In conversation: Christopher Hitchens

On his Jewish grandmother, his atheism, his writing—and facing his own mortality

by Noah Richler

Photography by Tom Sandler

The 61-year-old author and Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens is one of the most popular, eloquent and contrarian public intellectuals of our time. His book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, assailed the reputation and work of the Catholic nun and icon, as his later The Case Against Henry Kissinger did Richard Nixon’s former secretary of state. His book God is Not Great has become necessary reading for atheists everywhere and was the reason Hitchens visited Toronto recently to challenge the former British prime minister and converted Catholic Tony Blair in a Munk debate with the proposition “Be it resolved that religion is a force for good in the world,” which was broadcast globally. Hitchens, “Hitch” to his friends, won, taking 68 per cent of the vote—and this, despite being gravely ill with cancer that was diagnosed in the spring. His most recent book is Hitch-22: A Memoir.

Q: It seems to me there’s an essential distinction to be made between faith and religion that I don’t think Tony Blair was ever making.
A: I think there is. I don’t think someone is religious unless they have faith in what St. Paul calls the evidence of things not seen—in other words, the supernatural or supervising deity, presence, force who requires and expects certain kinds of propitiation. If that’s not in your mind, then I don’t think you’re really a religious person at all. I mean, you couldn’t have told from anything Blair said that he was a Catholic. He didn’t rise to any of my baits about the Vicar of Christ, none of that, and none of his liberation charity theology type of mush actually requires transubstantiation—the real presence of Christ in the mass—or all of the things you have to believe if you are a Catholic.

Q: Did you expect, when you published God is Not Great, that defending it would become such a job? I’ve heard you referred to as the poster boy of atheism.
A:
I hate that! But I don’t ever get tired of it because it’s the most interesting subject. It’s the original subject, including the first written texts, really. Religion is what we had before we had philosophy and before we had cosmology and medical care and all kinds of things. You can’t get tired of an argument that’s that extensive.

Q: I wonder if you become impatient with having to argue such abstracted ideas of faith—for instance, as happened during the debate, about the impulse to be good as if it was solely a religious quality—when, as you pointed out, so much that is inimical about religions lies in their differences.
A:
Well, it can be a bit like punching air, as can dealing with the argument from charity. If in a seminar you were to argue that I’ve committed a well-known fallacy by not deriving my conclusions from my premises and I reply, “You don’t know what you’re on about, I’ve just given 10 bucks to a homeless person,” my answer wouldn’t be accepted. But if you’re a religious person, it’s a fantastic counter-argument. It’s the special permission they expect to be granted to talk nonsense.

Q: It was good to hear you make the feminist point that the short cut to alleviating poverty is through elevating the status of women. Is that something you insist on?
A:
Well, I do because it doesn’t take very long for a new Catholic, the fresh Catholic convert, to bring up either charity or the example of Mother Teresa, which is usually thought of as an automatic winning point. And this was odd, because I thought possibly Blair had read my little book on Mother Teresa and it’s in the argument over her that I’ve made the point most often, because her teachings and entire lifetime of work was exerted to make sure that women could not get hold of the means of family planning, so that the effect she had on prolonging and entrenching and deepening poverty and disease hugely outweighed any good she might have done if she’d ever spent the money she raised on charity—which, as it turns out, she did not do anyway. So I’m quite used to the Mother Teresa argument. And then you simply have to ask anyone if they know of a religion—and not just a monotheistic one—that does not, according to the texts, consider women to be an inferior creation.

Q: Is what you describe as the “numinous,” the “transcendent” or, in extreme cases, the “ecstatic” a necessary position you had to work out to find some way of accounting for the mysterious?
A:
Yes, because what one has to avoid is certainty. The Socratic principle is that you’re only educated to the extent that you understand how little you know. Ever since one first started discussing the existence of God in the dormitory at school, you would hear people saying sincerely, “Well, you know, there’s got to be something more than just all this.” Clearly such thinking does not come from nowhere, it comes from people lying awake and having perhaps strange thoughts they cannot deal with, or emotional experiences they hadn’t been able to predict, or moments where you feel that there’s something larger than yourself—of which love is a pretty good test. We aren’t a particularly rational species, we look for patterns and we find them much too easily. It’s good that we look, but we’re very afraid, easily scared, terrified of death, and often we are very stirred without quite knowing why. Some fairly banal examples, I suppose, are landscape and music in combination, or alone; love in combination with either of these; or perhaps looking at the vault of heaven, as Hamlet would have put it—at the “fretted gold” of the sky at night. Cataclysmic events, great impressive storms, earthquakes, all of this makes one feel that actually we’re not just primates on a rock, though in fact such phenomena are completely compatible with the view that we’re primates on a rock. What I think would be nice is if people realized, for example, that a lot of devotional music is actually written by non-believers. I suppose Verdi is the best example. The effect that the Parthenon has on me is of the numinous and the transcendent, but it’s not religion.

Q: You must have taken part in a Passover Seder sometime.
A:
Indeed.

Q: I’m glad. I believe that everything in Jewish culture from humour to scepticism can be explained especially by the moment in this meal in which the rabbi or the person at the head of the table is obliged to answer the question, “Why is this night different from any other night?” and that he must do so until each of the four sons is convinced or their eyes are heavy with sleep. I’ve always been affected by this idea that an answer can be different according to needs. Is it a contradiction for me to be an atheist but also to feel that this is at least a good moment for understanding a culture?
A:
Not at all, because I think the Jewish Seder is one of the most interesting survivals of the Hellenistic period in Jerusalem when Jews, before the big restoration of orthodoxy by the Maccabees, were calling their sons Alexander, as a lot of them still do, and had adopted the Platonic symposium and would lie on couches. One of the questions of the night is, “Why do we recline?” They drink alcohol, they ask questions, and the young ones are supposed to take that leading role. It’s all taken from the Greek—and it was bound to lead to dissent. There’s no doubt that Judaism is much nearer to being philosophy than religion, or rather much nearer to that claim than Christianity or Islam are, and that it is attractive for that reason. Leo Strauss thought that the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides wasn’t a believer but that he just dressed himself up in that way. So the great tragedy for me is the fact that Hellenistic Jewry was defeated. That’s what’s celebrated at Hanukkah and that’s why I hate Hanukkah. The Hellenistic influence was defeated and the old sacrifices and circumcisions were brought back.

Q: Well, the things I remember about Passover from the time I was a little kid were the philosophical points being made—the arguments, the commentary.
A:
It’s a good start. I’ve not only been to one or two, but we usually try and give one if we’re not invited, just for the children.

Q: In your memoir, Hitch-22, you describe how you learned from your brother Peter that you had a Jewish grandmother, a fact your mother Yvonne wanted kept secret and of which you and your father were unaware. Do you think you can be shaped by a story you don’t know?
A:
Well, it would depend on how much of a ton of bricks it was hitting you. If I’d had no interest at all in the question before that moment, I don’t really know. After all, a lot of people who are, if you like, however we want to put it, authentically 100 per cent Jewish—who’ve always known—seem to treat it not exactly as a matter of indifference, but very nearly, usually for liberal-ish reasons. But I’d always thought that Judaism was a great subject. I think part of having been a Marxist meant I could not help noticing how many thinkers and writers of the left were Jews. And I also used to find any hint of anti-Semitism absolutely repulsive. I took it personally in the way that one does something obscene—perhaps because anti-Semitism is something so anti-intellectual and, in a horrible way, pseudo-intellectual. It’s quasi-theoretical, a lot of it, and there’s something completely tainted and hateful about it, which I hope I would have felt anyway. Someone like Martin [Amis], for example, certainly does without any skin in the game. I hate the idea one would be thinking with—what, one’s blood—but the sentiment was there and some of it may well have come from things I had overheard from my mum—I never call her mum, why am I doing that?—from my mother when I was small. Maybe it stayed with me without my knowing, that could be. Or, in other words, perhaps it was something that, when I found out, in a strange way I had known all along.

Q: Did you feel any responsibility, almost as a scientist would, to revise what you’d said or who you’d been in light of what must have been, objectively, such an interesting revelation?
A:
I did make haste to go and see my grandmother, who was still lucid then, and question her as far as I could about where we were from and what it had been like for her. That was fascinating but all rather a conventional script, actually—Poland, millinery and dentistry, low-level-but-not-horrible prejudice, the pressure to change their name. They all assimilated quite fast and there was minimal upkeep of the ritual—nothing very exciting, actually. It didn’t change my attitude to the texts, and politically and ideologically, no, because almost all the great critics of religion have been Jewish. My attitude toward Zionism had always been—and I’m sure always would have been—that I very much doubt it to be the liberation of the Jewish people.

Q: Do you consider anti-Semitism a religious phenomenon?
A:
Yes, and this is where Tony Blair would make a point that I would agree with because he would say if you got rid of religion you still wouldn’t get rid of anti-Semitism. I’m sure that’s true, but the reason for its virulence is religious. As I say in my book, there were no Ukrainians at the Crucifixion, there were no Armenians, there were no druids. If the events as described took place at all—and I think that something like that probably did, that some charismatic rabbi was executed for blasphemy—then the Romans did it but it was the Jews who thought, “Here’s another false claimant.” They were the only ones who knew him, really, and they spat on him and turned away and for that they’re not going to be forgiven. That’s why it took the Church until 1964 to stop saying that all Jews were personally responsible. And still, most of them, in their hearts, haven’t really taken that back. It’s the same with the Muslims. The first people who meet Muhammad are the Jews and at first some of them are excited, thinking maybe this is the Messiah. But he is not, they decide. Private time with the Prophet is something that every Muslim in the world would give their all for, really to meet him, and this privilege was granted to a group who turned their backs. And they still, most of them, haven’t really in their hearts taken that back. It’s not going to be forgotten. Blair, in a banal sense, would be right about this—without religion there would still be anti-Semitism, I’m sure, but its roots are definitely religious.

Q: When did your love of speaking well begin?
A:
It was partly when I was at school. I wasn’t going to make a name for myself on a playing field, but I was not bad in the classroom. I was interested in current affairs and there was a debating society, and I thought, “I’d like to do that.” At that time, also, I was prone to stutter and I was small and quite shy and I developed a stammer. That was acutely embarrassing to me, and I thought I might cure it if I forced myself to speak in public. As a writer, I don’t have musical capacity but, in compensation, I am a good reader and I talk and I think better than I write. I remember when I was working for the New Statesman, my test of a good article was how strongly it made the case, was it a good polemic, would it strengthen the left, essentially. Anyway, we were at some dinner somewhere in north London and Simon Hoggart, who was working for the Guardian then, said to me, “Liked your piece in the Statesman this week,” and I said, “Thank you.” And he said, “But I thought it was a bit dry, it was a bit dull—good argument and everything, and you made your case very well, but?.?.?.?” And I bridled a little bit—well, quite a lot, in fact—and said, “What are you talking about?” And very mildly and disarmingly he said, “No, no, no. Just relax. It’s so much more fun hearing you talk than reading you. Why don’t you try and write more as you speak?” I couldn’t forget what he said and it’s worked on me. And now, really, the pleasure of writing is as if to consider myself trying to write a letter to an intelligent or amusing friend.

Q: What has your illness done for you, if I may put it that way?
A:
Yes, you can. Well—and he’s always misquoted about this, he was talking about something else completely—but as Dr. [Samuel] Johnson famously said of the death penalty, it concentrates your mind. It does do that. But then, I’d like to think, mine was fairly concentrated anyway. Mostly, the thoughts that it sparks are ones that I think people in their early sixties have in any case—you know, “Where did all the time go?” and “What have I done with my life?”—but these have been hugely alleviated for me by the number of people who have written to me to say, “Don’t worry, you haven’t. You did this or that for me. I’m here to prove it.” I really have had so much more than I expected, and certainly more than I deserve, but it’s coincided with a very active period in my life, and a very satisfying one, and that’s both a nice thought and a very bitter one because you think, “Well, I’ve got to the point I wanted to get to, and I could claim I’ve worked bloody hard to do it, and here I was looking forward to some good sixties.” I really didn’t want more than that—a decade, basically, of dividend. It’s not that I would stop investing but I’d, you know, cash out a bit. And now I’m not going to get that, I don’t think—well, no, I’m not, because even if I do have them they won’t be carefree years in any sense. At best, the sickness will always be at bay. So I won’t get that, and of course this is exactly the period where my children are at their most intriguing and so, yes, that’s very bitter. To some extent, I can be jaunty on my own behalf, or phlegmatic, whatever you want to call it, and very occasionally a little bit more stoical than I feel—I can be those things, but not for them.

Q: After the debate, I heard one of your fans say, “Hitchens’s mind is the best argument for God.” His partner replied, “No, it’s an argument for science.”
A:
Well, they’re both wrong, I think.




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In conversation: Christopher Hitchens

  1. An interesting line of defense, conceding the removal of the God part from religion (because that is the root delusion), but keep everything else. Then it is OK, right? Do you feel you got approval? Added bonus: the other teams have nothing without God, so, you slag them at the same time.

    • These teams don't have gods; they have a belief in gods.

      • Nice try, but I did not say gods. I said God.

        Additionally, it is my understanding that, in accord with the way God is construed, you can not possess (have/own) God as he is (supposedly) supreme. He owns you (in theory). It would therefore (if one where to assume the premise is true) be logical that belief is all about God that one may possess (when it comes to matters pretaining the Deity).

        Now, one could (with a great deal of effort) think through your comment to a reading, "There are no gods. Therefore, the religiously presumptive (with their attendant constellation of entailments) are in error in their reasoning about the nature of the cosmos, because, there being no gods, they are actually worshiping a figment of their (culturally induced) imagination, aka a belief." Of course, this is all assumption, on my part, that I have correctly interpreted your (parsimonious) statement. Perhaps you shall indulge the public with a little more effort. Please don't feel pressured to strain yourself if you are incapable.

  2. The man tries to be his own pathetic god. How tragic.

    • "Q: After the debate, I heard one of your fans say, “Hitchens's mind is the best argument for God.” His partner replied, “No, it's an argument for science.”
      A: Well, they're both wrong, I think."

      Excuse me, some text from the interview itself seems to state that he thinks that there is no god, not that he is one.

    • You shut your mouth. This guy is more brilliant than you'll ever be.

      • Very stylish…

        • Yes, typical of the atheist type.

    • Liseux ,you put it perfectly well.He knows in the back of his mind he's wrong but it's too late.

      • Are you God Mr American?

      • You’d like to believe that, wouldn’t you? It must be hard to admit to yourself that some people can get along perfectly well without shackling themselves to a metaphysical ideology; that it is, in fact, possible to live a good life without throwing oneself at the feet of an imaginary authority. Hitchens scares you because he’s a living counterexample to your parochial worldview. The kernel of uncertainty you accuse him of concealing is an expression of your own insecurity, and believe me, it shows.

      • It sounds like you think your a god, sense you claim you know whats in the back of his mind.Your mind wouldn't hold a dollip of what Hitch knows! You sound pretty certain , typical of a fundie; getting certainty mixed up with knowledge!

    • Now that is a god I can believe in!

    • No, how tragic for you and the rest of mankind. So sick of religious bigots and fools like you. People like you and the nuts that run Iran and the neocons in the States will be the death of us all. But then again your type seem to be itching for that. Hitch is a breath of sane, fresh air. Go back and pay homage to your imaginary friend, or the boogie man or whatever nonsense you are into and leave the rest of us alone. Your 11 word missive….not worth a rebuttal.

  3. The "Hitch" is brilliant, but in my opinion there is one major reason for his success, and that is that he has focussed an intense, intellectually diverse and honest effort to burn a whole through the veil protecting religion from public criticism. It is not his arguments, as eloquent as they are, but his refusal to give respect (in public!) for unfounded often harmful metaphysical claims about the world (He's also dropped the marxist front which helps).

  4. Fantastic and inspiring to see Hitch getting around and speaking. The negativity will never end for anyone who challenges dogma armed with scientific evidence, reason and logic. A Life lived with purpose, foresight and ferver that Hitch lives, is a life worth living. I hope to see more of him in the coming months and years. Loved my autographed copy of Hitch 22, and always look forward to publications by Hitch. I wish him all the best contemporary medicine can offer in his fight to keep Living and sharing his insights with (hopefully) a greater and greater audience as time goes on.

    • Any man that challenges Mother Teresa with FALSE information is a thug. For him to lie and say that Mother Teresa denied women family planning services is typical of those who know not the truth. She gave lessons on NFP, which is 99.4% effective when used correctly, as compared to the Pill at 99.6%.

      Ironically, it's women like the great saint who would care for the sick and dying, like Hitches will soon be. But he's rich, so he won't be in the gutter in need of a saint. He's his own savior! Ha… lot of good that does him.

      • As opposed to your "mother", who rather than seek treatment in the slums of Bombay where her unfunded "hospitals" were located, sought treatment in California? You can have your old fraudulent woman and your old time superstition. Give me reason. Give me logic. Give me Hitchens.

      • If a birth control technique is 99.4% effective when used effectively, but only used effectively 10% of the time, it's only 9.94% effective overall. Abstinence faces a similar problem: yes, it's 100% effective when you follow the method, but the failure rate of the method itself is rather distressingly high, which is why abstinence education has been such a disaster both here and abroad. Real contraceptives take this into accout when they quote their effeciency: condoms are 100% effective if used properly, but because they can fail due to improper usage, they are only reported as 98% (or whatever) effective. NFP and abstinence are particularly useless when combined with a doctrine that asserts that women ought to submit to their husbands as they would to God.

        The simple reality is that NFP and abstinence fail miserably as both birth control and especially as STD-prevention techniques.

    • I agree wholeheartedly. You put into words what I wanted to say myself. Meg

    • Well said Mike, though to me is not religion is the church. Good luck Hitchens!!!

    • P.S. I hope Hitch does not die soon. But whenever he dies, he will go to heaven: http://wp.me/pKqSA-1

      • …that is just the kind of nonsense we atheists hate. Quit telling us where we go when we die– you have no idea where we go; and your religion and your god has no say in it. We are autonomous free men and will not be talked to in such ways –even if you mean well. Got it?

      • He totally contradicts what Jesus taught. Only one thief on the cross went to Paradise. How about Lazarus and the Rich man?

      • prove it

      • Mike, how do you know?

          • Those who deny Christ do not go to heaven. Read it again.

            Also, Hitchens's life isn't over, so perhaps he will experience the mercy of God yet.

            You or I do not know.

      • Me too, he is great but he will see heaven or whatever you want to call it!

    • I love God, Hitchens, and my religion, as it is a guide for me to know to love.

      • It is "a" guide for you, fine, but it doesn't have to be "the" guide for you or anyone else.

    • Could you please be more specific as to just which god you are refering to? Would that be the Christian god or Islamic god or Jewish god or Roman gods?

  5. Hitchens would do well, in the time he has left, to study Blaise Pascal, French Mathematician and Philospher, who was a Christian. In his writings he looked at Heaven and Hell. The short version is that hell is so hot, and eternity so long, that even if there is just the smallest probability of there being a heaven, one must seek after it.

    • Hitchens is well aware of Pascal's gambit, and cleanly dissects and dismisses it in _god is not Great_, just as he has in numerous debates. He has read Pascal, as he has numerous others who have written on the subject of religion and "god(s)"; his arguments are well aware of what has been said by those who came before him.

      • He cleanly dissects and dismisses nothing, Miller. He weazles and uses strawmen to defeat false dilemmas.

        He's a charlatan.

        If he's so damn smart, why can't he heal himself?

        • Liseaux, It is you that is so pathetic. You are, and I will give you the benefit of the doubt, not yet an adult but if you are you have wasted your life. You are in very good company. Depending on just how old you are you may be in time to make something of your intellect.

          • Joe, if the man is "brilliant" an intellectual, etc., then why can't he heal himself?

            Man is only capable of so much, and with his cancer, Hitchens finds out that he is FINITE.

          • Correct and God is (based on all wordly evidence) non existant…..except perhaps within the narrow limits of your own mind, so your point is?

        • I thought you "loved" him.

          Maybe you should go read your love instruction book again. The fact that you need such instruction from an iron age book, says a lot about your concept of love.

      • Pascal's gambit as you call it is based on the assumption that Belief is a voluntary proposal. It is not. It is a process whereby predictability is the main tool for conclusions arrived at and the amount of information or assumed information used in the process.

    • Pascal's wager is a fallacy. There is no reason one must seek after the Christian heaven; one might as well worship Allah or Zeus or Ganesh or any other of the deities which offer heaven in response to worship and damnation in response to ambivalence or rejection. Why is the Christian god the one true God? Aren't you worried about what will happen to YOU in eternity if it turns out that Allah is the one true God? Hitchens has thought about this. You haven't.

      • Hello Blaise,

        The Christian God is the one true God because he's changed my life and billions of others for the better. What other man died for love of mankind, and now has more than 2 billion followers alive today? Love conquers all.

        He is Truth itself, and I pray that one day you will find the peace and happiness that only loving and living Christ can bring.

        • You've found so much peace and happiness that you go on obscure comment threads to troll people who are secure enough to think for themselves. Your unshakable faith is admirable and courageous. God-willing, the other 4.5 billion people on earth will find the same peace and happiness and share in the bliss in which the current 2 billion christians live.

          • You too have found so much peace and happiness that you are out for your morning troll on those who state they have faith in Christ. What a hypocrite.

          • you are a servile loon who clearly cannot or will not take responsibility for your own life. Lay down by your alter and wait for something else to lead you.People like you make me want to vomit!

          • You "saved" people don't act or sound very happy.

        • Why did anyone have to die for mankind. the crucificion story is so vile- so cruel, so base. I hated going to church at Easter becasue of that story. In the end i thought the idea of man being torturred to death to save us from our sins was bababric and stupid. Liseux be brave- my mother died this year- calm and serene and unafraid. She wanted death because life had beoome unbearable. She need no God to call her. She said her goodbyes to us and went to sleep. Live a good life being good to others.There is nothing more. We celebrated her life at her funeral. We laughed as well as cried and are all so happy we knew her and loved her.

      • Allah and God are One and the same. Allah is the God of Abraham. Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship God.

    • You should read up on Hitchs treatment of the lame Pascals wager. This argument is completely flawed by the reality of so many names offerred to fill the title – god. Remember that "god "is a job descripion, not a name. Offer your best candidate for the job, with a clear description of who they are, and I will decide if they are worthy of the title.

  6. I have no idea if Hitchens is right about the role, pos or neg of religion in this world ; but i am i awe of the man's courage, to take on the religious establishment and challenge excepted wisdom deserves a measure of respect at the very least. The man's a modern day Orwell – and i don't know if i even like him, but i salute a courageous life…go well Mr Hitchens.

    • i've misused a semi- colon. Hitchen's'd murder me.

      • I am with you I actually have a t-shirt that says "Hitchens is my religion", I love his direct in your face approach…

  7. People's fascination with Hitchens baffles me. Hitchens is an anti-semite who admires Trotski, the guy who founded the Cheka.

    Hitchens is basically Ernst Zundel but scrubs up better.

    • Not surprising. Dig beneath the veneer of this type of a rabid anti-creedal, anti-faith person, and you find one who hates at least segments of humanity- Jews, the unborn, meat eaters, anyone with more than 1 kid, etc.

      Reason without faith is as dangerous as faith without reason.

      • Hitchins is reasoned logical and beautifully expressive,. I wish him and his family well. His is the voice of reason in an often irrational and cruel world. Anti theism will be common place soon, Let's pray to that!

      • Hitchens, for all his considerable intellect, presents a serious credibility problem.

        A) Flip-flopping from a lifetime of leftwing (Marxism) socialism to effective (neocon) imperialism-fascism (the usual push for the imposition of a secular romano-hellenistic vision on the rest of the (especially muslim) planet;

        B) For a supposed champion of rationalism (often a false adviser with its double-edged nature, which is at once to “bring into accord with reason” AND to “cause something to seem reasonable”), Hitchens’ emotionalism, with his red-in-the-face hatred and his constant need to revile and ridicule, betray a person with a less than rational standard; compare this, say to Tariq Ramadan, who, whether you agree or disagree with his arguments, abides by the etiquette of civilised discussion, since the aim of civilised discourse should be to enlighten and not bludgeon;

        C) Motivation? Some Hitch quotes from a Guardian profile this year:

        “It’s the enjoyment of the combat – in part for its own sake, sure – but also to give a good representation, I hope, to the people whose principles are in common with mine.”

        “Well, I’ve done better than I thought I would. I’ve made more money than I ever thought I would. I’ve got more readers than I ever thought I would, and more esteem.”

        Certainly, you could read different things into the above, but I suspect “Hitch” is essentially an intellectually person in love with his own view of the world and more concerned with putting on a good show than proving the worth of his arguments. A game hunter who has convinced himself that it is the noble purpose of feeding his family rather than the thrill of stalking and killing his prey that motivates his actions.

        I suspect that for the hardened “Hitch is an intellectual giant” atheist, doubtless such moral considerations don’t register significantly compared to the schadenfreude of a good tongue-lashing by a past-master in the art of verbose put-downism…

        Most of us can reason but most of us do not possess wisdom. Hitchens is very intelligent and knowledgeable, brilliant in fact, but he demonstrates a dogmatic lack of openness, a large chip on his shoulder(s) and a puerile schadenfreude in his belittling of others… Kind of a rebellious enfant terrible in the world of ‘intellectuals’… A phenomenal source of anecdote and literary information, but not a fount of wisdom and a student of Truth…

        Everyone has a god, seeing that we are “homo religiosis”… We are all slaves, whether we choose to admit it or not… The God of Abraham, the god of reason, the god of self… The god Hitchens (or Dawkins)…

    • What an utterly moronic statement.

        • "The fact that Christopher Hitchens has a problem with the Jews has been an open secret for years. No one much likes to talk about it, and for various reasons his journalistic peers have remained silent on the subject. But it is nonetheless the case, and there is little sense in denying it." Jewish Ideas Daily, Dec 13, 2010
          http://www.jewishideasdaily.com/content/module/20

          I just googled Hitchens and anti semitism and that's the first article I found. There are many more if you care to look yourself. Hitchens is also admirer of mass-murderer and it is why I don't understand people's high regard for him.

          • "I just googled Hitchens and anti semitism and that's the first article I found. There are many more if you care to look yourself. Hitchens is also admirer of mass-murderer and it is why I don't understand people's high regard for him."

            It's good that you don't cherry-pick articles that you find via self-fulfilling google searches and make baseless assertions about people you clearly just heard about 5 minutes ago.

          • Hitchens is a virulent athiest if you like, which surprise, surprise includes antipathy to Judaism. I'm not inagreement with him; i merely admire his courage and right to state his views. I googled, is Hitchens an anti-semite, and the Pearl address was the first thing i found.

          • That's laughable because Hitchens has,on more than one occasion, proudly claimed that he has some Jewish blood in him.

        • Christopher Hitchens: 'Anti-Semitism is gateway to tyranny & the common enemy of civilization'

          yes, you missed the title of the video, everything he said in it, and the definition of 'espouse'

          • No i didn't – you missed my sarcasm.

    • Trotski was a Jew, so to say that Hitch is anti-semitic because of that… is pretty dumb to say the least.

      Also you could try reading the article. It mentions that Hitch's grandma was jewish, and he speaks about his dirct feelings here:

      "There's no doubt that Judaism is much nearer to being philosophy than religion, or rather much nearer to that claim than Christianity or Islam are, and that it is attractive for that reason. Leo Strauss thought that the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides wasn't a believer but that he just dressed himself up in that way.".

      It sounds like you're just jealous that he like judaism better then your "jesus meek and mild" tripe.

      Congrats on proving Godwin's Law right yet again bergkamp. That's not a good habit you know. It's kinda like crying wolf.

  8. Hitchens seems to differentiate between religion and spirituality, which is probably wise.

    One can easily make a case that a lot of religion, especially as practiced by the average person, is really just culturally sanctioned superstition.

    However, through science we know that we live in a universe that arose from some form of potential we cannot yet account for, a potential that manifested galaxies with trillions upon trillions of stars that ejected matter that formed orbiting rocks from which arose living consciousness capable of reflecting on it all.

    The heart of spirituality is in the seeking of a cosmology that retains a place for existential meaning or purpose, and our key means of investigating that is to ask questions that we can test in some manner that is confirmable and repeatable. In other words: science.

    • "In other words: science."

      And there's the rub. Science, as a concept, seems to have congealed in the minds of the anarco/atheistic/contingent universe secularists as if it where one thing only, as if there was only one mode of science. This is a very significant error. It is also a deeply ingrained belief. As a result, only the material products of the ancient formative concept clusters have been negated. The formative concept clusters are still completely untouched, meaning that they (fcc) shall simply redirect their formative capacities to a new medium giving similar results. In layman's terms I turn to The Who: "Meet the new boss. He is the same as the old boss."

      Additionally, the bridgework from the youthful luxury of high-ground negation statements to mature statements of praxis has not been well attended to. As a result, there is a wiff of Jacobinism. And it is not as if the negation position has not had a substantial period of time to complete the bridgework. It could be that the position held is relatively undercapable of generating more useful conclusions.

      • I couldn't agree more. The desire of atheists, (obviously reacting against the perceived puritanical nature of the old religions), to entirely oppose and negate the full spectrum of beliefs of the theists without fully considering the spirit of those beliefs as metaphor, has left them opposing obviously rational statments as they pertain to forming a meaningful cosmology through science.

        I find this an unsatisfactory, and frankly is little more than mirror image of the dogmatic religious resistance to obviously logical and observable fact. Just as this seriously undermines their position, so to does this contrary attitude undermine the atheist/materialist's conception of the universe.

        An apparently cold dead universe gave birth to living consciousness capable of logically assembling its origins in time.

        To consider that mere happenstance beggars credibility, whether or not one believes in a creator, reincarnation or whatever form of collective/continuous consciousness one can name, since the scientific evidence does not support their contention of a purely mechanistic universe.

          • Certainly a comment I can agree with concerning the origins of atheistic resistance to an honest consideration of cosmological questions.

            On one hand it's understandable. Science arose in an atmosphere where its proponents had to face brutal authoritarian political forces that were brazenly using religious structures to control people. Forces that had no desire to see an "underclass" develop a rational means of determining truth that could not be controlled by the patriarchs.

            Of course this doesn't really reflect on spirituality at all, but only the people who would employ it for their own ends.

            Yet today we are faced with a string of psuedo-scientific cynics who can't seem to differentiate between honest considerations of meaningful cosmological questions and those superstitions from which they long suffered in opposition.

            I fully EXPECT dogmatic religionists to be irrational. What disappoints me is when people claiming to be proponents of rational discourse are no more rational than the dogmatists.

            In fact, it paints them as dogmatists themselves to some degree.

          • To me, this field of inquiry, is akin to attempting to cross a minefield blindfolded – slow going, fraught with danger, and very difficult to determine where one is going. Any number of comments of could "set off" a misunderstanding. Any significant advancement towards the resolution of these questions, I suspect, can only come from individuals capable and willing to disarm/defuse themselves and abandon the "account of wrongs" we seek redress for. It is fairly easy to point out the wrong doings of others, more difficult to acknowledge our own short comings, most difficult to proceed to resolution as if those (supposed) wrongs were of no account.

  9. I think Blair and Hitchens were both weak participants in the debate. And to adjudicate 'winners' or 'loosers' (by percentage points no less!) is absurd.

    Debate is not about winning or loosing; it's all about trying to reach a core of something by means of debate. Both Blair and Hitchens managed to stay safely on the surface, regurgerating the same arguments over and over again. How lame was that.

    Hitchens may have way with words and wit, but neither will suffice if he's unwilling to think deeper. That ability, in regards to the meaning of religion, he's sadly lacking.

    • Agreed. I found the debate devoid of substance. They essentially just rehashed a bunch of tired old arguments that ignore modern advances in theoretical physics and philosophy that support an enlightened cosmology.

      In fact, it is my opinion that Western society has too long left a void in place of a meaningful cosmology, one that is therefore still filled by the dogmatic religious hold-overs; an entirely unsatisfactory situation.

      For me there's just too damn much pretense coming from all sides on these very important questions.

      • Agree wholeheartedly!

        And so, Philosopher King, what to do about that, for let's face it, the reason men like Hitchens and Blair get to spout their tired old views in front of everyone, is because they have name recognition. The debate was never really about substance but more about high profile names luring in the watchers. It's superficiality all around. I really don't know how to get mankind out of that mind set. People seem to want superficiality. I don't know what else to say. You have any suggestions? U want to debate this further, I'm all for it!

        • If I may interject… what exactly would you debate with Phil_King? He agrees with you! I raise this point because to make recourse to arguementation suggests that a) there is a disagreement b) there isn't anyother less risky method readily available to solve the disagreement, and c) there is a good will towards the project of resolving the issue at hand between the interlocutors.

          The Blair-Hitch Project or "debate" fails on at least c) and most likely a). It wasn't, in substance, a debate. For Hitchens there isn't any disagreement – he believes that anyone that doesn't agree, in toto, with him is delusional, and if esposing even a slightly religious position, delerious. Hardly a demonstration of good will towards reaching a resolution.

          Take it for what it is worth. I am not suggesting that you not go ahead and write whatever you like.

          • U may always interject.

            What I would like to discuss with anyone, not just Phil_King, is how to get us out of this superficial reality our societies are chasing after. He may agree on me regarding the Blair/Hitchens debate, but I would be interested in knowing how he thinks things could change for the better in light of changing theoretical physics and philosophy.

          • What exactly is the "superficial reality our societies are chasing after"?

          • The shallowness of it all. The quick fixes. Touching up the veneer without ever wanting to change the rotten wooden structure underneath. Everything coming from without rather than from within. People doing things because everyone else seems to be doing it, blaming others or circumstances. Adoring movie stars, or rock stars, other than for their music or acting skills. If Angelina says we should support poor children in Africa, lots of them will do so because Angelina says so. When Angelina stops talking about it, so will her followers, that sort of thing. There are plenty of examples to give.

            Airing CBC's At Issue with representatives coming out of Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, ad nauseum, in a country as geographically wide and diverse as Canada. False representations, that sort of thing. A Senate outdated because most everyone lacks the courage to have a modern debate about it. A Liberal leader who claims to be in favour of human rights (in fact writes volumes about it) and then simply accepts to be appointedparty leader rather than face a party leader election. U want more examples? Just let me know………

          • Not one of those things will change for the better in light of changing theoretical physics and philosophy.

          • "changing theoretical physics and philosophy." Perhaps it is the superficiality which keeps the changing theoretical and philosophy from coming into fuller view. Perhaps the superficiality is keeping old thinking processes alive. Perhaps the idea of copying has been prescribed by means of a growing "system". And who makes up the system. Why, the ones who have made a name for themselves, like Richard Dawkins, for instance. For over 25 years, his main thinking has been in direction of "the selfish gene", meaning that the human being (in his opinion, solely the vehicle for transporting DNA) has no choice. It's all now decided by scientific structures. I think Dawkins is wrong. His thinking is wrong. He's looking at life with a mind made up beforehand, and so everything he observes needs to fit into the will of these selfish genes mechanics. It's wrong. It gives societies a false sense of being.

            Specially our education system. University systems in particular, where status and fund raising is considered more important than perhaps providing mind-opening education.

          • Perhaps it is the superficiality which keeps the changing theoretical [physics] and philosophy from coming into fuller view.

            Nope. It's only the fact that no one is interested.

            Perhaps the superficiality is keeping old thinking processes alive.

            I think that's wrong way round. The old thinking processes are keeping the superficiality alive.

          • "Nope. It's only the fact that no one is interested." IS (or creates) the superficiality, in my opinion.

            "The old thinking processes are keeping the superficiality alive.":

            You may be right, but only because the old thinking processes are stale and by not being willing to admit as much, the old thinking processes are kept within a superficial state, so that its staleness is not being brought to light. The old system serves the ones who have learned to function within the old outdated system. Within this superficiality, the old outdated mode can maintain itself. They're just stirring the surface of the system, nothing more.

          • What do you mean by "thinking process"?

          • The thinking process, very simply put, might go something like this: observation of variants, placing variants into forms, so that the forms can be transcended into the ideas (abstractness). Variants themselves cannot be used to stand in contrast to.

            Now, what I meant by "old thnking processes" is this: throughout history, and by means of evolution, particular eras slide over into "new" eras. And in between (during the transitional period) human societies will experience a sort of upheaval, and that comes about because the new variants are not easily recognized in how to fit properly into the forms. Forms will be fitted with variants which do not really fit.

            The "cramming in" of variants I would call the superficiality. And so that not only leaves the forms unclear and diminished (not sufficiently defined) but also leaves the path towards the deeper of abstractness (ideas) blocked. Openness to abstractness is a must for humans to function properly, to be able to adapt etc.

          • It seems to me that the thinking process is always and forever the same. We could think of it as the process of trying to determine where events occur in relation to other events in terms of cause and effect. The process doesn't change, but different people are better or worse at accomplishing it.

          • Yes, all people are different to a certain extent, but if I may fold the variant of people into the form of 'being human', we must come to the conclusion that the interaction between body and brain (which I would call the "mind') is inherent wihin the being of human, and furthermore, defines us. So, yes, I will state that our thinking, over time, has not always been the same. An increase in complexity of being plays an important role within the evolutionary process of our thinking capabilities.

            interesting that you relate the unfolding of events by means of "cause and effect". Such is linear thinking and, although the onset of linear thinking has been, by now, well established (by default perhaps), it is the linear mode of thinking by which our overall understanding of 'being' has been overshadowed. That's too bad, really. You see, within linear thinking, we keep ourselves within limits. Within linear thinking, we will ultimately find nothing but the superficial. That's the phase we might find ourselves to be in now. And within it is protesting. It is saying within (and it shows most everywhere on earth!) that things no longer seem to add up! Simply because they don't.

          • Give me an example of non-linear thinking.

          • BEING

          • I don't know what that means.

          • Is being as cause or as effect?

          • Whose?

          • Any being. From the being of rocks, to gravity, to humans, to the sun, to galaxies, to fish, to flower……any being.

            Is being as cause or as effect? I'm not playing with you. I mean this in all seriousness. In order to come to understand the role of religion better, we need to understand the meaning of 'being' better, imho

          • Evolution is a continuous process, so all of those things are causes and effects (except for gravity, I would say that gravity is not a "thing", but an affect that things have on one another).

            On a long enough time line, some insignificant specks of matter might be the cause of a rock; the rock might later cause (with other causes) a mountain.

            It is not that things must either be a cause or an effect. All things are causes with respect to some things (although I would prefer to use the word "event" to "thing"), and effects with respect to other things. It is the job of thinking to determine where things are in the causal chain in relation to other things.

            Notice, also, that things (or "events") are causes and/or effects only in relation to other things. Therefore, the question, "is a rock a cause or an effect?" is incomplete, the person to whom it is being asked should reply, "in relation to what?".

          • Right. It's not that I necessarily disagree with what u post above, but I was in the understanding that we were talking about linearity.

            It seems to me that the cause and effect interaction is not really definable by linear thinking, is it? Only cause and effect distinctly defined exclusively, being either/or, would amount to linear thinking, would u not agree?

          • I don't know what "linear" thinking is. It was you who introduced the term, not I.

            I would prefer to use the term "causal" thinking. However, this would be superfluous by my own logic, as I stated earlier that I think there is one thinking process only.

          • ok, we're running out of space so I will post an answer as a brand new posting.

            (It's like these response blocks are designed to let a discussion dwindle into nothing…. :) )

          • Headline for The Onion: "Area man's ennui presages last stages of civilization."

  10. "changing theoretical physics and philosophy." Perhaps it is the superficiality which keeps the changing theoretical and philosophy from coming into fuller view. Perhaps the superficiality is keeping old thinking processes alive. Perhaps the idea of copying has been prescribed by means of a growing "system". And who makes up the system. Why, the ones who have made a name for themselves, like Richard Dawkins, for instance. For over 25 years, his main thinking has been in direction of "the selfish gene", meaning that the human being (in his opinion, solely the vehicle for transporting DNA) has no choice. It's all now decided by scientific structures. I think Dawkins is wrong. His thinking is wrong. He's looking at life with a mind made up beforehand, and so everything he observes needs to fit into the will of these selfish genes mechanics. It's wrong. It gives societies a false sense of being.

    Specially our education system. University systems in particular, where status and fund raising is considered more important than perhaps providing mind-opening education.

    • Universities in particular encourage people to decide what they think beforehand and then use evidence to support their conclusion (a word that is rather dubious in this sense). Critical thinking is not something they develop on at all in any institutionalized manner.

      Hitchens follows much the same formula in his arguments and his goal is definitely to win. He is extremely powerful in his use of rhetoric and won't hesitate to use fallacies to support his argument. What is really interesting is that he is aware of the fallacies he uses and is therefore very good at disguising them.

      • So, what is it then? Is he subject shopping? By which I mean, has he mearly been searching for a subject that will find traction with the public. Is he a public intellectual or a performance artist?
        Does he actually hold the position (no, of course he is holding it)… does he actually believe his position to be true? Does he even put any value on believing? Is his universe founded upon the assumption of contingency? Is he the heir of Darwin's contingent cosmology?

        • I can't really speculate as to if what he believes what he is saying or not. One must assume that he thinks what he is saying has the right goals at the very least. What I'm saying is that his sole aim when arguing is that he wins, that he can convince others that he is right whether or not his reasoning used is actually solid. Which is fine, and he's very good at it. However to me that doesn't seem intellectually honest, when people seem to take him at his word and don't actually analyze what he says. Although that seems more their failure then his, everyone should be subject to critical analysis whether they agree with what you think or not.

          Is he a public intellectual or a performance artist? Is there much difference? If anything "Public intellectuals" seem to me to fall far more within the sphere of being politicians then anything else.

          • What do you think of this line of inquiry…
            I make a distinction, in my dynamic modeling of the human intellectual response, between preceptive capacity and explanitory ability. Eveyone has a varing degree of competency and mixture of both. When I overlay this framework on Darwin's work (for he is the touchstone of authority upon which the atheist postition rests) I come to this conclusion: He effectively preceived evolutionary development over time, but had to make recourse to his eductation trained explanitory ability. In seeking a model (because we explain all abstract phenomenom in light of our physical experience) for change, made recourse to contingency. By which I mean he was suggesting that accidental circumstance in the environment shaped the form of the beast in question. The form an animal takes is, by and large, accidental, some what arbitrary, contingent.

          • I'm pretty sure I don't understand your question if there is one.

            As far as I understand though, the atheist position depends on a belief that random chance will produce good outcomes consistently enough to in effect make the universe and keep it in good working order. To my observations of the manner in which things work, such a position is untenable for a variety of reasons.

            I have never read original source from Darwin himself so any commentary I have regarding such is suspect. But it seems to me from what I know, that he was merely postulating rules that would at one level remove accidental circumstance in the formation of a beast and at another require it. I'm not really sure how his theory of evolution is any more useful to atheist than to theist to be honest, other then through heavy extrapolation, which either side of the argument could employ towards their own means.

          • Yes, sorry about that. I got distracted and was working on something else and did not give the part 2 that would, hopefully, flesh out my position and make it comprehensible. I will try to get to it, should the muse return anytime soon.

          • OK, now I remember what I was to say. My thesis is that, once people accept a premise, they will tend to reason about their experience as if that premise was true. I suspect that a good number of people that find Hitchen's work to be lauditory, do so because it gives them emotional relief from their internal conflict (…which, it shall be noted, absolutely everyone is subject to) . How? Contingency. If everything is accidental, ontologically, then nothing need by true. By such logic, when you meet someone making claims based upon truth statements, then you can comfortably refute/ignore/dismiss them, because you believe (dare I say, with Pilot?): "What is truth?"

            I, on the other hand, hold that there are necessary connections as well as contingent connections/relations. So, Darwin was right in perception, but wrong in explanation. Normally not such a big deal, but in our current circumstances, it is a very big deal.

          • That the perception was right has given undue authority to the explanation – which relies upon the assumption of contingent relations. This has started a great number of intellectually inclined persons to undertake the proposal that ALL relations are contingent. Now this might be a valuable exercise because there is a very great need to question and test the veracity of claims. But to elevate it to a statement of ontology, as Mr. Hitchen's has done, well, that it quite a serious error. *** And not at all scientific. ***

          • It seems to me that is why scientific theory spends so much effort testing both the observation and the explanation. After all if the perception is actually wrong, then that which follows is too. The claim for scientific basis in theological argument is questionable when in order to make such claims you have to abandon the scientific method.

            The perceived phenomenon are naturally something people want to connect. Being 'right' however is more important than 'truth' when doing so. After all these arguments are used to influence their decisions. Being right also gives you belonging to a group. If your sentiments agree with someone and you claim they are right as well it strengthens both of your positions, completely ignoring whether reason is present or not. One needs only to take a look at AJR79' thread below to see this effect. The same thing is what leads to partisan politics.

            Which is where Hitchens comes in. Hitchens goal is convince people he is right by any means necessary, his concern is not with the reasoning behind his argument. He takes his argument as true – even if he were unable to prove it to be so – and works from there. People find Hitchens work to be laudatory because he does this very well. His thinking and ideas regarding what he believes aren't particularly any better then others who have considered the subject, he just makes it seem that way. After all, if you can see the fallacy in one persons work, but cannot seem the same fallacy that exists in Hitchens because it is cleverly disguised, he appears to be a stronger thinker.

            Perception has only the most cursory roll here, one reason being the large differences that can exist in people observing the same thing. More to the point explanations allow freedom of movement in regards to an argument. Indeed they are pliable enough to be changed to suit. It is the jump from observation to explanation that is the most important hinge. Doing so is difficult, and the reason why science tests everything to do with that jump. Ontological arguments are already a few jumps down the line. Depending on authority is far more comfortable at that point no matter the tenuous nature of such connections.

            Bah, I'm rambling without arriving at the points I want to make. I'll have to come back to it if I get around to it.

          • I was talking about a philosophical perception – a grasping of the essential nature of phenomenon. Very important in this instance and not at all the same thing as a casual observation.

            No body is asking you to solve all the problems in the world in one post, so, allow yourself the freedom to post or not post as suits your circumstances.

          • "No body is asking you to solve all the problems in the world in one post, so, allow yourself the freedom to post or not post as suits your circumstances."

            Hehe, it'd be nice if I could, but that really wasn't my intention, I was more thinking out loud then anything else.

            I really don't see the distinction between philosophical perception from observation. I'm not quite sure what you intend to mean by casual observation however. My use of it was at the basic level in which we see things in our world how they behave and function. Philosophy is a direct descendant (corollary?) of that and indeed dependent upon it. I don't really understand what distinction you are trying to make here?

          • "I really don't see the distinction between philosophical perception from observation"

            Uhh, it is one of the most important philosophical/scientific issues of the day.

            And…. Philosophy, more properly the object of philosophy: paradigmic investigations, definitely preceeds the basic level perceptions. Basic level perceptions are the results of the generative paradigm – which resides in the cognitive unconcious.

          • It seems we are talking of the same thing then. However it would appear that I lack the vocabulary or semantics with which to communicate my intentions to you. I apologize for that, and wont burden you further.

            Except for one thing. Based on my understanding of it, I would argue, probably poorly, that the generative paradigm is built upon basic level perceptions, and not the other way around.

            Anyway if you want to continue by all means, please do. If not, then I appreciated the discussion.

          • Hmm, actually I considered it last night, and think I changed my mind about the generative paradigm. I think it seemed unnatural to me because it suggests some sort of spontaneity in its origin. I'm curious how that is resolved.

          • At some level, we first see into experience/phenomenon/the world assumptions about Nature, then we read existance on the basis of the language/syntax/idealize cognitive models our minds have made for us. (Explanation is all thumbs! See!)

            The confusion arises when we forget (because conscious competence is a forgetting) that the world is the way it is because we first made it so. Made it so ancestrally and with each individual coming into consciousness.

            This doing resides at such primal stage of our experience of the world that it corresponds very well with the folk theory of spontaneity. Having said that, it is actually fairly easy to catch it in action if you can come to know what to look for.

          • Hmm, I see no reason it should be diametrically opposed like that. It seems to me that it would be more natural for them to develop simultaneously. In other words they both inform each other. So… well we make the world, it also makes us.

      • Don't get me wrong: I don't mind people who have a way with words. Even rethoric well practiced is fair by all means, for I also hold the reader/listener to full account. They too have a responsibility to be able to read between the lines (rarely practiced these days….)

        Is Hitchens in it to win? To win what? To be able to convince everyone else that his search for limitations will provide the best outcome for all? Humanism for cutting us short? He's delusional in that sense for sure. Hitchens may not have many limitations in regards to the power of his rhetoric, but trying to convince me that he's a deep thinking man? Not a chance.

    • And this says what about "our time"?

      • That it's early.

        • What do you mean by "it's"?

          • Our time is too early. Perhaps it came before we were ready for it.

          • I was teasing you vis a vie your exchange with FVerhoven above! I knew what you meant.

          • Ah. Very good.

          • ROLF ROFL

        • It's not too early if you're ready for it.

      • You watched, and absorbed all of that content already?

        You might make the list too.

        • Let's leave your favoured fellow out of the mix for a minute. Rest assured you may replace him in your pantheon post haste. Whom, of the others on that list of worthies have you spent as much or more time with (reading, watching, making colourful and cute montages of, etc.)?

          • Tell you what. Give me a list of 10 people who are more widely read then Hitch, and then I'll put together a list for you.

            Here is one list of many that has him top 10:

            http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/oct/18/books

            You obviously think he's some kind of one trick pony, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

            Speaking of his "one trick" that you've heard of, he believes that faith is intrinsically a bad thing, as it gives licence to claim certainty without evidence.

            I agree with him about this, and think it would be a more interesting subject to debate, then rating his intellect.

            On that point, I think it's sufficent to say that smarter people then you or I, hold him in high esteem. To pretend he doesn't rate, because he disagrees with you, is pretty vain.

          • I find your appeal to authority pathetic, and entirely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

          • Perhaps you'd like to contribute your ten people more widely read then Christopher Hitchens then?

            I'm sure you can come up with at least fifty. It would contribute greatly to the "topic at hand". It would be much more constructive then griping about an appeal to authority, that disagrees with you.

            Even if you could provide a list of top 50 public intellectuals that doesn't have Hitch on it. That would be enough for you to feel that you contributed something, rather then nothing.

          • I am entirely unconcerned with a persons celebrity when evaluating their arguments and positions. Your contention is that Hitchens is a great thinker. I don't see how showing that he is widely read, or popular demonstrates anything of the sort. For all we know some recluse in a cabin in Wyoming may be the greatest thinker of our age.

            But by all means continue with your lists, no doubt being popular trumps critical thinking.

          • Equivocation, AJR79! I can read the Guardian (and do) for myself, but I didn't ask for their list, I ask for yours. Specifically, I asked for those authors/figures that you spend as much or more time with, or if not as much or more than your 2nds and 3rds. If the exchange is uninteresting to you, fine, catch you on the next issue.

            I do not think that it is "obvious" that I feel he is a one trick pony. Mostly because I don't think that. It is likely obvious that I am ambivalent to the essence of his proposition, but that doesn't mean I think he is vapid and shallow.

            Oh, I just re-read your last sentance! Ouch! That was harsh. You needn't get your hackles up or project some boogie-man status upon me. I aim to be civil and I do not think I have given you any cause to think otherwise.

          • You seemed to be mocking me for including him in the top 50. Was that not your intention? Sorry for the snark if that is the case.

            Taking a closer look at it, that source is actually weak-sauce, as it is some kind of readership poll. Nonetheless, I'm not alone in my thinking. I wanted to point out that what I said was not outrageous.

            As to the time spent watching/reading Hitchens, I am currently spending alot more time with a New Testament textual critic by the name of Bart Ehrman. His is a pretty interesting body of work, and the deadliest kind of superweapon against Christianity. I wouldn't rank him in the top 50 thou (probably not anyway. I'm too lazy to actually think over, and list my whole top 50).

            I indicated that wherever you rank Hitchens, it's his proposition that is the more interesting. Is faith intrinsically bad? I would argue that it is. Claims of certainty without evidence lead to bad results, and woo-woo thinking. Do you see some advantage to faith that overcomes this problem? I'm all ears.

          • Mocking you? Not really. I was calling you out for making recourse to a top 50 or top 20 list, suspecting that you did not really care a fig about the others on the list.

            As to the Ehrman reference, thank you, I have heard of, but have not read him. The question of suffering is very perplexing. I mostly attribute to the contest for identity between the ancient brain, subject of natural selection, and the (relatively) new brain, some 2 million years old, that is of a different character in it's mode of apprehension than the ancestral brain. Most metamorphises in human history can be de-emotionalized in light of this frame.

            I spend most of my time (of what is free for such amateur undertakings) attempting gain a grasp on this question. Mostly I read cognitive linguistics, Confucian critisism, and history of science works, my absolute favourite primer being The Wholeness of Nature, by Henri Bortoff.

  11. Since I can only count up to five I am wondering if someone can say to the nearest million how many humans have been slaughtered in the name of some religion during the course of recorded history.

    We know there are rivers of blood but the approximations evade me.

    • Stop being such a bigot. People have been slaughtered for any number of reasons, religion being one among legion. Why are you only focusing on the accidental cause that also happens to be the source of the annoyance to your self-calming tendances?

      • Thanks for the identification. I may have written that statement poorly. My intention was not to imply the genesis of human slaughter is solely driven by religion. However history is replete with religious wars. Killing comes easy when we have convictions.

        With my gifts its a challenge not to be a bigot. It is simply enviable how quickly you were able to develop my psychological profile. Thanks again.

        • The "bigot" thing was over the top. I do not know what to make of the rest of your comment, but I should not have said that.

        • History is indeed replete with wars. The majority of them however are political regardless of what ideology is used to fund their morale. The Crusades are obviously the most overt in their claim of religion to be the motivating factor, however the actual reasons for their implantation are far more suspect. That's what happens when you have the Holy See as a immensely powerful political institution however, indeed it was probably inevitable. The wars of the Holy See were hardly limited to the Crusades and most people wouldn't view the other ones it caused as religious in nature. Even though they have as much basis to be called such as the Crusades do.

    • Give me a break. And how many have died in the name of Love? More people die every year in Canada now because of love gone wrong then religious differences I assure you. Does this mean love is worthless?

  12. Justin, you say: "I don't know what "linear" thinking is. It was you who introduced the term, not I.

    I would prefer to use the term "causal" thinking. However, this would be superfluous by my own logic, as I stated earlier that I think there is one thinking process only.
    ——————————————–
    Yes, I introduced the aspect of linear thinking when going into the conversation. And I mentioned it in regards to superficiality I find on the increase. Let me try to explain differently.

    Think of the word 'progress'. We hear the word often as in relation to thinking, such as 'progressive thinking", or a 'progressively minded society". But what does that realy mean? Well, it can mean two things; progress can mean: the forward course of action, events, time (one action, event or timeframe being stacked on top of each other without particular goal in mind).

    But then there is the other meaning of 'progress', namely: a movement TOWARD a goal or to a further or higher stage. In the latter understanding of 'progress', actions, events or timeframes do not necessarily have to be stacked on top of each other but could in fact deviate from such stacked-up sense considerably, taking on a renewed direction altogether by being driven by a sense of TOWARD.

    Do u sense a difference of meaning within the two explanations of 'progress'? If you do, then you must sense a difference within thinking possibilities.

    • That's not an example of different processes of thinking, it's just a word with more than one meaning. The word "pen" can mean an instrument for writing, or a containment unit for an animal. It doesn't mean that there are different ways of thinking about "pens".

      • If you allow me for saying so: I think you are wrong in that.

        I believe there is a very distinct difference to thinking in relation to progress. Specifically when we come to understand the difference between forward and toward. Both directions are real. The forward part of progress exists, is inevitable and cannot be denied. But the thinking toward is not inevitable, does not have to exit and can be denied. The thinking toward is more difficult, more demanding. I would go so far as to say that the thinking toward brings the religious aspect about. Not that all thinking toward is in relation to the religious, but that the religious aspect is in relation to the thinking of toward.

        Strange way of putting it, isn't it. One would think that the religious aspect of thinking would have nothing to do with progress. Yet. it does.

        • I can't really understand what you are talking about here.

          "Forward" and "toward" seem to me to be two ways of describing direction, from different reference points. "Forward" means the person or vessel is moving in the direction it is looking or pointing. "Toward" means the person or vessel is moving in the direction of a specific object.

          Imagine two boats. One is sailing north, the other south. Both are pointing in the direction they are sailing. The boats are moving toward different objects (opposite poles), but both are moving forward.

          • Yes, both are directions. Perhaps we are miscommunicating in that I'm thinking much more in abstract terms. But I'm gonna try to explain what I mean by going by your example of there being no object and there being an object, but trying to stay within an abstract frame of mind as much as possible. Let us say that the toward indeed is in direction of an object. Any such object, I believe, must befitting a unity. Any object, be it tangible or abstract in substance, is as unity – either tangible displayed, or held abstractly as concept. Both, the tangible objective and the conceptual objective, play a role within the thinking of toward.

            In forward thinking, the object comes about by its thinking. We go from here to there and by such means posit the objective.

            Humans do both, positing the objective and moving toward an objective, and the proper combination of the two I would call balanced thinking. However, when one of the two is increasingly outweighing the other, in the case of linear thinking the forward direction being overpowering, we may find ourselves, as societies, considerably lost. For instance, out of the sciences, considerable objectives may arise as a result of linear thinking (moving from here to there), but how will such one-sided direction keep us in balance without the thinking of toward being folded within the process of scientific development? Will such one-sided thinking not set us onto a path of complete mayhem? Scientific progress is good, but not in isolation by thinking linear only!

          • …but how will such one-sided direction keep us in balance without the thinking of toward being folded within the process of scientific development?

            Thinking of toward what? The process of establishing an objective is a process of thought. One might ask oneself, for example, "Should my objective be to marry Woman X or Woman Y?", he can then think about which should be his objective by trying to determine the effects of marrying each.

            Even though thinking is one process, the reason different people can think different things is because they have different assumptions. Notice in my example above that the man has assumed 1) that he should marry, 2) that he should marry a woman, 3) that he should marry only one woman, 4) that he should marry woman X or woman Y. "Assumptions" are what the thinker accepts as given data (ie., premises) that provide the boundaries for a specific thought process (or, perhaps, thought session).

          • Honesty first? Of course, sexual attraction is huge! Without an intuitive sexual attraction, my marriage would not have lasted as long as it did.

            The reasonable response to your thoughts is contained within window 2.> next

          • 2)

            You say:" The process of establishing an objective is a process of thought" I agree. But our human thought process is complicated, as you are indicating so yourself. (adding to the complication here is the limited writing space, which demands one's thinking to be really sharp or else turn out to be completely confusing.)

            Most interesting example you give, so let's go for it! ;)

            Both women could be seen as his objective. But since he's decided to befit the union of trad. marriage, he must choose between two objects in order to satisfy that part of the unity within his objective. The objects (X,Y), in essence, have the possibility of holding within a match to his proposed unity (commitment in trad.marriage), but here comes the real tricky part: Our senses now come into play regarding our thinking. We now must try and fit X or Y into the picture for completing it. Will X be better for completing his aimed for-unity than Y? Perhaps not. Perhaps Y will do better. How long does the man want his marriage to last (what's to be the effect)?

          • Sexual attraction will have a different weight of importance depending on the man's assumptions (or premises). If, for example, the man thinks that marriage means a monogamous relationship, the sexual attraction to his partner will be very important. If, on the other hand, he sees marriage primarily as an ideal institution for raising children, and he believes that his marriage will in no way prohibit him from engaging in any sexual relations with any women he wants, then the sexual attraction element will be of much less significance than his partners mothering abilities. The question he would then ask himself is, "What makes (causes) a good mother?".

          • Well, we differ on that front considerably.

            It is my opinion, strong as it may be, that if the attraction between the man (father) and woman (mother) is not strong and lasting, the mothering effect will be less strong also.

            You can't eat your cake and have it too. You want a good mother for your kids, make sure the mutual sexual attraction is a real one.

          • Why?

          • because raising kids is an act of love, and without recognizing the attraction between the man and woman within the kids, the love toward them will not be as dedicated. Hence, so much trouble arising for the kids coming out of a divorce. Specially when the kids are young and still at an impressionable age. If you can't stand the guy you just divorced, how do you think this will reflect on the kids coming out of a union with the very same man?

            Those mothers try and walk a fine line, by pretending everything feels the same towards the kids after the divorce, but I'm saying it ain't so.

          • I think this would depend on whether you had children to be a glorious monument to your love, or if you had them because you wanted children.

          • I wanted children only if they could be fed with a love coming from within a union.

          • So the children were of secondary importance to you, after the "union".

          • The children, within the union, were always as inclusive of the union, a new inclusive union, so to speak.

            My children will never be of secondary importance, but they are no longer children. They are fully developed adults and were by the time our 'union' fell apart. And if you are wondering if I left because the children had left home, I would say no, but divorce had never even entered into my mind when the kids were at home. The mind just never had the urge for looking in that direction when the kids were still at home. It was not a matter of not having a choice at the time; there was no need for a choice. Intuitively, becoming a mother is not by temporary outlook, but is by being able to look over the long run.

          • We are off topic.

            The point that I think I was trying to make is that different people want children for different reasons. Some people might want a "family", ie., children and a spouse, and some people might just want the children.

            In your example, the mother feels less strongly for her children after the divorce than before, because she "can't stand" her ex-husband. Well, if the mother is bitter about the divorce, one can assume that her objective in being married entailed more than just having children. I think one can say for a different woman, one whose only reason for marriage was to have children, that she can feel just as strongly about her children before, during, and after a divorce — however, if the object of her marriage was to have children, and she has children, it is unlikely she would pursue a divorce.

          • Oh, it is entirely possible that some women might just want kids and not care about having a relationship with the father of the children besides.

            However, I do find that a strange environment for kids to grow up in.

            Women shouldn't have children for the woman's sake, but give the kid what it needs, which is a stable enough relationship between the parents. The kids being brought into the world deserve at least that much. I know, it sounds old fashioned, but I happen to believe it gives the kids a form of stability within adulthood.

  13. Why does Macleans publish such crap articles pitched to readers they consider morons (or are morons, or the writers of Macleans are morons, take your pick) and maintain some sanctimonious investigative party political privilege just because they call themselves a Canadian magazine. I recently had a friend from Mexico who had to pay 150 dollars for a visa to come to Canada on holiday and sign a paper saying that coming to Canada was a privilege and not a right.

  14. Thank God I'm an athieist………………..relegion=we want your $……………to sell our brand of life…Hitchens makes some very valid and enlightening points……….people who are well read ,travelled and look at life for what it is…soon tire of the religious diatribe that they have a solution for every problem,that Moses parted the Red Sea and Eve made Adam eat the forbidden apple…young people today will not be directed by 1500yr old fairy tales and hookus pocus stories passed down thru centuries of brainwashing…………….to each their own..but plse like family secrets keep it to yourself……….

  15. Far be it for me to reduce someone to a set of facile labels…

    Oh, go on then!

    Hitchens is a champagne socialist turned champagne neo-con, frothing Islamophobic bigot who, by virtue of his considerable gift of gab, added to the false cachet carried by middle-upper class types inculcated with that indomitable public school-boy colonial arrogance and – though augmented by an undeniable natural ability to charm – gets away

    He is also a drunkard, and what person in their right mind trusts the outpourings of one whose judgement has been steeped in so much alcohol.

    It seems that such a person only thrives – i.e. finds a raison d'être – in opposition; hence the need to find people (preferrably large groups of them) to rubbish, lampoon and outright oppose. Perhaps this belies the intensity of doubt in the strength of his own convictions: the more you are unable to find a meaningful identity of your own (and atheists, being among the most mercurial masters of amoral convenience, have a propensity for the most fluid of identities) – the more you lash out at those who have a strong and meaningful identity of their own…

    Pity to waste such genius on childish tantrums and tirades masquerading as reason.

    • Erratum:

      Previous entry should read:

      "Hitchens is a champagne socialist turned champagne neo-con, frothing Islamophobic bigot who, by virtue of his considerable gift of gab, added to the false cachet carried by middle-upper class types inculcated with that indomitable public school-boy colonial arrogance – though augmented by an undeniable natural ability to charm – gets away with his brand of false intellectual indignation time and again as fawning atheists, looking for a hero, find in his put-down diatribe a championing of their religion of selfish secular cynicism."

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