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Hitchens Puts Down Payment on After-Life Cottage Near Lake of Fire

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Radar interviews Christopher Hitchens on his new book God Is Not Great. Some snippets:

The two leading public intellectuals of the American Right in the last two, three decades are Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss. Ayn Rand raised a huge number of free market concerns and was a libertarian, and Leo Strauss is well known to be the philosopher of what is now stupidly called neo-conservatism. Both had contempt for religion. Their attitudes toward it was the same as mine: that it's a silly man-made illusion.

On the Democratic side, almost all their heroes are religious. Martin Luther King. The Kennedys. People like that. The left is saturated with the religious. A lot of my book is an attack on liberal religious illusions….

[A] Quaker is not a jihadist. Quakers don't preach anything evil. But they preach non-resistance to evil, however, which I think is an evil notion, but it's not the same as putting a bomb in a girl's school in Belgium. The surrender of reason to faith is what leads to those bombs going off in Belgium, so I'm opposed to any of those surrenders….

Everything we [atheists] believe in depends on everything being open to doubt and experiment. If we hold those views very strongly and say that we don't think any other views are valid-a view that isn't in favor of free inquiry and skepticism-that doesn't make us dogmatic. Our belief is in objective scrutiny and evidence-including our own….

We can't have a state without religion. You cannot prevent people from worshipping in their own way. But I think society could, through its education system and the examples of its politicians, gently suggest that reading Jefferson or Voltaire or Paine wouldn't be harmful to you.

More here.

I'm a confirmed "apatheist" who can't really get riled up one way or another about issues of faith (issues of religiously or ideologically fueled violence and inhumanity are very different matters).

I think that religion can be a force for great good; if nothing else, the Baptist thinker Roger Williams is one of the great architects of the secular state, which is something really great. And there seems to me little question that while religious fanatics are clearly a serious global problem, most of the great state evils (at least in the 20th century) sprung from ideologies that were avowedly secular. So I think there might well be a root-level problem here–about all attempts to constrain individuals via coercive power–that's going unaddressed.

In any case, I look forward to reading Hitchens' book, which I'm sure presents a lucid and entertaining case for telling G-d to go to hell.

I am left wondering, though, are we not reading Jefferson and Voltaire as much as any two figures in our schools?

Hitchens interviewed (2001) by Reason here (in which, among other things, he explains why he's no longer a socialist and expresses lurve for Margaret Thatcher).

Hitchens participates in a 2003 Reason forum on foreign policy here (in which he, Ron Bailey, and others address the question of whether democracy can be spread at gunpoint).

Update: New York magazine interviews Hitchens (and supplies photo up top), who outs Karl Rove as an unbeliever, discusses praying (unsuccessfully) for an erection, and says this about the war in Iraq: "When it does become the property of historians rather than propagandists and journalists, it'll become plainer than it is to most people now that it was just."

NEXT: Good Cop, Bad Doctor

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  1. …and Leo Strauss is well known to be the philosopher of what is now stupidly called neo-conservatism. Both had contempt for religion.

    Strauss was not a neo-conservative.

    He was not a philosopher of neo-conservatism.

    Strauss did not have contempt for religion.

    I gotta ask, has any who makes the sort of statements ever read Strauss?

  2. BTW, the fact that there are competing schools of “Straussianism” and that Straussians span the ideological and political spectrum ought to tell folks something about Strauss’ notions.

  3. Jerome Tucille, in the wonderful and recently republished “It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand,” describes a regular salon with Ayn, when it is discovered that an accompanying wife, Joey, was religious :

    Branden hustled her into an adjoining room and sat her down at a desk with a handful of Rand’s anti-God essays. Joey, relieved to be out of earshot of all this talk of second-handers and floating concepts, pored over the pamphlets while the meeting continued in the other room. When she completed her assignment and returned to the gathering, the drone of conversation suddenly stopped and she found herself skewered by some twenty pairs of drilling eyes.

    Branden took the initiative. “Well?”

    “I found it all very interesting, Nathan.”

    “She found it very interezting,” Branden repeated the information to the others at no extra charge. “Anything elze?”

    “The arguments are very good, but I’m still not an atheist if that’s what you’re getting at.”

    Rand decided to take over. This was unquestionably a matter that demanded her personal intervention. “You haf read ze proofs?”

    “They’re all very good and thought-provoking, Ayn. But you don’t shake a lifetime of religious faith with a few articles. I’ll have to think about it a while.”

    “You haf read ze proofs and you ztill inzist on wallowing in your mindless myztizizm? Faith is irrational which means …”

    “Which means zat faith is immoral,” said Branden.

    “Which means it is anti-life,” said Peikoff.

    “Which means it is anti-man,” said Hessen.

    “Which means it is anti … anti …,” said Barbara Branden, searching for a suitable phrase.

    “Enoff!” said Rand, clapping her hands. “Zere has been enoff zmall talk for vun night. Do you haf anymore questions to ask me?”

    This was the signal that the meeting was adjourned for the night. No one had any questions. Ayn was getting a headache. It was time for everyone to go home.

    p.23-

  4. Everything we [atheists] believe in depends on everything being open to doubt and experiment.

    I’m an atheist and I don’t think that is true of a whole lot of atheists. Indeed, a lot of atheists really haven’t put much thought into their atheism.

  5. I am left wondering, though, are we not reading Jefferson and Voltaire as much as any two figures in our schools?

    Students vaguely know Jefferson had something to do with the Revolution, along with that guy Crispus Attucks, or Buttocks, or whatever, that they learned about in Black History Month. They may tell you he was the guy who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. They think Voltaire was the guy who invented electricity.

  6. Riveting, Ron.

  7. So, what besides Jefferson’s Notes On Virginia should we be reading? He wasn’t exactly a prolific writer of published works.

  8. “So, what besides Jefferson’s Notes On Virginia should we be reading? He wasn’t exactly a prolific writer of published works.”

    Wasn’t he the writer of the Declaration of Independence?

  9. Rattlesnake Jake,

    He was one of the writers of that document. I guess it is fairer to state that he wrote the original rough draft and that it was heavily edited (to greater and lesser degrees depending on the individual) by a couple of dozen other people.

  10. Atheists usually seem to address their arguments against organized, mainstream religion. But there is another approach to religion/spirituality that is not based on mere faith. There are people who meditate or practice other spiritual disciplines of the body and mind involving exercises or methods of inquiry or meditation. Surely these methods, when not attached to other dogmas, are in the spirit of Hitchens’s statement:

    “Everything we [atheists] believe in depends on everything being open to doubt and experiment. If we hold those views very strongly and say that we don’t think any other views are valid-a view that isn’t in favor of free inquiry and skepticism-that doesn’t make us dogmatic. Our belief is in objective scrutiny and evidence-including our own….”

    Zen Buddhism, certain forms of yoga and taoism seem to take the approach of “meditate and just find out…see what happens, and don’t attach labels or interpretations to what happens.”

    I wonder if Hitchens addresses these sorts of movements/practices in his book or includes them under the rubric of “religion.”

  11. I dont know enough about Strauss to comment on him, but I have to agree with Hitchens (shudder) that neo-conservatism is stupidly named. It is neither new nor conservative. I disagree with Hitchens “American Right” comment because it is clearly a left wing philosophy.

  12. It’s been quite a while since I was in high school, but I don’t think we read any Jefferson (including the Declaration, which I didn’t actually read until I was in my 20s). Candide was assigned by my AP English teacher in my senior year, but I don’t know if that was part of any official curriculum.

    Babbitt was required reading in my sophomore year. Religion takes some hard hits in there, but few kids made it that far into the book.

  13. I believe Jefferson also wrote a book that was posthumously published that was about Christianity. In it, he wrote of the non-diety of Jesus, but admired Jesus as a good man.

  14. Did I misread the article or did Hitchens claim Jefferson was an atheist? TJ wasnt a christian, but Ive never seen any legit source refer to him as anything but a Deist.

    Does Hitchens have some sort of revealed knowledge the rest of us dont have?

  15. You can find very libertarian analysis of major religions, if you look. Say Emmanuel Levinas “A Religion for Adults” in _Difficult Freedon_; or late Derrida for Christianity, say starting with “A Gift of Death.” In general, religion is a poeticization of ethics, and ethics is taken as the first human experience : it appears suddenly, whether you like it or not, at a certain age, that you have an obligation to the other, from out of nowhere.

    (“Chosen people” would say exactly that, that Jews are chosen for special responsibility ; and then that everybody is a Jew.)

  16. I’m not sure what all it contains, because I haven’t looked at it yet, but I found the following in a Wikipedia article about Jefferson:
    Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, ed., 19 vol. (1905).

    If you go to the article, there’s a link to where you can download it.

  17. good call on Roger Williams, Nick. it really is sad how far modern Baptists have moved away from their philosophical origins, now that they have enough numbers to have political power.

  18. I’m not sure why Reason seems to be such a Hitchens fan. It is hard to think of a more pompous, self-aggrandizing twit. I can almost guarantee you this new book of his will convince no one. Nor in all likelihood is it intended to; you get the feeling Hitchens is just out to raise his flag in some great civlizational struggle that no one else has the great wisdom and insight to identify as one of the pressing controversies of our time.

    Plus, the man might just be batshit insane…

    http://ezraklein.typepad.com/blog/2006/10/christopher_hit.html

    “Fine, now that I know that, to you, medical ethics are nothing, you’ve told me all I need to know. I’m not trying to persuade you. Do you think I care whether you agree with me? No. I’m telling you why I disagree with you. That I do care about. I have no further interest in any of your opinions. There’s nothing you wouldn’t make an excuse for. You know what? I wouldn’t want you on my side. I was telling you why I knew that Howard Dean was a psycho and a fraud , and you say ‘That’s O.K.’ Fuck off. No, I mean it: fuck off. I’m telling you what I think are standards and you say, ‘What standards? It’s fine, he’s against the Iraq War.’ Fuck. Off. You’re MoveOn.org. Any liar will do. He’s anti-Bush. Fuck off…Save it sweetie, for someone who cares. It will not be me. You love it, you suck on it. I now know what your standards are, and now you know what mine are, and that’s all the difference — I hope — in the world.”

  19. One can find many instances, in Jefferson’s own words, that confirm his atheism.

    One can find many instances, in Jefferson’s own words, that confirm his theism.

  20. I would add to my previous comment that I think there are ways to practice semi-mainstream religion, at least in the more liberal churches/temples, that do not necessarily oppose the spirit of skepticism and inquiry Hitchens is talking about. You can take religious texts as a set of fables where some interesting ethical/spiritual insights are sprinkled in, not Revealed Truths that are literally and historically without blemish; relgious practice then is a way to engage with timeless ideas, to argue with, debate, and compare with your own experiences and ideas the ideas and experiences of our ancestors (not to take them on faith). And this practice also connects us to our common human struggles with ideas/spirit of the past, present, and future communities.

  21. Slate has been running excerpts of the book. I’ve found them very entertaining. As a bonus, you can go to Slate’s “Fray” and read people who claim to be close personal friends with the creator of the universe (who has a very special plan for them because he loves them so, and anyone who doesn’t agree will be punished for eternity) call someone arrogant.

  22. could you guys stop linking to the second page of articles? the same thing happened with the frank miller link the other day.

  23. Hitchens makes me laugh. That is enough for me.

  24. ed,

    So Im guessing Hitchens does have some secret revealed knowledge that cleared it up for him. Damn gnostics.

  25. If you can’t find the link, you can paste this into your browser’s address bar:

    http://www.constitution.org/tj/tj-categ.htm

    It will take you to the page where you can download Jefferson’s writings.

  26. ed,

    Huh to which part?

    TJ wrote things that can be interpretted both ways.
    CH, despite never having met the man, seems to know for sure which is the correct interpretation.
    To do so, CH must have some sort of secret, revealed knowledge the rest of us dont have.

    Therefore, Hitchens is a gnostic.

  27. On the subject of great 20th century state evils — I think there’s been discussion at length before on Hit & Run about whether Fascism/Nazism were secular or religious. I think they clearly were not “avowedly secular” in the sense Marxism and its descendants were. Not only did Fascism frequently accept religion as an element of national identity, even when it rejected mainstream religion as a contaminant of that identity (as among some Nazis) it generally couched national identity itself in spiritual or mystical terms. In some versions, Fascism was/is overtly rooted in pagan or “new age” mystical traditions.

    So at least we can make sure that no philosophical tradition has entirely clean hands.

  28. Not sure if this is a point or not, since I seem to remember that there are certain rules for qoting titles, displaying titles on books, etc. and I have pretty much forgotten all of them from grade school (other than a title can not be copyrrighted).

    Anyway, the word G_d is not capitalized on the cover (but The Hitch does use the “o” in the middle).

    Shouldn’t it be quoted as titled?

  29. “The two leading public intellectuals of the American Right in the last two, three decades are Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss.”

    No, the leading public intellectual followed by the American Right in the last two, three decades was John Paul II.

  30. Where does Hitchens state that he knows Jefferson was an atheist, robc?

    I’ve read all the usual Jefferson as well as all of his published letters and I’m still not convinced. I think what Hitchens was saying is that one would do well to study the man (Jefferson) and make one’s own conclusions regarding his religious beliefs.

    Anyway, here’s one of my favorite Jefferson quotes, taken from a letter to his nephew Peter Carr:

    Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

    Inconclusive, no? But telling.

  31. Therefore, Hitchens is a gnostic

    And I thought you were arguing that he secretly worships Ialtabaoth (the false God in some gnostic thought), with whom he seems to share certain personality traits…

  32. the leading public intellectual followed by the American Right in the last two, three decades was John Paul II.

    JP2 was against the arms race with the USSR, against the death penalty, against both wars in Iraq, and for global small arms control*. On the pelvic issues he was in agreement with the Right, but that’s hardly a case of them following him.

    * Note that these are not matters of faith and morals, so Catholics need not agree with him on these issues.

  33. ed,

    The question about “would Americans accept an Atheist president?” Its not in the part quoted above, its buried in the link somewhere.

    Do you think the American people will ever accept an atheist president?
    Well, we better hope so or we’re saying goodbye to Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Jefferson.

  34. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

    Reads more to me that G_d should approve more of a person who believes in his existance through examination and reason than just blindly believing because of fear. Does not sound quite athiest to me.

  35. But I think society could, through its education system and the examples of its politicians, gently suggest that reading Jefferson or Voltaire or Paine wouldn’t be harmful to you.

    Right, the reason kids aren’t reading Jefferson or Voltaire is because of the Religious Right’s influence. 8-|

    I’m not sure why Reason seems to be such a Hitchens fan.

    Because he opposes religious conservatives. The same reason they support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a strange position for a libertarian publication to take.

  36. crimethink,

    JP2 had some tactical disagreements with the Republicans, but he was also the most significant anti-communist leader in the world. He worked closely with the Reagan administration on public diplomacy regarding Eastern Europe and Latin America (even threatening to disband the Jusuits because they were opposed to the terrorist thugs we were in bed with).

    Time Magazine didn’t put him and Reagan on the same cover for nuthin’.

  37. crimethink,

    What did Ayn Rand think about those “pelvic issues?”

  38. joe,

    All true, but his mere opposition to communism is hardly enough basis for calling him a major intellectual influence on the Right in the late 1900s.

  39. “My Invisible Monster can beat up your Invisible Monster.”

  40. Guy,

    He was telling his nephew to think for himself.

  41. joe,

    I’m not too familiar with Rand, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she was closer to you progressives on them.

    Of course, Hitchens ignores the fact that the Right is no more a single monolithic bloc than the Left is. While Rand may be a luminary to libertarians on the Right, she’s hardly followed by the vastly more numerous religious conservatives.

  42. crimethink,

    Anti-communism and pelvic issues pretty much defined the Republican Party in the last third of the 20th century.

  43. crimethink | May 2, 2007, 10:09am |

    Exactly.

  44. ed,

    He was telling his nephew to think for himself.

    Isn’t that ths short version of my babbling run-on?

  45. “I think society could, through its education system and the examples of its politicians, gently suggest that reading Jefferson or Voltaire or Paine wouldn’t be harmful to you.”

    I would especially recommend that schoolkids read the following from Jefferson’s *Notes on the State of Virginia:*

    “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.”

    http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/jevifram.htm

  46. “One can find many instances, in Jefferson’s own words, that confirm his atheism.”

    “One can find many instances, in Jefferson’s own words, that confirm his theism.”

    He was a deist like so many of our other founding fathers.

  47. (The issue on which Jefferson was discussing God’s wrath was, of course, slavery)

  48. “these liberties are of the gift of God”

    Like most of our other founding fathers, Jefferson believed in natural rights, rights endowed by our creator. He believed all this within the framework of deism, not within the framework of Christianity.

  49. The same reason they support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a strange position for a libertarian publication to take.

    I’m surprised to hear this. Hence:

    [citation needed]

  50. As I learned at the Ayn Rand School For Tots:

    “A is A”
    “Helping is Futile”

  51. I’m fine with atheism, but why do all its public defenders come across with the exact same knee-jerk, fundamentalist pomposity as its opponents?

    Hitch has some severe lapses in reason, the trait he claims to vaue the most. He’s an ardent supporter of Bush’s Iraq-scapades and yet Bush and his cabinet are completely faith-based when it comes to that subject: all the known facts showed otherwise yet Bush et al clinged to the implied correlations of Iraq’s involvement with bin Laden. No need to debate the whole Iraq situation here, but Hitch is an intellectual wuss for holding religion to the fire of pure reason while defending state actions based on matters of faith.

  52. One more Jefferson quote, then I’m out of here:

    I’m bored.
    I’m Chairman of the Bored.

    Letter to John Adams
    Oct. 1825

  53. all the known facts showed otherwise yet Bush et al clinged to the implied…

    Clinged? Shouldn’t that be clung?

  54. Hitch has some severe lapses in reason, the trait he claims to vaue the most. He’s an ardent supporter of Bush’s Iraq-scapades and yet Bush and his cabinet are completely faith-based when it comes to that subject: all the known facts showed otherwise yet Bush et al clinged to the implied correlations of Iraq’s involvement with bin Laden. No need to debate the whole Iraq situation here, but Hitch is an intellectual wuss for holding religion to the fire of pure reason while defending state actions based on matters of faith.

    I don’t understand the logic of your argument. Hitchens has been a proponent of the Iraq war for humanitarian reasons from the beginning. To oppose it simply because he doesn’t agree with the reasoning of Bush and company (I disagree with your description of that by the way) would be irrational and immoral. It would contradict everything he says he believes.

    It may be ironic that he is on the side of believers on that issue but a lack of reasoning has nothing to do with it.

  55. “I’m fine with atheism, but why do all its public defenders come across with the exact same knee-jerk, fundamentalist pomposity as its opponents?”

    Using fundamentalist when describing atheists is completely incorrect. Apparently people do this to level the playing field- religion and atheism being two sides of a coin. As Dawkins, Sagan, etc. have said the two propositions are not of equal probability.

    That being said. What would be a reasonable response to the incessant braying of the religious?

  56. “To do so, CH must have some sort of secret, revealed knowledge the rest of us dont have…Therefore, Hitchens is a gnostic.”

    At least there are none that I know of who doubt that TJ is/was real and that it is actually possible to, at the very least, attempt to interpret his thinking through his writing. No need for any secret, revealed gnosticism.

    On the other hand, I find it strange that, for a being whose existence should be, at very least, reasonably questioned that so many theists presume to be able to know what god thinks by reading a book that written by many, many human hands. As Bill Maher says, the Bible is the culmination of a game of telephone that started thousands years ago conveying a message that was intended for people thousands of years ago. Under the best of all possible circumstances for the devout, the good book conveys only what the big guy was thinking back then.

    I might not agree with his every argument but, a far as god goes, Hitchens seems pretty on-target to me.

  57. Please stop using the “G-d” crap. It’s a stupid affectation among Jews, since “God” is not a name, and it’s just pretentious among everyone else.

    “Zen Buddhism, certain forms of yoga and taoism seem to take the approach of ‘meditate and just find out…see what happens, and don’t attach labels or interpretations to what happens.’ ”

    Zen, like all forms of Buddhism, already has a conclusion in mind. Yoga is just stretching (and also already has a conclusion in mind). Neither is about just finding out.

  58. As for taoism, again, conclusions have already been made. Practitioners, as all religious faithful, seek confirmation of what they’ve already accepted as true.

    They’ve already printed the self-adhesive labels, and they’re looking for places to attach them.

  59. But, please, for the love of Adonai, stop using G-d!

  60. StupendousMan,

    Using fundamentalist when describing atheists is completely incorrect.

    True. Fundamentalists are followers of the book The Fundamentals, which I doubt any moslems are either. So, applying the term to islam is just as completely incorrect.

    Of course, we arent French (with excpetion of any surrender monkeys reading this), so we allow language to adapt, so I think it can be applied to Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus and Atheists.

  61. I’m in agreement with Nick here… I don’t get worked up much either way when it comes to religion. And I agree it can be a force good. To quoteth south park:

    “Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life. and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.”

  62. Clinged? Shouldn’t that be clung?

    Yes, thanks for the correction.

  63. Please stop using the “G-d” crap. It’s a stupid affectation among Jews, since “God” is not a name, and it’s just pretentious among everyone else.

    I missed where Nick spelled G_d in a similar way to me until you pointed it out. Quite refreshing!

    So, what about the thing with quoting the title? Did I miss it in the thread?

  64. Stupendous Man, precisely. It’s the old belief/non-belief dichotomy trap. “I believe there is a God” is not the polar opposite of “I do not believe there is a God”.

    Insert “pink flying unicorn who oversees all of existence” in place of “God” and one can start to grasp the difference – unless of course, that is your deity of choice.

  65. robc,

    Fundamentalism refers to religion in every definition I can find. Sure language changes but this is forced change. Freedom = Slavery, Atheisim = Fundamentalism, etc.

    I think it’s intellectually dishonest at best.

  66. pdog

    I loved that speech from South Park as well. Sill, I don’t like the idea that being nice to other people should come from a lie.

    I may be dating myself here, but I think the greatest (quasi-)religious “commandments”–at least one of which is not totally out of line with most religious traditions–came from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”

    Anyone remember? (1) “Be excellent to each other.”* (2) “Party on, dudes.”

  67. Lichtenberg,

    Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure justifies Keanu Reeves’ existence. Anyone could’ve played Neo, his other big score, but only he could’ve played Ted.

  68. StupendousMan,

    atheism != fundamentalism

    But then again

    christianity != fundamentalism

    There are fundamentalist christians. There are many who arent. With an expanded definition of fudamentalism then there are fundamentalist [religion] . I see know problem with expanding it to any belief system. So fundamentalist atheism makes sense to me. There may not be many of them, but they do exist.

  69. Ahh, at least one other person appreciates great cinema!

  70. Atheists are like the homosexual groups trying to retroactively put historical figures in their camps. There is no proof or evidence that Jefferson was an atheist (or Lincoln, as he was mentioned above too) but that doesn’t stop them from co-opting them for their misguided cause. It takes much more gullibility to be an atheist than to believe in God.

  71. Lichtenberg,

    Heck, I liked Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, too. Death should’ve won an Oscar for his work in that movie.

  72. Hitchens singles out Quakers for apparently half-hearted praise or at least non-condemnation (not that I care a whit about what Hitchens thinks). As (for the last few years) a Quaker and a libertarian, I would urge my fellow libertarians who have an inkling that in fellowship with God lies the very purpose of human life to investigate the Quaker religion further. Hitchens’ characterization of Quakers as preaching non-resistance to evil is not correct. Quakers were at the forefront of the abolitionist movement (including the Underground Railroad), equal rights for women (Susan B. Anthony was a Quaker), and opposition to immoral wars of aggression (including through such means as tax resistance; also see the “Fighting Quaker” Gen. Smedley Butler’s essay “War is a Racket”). Voltaire and Paine (who was raised Quaker) both respected Quakers in their writings (Paine in his “Age of Reason” considered it the Christian denomination closest in spirit to Deism). The “Peace Testimony” of Quakers is not as I understand it an absolute prohibition against the use of physical force. Quakers traditionally have had no problem with police protection of persons and property (and lawful penalties for those who harm others) and by extension this would seem to apply to military force that is genuinely defensive in nature (as opposed to wars of aggression, which is condemned not only by Quakers but by traditional “just war” theory as well). Quakers do, however, in their personal lives and vocations endeavor to live above all violence and so would tend to refrain as far as possible from acts and vocations that they would not necessarily condemn in others whose consciences permitted or commanded such acts and vocations. The book “Quaker Strongholds” by Caroline Stephens has a very good discussion of the Quaker Peace Testimony.

  73. Since most definitions of fundamentalism refer to literal interpretation of a religious text, if we’re going to expand the definition, I’d like to hear first what text atheist fundamentalists adhere to.

    So, you know, I can go buy it, thump it, put it over my heart and use it stop bullets, etc.

  74. It takes much more gullibility to be an atheist than to believe in God.

    At last weeks Drinking Atheistically meeting in Portland, ME, the entire crowd was sated with just two bags of Beer Nuts and three pints of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. It was a miracle!

    Admittedly, only one dude showed up. He waited around for an hour and half, then bolted.

  75. Hitchens can be infuriating when he says stuff like this. His main point in those first two paragraphs, that the right has no monopoly on injecting religion into politics, is on target. But why push it further and try to claim the opposite is true? Why use such stupid and intentionally misleading examples?

    William F Buckley is far more influential than Ayn Rand on the modern US right. A good parallel to Rand would be Chomsky, certainly an atheist. If you’re gonna count King, what about Robertson, Falwell & Dobson? The Kennedys were neither “public intellectuals” nor Bible-thumpers.

  76. On a sidenote, I went to pretty good schools and was never assigned Voltaire.

  77. Unfortunately, Hitchens is reaching the age at which the abuse of the sauce takes its toll. Unlike recent books by Sam Harris and Dawkins, which are pointed, ably directed, and precise, Hitchen’s book is a long rambly mess of incoherent, unconnected arguments that all come back to religion is bad, man, with none of the caveats, sophisticated reasoning, and specific intellectual cases made by the former writers.

    Hitchens is also a sloppy historian. Jefferson was NOT an atheist, and in fact most atheist writers don’t think he was either. None of the founding fathers were atheists. They might have been if they had lived post Darwin, but they didn’t and so they weren’t. Some were Deists, most were nominally Christians/Universalists, though of a sort most Christians would consider heretical.

  78. sam harris isn’t a sloppy writer?

    he strikes me as a kind of puddle, personally.

  79. I guess opinions can differ, if you can possibly find him a puddle, what do you think of Hitchens, who seems to have problems staying on a single coherent point for more than half a sentence at most.

    Check out this debate between Sullivan and Harris, and tell me why you think he’s a sloppy writer. As I read it, he is throughout exceedingly precise and pointed.

  80. John K

    Wasn’t Richard Nixon a Quaker? Sorry, that’s grossly unfair, I know.

  81. g-d is a practice amongst some jews, not all. even so, g-d is really not at all required on the intart00bs.

    however, calling it an affectation is offensive and shows your ignorance and arrogance.

  82. “It takes much more gullibility to be an atheist than to believe in God.”

    Wow. I’ll let a poorly drawn cartoon argue for me:

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2006/12/06/horse/

    Summary:

    Mohamed: “God used an angel to dictate the Holy Koran to me, and when it was finished I rode up to heaven and back on a magic horse. What’s wrong with that?”

    Jesus: “And what’s wrong with believing God had to commit suicide in order to pay himself the debt humans owed him because their ancestors were persuaded by a talking snake to eat a forbidden fruit?”

    But yeah, atheists sure are gullible.

    Am I feeding a troll?

  83. mantooth,

    you may be feeding a troll, but that was hilarious! Thank you.

  84. “When it does become the property of historians rather than propagandists and journalists, it’ll become plainer than it is to most people now that it was just.”

    Is that really the best argument that he can muster?

    joe,

    Given that Strauss died in 1973, that is, over three decades ago…

  85. robc,

    It is highly unlikely that Strauss would have supported the war in Iraq. Strauss was very skeptical of efforts to transform societies.

  86. “Like most of our other founding fathers, Jefferson believed in natural rights, rights endowed by our creator. He believed all this within the framework of deism, not within the framework of Christianity.”

    Hitchens is against any form of belief in God, whether the belief is Christian or otherwise. He wants to suggest that Jefferson was somehow in sympathy with this.

    Jefferson wasn’t Christian or Deist; he was unitarian – back when unitarians believed in God. Not the watchmaker God of the Deists, either – one doesn’t tremble in fear of the wrath of a watchmaker God.

    If Hitchens thinks Jefferson was lying about believing in God, then he would hardly have the necessary moral character for his works to be taught in schools. If he was telling the truth about his beliefs, then atheists like Hitchens wouldn’t really want him taught in schools.

  87. Zod.

  88. Mad Max,

    Modern, self-described atheism, started in France. D’Holbach being the first person to publish a work on atheism, etc. that openly praises atheism. American authors, if they were religiously unorthodox, sprang from the diest tradition. Deism was in large part an effort to make religion more rational, at least for the gentry and aristocracy. While there may have been some private atheists amongst the deists, the tradition as a rule did its level best to deny that it was atheistic.

  89. Grotius, you obviously have something against me. Whatever it is, if you want me to leave this board and never come back, then just say so, all right? Frankly, I’ve been hit so many times here for what I thought were harmless comments, I’m thinking I’m in the wrong place to begin with.

  90. In other words it isn’t surprising that even the English and Americans who were religiously unorthodox (that is in a deistic way) never openly described themselves as atheists. It wasn’t part of the deistic tradition and it wasn’t what deism was about.

  91. Lichtenberg,

    Honestly, I’ve never given the issue any thought. I don’t particularly care whether you go or stay.

  92. Lichtenberg,

    Oh, and dude, it was a joke.

  93. oh, dear.

    Dunkeltal got upset. And when Dunkeltal gets upset, you know what happens. That’s right.

    BATE-FEST!!!!!!!!!!

    “if you want me to leave this board and never come back, then just say so, all right?”

    wow. um. and like you’d listen? um. wow. okay.

  94. “When it does become the property of historians rather than propagandists and journalists, it’ll become plainer than it is to most people now that it was just.”

    As I said, a faith-based argument.

  95. Well, Grotius, it isn’t just you, but your “joke” was rude. I was recently called arrogant and ignorant for stating something which every “expert” knows, and I’ve also been maliciously insulted on another thread, for reasons I have yet to fathom.

    So, I’m gone, this stuff just isn’t for me, apparently.

  96. Lichtenberg,

    Well, happy trails I guess.

  97. VM

    my “handle” and “Dunkeltal” are not opposites, if you would bother to learn something of German.

  98. My sister got bit by a moose once.

    Frankly, I’m just as repulsed by Hitchens, Dawkins, and their fellows as I am by the street preacher who screams that I’m going to Hell and seems happy about it. Attitude and civility count for something.

    If people feel that you are attacking them instead of trying to reason with them, you won’t win many converts.

  99. VM,

    Dunkeltal means what exactly?

  100. Hmmm. The German “thal” or “tal” means valley. “Dunkel” is “dark” or something like that. Dark valley? Is that the opposite of clear town?

  101. “If people feel that you are attacking them instead of trying to reason with them, you won’t win many converts.”

    Ah… they want someone to reason with them. Why haven’t the atheists tried that through the centuries?

    We need some kind of movement, one that emphasizes reason, science and rationality… what would we call it though?

  102. Schadenfreudism.

  103. HEY!
    LEAVE SOME FOR ME NEXT TIME.

  104. “We need some kind of movement, one that emphasizes reason, science and rationality… what would we call it though?”

    Hmmm . . . an atheist political movement that proclaims its dedication to science. How about Marxism?

  105. I was a Keanu basher for a while, too. After watching A Scanner Darkly, I reassessed my assessment. He’s been in a bunch of movies, some of them quite bad, some of them entertaining fluff, and some of them quite good. He was quite good in some of them. He has been placed in my “Bruce Willis” file.

  106. Since most definitions of fundamentalism refer to literal interpretation of a religious text

    I used fundamentalism as a placeholder for proselytism because I couldn’t think of the word at the moment.

  107. “Hmmm . . . an atheist political movement that proclaims its dedication to science. How about Marxism?”

    You can be an atheist and dedicated to a scientific outlook without being a Marxist or even a leftist.

  108. I was being sarcastic. I was referring to the Enlightenment. We already have/do use reason to try to fight religious indoctrination etc.

  109. Thank you, Stupendous Man, for being a fine example of my point.

    So, to paraphrase, arguing with folks about the validity of religion and faith hasn’t changed their minds, so we’ll become obnoxious and mock them openly. I’m sure that will work.

  110. And yes, I now realize that I’m illustrating my own point. Oops. 😉

  111. I think the main point that Dawkins, Harris, etc. are trying to get across is that religious ideas and beliefs aren’t immune from criticism or mocking for that matter.

    Telling people to be polite is kind of the opposite of these aims.

  112. “You can be an atheist and dedicated to a scientific outlook without being a Marxist or even a leftist.”

    I’m aware of that, but we’re dealing with an assumption that referring to a secular, “scientific” movement will automatically be understood as referring to something the readers of this blog would like.

    “I was referring to the Enlightenment.”

    The Enlightenment spawned many political/cultural movements proclaiming a dedication to reason. Most of these movements were not what H&R people care for. You got your Rousseauian civic republicanism, awarding to an elected government virtually absolute power (because it represents The People). You got your liberalism, which (curiously) often involved behavior which liberalism’s modern succcessors feel uncomfortable at – suppression of the Church, eugenics, etc. And you got your Marxism. All very “scientific.”

    Yes, Rousseau had a distinctly romantic, arational element in his ideas. And I suppose people will come up with reasons for classifying Marxism and other ideologies as deviations from the true Enlightenment spirit. Probably some people will patiently explain how Marxism, etc., is *really* a religion.

    When you weed out the racist, statist, commie strains of the Enlightenment, there are some useful liberal insights left. But you have to shovel hard to get to the pony.

  113. Ah, I missed that- navel-gazing at my own arguments. Funny.

  114. Mad Max

    I see what you’re saying. I was referring to a rather generic definition.

    enlightenment = reason, science and rationality

  115. StupendousMan,

    The devil is in the details. The children of the Enlightenment argued with each other about who was most scientific. In most cases, what the various sects confidently proclaimed to be “scientific” turned out to be dumber than the “superstitions” that were replaced.

    It’s interesting what qualifies as “superstition” to the various scientistic ideologies. Hitchens’ former hero, Trotsky, said “We must rid ourselves once and for all of the Quaker-Papist babble about the sanctity of human life.” Opposition to eugenics was likewise dismissed as superstitutios and unscientific, given that the most vocal opponents were Catholics.

    http://www.orwelltoday.com/stalinbook2.shtml

  116. Hitchens still seems to admire Trotsky, was glad that the Commies under Trotsky won the Russian Civil War in the 1920s (a triumph over priestly influence!), and, like Trotsky, he’s not a big fan of the Quakers and Papists.

  117. So, what about the thing with quoting the title? Did I miss it in the thread?

    Guy,

    I’d say the principle espoused here, http://www.theslot.com/webnames.html, applies. Long story short, just cause they write it that way doesn’t make it so.

  118. Mad Max,

    You seem like a very smart fellow, so maybe you are going over my head. I thought the American Revolution was a product of the Enlightenment. Was that dumber than what it replaced? What system should we be using?

    Also, I feel the strongest evidence of Jefferson’s lack of faith was his heavily edited bible.

  119. “I guess opinions can differ, if you can possibly find him a puddle, what do you think of Hitchens, who seems to have problems staying on a single coherent point for more than half a sentence at most.”

    hitchens is a witty, erudite dude whose mind is slowly (or not) being drowned in the alcomahol. it used to be that even when i thought he was dead wrong, i was always entertained. now, i have about zero interest in books about atheism, because the time when he could have made it interesting to read seems long past.

    harris is, to my ears, something like a fratboy atheist. DOOOD THIS IS TOTALLY GAY type atheist. pretty useless for my purposes, a la the snippet from your link below:

    “But there are several problems with such a defense of moderate religion. First, many moderates assume that religious “extremism” is rare and therefore not all that consequential. Happily, you are not in this camp, but I would venture that you are in a minority among religious moderates. As you and I both know, religious extremism is not rare, and it is hugely consequential. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return to earth to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. This idea is extreme in almost every sense-extremely silly, extremely dangerous, extremely worthy of denigration-but it is not extreme in the sense of being rare.”

    not only is it not particularly dangerous (silly or not, it’s a pre-rational stance, something harris doesn’t seem to comprehend) it’s something that doesn’t particularly affect day to day life in the u.s.

    the victimhood mode of narration for public atheists (something dawkins generally doesn’t tap dance in too much, thank zogness) just galls me. atheists don’t get atheist-bashed, by and large, and they don’t get lynched by the religious. it sucks to have your neighbors act like dicks because of metaphysical differences but that’s when you either learn to deal with being a minority that has to deal with non-coercive social sanctioning, or you move to a city with the rest of us perverts, heathens and weirdos and try not to slip on all the astroglide.

  120. “””We already have/do use reason to try to fight religious indoctrination etc.””

    It’s easier to beat your head against the barn. They put faith above reason, therefore, in their eyes, faith trumps reason. So whatever “reasonable” arguement you could muster is moot. You can’t win.

  121. “””Also, I feel the strongest evidence of Jefferson’s lack of faith was his heavily edited bible.”””

    I think Jefferson put some faith in the creator, he did believe in the existence of God. But he didn’t believe in the water to wine, parting of the Red Sea, and Jesus rose from the dead stuff. Things that are required to believe to be a Christian. He was a self-made man in that his father died early and at 15 (I think) he became the man of the house. That was a serious chore back then. He put faith into himself. God wasn’t going to take care of his family and land, he had to and he knew it.

  122. was playing a spoof on “Lichtenberg” (“Licht” for light, and not “lichten” which is like the fog burning off or blowing away or clearing out/up) and “Berg” for mountain.

    “Dunkel” for “dark” or “murky” and ‘Tal’ for valley – sort of a silly antonym for his name.

    Val de T?n?bres, i guess en fran?ais…

  123. mantooth,

    There was some Enlightenment element in the American Revolution, which comes under my previous remark:

    “When you weed out the racist, statist, commie strains of the Enlightenment, there are some useful liberal insights left. But you have to shovel hard to get to the pony.”

    The ideas of Jefferson and Adams (both unitarians, not atheists) could come under the heading of “useful liberal insights” (though Adams might not like the term “liberal” applied to himself).

    But let’s not assume the entire American revolution was just an exercise of Enlightenment genius overcoming religion. That doesn’t take into account the religiosity of the American people (so frustrating to Europeans, except Toqueville who thought it was cool).

    Long before Jefferson and Locke, Saint Robert Bellarmine – then a high-ranking Cardinal in the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church – said that the legitimacy of secular government came initially through the people. The people themselves chose the *regime* (monarchical, republican, etc) under which they lived. A subsequent generation, if the government seriously abused its power, could rebel and set up a new government. Sound familiar? Bellarmine’s doctrine was sufficiently threatening to the Protestant King of England, James I (VI of Scotland), that he tried to rebut it based on the “divine right of kings.”

  124. Zeus the Thunderer! I know that berg means mountain. What in Hades is wrong with me?

    ???

  125. crimethink: “The same reason they support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a strange position for a libertarian publication to take.”

    Marc: I’m surprised to hear this. Hence: [citation needed]

    Reason science correspondent Ron Bailey apparently supports federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, but I am not aware that every member of the staff does, or that it is the “official” stance of the publication per se.

  126. in their eyes, faith trumps reason.

    And that’s really the argument. Even science admits to the existence of a placebo effect. What the hardcore won’t cop to is the difference between faith and obedience.

  127. Can’t we all just get along? How about we start using freason to guide our lives? Or maybe raith?

  128. I like “raith.”

    “You know, for a magazine called Raith, you sure don’t seem to write much about wraiths or ghouls or zombies. Oh wait, yes you do.”

    Like it a lot.

  129. I give it to you, Stevo. I liked the hidden wraith-based component of that word, myself. An unindeaded meaning, if you will.

    Heh, heh, how about the president pushing some wraith-based initiatives?

  130. If said magazine involves articles on the best place to find tasty brains and how to keep that fresh undead look, Zombie Fisher is all for the change.

  131. “You know, for a magazine called Freason, you sure don’t seem to write much about global warming or the environment. Oh wait, yes you do.”

  132. Raith Magazine
    Free Minds and Free Livers.

  133. Strauss was not a neo-conservative.

    He was not a philosopher of neo-conservatism.

    Strauss did not have contempt for religion.

    I gotta ask, has any who makes the sort of statements ever read Strauss?

    Were you not trying to tell me earlier that the only way for a primate to pound two rocks together they must first have a fully working philosophy of how they are divorced physically and spiritually from nature?

    Yeah I have never read Strauss but call me a skeptic when considering you an authority.

  134. I’m not sure why Reason seems to be such a Hitchens fan.

    becouse he criticized Clinton on principle of law in a left wing rag and despite thinking that he would be lauded for it was instead attacked by his peers….and instead of bowing down fought back.

    Anyway I think i hate his book i haven’t read about god but i still like him and i think what he has to say interesting….people at Reason I suspect feel the same.

    Also as a minority view point i think Reason is interested in people who change their views and why…especially when those changes of views are more in line with the views of Reason.

  135. The two leading public intellectuals of the American Right in the last two, three decades are Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss.

    soooo we gave the liberal name to fascists who call themselves liberals and now you want to give up Rand to fascists who call themselves conservatives…hell why not just pony up the libertarian name and Milton Freedman and just go home.

    Note: I am not even a big Rand fan…terrible novelist and morality without real world material justification is idiotic…still I don’t want to give her up.

  136. Well challenged, as usual Stevo!

    Poster, “Monstertron” in the mango thread inquired about Zombies, too.

  137. Using fundamentalist when describing atheists is completely incorrect. Apparently people do this to level the playing field- religion and atheism being two sides of a coin. As Dawkins, Sagan, etc. have said the two propositions are not of equal probability.

    I am sorry but every time Dawkins talks about god and faith he is a complete and utter asshole…Seriously i am convinced by his book The Selfish Gene… a great piece of work..but recently when i see him on C-span or where ever he comes off as a complete fuck…i suggest if he really wants to convince people then he should go back to the science……He convinced me…but maybe that is not the point anymore…he really has stopped talking to any one who is not convinced and moved on to gouging his “faithful”.

  138. As you and I both know, religious extremism is not rare, and it is hugely consequential. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return to earth to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years.

    Be careful, though, concluding that all of those fourty-four percent really live by their beliefs. Americans often compartmentalize their religious faith off from their secular lifestyle. They are as likely to follow the teachings of Oprah as the teachings of their religion.

    Christian and Islamic fundamentalists are reacting to a realization deep down that they are losing to the secularization of global society.

  139. you get the feeling Hitchens is just out to raise his flag in some great civlizational struggle that no one else has the great wisdom and insight to identify as one of the pressing controversies of our time.

    No, you’re thinking of Noam Chomsky.

  140. THE DOLL IS TAKEN, THANK YOU.

  141. When did anyone say Jefferson was an atheist? Hitchens doesn’t say it in the excerpts above. No one in the comments is saying it, near as I can tell.

    So what gives?

  142. Thomas Jefferson was a damned, dirty atheist!

  143. “Zen, like all forms of Buddhism, already has a conclusion in mind. Yoga is just stretching (and also already has a conclusion in mind). Neither is about just finding out.”

    Well, congratulations then. You just demonstrated you know nothing about Zen Buddhism, and if it were possible, less than nothing about yoga.

  144. The conclusion of Zen is actually no conclusion. Whoever said it had a definite, clear description with definable attributes is done ignert. Likewise, Vedanta states the absolute is “not this, not this.” And Taoism says whoever claims they can define the Tao does not know the Tao as it’s beyond all words, all description, undefinable. In other words, with all of these, you have to find out for yourself. There are descriptions of certain sights along the path but these are inessential and the more liberal adepts will say not to believe what they say but find out for yourself.

  145. “When did anyone say Jefferson was an atheist? Hitchens doesn’t say it in the excerpts above. No one in the comments is saying it, near as I can tell.”

    It’s an argument he makes in the book “Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.”

  146. SERIOUSLY ???? THE ARTICLES AUTHOR IS A TWIT .YOU WILL FIND IN THE REGIMENTED WORLD OF THE CONSERVATIVE ,THE SPECTER OF RELIGION PLAYS QUITE WELL JUST BECAUSE STRAUSS AND RAND HAD NO USE FOR IT IS A SIMPLE EXPLANATION ..THEY WERE AFRAID OF THE MORAL CAST AND IN THEIR TINY LITTLE MINDS BOTH RAND AND STRAUS HATED RELIGION BECAUSE THEY FELT ALL MORALITY(WHICH JUST GOT IN THE WAY OF LIBERTARIAN “SELFISHNESS”)was the unique purview of the religious cast…We should all know this to be false…morals comes from the emotion of empathy which rand wrote about it’s uselessness…empathy that is..feelings for the poor ,disabled ,unlucky or overworked worn out and sick could never fit into Ayn rand’s vision of pure corporate America…empathy was the prime emotion of Jesus Christ..So its not the religion they attack, more it’s the emotion of empathy and caring for strangers that libertarians fear….Now today’s conservatives are not what you would call empathetic either ,it is more the fire and brimstone God they use (watch all the televangelists and you will see what I mean)for the God they talk about wants them to be rich and have power and force people to see things their way .so that is the image of God they have created out of thin air ..And many have taken to interpretation what Ayn Rand has written so they can twist it into their little understanding of God..and still fit her into the conservative bent ..or they may have to take away her republican card for not believing in God .And that would be terrible they would lose a folk hero and have to go back and rely on good ole’ SARAH PALIN again

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