Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hitchens love

The tributes have been pouring in for Christopher Hitchens, who has just died of esophageal cancer. I find that I cannot fully share this positive emotion. Not that Hitchens was a bad person, just inconsistent and generally shallow in his analysis. During his TV appearances--and apparently in person--he masked this shallowness with clever quips. In the end, though, he seemed to be mostly about "getting over" on someone, whether it was Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, or whomever, but never offering analysis at any depth. This cleverness was nurtured, of course, by the Oxford Union and other places where clever English people develop a taste for it, many never to recover.

I found his support for Bush's invasion of Iraq disgusting beyond belief.

His militant atheism exhibited all the faults of that trend: the self-righteousness, arrogance, and of course outright mimicry of the intolerance of the religionists themselves.

On the CNN blog Stephen Prothero, a respected scholar of comparative religion, makes some telling points about Hitchens' atheist blather. Here are some excerpts.

Prothero: "My love/hate relationship with Christopher Hitchens started when I read “God Is Not Great.” Before that, he was a hero of mine. I loved his slashing style, his intelligence, his learning, his self-possession and, above all, his passion. But I hated this book.

"So I panned it in the “Washington Post.” “I have never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject,” I wrote, before taking Hitchens to task for demonstrating one of his own pet themes: “the ability of dogma to put reason to sleep.”

"I panned the book because I knew Hitchens could take it, and because he deserved it. But what really motivated me was disappointment. I had disagreed with him before, of course. But in every other case I had the sneaking suspicion he knew more than I did about the subject. And even if he didn’t, I didn’t care, because he was always so much fun to read. . . .

"Everyone has a blind spot, however, and for Hitchens it was religion. I remember being confused when I began reading “God Is Not Great,” chiefly because I agreed with virtually everything he was saying. Of course, religious institutions have visited all manner of horrors on humanity. Of course, theological writing is often literally incredible. And yes the whole enterprise can be poisonous.

"But what I finally saw was that Hitchens wasn’t really dynamiting, as he believed, the whole world of “religion.” He was just blowing up, over and over again, his little corner of a little vacant lot in his own little neighborhood and imagining he was leveling Mecca and Rome.

"The problem with Hitchens’ writing on religion is that he did what many preachers do; he let his emotions get the best of him, and then he started preaching to the choir. In the process, he helped to lead a whole generation of New Atheists down a rabbit hole of their own imagining.

"Inside that fantasy world, the atheists are always the smartest boys in the class, and around every corner there is a new religious sin to sneer and chuckle at. In the real world, there are millions of intelligent Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Jews sneering and chuckling at precisely the same stuff. The criticism of religion begins, believe it or not, with embarrassment in the pews."



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