The Hitchens Problem

The Awl publishes a long, truculent, loving analysis of The Christopher Hitchens Problem. Maria Bustillos identifies what makes Hitchens crusade — I mean this literally — against religion such a bore, even to those of us who embrace the instinct with enthusiasm:

God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens’ best-selling diatribe, enumerates his (quite justifiable) hatred of the crimes committed in the name of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc., without bothering to acknowledge that the cruel and greedy will twist any institution at all, religious or secular, to suit their purposes. All three authors appear to believe that Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc., are literally evil organizations.

Can these authors (one of whom wrote The Selfish Gene, one of the most fascinating and brilliant books of the last century,) really be so boneheaded as to fail to understand that every institution, political, academic or religious, can be, and has been, ennobled by free-thinking, brilliant men and women as often as they have been perverted by criminals and thieves and idiots? Yes, there is Pat Robertson, and there is Fred Phelps, and there are also Dr. Rowan Williams and Reinhold Neibhur and Bishop Fuglsang-Damgaard and countless principled and even heroic men and women of faith, it seems ridiculous to have to say.

Bustillos is incorrect about one point: after scoffing at Hitchens’ disinterest in the King James Bible and Dalai Lama, she wonders: “Hitchens mawkishly advises that we seek the infinite in ‘the beauty and mystery of the double helix’ instead. Why not a rose? Seriously.” I can find several instances in God is Not Great, among other Hitchens books, in which Hitchens praises religious art, Milton, George Herbert, and, yes, the King James Bible itself.

But I defend him for the same reasons Bustillos does:

But there is the business, there is the performance of a journalistic persona, there is the professional bon vivant, and there is also the man, whose voice on the page is still so young and alive, and who belies all the bullshit sometimes, even now.

She closes with an excerpt from an address delivered squarely at the young audience of the Prestonwood Christian Academy — a beautiful one. I won’t cite it here. Read it yourself.

2 thoughts on “The Hitchens Problem

  1. Yeah, the thing about the Hitchens side of the crusade is that he has no feel for actual religion, or for debunking religious thought, for that matter. (Dawkins is different). Hitchens a political thinker, so he points out the political evils of religion. But religious people just go like: “Yeah, we know things can go corrupt. We realize religion can do terrible things. So what? How does that prove there’s no God?” They shrug. “God is Not Great” could way more accurately have been called “PEOPLE aren’t great”. True, but, who doesn’t know that! Atheism makes its great points at philosophical, logical, historical, biological, and psychological levels…. Not at the political ones. That’s why that book felt so empty to me in a way. I could imagine the Pope reading it and agreeing and thinking: “You’re right, there HAVE been evil popes full of hatred. And you sound like kind of an asshole yourself, Hitch!”

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