The Doomed, Glorious Rearguard Battle of Christopher Hitchens

Photo credit: Ensceptico (grabbed from Wikipedia)

I am by no means a compulsive student of Christopher Hitchens.  I’ve yet to read God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, although I certainly agree with the sentiment.  (I haven’t read Dawkins’ The God Delusion either; not that I wouldn’t get off on the inevitable preaching-to-the-choir reinforcement, but one tends to learn more by reading polemics written by the opposition.  Even if the main thing one learns is that such folks turn their brains off when it comes to matters of faith.)  I wasn’t even aware, until quite recently, that Hitchens was such an enthusiastic cheerleader for the US’s invasion of Iraq.  I first encountered him via his brilliantly vitriolic The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, which presents compelling evidence that even this icon of Christianity — this saint-in-the-making acknowledged even by unbelievers to be a paragon of goodness and charity — was in fact a charlatan and a hypocrite who hung around with crooks, took dirty money, and deliberately kept those under her care in appalling conditions for no better reason than to further the image and the brand.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  Odds are, by the time you’ve finished you’ll want to dig up Ma Terry’s desiccated carcass for no better reason than to punch it in the fucking nose.

I would also point you to any of Hitchens’s lectures, or (more revealingly) his debates with so-called “people of faith” on the existence of deities or the worthiness of religious institutions. They’re all over Youtube; a personal favorite is the five-part “Intelligence Squared debate” in which Hitchens and Stephen Fry utterly demolish an African archbishop and a Tory MP over the question of whether “the Catholic Church [is] a force of good in the world”.  These are enough to make the man a personal hero in my eyes.

There was no last-second conversion (as far as we know); no deathbed repentance.  He did not hide his light under a bushel.  It shone its acid contempt on invisible ass-hamsters, the charlatans and child-rapists who channel them, and the deluded hordes who buy into the fairy-tale, right up until carcinoma snuffed it out.  Now he is dead — and what a curious, oxymoronic world he has left behind.

You probably know that he left behind a world in which the atheist demographic is trusted even less than gays and Muslims. (Yes, from an objective perspective this makes about as much sense as comparing the trustworthiness of dentists and tropical fish breeders, and I wish I could make a flip remark here about this being a purely ‘Murrican perspective; but anybody who thinks that North America has cornered the market on homophobia might want to take a look overseas.)  What has come to light more recently is research out of UBC and the University of Oregon suggesting that atheists are actually on a par with rapists when it comes to public trust — a deliciously ironic finding, given the infamous predilection for child rape on display in so many of the institutions that would arrogate unto themselves the mantle of Moral Compass. And yet, for all the approbation heaped upon us Godless heathens — for all the pundits and evangelicals who’d take as axiomatic the claim that anyone who does not believe in sky fairies must by definition be an amoral psychopath — Hitchens also left behind a world in which the evidence suggests that not only are secular folks at least as “ethical” as those of believers, but that secular societies “come closest to achieving practical ‘cultures of life’ that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion“.  Atheists also tend to be more law-abiding than those who identify themselves as religious (or at least, as one commentator admits, we are simply more adept at getting away with our crimes). (I exclude myself from the latter category for obvious reasons.)

In other words, Hitchens left a world in which the very demographic vilified for their lack of morals by the faithful is actually, according to the available data, more moral than the faithful themselves.

You could cite any number of reasons why such obviously-falsifiable prejudice remains so predominant — starting with plain old-fashioned peer pressure, ranging through cognitive glitches such as Confirmation Bias and the Semelweiss Reflex, right up to Xie et al’s network analysis suggesting that a position held by as little as 10% of a population can become a societal norm just so long as the core group of believers is sufficiently closed-minded.  Yet  I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a solution for any of them that didn’t involve rewiring Human nature from the spark plugs up.  All too often, such phenomena render our beliefs immune to evidence or reasoned persuasion, no matter how articulate the argument.  Christopher Hitchens, in other words, left behind a world chock-full of minds that no amount of impassioned eloquence would ever be able to change.  Christopher Hitchens was bound to lose.  He probably knew it.

It didn’t stop him, though.  For that and other things, I salute him.

 

 

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday December 19 2011at 05:12 pm , filed under ass-hamsters, misc . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

47 Responses to “The Doomed, Glorious Rearguard Battle of Christopher Hitchens”

  1. Amen.

  2. I watched an old documentary he did on mother teresa about a year ago, and it will piss off anyone with a sound mind. Or at least, it should.

    I loved how Hitchens could be such an eloquent yet brutal debater. No one else comes close to the kind of charisma he had.

    I was actually glad when Jerry Fallwell died, but unfortunately, people like that are a dime a dozen.

    A damn shame that intelligence and the willingness to confront arcane traditions isn’t.

  3. The one thing the UBC/UO paper explains is why every political candidate in the US, particularly the national ones, must profess religious faith. The sheer inanity of it never fails to startle me but, even questioning the existence of “god” will kill your candidacy.

    Hitchens was one of our great observers. His writings will give him all the immortality any human could want.

  4. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Hitchens in the fall of 2007 in Bloomington, Indiana. His speech covered a wide range of topics, from American politics to the war in Iraq to the spotty advance of liberal democratic movements in various parts of the world (the ex-Soviet states, the Arab world, etc.). The most memorable thing he said that evening had to do with religion.

    He compared the shared god of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to a celestial Kim Jong-il (…who apparently just died as of 12/17), declared himself not only an atheist but an “anti-theist,” and proceeded to inveigh against the moral system of tribal-based cultures as being filled with dangerous delusions that could soon push every denizen of the planet toward what he termed, “the knife edge of infinity.”

    He didn’t win anyone over with that (although quite a few people whistled and clapped), but it was a sight to behold.

  5. Hear hear

  6. what never ceases to amaze me is that there are so many very very good arguments against faith and for atheism (in the children of the book sense) but they are never used. Always monkeys like the above shouting out with turrets like “thought crime!”

  7. Those people who trust atheists less than gays and Muslims? Are the same people who claim to be non-racist and non-homophobic on surveys. And, they are full of bullshit. What they say? Not very relevant when you look at what they DO.

    Because, last time I googled, atheist youths were not committing suicide because of bullying at school. Atheists are not over-represented in most prison systems and out atheists: generally not getting beaten in back alleys for being…you know…atheist.

    As you know, I am an atheist. And, sometimes, I am made slightly uncomfortable by the overt religiousity of fellow-humans, at my work, even! This has not affected me in any substantial way, though. I am very well educated, having attended a catholic university despite my violent rejection of that very faith as a teenager! I have a really, really awesome job. I got it without anyone even asking about my religious beliefs. People do not second-guess me because of my lack of belief. I send my child to public school with believers, with no real worries about her physical and emotional well-being. My child, like me…is pretty damn LOUD about everything, including her atheism.

    And, you know what? My loudly non-religious child has NEVER been bullied at school over her beliefs. She has been bullied for failing to dress “like a girl”, whatever the fuck that means, for getting good marks, and for speaking out about racism. One of her friends is frequently targetted by bullies because he is Philippino-Canadian, thus not white, and introverted…and dares to be friends with my child. He is church-going, but that cuts him no slack, strangely. This bullying has occasionally become physical.

    So, I have to seriously question the whole atheist-bashing thing. Especially when it comes to high-profile Atheists like Hitchens. I mean, Slate has…like…twenty articles on him this very minute. If that’s what it means to have your ideas supressed…sign…me…the…fuck…up.

    As for Hitchens himself…I enjoyed some of his stuff. Except, you know, his disgusting, war-mongering, racist, neo-con embrace of the war on Iraq and his completely ridiculous notion that woman can’t be funny. I pretty much hated those.

    Yet, I am quite able to make a distinction between my opinion of Hitchens, his ideas I liked, his ideas I did not like and any general feelings I might have about well-educated, British white men who don’t believe in god.

    It would be terrible if atheists were being systematically oppressed, but I’m not seeing it…AT…ALL.

    RIP, of course..

  8. I can’t past Hitchens’ support for war. He was quite happy to lie and cajole and suggest atrocities from his armchair. Once I hear someone back murder, their signal-to-noise ratio fails for me.

    On his atheist positions — he was witty, certainly, but not particularly bright. His remarks were almost always a backlash against the Abrahamic religions, and more specifically, the organizations that back them and the “average religious nut.” That leaves out a whole host of people who are actually thinking about this stuff.

    Dig deep enough with a smart atheist and a smart theist and you tend to get the same answer: “I don’t know.”

  9. Didn’t like Hitchens much myself. I end up agreeing with him on a number of fronts, but mostly I found him a poor de facto spokesperson for atheism. Too simplistically antagonistic, just for the sake of a good pissing contest, and too few substantive arguments to do anything but make my own counter-evangelism harder.

  10. Ave, HItch.

  11. I dunno. My heroes tend not to use crypto-racist language, be deeply sexist bullies, socialise with Paul Wolfowitz, be lunatic war apologists convinced that the absence of WMDs proves they were there with occasional dips into plagiarism. Still, he wrote a fair stick and that Catholic Church debate was great.

  12. Also, the absolute hero of that “intelligence squared” debate was not Christopher Hitchens but Stephen Fry. _that_ was a brilliant speech!

  13. Poor Mr. Hitchens! That he died horribly of cancer, I mean. Not about his life, because he wasn’t oppressed in any meaningful way for his quixotic crusade against other people believing in God. I have to go with Val on this one. I feel sorry he died such a miserable death, though.

    Thanks for the link to the summary of the study that underpins Atheists also tend to be more law-abiding than those who identify themselves as religious, and of course there are fewer atheists in prison –

    1. people who are in prison have to espouse whatever b*llsh*t …Praise Jeeeezus, I seen the light!… will make them look like a good candidate for parole and

    2. people who out themselves as atheists tend to be rich, educated, liberal whites, a group that is underrepresented in prison. As Peter mentions obliquely, rich white people are more apt to get away with it (and serve shorter sentences if they don’t).

  14. @JDC: Yeah, as I said I wasn’t aware of that side of the man. That knowledge certainly gives one a more nuanced view, and it would be interesting to go back along some forking timeline to see if I’d have been such a cheerleader if Hitchens’ position on the Iraq invasion had served as my introduction. Still, in the spirit of the-enemy-of-my-enemy, I applaud the man for taking on the ass-hamsterites.

    @Val (Yukon edition): Also yeah. I myself can cite at least one recent case of anti-atheistic bigotry directed at myself — apparently certain jury members at my trial were incensed by the fact that I chose to “affirm” rather than swear on a Bible, which has obvious and significant implications — and a number of people urged me to pretend to be a believer under those circumstances because it would go badly for me otherwise. Other than that, though, I can’t say my lack of religious conviction has hurt me much, and certainly you hear a lot more about the persecution of gays than of atheists. That is not to say that there is not such antipathy, however; atheists using the Twitter hashtag #GodIsNotGreat are encountering somewhat extreme responses from the ass-hamster brigade, and atheists are still forbidden by law from holding public office in a number of US states (the same link cites references showing a variety of other documented instances of institutionalized atheophobia; I’ve certainly seen coverage of instances of school-kids getting bullied for admitting to their own atheism. Whether such intolerance is as rampant above the 49th, of course, is open to debate — but in any case, numbers are numbers.

    @Hljóðlegur:

    people who are in prison have to espouse whatever b*llsh*t …Praise Jeeeezus, I seen the light!… will make them look like a good candidate for parole

    Swap out “parole” for “political office”, “a seat on the school board”, “scout master”, or “sheriff”, and tell me how such self-serving proclamations make the prison environment different from any other in that specific regard. Also, if the effect you propose truly did have enough of an effect to skew the stats so, why do the same tables show Buddhists, Muslims, Rastas, Mormons, Scientologists, and folks with Amerind religious beliefs all outnumbering atheists in the cell block? Why haven’t all those folks seen the light in order to up their odds of parole? Or do you really think than your average parole board is gonna look kindly at a guy who cries out “Praise Allah!” at his hearing?

    The metrics seems pretty clear when you compare religiosity with societal success. Secular democracies kick the crap out of religious societies in terms of quality of life, even in things like teen pregnancy and abortion rate. Religious societies suck.

  15. I suppose I can accept that Christopher Hitchens deserves some credit for his Intelligence Squared debates, although frankly I think Stephen Frye has it all over him. But he was a journalist… no, he wasn’t a journalist. He was a goddamn pundit, and the fact that he was a pundit with some views that I agree with doesn’t make him any less of one.

    Hitchens thought women couldn’t be comedians. Because they weren’t funny. He was pro-life. He wasn’t just pro-war on Iraq, he was consistently unable to go back and admit “oh jeez did I fuck up” once it became clear what had resulted. If he was wrong about anything, if he was inconsistent, if his logic was flawed… well, time to move on to something else.

    He was a guy who made money by yelling his opinion as loud as he could and beating down anyone who disagreed with him; he was a drunk, a bully, and he was more interested in proving that he was right (and focusing his time and attention on conveniently big fat easy targets) than in learning anything. Fuck him.

  16. @Will: Anti-abortion? Huh. And yet he supported Roe v. Wade, and (according to Wikipedia anyway) abortion tech in general. Supported the Iraq war, decried waterboarding, participated in the ACLU lawsuit against warrantless wiretapping. And somehow decided women couldn’t be comedians? (Was he maybe being ironic or making a joke or something with that last remark?)

    If nothing else, the man stands as a testament to the inadequacies of plotting political beliefs along a one-dimensional left-right axis. Someday when I can afford staff, I’ll look into his plethora of rationales (right now I’ve only had time to read his refusal to recant on the whole Iraq War thing, which granted struck me as kinda handwavey).

    I can also posit (or at least hope) that he’d welcome your refusal to give any quarter in the wake of his death; he had no respect for temporary post-mortem truces. He tore the shit out of Jerry Falwell while that carcass was still warm, and I can only assume his zombie self is urging you — and everyone else — to bring it on.

  17. You said Hitchens left behind

    “…a world in which the atheist demographic is trusted even less than gays and Muslims.”

    Suggesting that atheists, as a group, are somehow worse off than gays and Muslims, right now, in North America. I think that is ridiculous.

    And religious societies suck? Well duh, who said they don’t? If Canada became more religious tomorrow, do you think your life would be worse than mine, than a Muslim’s, a gay man’s? Because you are an atheist?

  18. @Val: I never suggested any such thing. I said what I said, which is what you quoted, and I linked to a study that backed it up with hard numbers: USnians trust atheists less than they trust gays and Muslims, as a group.

    Read the fucking post, Val. It takes no comprehension at all to cut and paste.

    Secondary addendum:

    “If Canada became more religious tomorrow, do you think your life would be worse than mine, than a Muslim’s”

    If that religion were Islam, certainly. Maybe not worse than yours, though; those Muslims can be every bit as misogynistic as the Christians. Which comes around yet again to the fact that religious societies suck.

    But when I said that, I wasn’t talking about me. I was talking about everybody in that society who experiences greater rates of infant mortality, sectarian violence, disease, and intolerance. I mean, shit on a stick, Val: what institutions do you think are most responsible for the persecution of gays in the first place?

  19. I read the post. Did you read my comments? I AGREE with you about religious societies. I actually said that, right in my last post.

    I don’t think that atheists are experiencing systemic persecution in North America. Do you? Do you think that survey actually means that atheists are worse off than Muslims and gays in America right now?

  20. No, I do not! That’s why I’m so damn frustrated by your repeated posts argueing as though I said that!

    We atheists are probably reviled more than gays or Muslims, because atheism is supposedly associated with a lack of ethical constraint. It’s bullshit, but that’s what the numbers show: we are reviled. But then, so is Congress. If I were claim that Congress was a more reviled group than Muslims or gays, would you be making the same argument? Would be calling that statement “ridiculous” just because Congressmen aren’t getting dragged behind trucks by good ol’ boys?

    There is a difference between being mistrusted and disliked, and being threatened with physical harm. I am aware of that difference; in fact, I linked to a pretty graphic video of a gay person being beaten and burned alive in my original post. You seem to be conflating the two.

  21. *timidly raises hand* Er, may I mention that Hitch is a little famous for his anti-abortion and anti-feminist comments?

    Here’s from fellow The Nation contributor, Katha Pollitt:

    It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id. Women aren’t funny. Women shouldn’t need to/want to/get to have a job. The Dixie Chicks were “fucking fat slags” (not “sluts,” as he misremembered later). And then of course there was his 1989 column in which he attacked legal abortion and his cartoon version of feminism as “possessive individualism.”
    cite: http://www.thenation.com/blog/165222/regarding-christopher

    It’s not Bill Maher-level shocking sexism, more like Stephen Fry. Very talented with words, and you have to admire some of what he’s done, then, *thunk!* he says something so damn dismissive about women you cringe. It’s as if his ability to think clearly has a big woman-shaped scotoma in the middle of it or something?

    Hitch’ll sound all reasonable, and then you get this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpA7pfR0FIc

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/11/christopher-hitchens-rips_n_201845.htmlhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/11/christopher-hitchens-rips_n_201845.html

  22. We atheists are probably reviled more than gays or Muslims, because atheism is supposedly associated with a lack of ethical constraint

    I really think it also rests on perceived Elitism. Some people think that their fellow humans are only well-behaved because they fear punishment (God, prison, etc), so the Godless would have no reason to behave, but part of the disdain is simply because of the demographic of the most highly-visible and vocal atheists is the elite in terms of education, race, and wealth.

    Let me state for anyone who just came in, I think anyone is capable of moral behavior if they can conceptualize the point-of-view of another, whether they have been instructed in religion or not. Religion can be an effective tool to help people practice self-control under a set of rules, but a major guiding force in moral systems is imagining The Other. Ironically, hating the elite is a form of inability to conceptualize Otherness, in this case, the privileged.

    You know what would be a really interesting rebuttal – have atheists get up and explain their ethical decision-making algorithm more often, in public. I bet it would assuage some of that reviling by deists.

  23. I don’t think I have conflated the two.

    You compared the public opinion of atheists to the public opinion of gays and Muslims, linked to a “homophobic” video of someone being burned alive, then went on to state that the public opinion of atheists is worse than public opinion of rapists and reminded us that some church leaders think atheists are psychopaths.

    I am very sorry to have frustrated you, but seriously, it never occurred to me that anyone would make these kinds of comparisons in order to point out that we atheists are not as popular as we should be.

  24. I disagreed with Hitchens on some things, notably the Iraq war, but he was someone I deeply admired for his blunt honesty, wide learning, elegant writing and devastating debate skills. I was surprised at the depth of the sorrow I felt at the news of his long expected death; I was also glad that he’d managed to reach the grim finish line with his integrity intact, having stuck to his beliefs and continued expressing them to the last.

  25. All you have to do is look at the opposition to McGuinty’s anti-bullying legislation. It is not coming from the atheist side. And, I would argue, it is not even coming from the majority of people who claim to be religious. It is spearheaded by Canada’s answer to Falwell, the self-righteous and self-appointed spokesperson for Canadian values, Charles McVety. This group of religious nut-jobs actually claim that requiring schools to form gay-straight alliances if requested by the students is a violation of their religious freedoms.

    If religious freedom justifies the demonizing and dehumanizing of anyone that does no harm to others, then these freedoms should be taken away.

    I agree that atheists are not being persecuted, at least not in Canada. But I have had many an encounter where someone questions my intelligence because i don’t believe in a god (no comments from you Peter). But the latest christian complaint is that they are the last identifiable group for which discrimination is tolerated. These buffoons don’t know the difference between criticism and discrimination. They get their shorts in a knot when the media gives time to people like Hitchens and Dawkins who have the audacity to question religion.

    Oh, and everyone have a merry christmas.

  26. Anony Mous: I dunno, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really helpful to clutch onto hurt feelings? I’ve had many an encounter where I my intelligence is questioned because I do believe in God, and has it really hurt me have those aspersions slung? Nah. It stung a little, but no more.

    I’m starting to think that all this politics and clumsy clumping of disparate people together into one big Other, one big easily-conceptualized (or mis-conceptualized) group of baddies or dummies or wrong-headed dolts or republicans or atheists or christians or gays or straights or whatever is less useful than it is harmful.

    Or maybe, it just makes me tired. I know if get tired hauling around my burlap bag full of victimhood, like a bag o rocks, and I get really tired of carrying fiery anger and distrust around.

    Just for today, you guys, I’m gonna remember all the fun I’ve had here, all the smart quips and exchanges, all the intellectual fodder I’ve gotten to share and be glad. Right now, I’m thinking good and warm thoughts about you all.

    *raises a toast* To our shared humanity! God Bless or Darwin Bless, as appropriate, and Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah, as appropriate!

  27. @Hljóðlegur:

    “have atheists get up and explain their ethical decision-making algorithm more often, in public. I bet it would assuage some of that reviling by deists.”

    Hmmm. I’m not sure of that. I’d start out by explaining that ethics and morality can be observed in other primate species, and were therefore most likely built into us by evolution– and given that the proportion of the US adult population that rejects evolution lies somewhere between 48-66% (depending on whether you include the “don’t knows” and “teach the controversy” types), I’m not sure that would do anything but pour kerosene on the fire.

    “I dunno, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really helpful to clutch onto hurt feelings?”

    I think that’s a bit dismissive of the point Anony Mouse was making; remember, he’s talking about a society where, in some quarters, it is literally illegal to hold public office unless you believe in a God of some kind, yet where the christian right routinely wails about their own persecution. This goes further that hurt feelings: this is institutionalized disenfranchisement.

    @Val: You just keep repeating the same thing over and over here. I know you have academic credentials: if you dispute the claim that atheists are less trusted than gays or Muslims, the appropriate response is not to throw your hands in the air and argue from incredulity; it’s to show where the studies (note the plural) have failed, either in their methodology or the interpretation of their results. I made that easy; I provided links. I was also surprised by those results (although they make more sense when you read the associated discussions), but that’s the whole point of research: not to confirm what we think we know, but to challenge it with empirical observation. If you don’t think the study holds up, critique the study. All you’re doing here is shooting the messenger.

  28. @Hljóðlegur: “I dunno, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really helpful to clutch onto hurt feelings?”

    I don’t think that I mentioned anything about hurt feelings. When people question my intelligence because I am an atheist, there are no hurt feelings at all. Not even a little. In fact, I tend to find it amusing that they would judge a person from a single word.

  29. Well, while Americans are indeed outrageously religious indeed, I think that surveys pertaining to religion and opinions on social issues are having a remarkable bias due to the fact that people with relatively extreme views and a strong desire to expose others to them have the most strong motive to participate in such surveys.

    Normal people, like me =) only respond with expletives to surveys that offer less than USD 50+ as guaranteed participation reward (and thus am guaranteed to be left out of whatever cohorts typical surveys actually investigate)

  30. @Anony Mouse. Excellent. I get my feelings hurt occasionally when people tell me I’m an idiot for believing, even though I don’t think it helps anything to get annoyed by it. It’s like racism or sexism in that getting irritated just doesn’t make it better? Not to categorize it with racism in other ways, but just as in “stuff imputed incorrectly to a person based on one fact about them.”

    @Peter. it is literally illegal to hold public office unless you believe in a God of some kind Wait a minute here. Weird archaic laws are on the books everywhere – illegal to wear a hat on tuesdays while holding a buggy whip, etc. No one enforces them, and no one has taken the time to remove them. Can you show me an instance in the US where someone was actually barred from running for office or voting because they claimed atheism. I’d be interested in that if it has happened.

    Hmmm. I’m not sure of that. I’d start out by explaining that ethics and morality can be observed in other primate species, and were therefore most likely built into us by evolution– and given that the proportion of the US adult population that rejects evolution lies somewhere between 48-66% (depending on whether you include the “don’t knows” and “teach the controversy” types), I’m not sure that would do anything but pour kerosene on the fire.

    Er, not sure you take my meaning. I am saying, what if the challenge is answered directly – if someone says that as an atheist I can’t make good moral or ethical decisions because I can’t fall back on God’s Word or church teachings, why not explain explicitly, step-by-step, the process for making moral decisions when God is not part of the consideration?

    I think the process will look very similar, if all parties are honest. Or who knows? I assume it will. I mean, you’re not throwing darts at a dart board to decide whether to return the money in the found wallet, right? You have a procedure for deciding how to live your life? Outright explication will demystify atheistic thought, render you less The Other, and Otherness is the very root of prejudice.

    Or not. Just my theory.

  31. @Hljóðlegur

    “Can you show me an instance in the US where someone was actually barred from running for office or voting because they claimed atheism. I’d be interested in that if it has happened.”

    Atheist Cecil Bothwell’s election to Asheville city council was officially challenged in 2009 because Article 6, section 8 of NC’s constitution says: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” (Rachel Maddow has an interesting interview on the subject archived here.) I’m guessing the challenge was ultimately defeated, if for no other reason than because it contradicts the US Constitution (it’s too close to Christmas for me to care about digging any deeper), but then, so do anti-atheist laws in six other states, and nobody’s taken them off the books either. Regardless, the law was officially invoked.

    Now, ask yourself if you would have raised the same challenge if I’d pointed to some law on the books forbidding blacks, Jews, or gays from holding public office. Would you have shrugged then, said Meh, it’s just an archaic law like someone banning hats on Tuesdays, no biggie? Unless you can honestly claim that you’d have shrugged off an antisemitic law as cavalierly as you did the anti-atheist ones, I’d argue that you’re part of the problem.

    Of course, there actually are Jewish, black, and openly gay people serving in Congress. I don’t believe there are any admitted atheists there. And given the fact that study after study shows a consistent, endemic aversion to atheists in roles ranging from marrying your daughter to running the country, anybody who claims there’s nothing to see here, move along move along has got, if you’ll forgive the expression, their head up their ass.

  32. “Now, ask yourself if you would have raised the same challenge if I’d pointed to some law on the books forbidding blacks, Jews, or gays from holding public office.”

    The US constitution, the ultimate law in the states, still states that blacks are 3/5 a person and has other wording that actually promotes slavery.

    The pledge of allegiance that opens all sessions of congress, and is recited in most schools has the words, “one nation, under God”. More interesting is that these words were not added to the pledge until 1954. It would be interesting to find out the motive for adding this, although I suspect it was a reaction to those atheist communists.

  33. Atheist Cecil Bothwell’s election to Asheville city council

    and a citation, super. I wil take a look.

  34. Hey, what do you know? According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, the NC constitution says this in Article 6, section 8: The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God…

    That’s disturbing, isn’t it, given the US constitution separation and establishment clauses. I don’t have my head up my ass, if that was your implication, because no matter how seriously I take weird and spurious state constitution legal language, I’m just not that flexible.

    Now that we found a case of someone in the US being challenged as eligible to serve as a city councilman based on atheism, do you have personal examples from your life where you were denied voting rights or access to some other general public service based on your belief? Those could be particularly relevant here.

    So what say you to public explication of the atheist moral process?

  35. I never said I didn’t believe the results of the study. I pretty much said, people don’t like atheists, so what? I don’t read much academic stuff outside of work, and I am already pretty convinced that religious societies are bad. So, spending that little time reading about the effects of religion from the perspective of how that plays out on the most powerful, least affected group, does seem to be making this kind of stuff about me. To me..obviously.

    And, as you know, I am not fond of trying to hash this stuff out on-line. My position seems to harden much faster and I’m sure my manner gaps loom larger than they would in an over-drinks argument,with yelling even!

    So, I will stop and just wish all a happy winter holiday. My day was 5 hours and 38 minutes long. The light returns!

    And for anyone feeling in need of a little winter cheer, here is some icy joy from my neck of the woods… http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=iwvfYmpYdaM

  36. To be honest, if you accept the premise of
    1) “a horrifying, immortal being with magical powers exists
    2) said horrifying, immortal being will unleash an eternity of torment upon you should you deny its existence

    and run with them, then general attitude “aggressively religious” have towards various nonbelievers.
    Seriously, think this through – for you, the issue of believing in some Skydwelling Zomby-Goast (TM) is kinda silly, but for them, it is a matter of avoiding a fate worse than death.
    Also, the possibility of you convincing their children and loved ones, through your existence (which is, per their outlook, doomed to end horribly, or rather, continue forever very horribly) and apparent normality, to consider the possibility of non-existence of their favorite Zomby-Goast, is a direct threat of subjecting their loved ones to a fate worse than death.

    To those seriously invested in Zomby-Goast cults which include “nonbelievers shall burn forever” meme, nonparticipants are worse than anti-vaccers

  37. @Hljóðlegur:

    ” Now that we found a case of someone in the US being challenged as eligible to serve as a city councilman based on atheism, do you have personal examples from your life where you were denied voting rights or access to some other general public service based on your belief?”

    What, beyond having my fate decided by jury members who were explicitly offended by my refusal to swear an oath on a bible? Why, no. None at all.

    “Those could be particularly relevant here.”

    How, exactly? This started out as a kinda eulogy for Christopher Hitchens. Would the fact that I haven’t personally been harassed for my lack of religious belief somehow mean that Damon Fowler wasn’t disowned by his parents, threatened with physical violence, and otherwise harassed and intimidated for speaking out against illegal prayer in school? Would it mean that the army chaplain was less of a douchebag when he told Capt. Ryan Jean that he was worthless and a disgrace to the military because he answered “No” in answer to the army psych evaluation question of whether he felt “life had a lasting purpose”? Would it somehow mean that the Boy Scouts of America doesn’t ban atheists? How is my personal experience relevant in any way except to move the goalposts?

    “So what say you to public explication of the atheist moral process?”

    Atheism is not a belief system; it’s a refusal to believe extraordinary claims made without evidence. The old saw says that “Atheism is a belief in the same way that not-playing-chess is a hobby. So if I understand correctly — and I’m not sure I do — your question is a little like asking me how I’d react to public explication of the non-chess-players’ moral process. There’s no reason to expect that all non-chess-players would even have a common moral process to explain.

    In fact, now that I think of it, it’s this very lack of cohesive identity that might (repeat might) go at least partway towards explaining why atheists aren’t subject to as much overt persecution as gays or ethnic minorities, even though we’re statistically more reviled: we’re a less visible target. We don’t all have a high melanin count or great taste in clothes, there are no special “atheist bars” for us to frequent, no mosques or temples or characteristic headgear to set us aside from anyone else. Nobody really knows who we are until we speak out — generally about having religious superstitions rammed down our throats in defiance of church/state separation — and then, oh boy does the holy shit hit the fan. In fact, Damon Fowler’s teacher is on record as stating that there were other non-Christians in the school who just kept quiet on the matter of school prayer — “respected the majority of their classmates and didn’t say anything” is the way she put it — and were spared the shitstorm because they kept their heads down. So maybe atheists don’t get dragged behind trucks as much as gays because we’re invisible against the crowd.

    Maybe we should go around wearing a scarlet A on our foreheads. See what happens.

  38. Some insight on Hitches from a man who actually debated him:
    http://www.cbc.ca/day6/2011/12/16/chris-hedges-on-christopher-hitchens/

  39. Y hallo thar 03!
    Why are you ignoring my emails ?

    P.S.:
    Your idea as to the consequences of “unbelievers burn in hell” belief makes an awful lot of sense. Literally.

  40. @Peter: What, beyond having my fate decided by jury members who were explicitly offended by my refusal to swear an oath on a bible?

    OMG, one of them said that? Do you feel it caused them to find you guilty?

    How is my personal experience relevant in any way except to move the goalposts?

    Well, aren’t your personal experiences relevant to questions about whether atheists have a harder time of it, you being a data point, as an atheist? If I have understood, you feel strongly that you’re personally subject to more shit because of it. As one atheist who makes his atheism part of his public blogging, your adverse experiences seem like a good thing to look at. Granted, as you say, you can’t represent all atheists because you aren’t all uniform, granted. What I mean is, in terms of changing people’s attitudes, a good illustrative story is powerful. Besides, personally, we value your opinion.

    I said: “So what say you to public explication of the atheist moral process?”
    You said, Atheism is not a belief system.

    I stand corrected. Atheism is a belief within your personal system of beliefs.

    So if I understand correctly — and I’m not sure I do — your question is a little like asking me how I’d react to public explication of the non-chess-players’ moral process. There’s no reason to expect that all non-chess-players would even have a common moral process to explain.

    Granted. Each person could have a non-canonical set, being individuals.

    Of course, you have a chance to be a public exemplar of what one individual atheist looks like. I mean, you are anyway – as soon as you profess atheism publicly, and you obliquely express your underlying principles when you urge people to give to charities, are kind to animals, or are outraged that the principles of church and state separation are not upheld by North Carolina’s constitution. Those are all expressions of underlying principles. All I was suggesting is, why not take is a step further and actually lay out your moral reasoning steps explicitly? Five abstract principles you believe are Right with a capital R, how to resolve ethical decisions, that sort of thing. Strike a PR blow for atheists everywhere! Or something.

    In fact, now that I think of it, it’s this very lack of cohesive identity that might (repeat might) go at least partway towards explaining why atheists aren’t subject to as much overt persecution as gays or ethnic minorities

    I tend to agree. This question of whether/how atheists are oppressed seeded conversation over our post-Christmas supper discussion today, or rather, yesterday, given the hour. I questioned a mid-western (Episcopalian!) atheist about whether he felt put upon because of his atheism, and he said just that – if you want real oppression, being gay is better. Interestingly, he said he goes to church because he liked the people and “most of what Father Bill says from the pulpit I really agree with; I just can’t believe in the supernatural parts.” This jibes with something I think you have said previously about churches actually having a certain silent minority of atheists in the pews.

    Maybe we should go around wearing a scarlet A on our foreheads. See what happens.

    One way to go. But couldn’t that would make you more Other, not less, unless you can associate in people’s minds atheism with visible acts of good, civic-mindedness, or other behaviors everyone can agree on? If they fear that atheists are blowing goats and eating babies, visibly being moral and ethical dispels that misapprehension. Look at that guy with the A on his forehead, helping to feed the homeless, etc.

    Peace and thanks for the interesting discussion.

  41. I don’t like being kidnapped and taken somewhere to be prayed over. I’m glad my family has mellowed out. I avoided them for a while.

  42. also, oh boy. my sisters kids have gotten to the stage where they gave me a creationist book to read. got it yesterday when we exchanged gifts. sigh.

    I’ve been dreading the time when the kids would start worrying about me this way. I don’t want to engage in creation/evolution. been there, done that. I’m going to figure out how to handle this. gracefully, I hope.

  43. @Hljóðlegur
    “Er, may I mention that Hitch is a little famous for his anti-abortion and anti-feminist comments?”

    *raises hand too*
    Sorry for arriving to the party so late, but Christmas celebration is srs business here, and I’d been as good as declared legally dead for the past few days.

    Here’s a copy/paste from an interview with Hitchens where he summarizes his stance on abortion. He seems somewhat wary and coy, and makes a ton of disclaimers (it becomes especially visible if you read the whole thing, not just the copy/paste), but doesn’t seem particularly anti-abortion or anti-feminist, at least not in this bit:

    Q: But you’re not agreeing with the religious right on this?

    Hitchens: No one who is not for the provision of sex education, contraception, and child care should be allowed to have any position on abortion at all–and those who do should be met with fusillades. Women will decide it, that’s a matter of fact, as much as a principle.

    Q: So, what is your position regarding the continued legal status of abortion?

    Hitchens: There’s no choice but choice. I mean that to sound the way it does sound. But there are choices about the conditions in which that choice is made. [...]

    But I’m against all blurrings. There’s a very sharp dividing line in the case of an infant. I’m against fooling with that. Everything in me rebels against that. The conclusion I’ve come to as to why it’ s such a toxic question in America is it isn’t about the rights of the unborn child. I think it’s an argument about patriarchy. It is a metaphor for the status of women in what is still in some ways a frontier society.

    (source: http://www.progressive.org/christopher_hitchens_1997_progressive_interview.html )

    And I do agree that his essay on female comedians and general lack of funniness in women really was appaling – on that account, guilty as charged.

  44. @Will Sargent
    “He was pro-life. He wasn’t just pro-war on Iraq, he was consistently unable to go back and admit “oh jeez did I fuck up” once it became clear what had resulted.”

    Hitchens alleged “pro-life” stance is not that unequivocal (yes, he advocated viewing foetuses as possible future citizens, but it always came down to letting women make the decision for themselves – which is not the usual mark of a pro-lifer). As for Iraq, I couldn’t forgive him that one too – but from my point of view, he redeemed himself, at least a little bit, when he decided to undergo waterboarding, and used this experience to write “Believe me, it’s torture”, where he passionately denounced using torture as an investigation method. I suppose it might have been his way of admitting he screwed up – it wasn’t nearly as good as an open apology, but it was something.

  45. 01 I have not received your mails, perhaps they got spammified or something.
    Try sending today I’ll be watching spam folder closely.

    As to Mr Hitchens (since the discussion apparently took the turn for discussion of his public quirks), to me, a relatively disturbing aspect of his public persona was “women aren’t funny” thing, and it got more disturbing in the light of proposition that unthinking clumps of tissue are people because they might turn into people.
    But worst of all, he was a fan of the idiotic “European demographic collapse” nonsense which boils down to “we are gonna get overrun by brownback muslamic Zerglings” (protip: genes and memes are different)

    Other than that, a pretty cool guy, and will be definitely missed.


  46. “European demographic collapse”

    US fans of that are not very good at maths. As in, completely wrong.
    Then, Islam is a quite obnoxious religion, and the fact that the richest sponsors of it come from the especially odious Wahhabi sect..

    At least the evidence shows secularisation works on them too…. but personally, I believe there should be a referendum whether this country should let in anyone who declares themselves to be a strong believer and is not willing to swear he will put the law first and religion second..

    Only nuts and oldsters believe in God in Czech Republic.
    http://www.czso.cz/csu/tz.nsf/i/nabozenske_vyznani_obyvatelstva_ceske_republiky_23_12_04

    Note that among people with university, only 5% believe in God, and alltogether, except for old people, the percentage of believers is just 20%..

    BTW… so what if genes and memes are different?
    There is pretty solid evidence not all ethnicities evolved to be equally capable. The reason for Ashkenazi Jews being so startlingly overrepresented among successful people and especially among hard scientists can be hardly ascribed to just culture….

  47. Liked Hitchens style – even though it tended towards cheap showmanship. Didn’t much like his ideas. One of the few modern athiests that I rather liked, having grown up on his show, and the science, is Carl Sagan. To me, he never seemed to be promoting athiesm, so much as giddily describing how cool science was, how awesome the universe is. There were moments where he did promote, but I felt that his core belief/POV, whatever you want to call it, was for him, and not to pound the pulpit.

    I liked his approach – science is cool, Objective Materialism is pretty cool, too. And so, why yes, yes it is. As a tool. As one of many, many tools with which we look at the universe, or external realities. I, for instance, don’t self – identify as an athiest, because to my way of looking at things, it exists merely as a tool, a system, a particular type of logic with which one looks at external and internal realities, to figure out, deduce how they work.

    No more than that, no less than that. As valid as any tool used for specific purposes, but not so much as to require much more than simple use. Religious types simply use another, different tool, for purposes of observing external or internal realities. They are no more wrong than athiests, agnostics, or any other type, such as a neural model agnostic.

    Naturally, this is personal opinion, and to me, very useful. Sometimes I use this tool, sometimes I use that tool, sometimes I have to make a new tool in order to continue apprehension of various realities, consensual or otherwise.

    I feel Hitchens did pretty good, and in Trial Of The Will, even admitted a gotcha moment, where he admitted to a major weakness of said tool kit.