passions to attend to important presidential business is not borne out by the record of his daily activities. And, according to Richard Reeves, another Kennedy historian, the womanizing generally ?took less time than tennis?.”

  16. “the womanizing generally ?took less time than tennis?.”

    Oh, well, that’s alright then. Wouldn’t want anyone to think your priorities were wrong. I mean, what sort of man would devote more attention to cheating on his wife than to his tennis game?

    I wonder what the women thought.

  17. In my own cynical brain I’d imagine they would think something on order of the following:


    Give or take…

  18. More evidence of the decline of Mr. Hitchen’s writing.Look at the large targets presented,and then his response,a series of lawyerly quibbles.Some of his latest pieces could have Howard Fineman’s name affixed to them,and none would be the wiser.Quite sad,really.

  19. I couldn’t care less about the Kennedys (Kennedies?), but I found the deconstruction of the Ten Commandments quite entertaining, and, IMHO, fairly spot on.

    I remember reading somewhere that another court house or public legal building also had the Ten Commandments posted, along with the Code of Hamurabi, the Magna Carta, and a few other historic legal documents. The context in this case was showing the history of law, not the establishment of a specific religious heritage as legal precedent for modern US law. I suppose if Judge Moore did something similar, he’d have a leg to stand on.

    For all the flap over the symbolic nature of having the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, I’d think it would have occured to some of the supporters of separation of church and state that it really only makes a difference if the law is being interpreted relative to that document. It seems to me more logical from this perspective to have Judge Moore removed from the court house than his pet stone stature.

  20. “…. pet stone STATUE”. sorry ’bout that.

  21. I wonder what the women thought.

    “Gosh — that was even quicker than it took to beat him at tennis.”

  22. I find Hitchens amusing and I enjoy most Kennedy bashing, but here he’s not so much kicking them while they’re down, but looking into their toilet before it gets flushed.

    As for the 10 Commandments, I always saw them as a reason to question religion rather than follow it. How is it possible that an omnipotent God can command us, but not compel us? Isaac Newton, a mere mortal, presented us with laws that cannot be broken. The 10 Commandments are are a symbol of the powerlessness of God.

  23. “How is it possible that an omnipotent God can command us, but not compel us?” Catholic theology sez that God chooses not to compel us. God could if God wanted to, but wants us to freely choose to follow the Good.

    Your question is like asking why a man would try to convince a woman to sleep with him, when he could just put a gun to her head. Answer: because he’s not a complete asshole.

  24. Uh, twisted — quantum effects violate laws of classical physics routinely — including Sir Isaac’s laws.


    Requesting (or in my case, begging :-)) is not the same as commanding. And there are plenty of other instances in the Bible and throughout history that, shall we say, contradict your last assertion.

  25. After all, they’re not the “Ten Requests”

  26. So your complaint is that God lets us know there will be consequences, lets us make our own choices, and lets us face the consequences of those choices, rather than controlling us and making us do the right thing for our own good.

    God as a libertoid. Who’d a thunk it?

  27. Gwyn Thomas,

    You’re right–compare these lukewarm pieces to his tearing in to Hillary a few years back.

  28. Mark A, it was my understanding that Newton’s Zeroth, First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics are always obeyed, even by quantum mechanics.

    Joe, I’m not complaining, just stating an observation I made. I think this is bringing us close to the topic of determinism, which is probably way off topic here.

  29. You’re quite right as usual,Kevin.He’s even gone a bit soft on the monarchy.I have the feeling he’s coasting,and I’ve been a Hitchens fan for twenty years.Never thought I would prefer or even read his brother,but now I do.

  30. Twisted,

    Alas, Sir Isaac was not responsible for ALL of classical physics. His are the three Laws of Motion, the Law of Universal Gravitation, Newton’s Law of Cooling, co-invention (-discovery?) of the calculus (with Leibniz (sp?)), etc. He did not formulate any of the Laws of TD.

    What a slacker! 🙂

  31. Mark A.:

    Since we’ve wandered off onto this side track, imagine what Sir Isaac might have accomplished if he’d not squandered a significant portion of his life on alchemical “research” and theological speculations. BTW, quantum mechanics reduces to classical (Newtonian) mechanics in the macroscopic (everyday)world, where an object is orders of magnitude larger that the wave length of its wave function. Similarly, relativistic mechanics reduce to classical mechanics when large energies and/or velocities are not involved.

  32. Hitchens keeps carping about some of the Ten Commandments being unenforcable by the government. WTF? An athiest unable to distinguish between God and Caesar? He really has given his brain to the Bushies.

  33. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 04:06:54
    Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.