Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Christopher Hitchens On Iraq, Islam & Religion

I started on Sunday night, and spent most of Memorial Day looking at media and articles of Christopher Hitchens. There's plenty available on the web: his own page, and other articles and appearances. Hitchens is a fascinating individual to watch. He is a Brit who has become an American citizen, taking up a great affinity and appreciation for Thomas Jefferson and the unique American experiment in what he calls “secular government” (Yes, it is religiously impartial, though I think not necessarily indifferent). He started out as a refugee from what he describes as a conservative Tory family, and became a fervent Trotskyite socialist.

Today, he is the most informed and devastating critic of the vulgar heckling anti-Iraq War radicals. After one of Bill Maher’s flip “dumb-Bush” suggestions, he called Bill Maher’s yowling anti-Bush audience who would “laugh at anything,” “frivolous.” He said those cheap sort of remarks are so ubiquitous and easy that anyone can do them, and “this is now the joke that even stupid people laugh at.” Maher was stunned and stung. After all, Hitchens was picking on his bread and butter. By the way, if you should look up the video on the web, Maher’s HBO show is not subject to broadcast ideas of decorum. The language and conversation gets coarse.

Anyway, no one makes a more overwhelming case for the justification of action in Iraq (I still shrink from calling this single engagement a “war,” which language does violence to conventional English) than does Hitchens. He has said he never watches the news (which has jaded much of the public). He does his own investigation and is well armed with information that those sources never provide and are often unaware of. He reads the New York Times only to be aware of the ideas he will be confronted with from others.

If you aren’t familiar with him, you might want to slow down on the idea that Hitchens is an utterly penitent convert. Though he does recant his early revolutionary socialist enthusiasm, he claims no party and still outright disclaims conservatism. He credits George W. Bush’s resolve on this overriding matter of the Islamic/terrorist threat, and he is very dismissive of the shallow knee-jerk left. But aside from this disparagement, great fuel is added to his anti-Islamic zeal by his visceral hatred and disdain for all religion of any sort. Hitchens is not one for obligatory polite temperance toward his adversaries. When Jerry Falwell died recently, he called Falwell an evil huckster who taught hate and said “It’s a shame there’s no Hell for him to go to.” I suppose he didn’t expect or want an invitation to the funeral. I think Falwell often spoke injudiciously, especially given the likelihood that comments would be publicized. But, Hitchens is of course, just wrong in his assessment of Falwell’s deceptive and evil intentions.

It is interesting to me that Hitchens carries on at great length about the detrimental effect of religious belief and about the other subjects of his indignation, with rhetoric liberally studded with moral judgments. More often than not, I agree with him about actions he morally condemns. But I see these as abrogation of an objective moral standard that is the endowment of God. Plainly, Hitchens’ ontology doesn’t include such metaphysical entities. I expect he would supply a linguistically abstruse explanation of the social genesis of moral obligation. That’s what always has to be done. But, I’m sure he would do a better-than-average job of that challenging task of a naturalist weaving of common-sense morality. He’s tremendously literate and educated in history, philosophy, and literature. But, the final product of such efforts always makes of morality something quite apart from what intuition suggests it is. Out of a consideration for simple cultural practicality I suppose, he will just let Jefferson slide on that niggling notion of creator-endowed inalienable rights.

Hitchens typically describes religious people as fideisticaly embracing a dream to avoid death by following a prescribed routine. He does mention Christian friends, but even if it should move his mind not at all, it should present him with an ontological curiosity to be well-acquainted with a Christian who sincerely confesses not only to know Jesus, but to love him. How does such a creature come to exist? I don’t detest Hitchens for this. He simply has no experience so that he would understand that for some, denial of Christ would amount to something more akin to denial of a lifelong spouse. Knowledge of God can be the sort of knowledge that epistemologists call “incorrigible.” An assertion of denial would be merely a semantic exercise. In truth, Hitchens’ complete lack of sympathy for any of those he criticizes with a broad brush, like his reflexive suspicion of the intentions of people like Falwell, is not something to be hated, but rather to be pitied. He just doesn’t know. Judging by his non-partisan advocacies and criticisms, I’m sure if he did know, he would be an uncommonly effective apologist for the other side.

But, Hitchens’ brings strong logic and telling data to the table on the matter of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the necessity and justice of action in Iraq, which he explains with great passion, seeing radical Islam as the most ominous danger in the world, today. I think he’s correct. But, very strange bedfellows have been made in coordinating opposition to threats in history. In the world, there is a great population of us that Hitchens would deride as “religionists,” who would side with him in opposing the violent manifestation of Islam. Even if he shouldt never allow the slightest quarter of accommodation to their perspective, if its as important as he says, it seems like it would be wise to avail this great population of potential allies in this fight, of his current and historical knowledge by reconsidering on that matter of polite temperance.

To hear some of his case for justification of action in Iraq, I have linked below, to a debate of a year ago with Scottish Labor Party MP, George Galloway. Today, I bought Hitchens’ newest book: “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” One must sharpen one’s senses with flint.


Christopher Hitchens debates George Galloway

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