Atheists with Attitude
By Anthony Gottlieb
New Yorker, May 21, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
By Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens recounts how, a week before 9/11, a hypothetical
question was put to him by Dennis Prager, an American talk-show host.
Hitchens was asked to imagine himself in a foreign city at dusk, with a
large group of men coming toward him. Would he feel safer, or less safe, if
he were to learn that they were coming from a prayer meeting? With justified
relish, the widely travelled Hitchens responds that he has had that
experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad, and
that, in each case, the answer would be a resounding "less safe." He relates
what he has seen or knows of warring factions of Protestants and Catholics
in Ulster; Christians and Muslims in Beirut and in Bethlehem; Hindus and
Muslims in Bombay; Roman Catholic Croatians, Orthodox Serbians, and Muslims
in the former Yugoslavia; and Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians in Baghdad. In
these cases and others, he argues, religion has exacerbated ethnic
conflicts. As he puts it, "religion has been an enormous multiplier of
tribal suspicion and hatred."
When Hitchens weighs the pros and cons
of religion in the recent past, the evidence he provides is sometimes
lopsided. He discusses the role of the Dutch Reformed Church in maintaining
apartheid in South Africa, but does not mention the role of the Anglican
Church in ending it. He attacks some in the Catholic Church, especially Pope
Pius XII, for their appeasement of Nazism, but says little about the
opposition to Nazism that came from religious communities and institutions.
In the early days of the Christian era, nobody was fantasizing about a
world with no religion, but there were certainly those who liked to imagine
a world with no Christians. The first surviving example of anti-Christian
polemic is strikingly similar in tone to that of some of today's militant
atheists. In the second century, it was Christians who were called
"atheists," because they failed to worship the accepted gods.
Hume, a cheerful Scottish historian and philosopher, couldn't have been more
different from today's militant atheists. In his Dialogues Concerning
Natural Religion, Hume prized apart the supposed analogy between the natural
world and a designed artifact. Even if the analogy were apt, he pointed out,
the most one could infer from it would be a superior craftsman, not an
omnipotent and perfect deity. And, he argued, if it is necessary to ask who
made the world it must also be necessary to ask who, or what, made that
maker. In other words, God is merely the answer that you get if you do not
ask enough questions. Hume sprinkled his gunpowder through the pages of the
Dialogues and left the book primed so that its arguments would, with luck,
ignite in his readers’ own minds. And he always offered a way out. As the
Cambridge philosopher Edward Craig has put it, Hume never tried to topple
all the supporting pillars of religion at once.
AR The arc of this assault on
religion is sobering. First came the clear clarion call from Sam Harris,
then came a magisterial and finely crafted classic from Dan Dennett, then a
rather strident polemic from Richard Dawkins, and now a bombastic raspberry
from Chris Hitchens. One would have hoped that critics of religion could at
least have maintained the balanced tone of David Hume. Clearly that is too
much to hope. Yet the religious apologists have even less in the way of
recent writings to celebrate. Or have I just read too little?
By Christopher Hitchens
Vanity Fair, June 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
The London neighborhood of the author's youth, Finsbury Park, is now one of
the breeding grounds for a new phenomenon: the British jihadist. How did a
nation move from cricket and fish-and-chips to burkas and shoe-bombers in a
Returning to the old place after a long absence,
I found it odd to see women wearing the veil or the burka. Until he was
jailed last year on charges of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred,
a man known to the police of several countries as Abu Hamza al-Masri was the
imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque. The British have always been proud of
their tradition of hospitality and asylum, but the appellation "Londonistan"
has come to describe a city which became home to people wanted for terrorist
crimes as far afield as Cairo and Karachi.
In the aftermath of the
7/7 bombings, American television interviewers were all asking me the same
question: How can this be? I told them to go back and review the 1997 film
of Hanif Kureishi's brilliant short story "My Son the Fanatic," and then to
reread Monica Ali's 2003 novel, Brick Lane.
It's interesting that it
should be authors from Muslim backgrounds — Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi,
Monica Ali, the broadcaster and co-author of the Policy Exchange report
Munira Mirza — who are issuing the warnings. For the British mainstream,
multiculturalism has been the official civic religion for so long that any
criticism of any minority group has become the equivalent of profanity.
Anyway, you can't be multicultural and preach murderous loathing of
Jews. And you can't be multicultural and preach equally homicidal hatred of
India. My colleague Henry Porter sat me down in his West London home and
made me watch a documentary that shows film shot in quite mainstream Islamic
centers in Birmingham and London: foaming, bearded preachers calling for
crucifixion of unbelievers, for homosexuals to be thrown off mountaintops,
for disobedient and "deficient" women to be beaten into submission, and for
Jewish and Indian property and life to be destroyed.
What this shows
is the utter futility of the soft-centered explanations of the 7/7 bombings
and other outrages. Tony Blair's policy of encouraging "faith schools" has
written sectarianism into the very fabric of British life. A non-Muslim
child who lives in a Muslim-majority area may now find herself attending a
school that requires headscarves.
It's impossible to exaggerate how
far and how fast this situation has deteriorated.
AR Hitch, your journalism is
great. This is tough stuff. Keep at it.
God Bless Me!
By Christopher Hitchens
Vanity Fair, September 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
In the last two years there have been five atheist best-sellers, one each
from Professors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and two from the
neuroscientist Sam Harris. As the author of the fifth of these books, I
asked my publishers to arrange my book tour as a series of challenges to the
spokesmen of the faithful.
April 22, Little Rock, Arkansas: On the
road from the Little Rock airport is an enormous billboard bearing the word
JESUS: this is just how people like to imagine Dixie. My book isn't even
published, yet there's an overflow Sunday crowd. I start by mentioning the
sign. I know the name, I say, and I have used the expression. But on its own
the word "Jesus" seems to say both too much and (somehow) too little. This
gets a laugh.
May 1, New York City: An evening at the Union League
Club. A full house of right-wingers who at least agree with me on the single
issue of fighting Islamic jihadism. A generally receptive and friendly
audience as I am interviewed by Peter Collier. He's just closed the meeting
when a man puts up his hand. This turns out to be Father George Rutler, who
announces that he's on the committee of the club and will make sure that I
am never invited there again.
May 3, New York City: To the Lou Dobbs
show, on CNN. Mr. Dobbs displays a satirical paragraph from my book, about
the number of virgin births that all religions have always claimed. He lets
me bang on a lot. At the end, he refers to my new American citizenship, the
oath of which I swore at the Jefferson Memorial on April 13.
New York City: To the New York Public Library to debate Al Sharpton. To a
question about Mormonism and Mitt Romney, I reply that it's high time the
governor was asked about the official racism of his Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints.
May 11, Washington, D.C.: In the studio of The
Christian Science Monitor to debate with Pastor Stephan Munsey, leader of a
mega-church in Indiana, plus a Baptist theologian from Wake Forest
University. The Baptist theologian says that he basically agrees with me.
May 14, Austin, Texas: In the evening to debate with Marvin Olasky
at the L.B.J. Library. Olasky is the man who coined the term "compassionate
conservatism" and helped evolve Bush's "faith-based initiative." He's a
convert from both Judaism and Communism. He tells the audience that his
record as a married man improved after he became a Christian.
Raleigh, North Carolina: Quail Ridge Books has to move the event into a
neighboring Unitarian church. My opponent tonight is Dr. Adam English. He's
a Baptist, but when I ask if he believes Calvin's teaching about hell and
predestination, he doesn't love the question.
May 16, Atlanta: My
publishers had at first told me that I couldn't find a debater in this great
city, but the Margaret Mitchell House now asks if I can do not one session
but two, to accommodate excess demand. The defender of the faith on this
occasion is Timothy Jackson, a professor of Christian ethics at Emory
University. He's by far the best yet.
May 17, Coral Gables, Florida:
I owe an apology. It is not true that Orthodox Jews conduct sexual congress
through a hole in the sheet. I should never have mentioned this slander in
my book. At the Temple Judea, I make this concession in an exchange with
June 5, Los Angeles: A three-hour debate with the
Reverend Mark Roberts, senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, in
Orange County, on Hugh Hewitt's conservative Christian chat show. Very nice
of Mr. Hewitt. The Rev doesn't accuse me of not knowing what I'm talking
June 7, Seattle: A host on the local Fox radio station says
he's appalled that I can't find a debate partner for this evening's event at
Town Hall. After all, Seattle is the home of the Discovery Institute:
powerhouse of the "intelligent design" movement.
June 10, Washington,
D.C.: It's been weeks on the road, and I am finally home. I tell the wife
and daughter that's it: no more god talk for a bit — let's get lunch at the
Café Milano. I sit down, right next to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Okay,
this must have been meant to happen. I lean over. "My Lord Archbishop? It's
Christopher Hitchens." "Good gracious," he responds, gesturing at his guest,
"we were just discussing your book."
AR Good writer on a hot theme,
no surprise. But all this misses the deeper issues. Why did religion happen?
Why does it work for so many people, psychologically? There is a huge amount
of good science to be done in this field, once the passions have cooled
down. Yet I suspect we may be in for a century of strife before that
By Richard Dawkins
The Times Literary Supplement, September 5, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
If you are a religious apologist invited to debate with Christopher
Hitchens, decline. His witty repartee, his ready-access store of historical
quotations, his bookish eloquence, his effortless flow of well-formed words,
beautifully spoken in that formidable Richard Burton voice, would threaten
your arguments even if you had good ones to deploy.
Hitchens was warned by the State Department "to change my address and my
telephone number, which seemed an unlikely way of avoiding reprisal.
However, it did put me on notice of what I already knew. It is not possible
for me to say, Well, you pursue your Shiite dream of a hidden imam and I
pursue my study of Thomas Paine and George Orwell, and the world is big
enough for both of us. The true believer cannot rest until the whole world
bows the knee."
Hitchens invokes the Danish cartoons to discuss
complicity and cowardice in the West: "Islamic mobs were violating
diplomatic immunity and issuing death threats against civilians, yet the
response from His Holiness the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury was to
condemn the cartoons! In my own profession, there was a rush to see who
could capitulate the fastest, by reporting on the disputed images without
actually showing them."
Hitchens on Rushdie and the fatwa: "The
Vatican, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the chief sephardic rabbi of
Israel all took a stand in sympathy with the ayatollah. So did the cardinal
archbishop of New York and other lesser religious figures. While they
usually managed a few words in which to deplore the resort to violence, all
these men stated that the main problem raised by the publication of The
Satanic Verses was not murder by mercenaries but blasphemy."
Theocracy doesn't obviously nurture the sort of cultural and educational
advancement that goes with modern scientific inventiveness. Hitchens
develops his point with respect to 9/11: "Faith-based fanatics could not
design anything as useful or beautiful as a skyscraper or a passenger
Hitchens is quick to note the similarity of Christianity
to extinct cults. Jesus slots right into a cosmopolitan catalogue of virgin
births. Jesus' case was abetted by a simple mistranslation from the Hebrew
for "young woman" into the Greek for "virgin".
One of Hitchens'
central themes is that gods are made by man, rather than the other way
around. A related theme is the widespread fallacy that we derive our morals
from religious rules such as the Ten Commandments. As Hitchens puts it, does
anybody seriously think that, before Moses delivered the tablet inscription
"Thou shalt not kill", his people had thought it a good idea to do so?
Hitchens comes into his own on the evils that are done in the name of
religion. Adolf Hitler affirmed his Christianity throughout his life, but he
did not do his horrible deeds in the name of Christianity. Joseph Stalin was
probably an atheist but he didn't do evil because he was an atheist.
Hitchens is especially good on the idiotic challenge "Stalin and Hitler were
atheists, what d'you say to that?" Hitchens makes the point in the book: "If
you're Stalin, you shouldn't be in the dictatorship business if you can't
exploit the pool of servility and docility that's ready-made for you. The
task of atheists is to raise people above that level of servility and
I'm not reviewing his politics, I'm reviewing his book.
And what a splendid, boisterously virile broadside of a book it is.
AR My sentiments exactly.
By Christopher Hitchens
Vanity Fair, November 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
A few months ago, flicking through e-mail, I idly clicked on a message from
a friend with a story by Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times. It
described the death, in Iraq, of a young soldier from California named Mark
Jennings Daily. This handsome lad had been born on the Fourth of July, was a
registered Democrat and self-described agnostic, a UCLA honors graduate, and
during his college days had reservations about the war in Iraq. I read on:
"Somewhere along the way, he changed his mind. His family says there was
no epiphany. Writings by author and columnist Christopher Hitchens on the
moral case for war deeply influenced him ..."
I felt a deep pang of
cold dismay. I had just returned from a visit to Iraq with my own son (who
is 23, as was young Mr. Daily) and had found myself in a deeply pessimistic
frame of mind about the war.
I clicked on all the links from the
article and found myself on Lieutenant Daily's MySpace site, where his
statement "Why I Joined" was posted. At the top of the page was a link to a
passage from one of my articles, in which I poured scorn on those who were
neutral about the battle for Iraq ... I don't remember ever feeling, in
every allowable sense of the word, quite so hollow.
As I wrote to his
parents, I was quite prepared for them to resent me. So let me introduce you
to one of the most generous and decent families in the United States. In the
midst of their own grief, they took the trouble to try to make me feel
better. I wasn't to worry about any "guilt or responsibility": their son had
signed up with his eyes wide open and had "assured us that if he knew the
possible outcome might be this, he would still go rather than have the
option of living to age 50 and never having served his country."
Lieutenant Daily crossed from Kuwait to Iraq in November 2006, where he
would be deployed with the C Company of the Second Battalion of the Seventh
Cavalry Regiment in Mosul. On the 15th of January last, he was on patrol in
his Humvee, and was hit by an enormous buried mine that packed a charge of
some 1,500 pounds of high explosive.
I have now talked to a good
number of those who knew Mark Daily or were related to him, and it's clear
that the country lost an exceptional young citizen. I discovered this in his
life story and in his surviving writings. Here's an excerpt from his "Why I
"Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I
am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in
Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer
for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider
me the exception ... Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the
Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done
more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and
individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and
homicidal religious fanatics."
Mark had told his father that he
wanted to be cremated, with the ashes strewn on the beach at Neskowin,
Oregon. The Dailys asked if I would join them. So it was that in August I
found myself on the dunes by an especially lovely and remote stretch of the
Oregon coastline. As the sun began to sink, we took up the tattered Stars
and Stripes that had flown outside the family home since Mark's deployment
and walked to his favorite spot to plant it. Everyone was supposed to say
something, but when John Daily took the first scoop from the urn and spread
the ashes on the breeze, there was something so unutterably final in the
gesture that tears seemed as natural as breathing.
As the day ebbed
in a blaze of glory over the ocean, I thought, Well, here we are to perform
the last honors for a warrior and hero, and there are no hysterical
ululations, no shrieks for revenge, no insults hurled at the enemy, no
firing into the air or bogus hysterics. Instead, an honest, brave, modest
family is doing its private best. I hope no fanatical fool could ever
mistake this for weakness. It is, instead, a very particular kind of
By Edward Luce
Financial Times, January 11, 2008
Edited by Andy Ross
Hitchens announces that he has given up smoking. He lets drop that he is
nearing 60 years old. Hillary Clinton just turned 60. Bill turned 60 last
year. Al Gore is 59. George W. Bush is 61. "I'm the crest and cusp of the
baby boomer generation," says Hitchens. "And unfortunately for me this crest
and cusp has already occurred, in that someone who was at Oxford with me has
already been the president of the United States and he turned out to be a
I am aware Hitchens has a low opinion of Clinton. Then
Hitchens says that he and Clinton had shared a girlfriend at Oxford. I was
startled. Was this sequential or simultaneous, I ask? "No, no, no, not at
the same time or in the same room," says Hitchens, laughing. He remembers
the date and venue when Clinton was famously supposed to have partaken of
marijuana but not inhaled. Weren't you eating hash cookies? I ask. "No,
brownies, not cookies."
I am curious to hear his take on Hillary
Clinton. Does he feel that she also embodied the vices of the 1960s? "Not at
all," he replies enthusiastically. "With her it's too many of the virtues.
She's a perfect example of how the 1960s have mutated into political
correctness. She represents that mutation to mere perfection."
turned an expatriate British left-winger into an American neo-conservative?
"It was St. Valentine's Day 1989," he says. "That was the day Ayatollah
Khomeini issued the fatwa against Salman Rushdie." He explains that the
message sent that day by Tehran, and the European left's tepid reaction to
the fatwa, had caused him to begin reappraising his view of the world.
Hitchens reserves a special hostility for Islam.
He mentions how he
misses London but feels that its great tradition of tolerance is under
threat. "The Islamists will try to spoil everything for everyone," he says.
Hitchens has recently taken up American citizenship.
Club, Washington DC
1 x chicken tikka
1 x vegetarian thali
3 x Johnnie Walker
1 x Kingfisher beer