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Criticism of Hitchens 
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Post Criticism of Hitchens
David Aikman wrote a book against the "Big 4" atheist authors called The Delusion of Disbelief. It's not a bad book, in my opinion; it doesn't paint any of the four writers as without merits or admirable character traits. Obviously, though, it is a strong attack against atheism. In the book, he singles out Hitchens as the most extreme and uncompromising in his hatred of religion. This is interesting to me because, so far at least, I see Hitchens making allowances for some of what goes under the banner of religion, while at the same time being merciless on problems that I think anyone should condemn. It is Hitchens' streetfighter attitude seen in the title and subtitle of his book and in some of his no-holds-barred statements that masks what I would call the true reasonableness of his argument against religion. I say this having read less than half the book, so it's possible I might need to revise that view.

Aikman himself cites Hitchens' dissent from Dawkins' and Dennett's proposal to rename atheists "brights." Hitchens wrote that that would be to imply without any evidence that atheists are inherently brighter than backward religious people. That is not the thought of a knee-jerk anti-religion guy.

Aikman's summary of Hitchens is that he is the one among the four writers who is most resistant to saying that religion has been responsible for any good throughout history. Hitchens says, according to Aikman, that anything apparently valuable coming out of religion occurred despite religion, not because of it. This does seem to be a common view among atheists, and it might be later on in the book that Hitchens expresses it. I would point to a few statement Hitchens has made in just the first chapter of the book that tell me that he does not see religion's role and value in these black-and-white terms. There are other significant statements in this vein in the later chapters that I'll try to cite during the discussions.

1. He cites his teacher and religious instructor, Mrs. Jean Watts, as a "good, sincere, simple woman, of stable and decent faith."(p. 1)
2. Religion has "mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism." (p. 7).
3. "Some of these excursions to the bookshelf or the lunch or the gallery will obviously, if they are serious, bring us into contact with belief and believers, from the great devotional painters and composers to the works of Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman." (p. 7)
4. "Some religious apology is magnificent in its limited way--one might cite Pascal." (p. 7)
5. "I trust that if you met me, you would not necessarily know that this is my view. I have sat up later, and longer, with religious friends than with any other kind....I think that if I went back to Devon, where Mrs. Watts has her unvisited tomb, I would surely find myself sitting quietly in the back of some old Celtic or Saxon church." (p. 11)
6. "I now know enough about all religions to know that I would always be an infidel at all times and in all places, but my particular atheism is a Protestant atheism. It is with the splendid liturgy of the King James Bible and the Cranmer prayer book....that I first disagreed. When my father died....I gave the address from the pulpit and selected as my text a verse from the epistle of Saul of Tarsus." (p. 12)


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Sun Mar 15, 2009 8:34 am
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Aikman himself cites Hitchens' dissent from Dawkins' and Dennett's proposal to rename atheists "brights." Hitchens wrote that that would be to imply without any evidence that atheists are inherently brighter than backward religious people. That is not the thought of a knee-jerk anti-religion guy.


I never was fond of the term "Brights" and was quite disappointed that Richard Dawkins signed on to that campaign several years ago. Oddly enough I was actually at that Atheist International Convention when the "Brights" campaign was first rolled out. In my opinion the founders did a poor job of presenting the concept. And even if they were the worlds best public speakers I would still be opposed to coming up with yet another softer word for "atheist."


Hitchens isn't simply a heathen atheist bashing religion wildly and blindly. To anyone reading the book it is very clear that his lack of belief doesn't often interfere with his friendship and relationships with believers. He accepts that believers can be intelligent and productive and good.



Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:34 pm
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Chris OConnor wrote:
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Hitchens isn't simply a heathen atheist bashing religion wildly and blindly. To anyone reading the book it is very clear that his lack of belief doesn't often interfere with his friendship and relationships with believers. He accepts that believers can be intelligent and productive and good.

I agree with this, Chris. I hope it will encourage others who may have the idea that the book is a wild diatribe, to read it. Hitchens clearly has a personal distaste for religion of just about any type, and he's not the kind of guy to keep his distastes hidden, but he's not interested in attacking what he sees as the religion-tinged, but relatively harmless, beliefs of enlightened people today. He saves his ammunition for the worthiest targets. I would liken his view of religion to one that could be constructed for nationalism. Is it bad to have a love of country? I would say no, even though I don't much go in for shows of patriotism. Is it bad to think that your country is better than any other and therefore desrves special consideration? I'd say yes, without any doubt. By this comparison, I'm not saying that religion and nationalism are exactly the same kind of expressions, only that degree matters a lot in each.


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Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:03 am
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Admittedly, the discussion of this book hasn't been blazing. But I hope it will heat up in the next month. It won't do much good, I know, for me to continue to recommend the book highly. I would still say, though, don't be put off by the title, fearing that Hitchens is going to come after you with a sledge hammer. He sometimes uses a light saber to dissect religion, sometimes a scalpel, depending on what's approppriate. He is disrespectful when disrespect seems like the reasonable attitude, but disrespect is not his default mode toward religion.

So far we haven't seen, from those critical of Hitchens, anything that speciifically refutes his objections. Could this be because there is little argument with the many examples he cites of the troublesomeness of religion? Is the criticism then based on his denial of a positive role for religion that exists despite all the things that can be said against it? I am simply asking for some specific criticisms that are based on a close reading of the book. There are doubtless valid, specific criticisms to be made; there always are with any book.


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Thu Apr 02, 2009 8:12 am
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What honors does Hitchens hold? Is he a biologist like Dawkins?

Both of their names end in a natural 's' maybe that is the key to being a Jedi master atheist? Just add an 's' to your last name.

:book:



Tue Apr 07, 2009 9:28 pm
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