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Ch. 1: Putting It Mildly 
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RTulip: DH, this made sense to me until the “And” in the last sentence, where I thought you meant “But”. Hitch is a shock-trooper for reason. You seem to say he is clearing the ground for rational debate, opening a path for the positive liberators. Resistance to bullying is, however, a very different thing from adding kero to a fire. By critiquing his denial of liberationary dimensions you contradict your point about the enormous value in slapping the tyrant. Which do you mean?

Hitchens is involved in a liberatory struggle: an intellectual resistance fighter against particular strands of ideological hegemony...specifically those that utilize religion in their projects for domination and control. Where he adds kerosene to flame is in denying the power of religion to offer potent and effective forces of resistance against shared foes. He neglects to recognize the anti-tyrannical element in religion: an inexcusable mistake as I see it. He knows better.



Tue Mar 31, 2009 3:23 pm
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Robert Tulip wrote:
The thing I find attractive in religion, for which evidence is admittedly rather scanty, is the sense of unity in totality, and the idea that this unity can be manifest in our world. Science finds a unity in totality through Big Bang cosmology etc, but rejects the idea of worldly manifestation as requiring the illegitimate method of revelation. Essentially, when we seek an authentic spirituality we are seeking to connect to an underlying unity, but this project is rejected as defective by empirical atheism.

I'm sorry I overlooked this post, Robert. I think that essentially you agree with Hitchens that "the faith of our fathers" will not get us where we need to be. But whereas he sees a humanized religion as optional and irrelevant, you appear to see it as viital. And that is what I see as the best ground for argument with Hitchens. I'm not convinced that merely by subtracting supernatural religion from the world, we'll be well off. Our natural humanity has at least as much going against it as going for it (a view that Hitchens seems to agree with). We always need help from someplace.

Thanks for the example of Weber. That is the kind of valuable work that shows an actuality about religion that its too easily denied by many.


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Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:53 pm
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Post Re:
DWill wrote:
We always need help from someplace.


Thanks for your post, DWill.
Hopefully I'm not misreading (you), but I happen to interpret Hitchens differently, and I don't read that same message in this work.

While I agree that Hitchens leads into his argument(s) with the well accepted proposition that we all do, in fact, "...need help from someplace", his primary argument(s) against religion are the very antithesis of that proposition.

That is, I understand Hitchens to be (saying) that, while that "...need..." is very real and very understandable from the human perspective - it is also very unnecessary and ultimately dehumanizing, and therefore should be given up -or eradicated.

Thanks.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Putting It Mildly
Hello Mike, thanks for your thoughts on Hitchens. I think you have misread DWill, who is saying the need for 'help from somewhere' is something that Hitchens rejects. DWill describes humanised religion as "the best ground for argument with Hitchens." It is not clear if 'humanised religion' sees the need for a transcendental power in the world, or if instead it provides a secularised reading of tradition to enable dialogue with modern thought.

You comment that Hitchens sees the need (for belief in God) as "very unnecessary and ultimately dehumanizing, and therefore [it] should be given up -or eradicated." My view is that mythology reveals our common humanity, so ignoring the spiritual framework of religion is what is more likely to dehumanise us. If belief in God is explored in a rational and aware manner, it can deepen humanity. Hitchens is very aggressive in arguing that only he is right about the meaning of mythology, and in his contempt he ignores the depths of literary complexity and layers of meaning in religion.

I can't help thinking of Hitchens' Trotskyite origins here. There is a continuity in the demand for clear and simple and popular answers, in situations where the truth is complex and ambiguous and unpopular.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Putting It Mildly
This is the first in a series of chapter by chapter analyses of God is Not Great, one of my favorite books. In “Putting It Mildly,” Hitchens lays the groundwork for his core claims: one—that secular society faces an urgent fight against the forces of religious fundamentalism, and two—that religion can and should be replaced by enlightenment values and practices.

He begins by running the reader through some of the basic unanswerable arguments against religion: why must we praise god for doing what purportedly comes to him naturally? Why does prayer produce no results? If Jesus could heal a blind man why not cure blindness? Why is sex such a “toxic” subject?

Ultimately, the religious urge seems to boil down to wish-thinking: as Hitch’s headmaster at boarding school once explained to him, sure faith may be flawed, but it offers needful solace in times of hardship, such as dealing with the death of a loved one. This, the author argues, is “contemptible” and cowardly. It also explains why religion can never be eradicated. As Freud pointed out, religion helps people cope with their fear of death and the unknown, and until we conquer these fears, which will never happen, we cannot transcend or escape from the religious impulse.

But such a solace seeking attitude would be sufferable for the rest of us unbelievers if not for the fact that faith poses a significant threat to civil society: all Hitchens asks is that the faithful “leave me alone. But this, religion is ultimately incapable of doing. As I write these words… people of faith are… planning your and my destruction.”

And this is one of the themes that make God Is Not Great so compelling. Throughout the book Hitchens details a seemingly endless supply of horrifying holy events—from 9/11 to the “religious cleansing” in Rwanda and Sudan to the sectarian insurgency that has engulfed Iraq and Afghanistan— to make the case that we presently find ourselves in a pivotal moment in the historical clash between religion and enlightenment.

The antidote is to replace the house of worship with the library, to opt for lunch with a friend over participating in holiday gatherings, to settle disputes with reason instead of excommunication and holy war and to choose skepticism and unfettered scientific inquiry over faith: “the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy… than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind.” Likewise, “if you will devote a little time to studying the staggering photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope, you will be scrutinizing things that are far more awesome and mysterious and beautiful… than any creation or ‘end of days’ story.”

Hitchens’ polemic is intended for readers all over the world, but for me, growing up in a coercive Orthodox Jewish household in America, and having witnessed 9/11 and the Bush administration’s manipulation of the religious right and disdain for science, the urgent tone of God Is Not Great resonates with great potency.

(For more articles check out my blog: http://scholarlywritingreviewed.com/)



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Putting It Mildly
That was an excellent summing-up, madler28. Hitchens is a very fine polemical writer. I could rarely disagree with him in the book due mostly to the aptness of his examples. I think he uses "religion" in a particular way in the book, which some people hearing the title don't realize. Belief in something people want to call God he doesn't necessarily condemn; that would be a "tamed and sequestered" religion that is largely unthreatening. I also saw something not quite resolved in his attitude towards religious thinkers of the past and the culture religion has produced. He has a degree of reverence for that, yet also thinks we'd be better off if religion had never "Happened.". A point on which I don't agree with him is that M. L. King cannot be considered an example of a "great" Christian figure because by the benevolent nature of his belief, he doesn't qualify as a Christian. That seems arbitrary. Overall I agree that GING is a powerful and eloquent book.


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Last edited by DWill on Sun Oct 03, 2010 11:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Putting It Mildly
Thanks for the feedback, DWill... In response to your post, I think you illustrate a subtle understanding of the text, especially when you point to Hitch's respect for various aspects of religion. And while I hear and respect your point about MLK, for the sake of argument I'd like to say that Hitch doesn't argue that MLK doesn't qualify as a Christian-- rather, it seems to me that the author cleverly uses the case of MLK to counter a popular religious claim of an example that faith breeds benevolent and noble behaviour in its own terms. In other words, true to his larger theme, Hitchens illustrates how MLK's moral accomplishments derive from humanism, not religion, and his appeal to the Bible in promoting his noble cause of civil rights was merely an expedient general story that his followers could easily relate and cling to. If MLK really were following the Bible, Hitchens argues, then the notion of nonviolent reistance would not have been possible because Christianity continues the Mosaic trend of violent retaliation and conquest, etc.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Putting It Mildly
Thanks madler28. You might have noticed that we're now reading Robert Wright's The Evolution of God. The book makes an interesting contrast with God Is Not Great in several ways. One is that Wright steers away from what he calls scriptural determinism, that is, the notion that the body of a religion's writings has a defined determining effect on adherents of that religion. Hitchens I think looks at the Bible, especially the OT parts showing the early God or Yahweh as quite bloodthirsty, or the NT parts emphasizing damnation, and decides that these elements need to be considered as essential to Christian belief. But in reality a Christian, like any other believer, can attach himself to different strands or themes within those scriptures. Christianity appears to be a very large tent by virtue of the inconsistency within the Bible. If there happen to be people who call themselves Christian whose actions or beliefs we approve of, to say that therefore they're not "really" Christian seems arbitrary. We might call them instead maddeningly inconsistent with scripture, and maybe that is what so irritates CH. To say that the good must come from humanism and not from the influence of the religion seems to be likewise an arbitrary distinction. Maybe the religion succeeds as humanism? I wonder if Wright would say that Hitchens doesn't allow for evolution of the God concept within the minds of human beings who may continue to identify themselves as Christians. For me, it's a very good thing to have God mellow out in this way, so I don't quibble over whether such a god is any longer the God of scripture. I'd say he is and he isn't.

I don't dispute that MLK was not an orthodox Christian; some hardcore Christians are with Hitchens in denying he was Christian at all. My view is that since he said he was Christian, he was.


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Last edited by DWill on Mon Oct 04, 2010 11:54 am, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Oct 04, 2010 8:04 am
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