Religion

"Respecting" the Unknowable and Unfalsifiable

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Over at Slate, Christopher Hitchens, who contributed the forward to Choice: The Best of Reason, speaks of spitting on Ayn Rand books, dropping Korans in the bog and hucking the Gideon Bible out of a hotel window:

Before me is a recent report that a student at Pace University in New York City has been arrested for a hate crime in consequence of an alleged dumping of the Quran. Nothing repels me more than the burning or desecration of books, and if, for example, this was a volume from a public or university library, I would hope that its mistreatment would constitute a misdemeanor at the very least. But if I choose to spit on a copy of the writings of Ayn Rand or Karl Marx or James Joyce, that is entirely my business. When I check into a hotel room and send my free and unsolicited copy of the Gideon Bible or the Book of Mormon spinning out of the window, I infringe no law, except perhaps the one concerning litter. Why do we not make this distinction in the case of the Quran? We do so simply out of fear, and because the fanatical believers in that particular holy book have proved time and again that they mean business when it comes to intimidation.

The Pace University incident becomes even more ludicrous and sinister when it is recalled that Islamists are the current leaders in the global book-burning competition. After the rumor of a Quran down the toilet in Guantanamo was irresponsibly spread, a mob in Afghanistan burned down an ancient library that (as President Hamid Karzai pointed out dryly) contained several ancient copies of the same book. Not content with igniting copies of The Satanic Verses, Islamist lynch parties demanded the burning of its author as well.

Whole story here.

In 2001, Rhys Southan interviewed Hitchens on his (partial) abandonment of socialism.

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  1. Nothing repels me more than the burning or desecration of books

    Really? Nothing repels him more than that?

    Burning books is as dorky as burning flags, and I’m totally OK with either one as long as people are torching their own property. Safely.

  2. I find Hitchens’ demand that we be rational infuriating. We should respect the unknowable and unfalsafiable Islamic claims because it makes my Christianity, Judaism, astrology, etc seem that less insane.

  3. Reminds me of an analogy Penn Jillette likes to make. Your rules only apply to your group. So if the rule is “only a Free Mason can where a Mason ring” then it’s OK for me to where one because I’m not a Mason and the rule doesn’t apply to me.

  4. When I check into a hotel room and send my free and unsolicited copy of the Gideon Bible or the Book of Mormon spinning out of the window, I infringe no law, except perhaps the one concerning litter.

    They stamped it didn’t they… Those damn Gideons.

  5. between LibertyPlease and Warrens first post my heads about to go spinning out the hotel room window. Coherence please.

  6. Throwing the Bible out the window violates the property rights of the hotel that owns that Bible. But beyond that is his compulsive urge to check the bottom drawer of the hotel nightstand for books he can’t bear to be in the same room with.

    I can almost picture him snapping his fingers and yelling Monk-like to his assistant after throwing the Bible, “Wipe! Wipe!”

  7. Really? Nothing repels him more than that?

    Uh, Bee, do you think that just maybe that statement was a bit of hyperbole from a writer and therefore not intended to be taken literally?

  8. Gideon bibles aren’t property, man. They’re free, free as the wind.

  9. Throwing the book out the window? Please, isn’t he a bit old for temper tantrums?

  10. It’s not a lot of fun watching a wet-brain alky implode in public. It’s kinda sad, actually.

  11. MikeP wins the thread.

  12. “Throwing the Bible out the window violates the property rights of the hotel that owns that Bible.”

    The hotel doesn’t own the bible. You are free to take it, if you like.

    I suggest leaving a kind note inside the cover that states: Please enjoy this work of fiction written by penis-cutting goatherds in the world’s most unstable region.

  13. Of course it was hyperbole. He generally overuses such devices, in my opinion, so that his writing is less effective than it *could* be.

    Do they still put those Bibles in hotel rooms? Whatever happened to Magic Fingers? Now there was a bedside amenity I actually used and appreciated from time to time.

  14. Unless it’s done with the purpose and result of inciting a riot, it should not be a crime to put a book in a toilet. And if it is done with the purpose and result of inciting a riot, then just charge the person with inciting a riot. No need for a special “hate crime” category.

    This is absurd. The charges should be dropped and the student should be freed and subjected to a more appropriate punishment: A bunch of people yelling “What the fuck is wrong with you, man? Trashing books like that is for Nazis!”

    All we are saying,
    Is give ostracism a chance.

  15. Hitchens can’t write a damn paragraph without hyperbole.

    (chuckle)

  16. Hitch writes:

    No human being can possibly claim to know that there is a God at all, or that there are, or were, any other gods to be repudiated.

    Actually, plenty of human beings have in fact made that claim.

    Now, assuming he meant “correctly make that claim”, I ask this: how does he know?

  17. Throwing the book out the window? Please, isn’t he a bit old for temper tantrums?

    Oh Christ Kohlrabi. Please see previous comments pointing out his frequent use of hyperbole. Aren’t you a bit old not to recognize it when you see it?

  18. If someone had clogged the toilets in my dorm with sodden pages from the Koran, they would have received the Sacred Swirly forthwith.

  19. It’s impressive to see that Hitchens’ commitment to open minds and reason extends to destroying texts he finds offensive so that other people won’t be exposed to them.

  20. Putting books into toilets is a crime if it clogged the system and therefore prevents others their natural right to pee. The original Bill of Rights included “the right to pee” as part of the Second Amendment.

  21. not literally a literalist,

    No shit, you don’t say? The excessive hyperbole IS the temper tantrum, genius.

  22. I do like that Hitch doesn’t just throw his Bible out the window – he spins it.

  23. John Crapper-

    Yes, but the original second amendment (before the watery emanations of penumbras washed out some of the ink) also made exceptions for those who clog toilets. I’m pretty sure that the original intent of that clause would not extend to high-fiber paper products, but a literalist approach would complicate matters.

    No doubt this case will clog up court dockets for some time.

  24. joe | July 31, 2007, 4:10pm | #

    It’s impressive to see that Hitchens’ commitment to open minds and reason extends to destroying texts he finds offensive so that other people won’t be exposed to them.

    2/10.

    Not one of your better efforts, joe.

  25. Literalists are the reason there is no art in journalism anymore. Everything has to be written on the level of an 8th grade book report.

    “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.”

    OMG! Hamlet thinks a human being could fit in a nutshell! What an idiot! There aren’t any nuts that big! And how could he be king? And how does he know space is infinite?

    (And no, gotcha fans, I not comparing Hitchens to Shakespeare… and I don’t care about if Shakespeare really exist or if he was a woman or gay or really a troupe of actors or Francis Bacon…)

  26. Joe-Hitchens did specify that he would object if someone destroyed a library’s copy of the Quoran. That seems to contradict your understanding of his point.

    MyTube-Because it is logically impossible to prove the existence, or lack thereof, of god.

  27. There aren’t any nuts that big!

    Au contraire!

    Mayor Daley’s

  28. Mr. Crapper,
    I assume that the first amendment would deal with urination and the second with defecation. This was, of course, hammered out in the 1973 Supreme Court decision in the case of Smeltit versus Dealtit.

  29. Not exactly pertinent to this thread I ‘spose, (and how much really is) but it just jogged my memory about something, and I am willing to own up.

    I used a Gideon’s Bible to prop open a window, hoping to let a breeze into a sleazy hotel room in Devil’s Lake North Dakota one hot July day of 1973. I would have used a Quran or a Book of Mormon or a copy of the Constitution if there had been one available!

    Is there be a statute of limitations, or is it still true (I have some doubts) that I cannot be prosecuted today for something I did that wasn’t against the law 40+ years ago…?

    And for the record, it didn’t help much, just made it easier for the bugs to get in!

  30. VM,

    I love you more than nitrous oxide, but a bean is not a nut.

  31. Throwing the book out the window? Please, isn’t he a bit old for temper tantrums?

    No shit, you don’t say? The excessive hyperbole IS the temper tantrum, genius.

    Yeah right, now THAT is damn funny! You know, because using too much hyperbole is such a sign of a temper tantrum, unlike throwing stuff.

    If you meant his over-use of hyperbole to be the tantrum (chuckle) it would have made more sense to cite some of the other examples to show the excessiveness necessary for it to be taken as any kind of tantrum. Of course since throwing stuff could be taken as a sign of a tantrum by itself, as opposed to a single sentence of hyperbole, it seems pretty obvious that was tantrum you meant. But nice try.

  32. It’s impressive to see that Hitchens’ commitment to open minds and reason extends to destroying texts he finds offensive so that other people won’t be exposed to them.

    joe, religious folks who put Gideon bibles and Book of Mormons in hotel rooms will make darn sure that any missing books are replenished before new occupants go in the room.

    P.S. if you start a sentence with a deliberately lower-case name such as “joe” or “e.e. cummings”, does it remain lower-case?


  33. All we are saying,
    Is give ostracism a chance.

    exactly.

    also i think there’s more to the pace story than we’re hearing about. i will dig around to see if i can find some dirt.

    VM – is that real?

  34. Please, tell me again — why is Reason writing about Christopher Hitchens? And why do I care what he has to say about _anything_? Hasn’t he been gloriously, unabashedly wrong about almost every major issue, dating back to when he was just another snot-nosed Trotskyist?

  35. dhex – yes. it’s called “the bean”, and I liken it to the actual size of the Mayor’s balls for some of the stunts he pulls.

    It is in the Millennium Park. (directly above the Park Grill restaurant).

    Sugar – hrumph. it is actual size of one of Richie’s stones… 🙂

  36. I love you more than nitrous oxide…

    That is probably the nicest thing anybody has ever said on this blog.

    Now cut it out! I come here for snark.

  37. violent_k,

    A friend in college went out with a lovely young woman who’s last name was Smuckers. He tried all night not to do it, biting back the comment that he knew would ruin the night, but finally drink got the best of him and he blurted out “With a name like ‘Smuckers’ you have got to be good!” She smiled and nodded and accepted his mumbled apologies. When he left to go to the bathroom, she stole his jacket and he never saw her again.

    This is why nice words are better than snark.

  38. That’s an old shot of the Bean. You can still see the seams. They have since rubbed them out. (“Nuts/rub out” pun intended, even if not witty.)

    If you are in Chicago and have the chance, go to Millennium Park. It is super super cool. The bean alone is worth the trip.

    And screw anybody who destroys books. Give ’em to someone else or leave ’em where they are if you don’t like them.

  39. MikeP wins the thread.

    After only twelve comments? That’s almost a new record. And yet the rabble insists on commenting further! Book-burning and thread-winning: partners in crime.

  40. When he left to go to the bathroom, she stole his jacket and he never saw her again.

    What “stole“? I call that asserting the doctrine of laches and exercising my penumbral right to be left alone.

    And youses can trow de book at me if youses don’t like it.

  41. Gimme back my damn jacket!

  42. Didn’t Hitchens give an interview last year or so in which he stated that he intended to raise his children to read the Bible? That no one could call himself educated without a knowledge of, specifically, the King James Authorized Version? So how does that square with his desire to chuck one out of his hotel window?

    On the Koran issue, I’m totally with the “make vicious fun” school on this. Either Mr. Al-Humorless will get the heck over it or he’ll leave to become an insurgent in Iraq. (One hopes a very clumsy one.*) We over here, however, will be through with him.

    *Has anyone thought to infilitrate these groups with bomb-making instructions that involve mixing, say, bleach and ammonia and stirring vigorously for 30 minutes?

  43. not literally a literalist ,

    Drat! Foiled again, by the wiley internet captain. If only my point weren’t so entirely contingent upon him -actually- throwing a book…

    When a child screams at his mom that if he doesn’t get his ice cream he’s going to jump of a bridge, the mom says “Jump off a bridge over ice cream? Come on, enough with the tantrum!” The really clever internet pedant steps in and says, “Well, um, technically he hasn’t actually jumped of the bridge, it was merely a rhetorical device. You’d be more accurate to say that his hyperbole is the tantrum and not address the content of the child’s claim, being that the content itself could be interpreted as the locus of the complaint.”

    Oy gevolt.

  44. “So how does [having his kids read the bible] square with his desire to chuck one out of his hotel window?”

    Maybe he doesn’t want ignorant kids who lambast things they’ve never read?

  45. That would be “gevalt”.

    Shiesh.

  46. M,

    I’ve seen it spelled both ways. Good point, though. I’ll try and watch my spelling when I post to a blog.

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