Friday, May 18, 2007

'Intolerant zeal' Edward Gibbon's felicitous phrase to describe some of the philosophes. Anthony Gottlieb revives it in Atheists with Attitude, his review of recent works by Hitchens and co:
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 “Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century,” Jonathan Glover...documents such opposition, and writes, “It is striking how many protests against and acts of resistance to atrocity have . . . come from principled religious commitment.” The loss of such commitment, Glover suggests, should be of concern even to nonbelievers...

...The idea that people would have been nicer to one another if they had never got religion, as Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris seem to think, is a strange position for an atheist to take. For if man is wicked enough to have invented religion for himself he is surely wicked enough to have found alternative ways of making mischief.
All this and more is well said, but Hitchens (who I have criticised elsewhere) is continues to show his undoubted talents in his observations on the late Jerry Falwell, attached as comment to this post.

[P.S. 9 June: See also Atheism is pretentious and cowardly by Theo Hobson, and We of little faith by Sue Blackmore.]

1 comment:

Caspar Henderson said...

On the Rev Jerry Falwell: from an interview with Hitchens

HITCHENS: The empty life of this ugly little
charlatan (Falwell) proves only one thing: that
you can get away with the most extraordinary
offenses to morality and to truth in this country
if you will just get yourself called Reverend.

Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of
September the 11th were the result of our
sinfulness and were God's punishment if they
hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification?

People like that should be out in the street,
shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup.

HITCHENS: The whole consideration of this of
this horrible little person is offensive to very,
very many of us who have some regard for truth and for morality, and who think that ethics do
not require that lies be told to children by evil
old men, that we're we're not told that people
who believe like Falwell will be snatched up into heaven, where I'm glad to see he skipped the
rapture, was found on the floor of his office, while the rest of us go to hell.

How dare they talk to children like this? How
dare they raise money from credulous people on their huckster-like "Elmer Gantry"** radio
stations, and fly around in private jets, as he
did, giggling and sniggering all the time at what he was getting away with?

Do you get an idea now of what I mean to say?

COOPER: Yes, no, I think I think you're making yourself very clear.

I mean, I…


HITCHENS: How dare he say, for example, that the
Antichrist is already present amongst us and is
an adult male Jew, while all the time, fawning on
the worst elements in Israel, with his other hand
pumping anti-Semitic innuendoes into American
politics, along with his friends Robertson and Graham?

COOPER: And, yet, there are…


HITCHENS: … encouraging encouraging
encouraging the most extreme theocratic fanatics
and maniacs on the West Bank and in Gaza not to
give an inch of what he thought of as holy land
to the people who already live there,
undercutting and ruining every Democrat and
secularist in the Jewish state in the name of God?


HITCHENS: This is this is he's done us an
enormous, enormous disservice by this sort of demagogy.

COOPER: What do you think it says about America
that and politics in America, that he was so
successful in mobilizing huge swathes of the country to come out and vote?

HITCHENS: I'm not certain at all that he did deserve this reputation. And I…


COOPER: You don't think he does?

HITCHENS: Well, I'm not certain that he was a
mobilizer. He certainly hoped to be one.

Well, the fact is that the country suffers, to a
considerable extent, from paying too much, by way
of compliment, to anyone who can describe
themselves as a person of faith. Jimmy Swaggart,
Ted Haggard, Chaucerian frauds, people who are
simply pickpockets, who and frauds who prey on the gullible and…


COOPER: Do you believe he believed what he spoke?

HITCHENS: Of course not. He woke up every
morning, as I say, pinching his chubby little
flanks and thinking, I have got away with it again.

COOPER: You think he was a complete fraud, really?



COOPER: You don't believe that, I mean, in his
reading of the Bible, you don't think he was
sincere in his I mean, whether you agree or not
with his reading of the Bible, you don't think he was sincere in what he spoke?

HITCHENS: No. I think he was a conscious charlatan and bully and fraud.

And I think, if he read the Bible at all and I
would doubt that he could actually read any long
book of at all that he did so only in the most hucksterish, as we say, Bible-pounding way.

I'm going to repeat what I said before about the
Israeli question. It's very important. Jerry Falwell kept saying to his own crowd, yes, you have got to like the Jews, because they can make more money in 10 minutes than you can make in a lifetime. He was always full, as his friends Robertson and Graham are and were, of anti-Semitic innuendo.

Yet, in the most base and hypocritical way, he encouraged the worst elements among Jewry. He got Menachem Begin to give him the Jabotinsky Medal, celebrating an alliance between Christian fundamentalism and Jewish fanaticism that has ruined the chances for peace in the Middle East.

Lots of people are going to die and are already leading miserable lives because of the nonsense preached by this man.

COOPER: The book is "God Is Not Great."

Christopher Hitchens, appreciate you being on the program.

HITCHENS: Thanks for having me.