Thursday, May 24, 2007

God, Christopher Hitchens And Ascendant Atheism

The pity of it is there is no one on God’s side to answer Christopher Hitchens, the author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” the latest and best in a long series of books recently published by ardent atheists. One thinks, almost involuntarily, of the cartoonish marginalia of William Blake’s poems, showing a long like of kings ending in a turd. Standing at the end of the line of distinguished atheist authors is the insufferably haughty Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," who has suggested that atheists denominate themselves “brights,” so as to distinguish themselves from such "non-bright" thinkers as Blaise Pascal and Thomas Aquinas.

“What an asshole,” Mark Warren commented on Dawkins in a review of Hitchens’ book in Esquire magazine. Brevity really is the soul of wit. Pass over Dawkins and “the wishfully thinking "The End of Faith," by Sam Harris,” an atheist neuroscientist, Warren advises, but do not deny yourself the pleasure of Hitchens.

Here’s to that!

I do not mean to suggest that Hitchens’ fabled wit has failed him here. Not a bit of it, as the Brits might say. This is the best the atheists can do because Hitch is the best of the breed. But there is reason to lament the want of equally entertaining and witty opposition on what we might loosely call the side of the angels. G. B. Shaw had his Chesterton; poor Hitchens has no one to play with. The lately departed Jerry Falwell and the near dead Pat Robertson don’t count.

If God and his modern agents – Osama binLadin comes to mind – did not exist, Hitchens would have been forced to invent them. His demonology needs a devil. Fortunately, the Devil coughed and we have the execrable jihadists. Hitchens has been busily tossing them on his pitchfork for years.

Need all religious practitioners end in jihadism? Hitchens thinks so. There is no room in Hitchens’ religious schema for a Torquemada who turns into a Saint Francis, and if there were, he would as lustily condemn St. Francis, as he has the relatively harmless Mother Teresa. In the age of Fathers John J. Geoghan and Paul Shanley, whose careers in Boston were spend largely pawing and raping defenseless children, it is, of course, an effortless hop skip and a jump to condemn the Catholic Church and all its works.

If one begins with Dawkins’ assumption that God is a delusion, it follows that all professing Christians are delusional; just as, if one begins with the assumption that God is good, despite Voltaire’s brief to the contrary, one is forced to acknowledge that those who participate in the goodness of God are also in some sense good. So much depends upon where one begins to argue.

Atheism has been with us long enough so that those who have been paying attention are familiar – sometimes wearily familiar – with all the rhetorical gymnastics. There is nothing new under the atheist sun, no new primary color, as C. S. Lewis might have put it. The Romans thought the early Christians were atheists, which is why they persecuted them. The elite Romans of the day thought and said that the Christian notion of an afterlife was an absurdity, and they did not take kindly to the notion that, struck on one cheek, one should offer the aggressor the other cheek. What Hitchens brings to the game is a bright wit and a modern perception. Still, Hitchens’ riffs are not quite so devastating as those of Voltaire and other notable atheists, secular mastodons who roamed the earth during the Enlightenment period.

The best review of Hitchens’ book, oddly enough, was written by a polite theist in National Review On Line. It is a good review because its author likes Hitchens.

So do I.

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