There's the mystery

December 9, 2010

Whatever you think of essayist
Christopher Hitchens, you have to admire his willingness to have a debate about
God with just about anybody. Since he wrote God
is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything,
he's taken on theologians,
rabbis and Fox News pundits. Last month in Toronto, in the midst of his current
treatment for cancer, Hitchens debated
Tony Blair
. Hitchens has even publicly debated
his own brother
, an Anglican priest believer.

The documentary Collision
follows Hitchens on the road as he holds a series of debates with evangelical theologian
Douglas Wilson. Hitchens comes off as a genial fellow (so does Wilson) carrying
on the great British tradition of debate: you fiercely try to demolish your opponent
and then go out for drinks together afterwards.

Nothing, however, seems
to dislodge from Hitchens's mind the notion that God is a despot in the sky and
that religion offers empty or dangerous fairy-tale explanations. Debaters'
efforts to expand Hitchens's view of who God might be or what religion does
gain no traction.

What makes Hitchens
untouchable in debate is finally that he's tone deaf to religious questions--he
is always beating a straw man. In the film, for example, Wilson keeps trying to
push Hitchens to consider the sources of the morality that Hitchens asserts.
(Hitchens himself is a forceful defender of human rights.) Wilson wonders what
our sense of right and wrong is grounded in, if it is not grounded in some
transcendent reality. Is morality just a matter of cultural taste or individual
assertion? That's a question that philosophers from Kant to Nietzsche have asked,
but Hitchens has no patience for it.

Wittgenstein once said, "Not how the world is, but that it is, is the
mystery." In other words, religion has to do with why there is something
and not nothing. Where did all this come from? Where does our sense of beauty
and goodness come from? What basis do we have for an unshakeable sense of right
and wrong?

Hitchens has no interest in such
questions. But if such questions don't stir you--and arouse some awe, wonder
and humility--then you're just not interested in religion.


Anglican priest?

Peter Hitchens is not an Anglican priest. By the way, I'm an atheist, so I've gotten used to straightening you people out.


I stand corrected. Peter Hitchens is a conservative Anglican, but not a priest.

Hitchens v Hitchens

Well, why did "god" give the all the brains to Christopher and forget Peter?
Paste into youtube "Hitchens verses Hitchens (5 of 14)

A journalist, author, critic and debater, Hitchens is one of those distinctly British intellectuals who seems to have read everything and forgotten nothing.
In his columns, essays and books, in his speeches and impromptu public appearances, he is incapable of uttering or writing a boring sentence.
Reading and listening to Christopher Hitchens has helped me emancipate myself from a geographically inherited virus of the mind, known more widely as Christianity.

Men no longer need ancient myths to explain/justify existence

Religion limps along for the cynical, sentimental materialists who cannot face objective reality without the crutches of childhood indoctrination.

"what basis do we have for an unshakeable sense of right and wrong?....Hitchens has no interest in such questions."

Baloney. Now you're making completely false and unsubstantiated accusations.!

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."
— Christopher Hitchens

One man's treasure is another

One man's treasure is another man's trash. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Morality comes from a life lived, of doing good and seeing the benefits from it - of doing bad and seeing the consequences. It is not a mystery. Comfort, the well-being of our bodies, our lives, compels us to seek that which will fulfill it. Really not a mystery at all. Far better than the "being" that causes pain and insists that we accept it and not question.

RE: One man's treasure is another

I wholeheartedly agree with your first two sentences. In regards to your comment that "morality comes from a life lived...", I must disagree. In order to accept your claim as correct, I would have to believe that a child is not capable of having a moral compass. Having raised two children -- actually, I'm still in the process -- I can tell you with conviction that morality is an instinct, not a learned response.

On one occasion, I recall walking into my daughter's room to check on her. She had a marker in her hand. Before I even realized what she had done, she attempted to hide the marker behind her back. I looked up and saw she had been writing on the walk with it. Since this was the first time I had ever caught her writing on the wall before, how did she know what she was doing was wrong?

We all understand the concept of an instinct as it applies to animals, and even ourselves. Are we not willing to consider that morality favors an instinctual behavior, opposed to a learned one?

Moral conviction

I believe in God and I've watched many of Christopher's debates with Christians (the irony of the two names is striking). I am amazed that his opponents never seem to appreciate the power of his argument. Even your quote of Douglas Wilson shows the frustration that Hitchens will not engage on the point Wilson wants him to. Christopher Hitchens has power with listeners because he argues morally, and none of his opponents - bright, winsome, and correct as they usually are - never meet him on that point. That's ironic, too.

Well done.

This is a fine and succinct analysis of the problems with Mr. Hitchens' attempts to engage in dialogue. He simply does not take religious questions seriously. It's a bit like trying to have a deabte about biology with someone who thinks mathematics isn't a legitimate field of inquiry. You can parry and joust superficially about biology but nothing will be accomplished until both sides recognize that there are more fundamental questions (which should lead to more fundamental questions and so on).