Christopher Hitchens: a missionary against religion 6

One doesn’t have to like everything Christopher Hitchens says in this medley of his arguments to enjoy it.

The nice thing is that he speaks well for atheism, and puts down his religious opponents, on every point they raise, briskly and thoroughly.

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Judaism, Religion general, Videos by Jillian Becker on Sunday, February 22, 2015

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Speaking of atheism 0

A chat about atheism, religion, and science. Recorded December 14, 2010.

Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens.

A good answer to a stupid question 7

A selection of video-recorded statements by Christopher Hitchens on religion.

He is blunt and accurate, and entertaining as he always was (which we appreciated, even when – on political issues – we disagreed with him).

 

(Hat-tip to our reader Marnee)

 

Posted under Christianity, Commentary, Judaism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Monday, August 25, 2014

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Religion poisons everything 1

This video takes little more than 50 minutes to watch, not the hour and more indicated on it.

It’s well worth the time.

We agree with almost everything Christopher Hitchens says here about religion. (We do not share all his tastes or opinions. He never quite escaped from the Left, though he edged further and further Right in his last years.)

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(Hat-tip Andrew M)

Posted under Atheism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Sunday, July 13, 2014

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Why not be cruel? 8

Why do believers ache to argue with atheists? Why does it bother them that others do not believe what they believe? Especially if they have radio shows and can propound their beliefs to their hearts’ content.

Although Dennis Prager is religious (an observing Jew), there was a time when we considered him intelligent – which is a way of saying, he agreed by and large with our political views. Not so lately. And today he has produced an article which has us laughing aloud.

He calls it a response  to Richard Dawkins, to statements the scientist made in an interview with CNN. He also intends to make a general answer to atheism. His theme is that “God” is necessary to humankind, because without belief in such a being we would not know good from bad.

We greatly respect Richard Dawkins as a proponent of atheism who is listened to by millions. He has probably convinced many believers that they were wrong. We enormously enjoy his highly readable books on evolution. We do, however, have our reservations about him. We disagree with his ill-thought-out political views – fuzzy leftist notions. We excuse these to some extent on the grounds that he is concentrating on science and so hasn’t bothered to inform himself adequately about political issues. Whether that’s true or not, of course we don’t know. We also think he is under-informed on the religions he has written about. But that doesn’t much matter. (We review his book The God Delusion here.)

Prager complains that Dawkins will not debate with him. Since what follows is Prager’s argument, we can see why. Prager makes no good case to answer. But we will comment on what he says to show what’s wrong with it.

This past Friday CNN conducted an interview with Richard Dawkins, the British biologist most widely known for his polemics against religion and on behalf of atheism.

Asked “whether an absence of religion would leave us without a moral compass,” Dawkins responded: “The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible.”

This is the crux of the issue for Dawkins and other anti-religion activists – that not only do we not need religion or God for morality, but we would have a considerably more moral world without them.

This argument is so wrong – both rationally and empirically – that its appeal can only be explained by a) a desire to believe it and b) an ignorance of history.

That’s when we started laughing. Prager the believer, accusing atheists of believing what they do or do not only because they want to believe it!

But on we go:

First, the rational argument.

If there is no God, the labels “good” and “evil” are merely opinions. They are substitutes for “I like it” and “I don’t like it.” They are not objective realities.

That’s the rational argument? It implies that at some point  in history – or perhaps at many points – a god has issued definitions of good and evil. Or launched them as forces among us, so they are “objective realities” outside of the human mind.

The religious claim that Jehovah dictated laws, in words, to Moses; that God the Father, through Jesus, gave instructions on moral behavior; that Allah told Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel all that has been recorded as his will and law in the Koran. What sane adult can believe that such events actually happened? The plain fact must be that, since we have the written laws of Judaism, the records of Jesus Christ’s sayings,  and the Koran, at some points in time human beings formulated those statements of morals and law, and wrote them down. To believe otherwise is laughable.

Laws against murder, theft, the breaking of oaths, adultery, defaulting on contract were common around the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor long before the period of Moses. The Hammurabi Code predated the Hebrews’ putative law-giver by at least five hundred years, and while it chiefly deals with punishments for crimes and how disputes should be settled, it assumes the existence of laws on the same moral principles as underlie the laws of Moses. And they were not issued as the commandments of a god. Not to know that is ignorance of history.

Prager persists:

Every atheist philosopher I have debated has acknowledged this. For example, at Oxford University I debated Professor Jonathan Glover, the British philosopher and ethicist, who said: “Dennis started by saying that I hadn’t denied his central contention that if there isn’t a God, there is only subjective morality. And that’s absolutely true.”

The ethicist should get out more. If he hasn’t yet become aware of the power of social conventions, cultural pressures, public opinion –  all in addition to enlightened self-interest, which very much needs to take account of how other people react to one’s self-will –  he has spent too much time closeted in his ivory tower.

And the eminent Princeton philosopher Richard Rorty admitted that for secular liberals such as himself, “there is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?‘”

Because you may be punched on the nose, Richard.  And if someone is cruel to you, you may understand why cruelty is so widely abhorred as to be kept in most societies as punishment for crime or treatment for enemies.

And why do eminent philosophers choose to forget the moral philosophies that owe nothing to religion? The Stoics. The Epicureans. True, some of them were religious, but few were adherents of a moral religion, and their ethics were not ascribed to a revelation from a god. The religion of ancient Greece was not a moral religion. Nor was that of Rome until the 4th century. Marcus Aurelius (121-180 C.E.) was not a Christian. He was a Stoic. Yet Christians admire him as a good man and a good emperor.

Hear Prager again:

Atheists like Dawkins who refuse to acknowledge that without God there are only opinions about good and evil are not being intellectually honest.

None of this means that only believers in God can be good or that atheists cannot be good. There are bad believers and there are good atheists. But this fact is irrelevant to whether good and evil are real.

To put this as clearly as possible: If there is no God who says, “Do not murder,” murder is not wrong. Many people or societies may agree that it is wrong. But so what? Morality does not derive from the opinion of the masses. If it did, then apartheid was right; murdering Jews in Nazi Germany was right; the history of slavery throughout the world was right; and clitoridectomies and honor killings are right in various Muslims societies.

The Afrikaner nationalists who imposed apartheid on South Africa, justified themselves with reference to their bible. “The sons of Ham must be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.” They were most of them devout members of one or another of the Calvinist churches.

The Germans who carried out the will of the Hitlerian regime were almost to a man and woman raised in the faith of either Protestant or Catholic Christianity.

The slave traders and slave owners of Europe and America were Christians. The present slave traders and owners in North Africa and Asia are almost all Muslims, as are honor killers everywhere.

So, then, without God, why is murder wrong?

Is it, as Dawkins argues, because reason says so?

My reason says murder is wrong, just as Dawkins’s reason does. But, again, so what? The pre-Christian Germanic tribes of Europe regarded the Church’s teaching that murder was wrong as preposterous. They reasoned that killing innocent people was acceptable and normal because the strong should do whatever they wanted.

Just as Islamic terrorists do now, shouting “Allahu Akbar!”

And those old tribes were not without their gods. Most gods in those bad old days required human sacrifices.

In addition, reason alone without God is pretty weak in leading to moral behavior. When self-interest and reason collide, reason usually loses. That’s why we have the word “rationalize” — to use reason to argue for what is wrong.

What would reason argue to a non-Jew asked by Jews to hide them when the penalty for hiding a Jew was death? It would argue not to hide those Jews.

In that regard, let’s go to the empirical argument.

Years ago, I interviewed Pearl and Sam Oliner, two professors of sociology at California State University at Humboldt and the authors of one of the most highly-regarded works on altruism, The Altruistic Personality. The book was the product of the Oliners’ lifetime of study of non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.

The Oliners, it should be noted, are secular, not religious, Jews; they had no religious agenda.

I asked Samuel Oliner, “Knowing all you now know about who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, if you had to return as a Jew to Poland and you could knock on the door of only one person in the hope that they would rescue you, would you knock on the door of a Polish lawyer, a Polish doctor, a Polish artist or a Polish priest?”

Without hesitation, he said, “a Polish priest.” And his wife immediately added, “I would prefer a Polish nun.”

That alone should be enough to negate the pernicious nonsense that God is not only unnecessary for a moral world, but is detrimental to one.

At this point one might smile, for the irony of it – but it is no joke. Yes, among the Poles who sheltered Jews during the Nazi occupation there were priests and nuns. But has Prager forgotten that for 2ooo years Christianity has been persecuting Jews? That Poland was a land of pogroms? Does he imagine that priests and monks took no part in them? Is this just forgetfulness or – yet again – ignorance of history?

And what of the Papal and Spanish Inquisitions? Has he forgotten that in exactly the same way “God” tells men anything, he told the Inquisitors that burning people at the stake was good? 

But if that isn’t enough, how about the record of the godless 20th century, the cruelest, bloodiest, most murderous century on record? [?] Every genocide of the last century — except for the Turkish mass murder of the Armenians and the Pakistani mass murder of Hindus in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was committed by a secular anti-Jewish and anti-Christian regime. And as the two exceptions were Muslim, they are not relevant to my argument. I am arguing for the God and Bible of Judeo-Christian religions.

Only now he tells us that he discounts Islam. Though why he believes the words of Allah are necessarily less true than the words of Jehovah or Jesus he does not say. Nor does he seem aware that much of the moral law putatively taught by Jehovah was discounted or even contradicted by the Christians’ triune God.  

And we repeat: the Third Reich was not anti-Christian. And Hitler himself was raised a Catholic. As for Stalin, he was thoroughly instructed in the morality of Christianity when he attended a Russian Orthodox seminary.

Perhaps the most powerful proof of the moral decay that follows the death of God is the Western university and its secular intellectuals. Their moral record has been loathsome. Nowhere were Stalin and Mao as venerated as they were at the most anti-religious and secular institutions in Western society, the universities. Nowhere in the West today is anti-Americanism and Israel-hatred as widespread as it is at universities. And Princeton University awarded its first tenured professorship in bioethics to Peter Singer, an atheist who has argued, among other things, that that “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog or a chimpanzee” and that bestiality is not immoral.

At last we can agree with Prager! Western universities have become moral cesspools. Not because they are secular, but because they teach socialism, collectivism, egalitarianism, political correctness, environmentalism; and because they deliberately misapply the principle of diversity to race and gender and not to ideas.

Dawkins and his supporters have a right to their atheism. They do not have a right to intellectual dishonesty about atheism.

No charge of intellectual dishonesty has been proved against Dawkins with these shallow arguments.

I have debated the best known atheists, including the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss (“A Universe from Nothing”) and Daniel Dennett. Only Richard Dawkins has refused to come on my radio show.

If four smart atheists were unable to reason you out of your irrational beliefs, Dennis, why should another have a go? We don’t expect that you would be persuaded by our arguments even if you read them, which you probably will not. But we want to share our amusement with fellow non-believers.

Demonstrations of compassion for a cult of death and suffering 3

In memory of Christopher Hitchens, who died two days ago, here is a video from October 2007 in which he talks about the “profane marriage between media-hype and medieval  superstition and the icon it gave birth to” – Mother Teresa.

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Commentary, Health, India by Jillian Becker on Saturday, December 17, 2011

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God Is Not Great 4

This review was written in 2007, the year the book was published. It needs to be on our pages.

Christopher Hitchens has cancer and may not live much longer. He has expressed some opinions that chime well with those of The Atheist Conservative, and some that are decidedly different. As an atheist he has won our approbation; as a political commentator he has often earned our criticism. In agreement with him or not, we have always appreciated his eloquence and wit.

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God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens,Twelve, New York , 2007, 307 pages.

Religion cannot survive in our Age of Science. Until I read this book I thought that there was life in it yet, enough for it to continue as an important force in human affairs for another century or so. But I am persuaded by Hitchens that it is already dead, even though there are many millions who still believe in gods or God and even more who observe the rituals of worship, and even though some act politically and devastatingly in its name.

How then is it dead? Hitchens puts it this way, with characteristic elegance: ‘Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago … We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday.’

So – Hitchens encouragingly claims – although Islam has risen all over the globe to fight for its life with fire and tongue against scientific truth, against criticism, against freedom of body and mind, and continues successfully to rake in its converts by intimidation and even persuasion, it is doomed just as the other religions are doomed, being but the ritual perpetuation of a long-outdated belief, and will dwindle away to nothing as so many religions have done before it. Coming generations in an ever more closely communicating world will find it harder and harder to believe in the unbelievable.

We know that there are scientists who are religious. Amazingly, there are quite a few who find it possible to accept all that cosmology and physics tell us about the nature of the universe and yet still believe in a Creator God with mysterious purposes for His Creation. Of course – Hitchens says – you can do this, but ‘the theory works without that assumption’. God can be retained, but is not required. Believe in him if you will, but to questions of how the world has come to be as it is, God is irrelevant, superfluous, an added extra, an unnecessary decoration contributed by nostalgia and habit. Further knowledge of the stars will not come through prayer, and though an astronomer may pray for knowledge and go to church every seventh day to win the approval of his god, it is to his telescope he will go to find the truth.

Hitchens dismisses the argument for ‘intelligent design’ – part of religion’s last-gasp vocabulary of euphemism – with illustrations of how if nature were indeed the result of design, unintelligence would better characterize the designer who achieved such results: the ‘useless junk’ in our DNA string left over from lower creatures; our appendix; our vestigial tails; all of which are explained satisfactorily by evolution but make no sense at all as intelligent design. One could add many more. I like to cite the inability of bees to alight easily on a flat surface.

The presence among us of tormenting and life-destroying viruses does not say much for the designs of an intelligence that is also supposed to be beneficent to the human creature. Scientific discovery and skepticism have removed the need to justify horrors, to answer such questions as to ‘who inflicted the syphilis bacillus or mandated the leper or the idiot child’.

‘Intelligent design’ implies that intelligence existed before anything else. But we are aware that what we call intelligence requires human physiology – including most immediately a brain – which, of all things known, has taken longest to evolve. It has come at this – our – end of the process. An assertion that such a thing was already there at the very beginning is not rationally persuasive

I have long wondered why so many find it easier to conceive of there being an original Nothing then Something (the universe) and then again eventually Nothing, than to conceive of Something always having existed and forever to remain. We know Something exists. We know that matter is imperishable: it changes but does not dissolve into nothingness. Why, if we can accept the idea that it will have no ending, do we need to think of it as having had a beginning?

In the grip of the belief that there was ‘a beginning’ of existence, believers like to raise their favorite ‘logical’ argument that since everything must have a cause there must be a First Cause, Hitchens logically asks for the cause of the First Cause, or ‘Who designed the designer?’ No theologist or philosopher has ever satisfactorily answered that (Thomas Aquinas’s argument that God could set the cause-and-effect chain working in the universe because he is outside it does not abolish the question of how he came into existence) – or ever produced a sound argument for belief in a god of any sort.

The onus rests always on the believer to prove his case. It is not necessary for the unbeliever to prove that the object of others’ belief is not there. As Karl Popper expressed it: ‘Seeing no reason to believe is sufficient reason not to believe.’ It is an argument against belief most useful to be armed with. Another of course is David Hume’s, who asserted, in the light of the immense suffering that God coolly watches his creatures undergoing, that if he is omnipotent then he must be evil, or if good he cannot be omnipotent. (Hitchens mentions both philosophers but neither of these arguments which would have served him well.)

Hitchens does not accept the shop-worn argument that without religion there would be no morality. He is as certain as I am that religion is not the indispensable source of ethics or law. Reason and experience teach people, and have surely always taught them, that it is better and safer to live in a world where certain kinds of behavior are by and large avoided and certain rules by and large obeyed. I was interested to find, when I got round not long ago to reading the Hammurabi Code that it deals chiefly with what punishments should be imposed on those who disobey rules of conduct rather than in laying down or even reiterating the rules themselves. Rules against murder, adultery, lying, stealing pre-date all recorded codifications, any tablet of commandments. As Hitchens says, ‘Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.’

There surely cannot be any doubt that religion has been the cause of much human misery, cruelty, torture, oppression, and probably the majority of wars. It is fair to add that some religions have inspired good deeds as well as evil ones. But then, people have always done good and evil regardless of what they do it in the name of. And surely always will. As for great works of art which it has inspired, it is not unreasonable to suppose that if religion had not supplied the inspiration something else would have done for the same artists. There must be at least as many marvelous pictures of mortals and ordinary scenes as there are of angelic gatherings and Christians suffering; at least as many admirable buildings dedicated to secular as to religious uses; and many more great poems and plays without religious themes than with them. Hitchens points out that beautiful and valuable things that have grown out of religions can be and are as much enjoyed and valued by civilized non-believers, such as himself, as by the pious. (My own list of such things is long, including: the King James translation of the bible; La Chapelle; certain painted angels and saints of the Renaissance; Bach’s compositions dedicated to God.) Hitchens cites, among things that do not require faith to treasure and preserve them, and in this case would have lasted better without it, the Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the name of their religion – a type of vandalism that atheists are very unlikely to commit, having no reason to.

The author confesses to once having had a faith of his own, the secular faith of Marxism. He is now recognizably conservative, even traces of his former leftism becoming almost imperceptible. We welcome him among us.

 

Jillian Becker

Posted under Atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Marxism, Religion general, Reviews by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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Divine dictatorship 2

Christopher Hitchens, atheist, and Tony Blair, convert to Catholicism, debated religion in Toronto on November 27, 2010.

The motion was: “Religion is a force for good in the world”.

The good news is that Hitchens, opposing, won the debate. The audience voted two-to-one in his favor.

From the report in the Telegraph (where there is also a video clip):

Mr Blair … said: “It is undoubtedly true that people commit horrific acts of evil in the name of religion.

“It is also undoubtedly true that people do acts of extraordinary common good inspired by religion.”

He pointed to the good done by faith based organisations, including the millions of lives saved in Africa and care for the mentally ill, disabled and destitute.

He added: “The proposition that religion is unadulterated poison is unsustainable.

“It can be destructive, it can also create a deep well of compassion, and frequently does.”

We would contend that good people will do good things and bad people bad things whether or not they have religious belief.

Mr Blair said the common thread running through all faiths was to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” .

Most religions have it, but not all. Islam does not have it. The understanding that you will probably be treated by others in much the same way you treat them is also common sense. Which Islam manifestly lacks.

Mr Hitchens … said: “Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well.

“And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea.”

Even Tony Blair had to smile at that.

Posted under Atheism, Commentary, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Monday, November 29, 2010

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Amnesty for terrorists 1

Amnesty International has been a vile organization for decades, despite the nobility of the cause for which it was ostensibly founded: to come to the aid of political prisoners regardless of their politics. Such an aim should have made it a champion of free speech. But in fact it has proved to be a champion of cruel, collectivist, tyrannical regimes. While readily speaking up for terrorists justly imprisoned by free countries, it has raised barely an audible murmur for brave prisoners who’ve stood for freedom in communist and Islamic  hells. It’s record of false accusations against Israel and excuses for Hamas, for instance, is a sorry story all on its own.

It is fair to say that far from being for humanitarianism and justice, it is nothing better than a communist front organization. If everyone who works for it doesn’t know that, they should inform themselves better.

Mona Charen tries to set the record straight in a recent article. She writes:

Amnesty International has been a handmaiden of the left for as long as I can remember. Founded in 1961 to support prisoners of conscience, it has managed since then to ignore the most brutal regimes and to aim its fire at the West and particularly at the United States. This week, Amnesty has come in for some (much overdue) criticism — but not nearly so much as it deserves.

During the Cold War, AI joined leftist international groups like the World Council of Churches to denounce America’s policy in Central America. Yet human rights in Cuba were described this way in a 1976 report: “the persistence of fear, real or imaginary, was primarily responsible for the early excesses in the treatment of political prisoners.” Those priests, human rights advocates, and homosexuals in Castro’s prisons were suffering from imaginary evils. And the “excesses” were early — not a continuing feature of the regime.

In 2005, William Schulz, the head of AI’s American division, described the U.S. as a “leading purveyor and practitioner” of torture … Schulz’s comments were echoed by AI’s Secretary General, Irene Khan, who denounced Guantanamo Bay as “the gulag of our times.”

When officials from Amnesty International demonstrated last month in front of Number 10 Downing Street demanding the closure of Guantanamo, Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee who runs a group called Cageprisoners, joined them. Begg is a British citizen who, by his own admission, was trained in at least three al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, was “armed and prepared to fight alongside the Taliban and al-Qaida against the United States and others,” and served as a “communications link” between radical Muslims living in Great Britain and those abroad.

As for Cageprisoners, well, let’s just say it isn’t choosy about those it represents. Supposedly dedicated to helping those unjustly “held as part of the War on Terror,” it has lavished unmitigated sympathy on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, confessed mastermind of 9/11; Abu Hamza, the one-handed cleric convicted of 11 charges including soliciting murder; and Abu Qatada, described as Osama bin Laden’s “European ambassador.” Another favorite was Anwar Al-Awlaki, the spiritual guide to Nidal Hasan (the mass murderer at Fort Hood) and underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Anne Fitzgerald, AI’s policy director, explained that the human rights group allied with Begg because he was a “compelling speaker” on detention and acknowledged that AI had paid his expenses for joint appearances. Asked by the Times of London if she regarded him as a human rights advocate, she said, “It’s something you’d have to speak to him about. I don’t have the information to answer that.” One might think that would be a pretty basic thing about which to have information.

This level of collaboration didn’t go down well with everyone at Amnesty. Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit, went public with her dismay after internal protests were ignored. “I believe the campaign (with Begg’s organization, Cageprisoners) fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” she wrote to her superiors. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment. … Amnesty has created the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights.”

For this, Miss Sahgal was suspended.

There have been a couple of voices raised on her behalf on the left. Christopher Hitchens (if we can still locate him on the left) condemned Amnesty for its “disgraceful” treatment of a whistle-blower and suggested that AI’s 2 million subscribers withhold funding until AI severs its ties with Begg and reinstates Sahgal. Salman Rushdie went further: “Amnesty International has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Moazzam Begg and his group Cageprisoners, and holding them up as human rights advocates. It looks very much as if Amnesty’s leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy, and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong.”

Rushdie is right. His only error is in believing that Amnesty’s loss of innocence is recent.

We would urge AI’s 2 million subscribers to withhold funding permanently.

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