Muscular atheism alert

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2005

Websites which regularly enthuse about the man are linking to this quasi-interview with Hitchens in which he vaunts his atheistic credentials:

He’s not just an atheist who doesn’t believe in God, he says, but an “anti-theist,” who actively denies the existence of same, a distinction he insists on making. …. His new book, God is Not Great , is a call for people to grow up and abandon the self-comforting fantasy: “I personally think that’s the only answer. In the meantime, any government that allows any privilege to any one faith is preparing to commit cultural suicide.” And any state that retains even a quasi-connection to Christianity, he adds, will have to face Muslim arguments exploiting it. It is all gloomily predictable.

Last week Nick Barlow pointed to the website of the Family Research Council (“Defending Family, Faith and Freedom”) with a picture of a man looking rather like Hitchens who had given an address to the group. One can only suppose that evil biotechnologists from the idiotarian left have produced a clone of Hitchens which now goes around acting in a way that would discredit the real one. Somehow I doubt that such a risible scheme will discredit the “Dude” in the eyes of his faithful admirers.

{ 30 comments }

1

Brendan 11.21.05 at 11:01 am

Could I just point out the obvious (apart from the fact that Hitchens is the sort of person who gives atheists a bad name).

I’ve read about three interviews now, all of which allude to (or state explicitly) that Hitchens has been feeling ‘unwell’ or isn’t ‘looking great’ or words to that effect. I think attacking Hitchens (fun though it is) is increasingly coming to look as if it’s in slightly bad taste. The man is clearly intent on drinking himself to death, and this is self-evidently having an effect on his ability to think and write.

His slavering ‘fan club’ are intent on not noticing this, but it’s all starting to look a bit like the last days of Peter Cook (or George Best) with hordes of hangers on wittering on about how great the Hitch is, whilst not actually bothering to notice his increasingly perilous physical and mental state.

2

Andrew Brown 11.21.05 at 11:04 am

There is one totally incredible assertion ascribed to Hitchens in this piece – the paper has helpfully wrapped it in question marks (presumably once em dashes):

bq. But Hitchens says that what truly scares him is the mistaken tendency of Western governments ? _which traditionally have kept religion and the state well and truly separate_ ? to accommodate the growing demands of Islamic extremists, often against the wishes of other Muslims.

Which possible definition of “Western” is he using there? I know it is some time since he left England, but he might remember there is an established church here, as there is in (I think) every Scandinavian country, that Germany has a Church tax … only the French would seem to qualify as truly Western by this definition. He really must be setting out to piss off his new friends.

3

Thomas 11.21.05 at 11:18 am

Quite surprising. Chris comes off as juvenile, since he apparently believes that Hitchens’ speaking to the FRC somehow taints Hitchens. Hitchens, on the other hand, comes off rather impressively, since he managed to put aside his repeatedly expressed animus toward the Christian right in the US long enough to speak to the FRC.

But–and I’m surprised by this–the FRC comes off best of all. This group–scourge of teletubbies–apparently now has the confidence to ask Hitchens to speak to them. And it turns out that FRC apparently has an at times rather impressive lecture series. I’d never have guessed that FRC would ask Hitchens, Haldane, George, Kevin Phillips, and so on, to come speak to them. A more ecumenical group than the average university lecture series.

4

Louis Proyect 11.21.05 at 11:31 am

Doug Henwood wrote Hitchens asking “if he’s going soft on god.” He wrote back:

“Good grief, man, it’s you not me that hangs around their website. I thought it was rather nice of them to expose their sweet interns to a lecture on Jefferson and atheism.”

5

Chris Bertram 11.21.05 at 11:45 am

How far the lecture was on “Jefferson _and atheism_ ” seems open to question. Here’s one “eyewitness report”:http://www.spectator.org/blogger_comments.asp?BlogID=734 .

Thomas’s insightful comment makes me reflect that we were all wrong to laugh at “Hitchens’s European tour with David Horowitz”:http://crookedtimber.org/2005/03/29/national-lampoons-european-vacation/ . Far from showing that the man will do anything for money it was evidence of a delightful open-mindedness on the parts of Hitch, Horowitz and Paul Johnson alike.

6

KCinDC 11.21.05 at 11:54 am

Hmm, another “anti-theist” (though he didn’t use that word), Penn Jillette, was on Morning Edition’s “This I Believe” segment on NPR this morning. Coincidence or conspiracy?

7

roger 11.21.05 at 11:54 am

It is hard to resist quoting a marvelous passage in Tocqueville on this subject, in his Ancien Regime and the Revolution:

“One of the first programs of the french revolution had been to attack the church, and among the passions born of that revolution, the first lighted and the last extinguished was the irreligious passion. Even when the enthusiasm for liberty withered, after one was reduced to buying tranquility at the price of servitude, one remained in revolt against religious authority.
Napoleon, who was able to conquer the liberal genius of the revolution,made vain efforts to conquer its antichristian genius, and, even in our times, we have seen men who believe they can redeem their servility towards the most miniscule agents of political power by their insolence towards God; who, while abandoning all that was most free, noble and proud in the doctrines of the Revolution, flatter themselves that they remain faithful to its spirit in remaining unbelievers.”

8

kharris 11.21.05 at 12:08 pm

I was just bringing Pen’s lovely piece over here to link when I saw kcindc’s bit. Pen’s argument starts out so smart, then turns so, well, noble, that it is hard to compare it to “Mr Muscular.”

By the way, shouldn’t grown up writers be turning away from using the term “muscular” to refer to anything except actual muscle these days? We have had quite enough “muscular” foreign policy and “muscular” security policy and “muscular” cake recipes by now, I should think.

9

Marc Mulholland 11.21.05 at 12:34 pm

It may be just the interviewer’s interpretation, but while Hitchens’ is happy to call himself Islamophobic, he’s agin only FUNDAMENTALIST christianity. Perhaps he believes that Islam must be objectionably fundamentalist, but Christian theology is amenable to the ‘Enlightenment Project’.

10

Uncle Kvetch 11.21.05 at 1:21 pm

only the French would seem to qualify as truly Western by this definition.

And even there, it’s a judgment call. France has state-financed religious schools–Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. They’re far more regulated than religious schools in the US–teachers are drawn from the same civil service as in the public schools, and the curriculum is virtually identical to that taught in the public system–but the fact remains that it’s a degree of state-financed religious education that exceeds anything in the US.

11

Dan Hardie 11.21.05 at 1:51 pm

An atheist gave a talk on atheism to a group of young Christians? Burn him at the stake! Surely this is something on which both Bertramian Atheists (‘True Unbelievers’) and muscular Christians can agree.

No one should ever speak to anyone whose views diverge from their own, nor give a talk to any group representing disagreeable opinions with which they disagree. Why, that way lies heresy and free thought. Should Chris Bertram ever speak to any group of people who disagree with him, he could only recover caste by committing suicide. I’d certainly lend him a gun.

Marc M: Hitchens rather clearly states that he can’t stand all religions. The one time I got horrendously drunk in his company, he waxed gloomy about the religious beliefs of Tony Blair (disbelieving tone: ‘He actually *believes* all that stuff’) and paid warm tribute, on that score, to Bill Clinton: ‘Yes, he stands up and does the big Baptist number, but he knows it’s all a joke’.

12

nick s 11.21.05 at 2:18 pm

Hitchens, on the other hand, comes off rather impressively, since he managed to put aside his repeatedly expressed animus toward the Christian right in the US long enough to speak to the FRC.

Well, his hypocrisy is certainly impressive.

13

abb1 11.21.05 at 2:31 pm

An atheist gave a talk on atheism to a group of young Christians? Burn him at the stake!

It wasn’t a talk on atheism, it was a talk on “Jefferson’s America: An Enduring Vision of Democracy and Freedom”. He was probably explaining why waterboarding of Muslims is a non-torture.

Oh, and btw – shorter Dan Hardie: I drink with Hitchens! It’s all about me! Me! Me!

14

brendan 11.21.05 at 2:34 pm

‘No one should ever speak to anyone whose views diverge from their own, nor give a talk to any group representing disagreeable opinions with which they disagree. Why, that way lies heresy and free thought. ‘

Hmmm….Well if the eyewitness report (URL above) is any guide, it certainly doesn’t seem that he over stressed the ‘atheist’ aspect.

‘Hitchens conceded that in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptists, where the phrase “wall of separation of church and state” originates, Jefferson meant that his role as a federal officer prevented him from intervening in this matter between the church and the state of Connecticut more than he was making a secularist case.’

Compare that climbdown to the Christians with the vitriol and contempt he unleashes on freethinkers, atheists and secularists who doubt the wisdom of the invasion of Iraq.

15

Paul 11.21.05 at 2:34 pm

His new book, God is Not Great

If we’re very, very good, Hitch will call his next book Well, that about wraps it up for God.

16

Dan Hardie 11.21.05 at 3:10 pm

Hmm: if there are any remedial English teachers here, they should offer some tuition to the individual who thinks that clue in the phrase ‘The one time I got horrendously drunk in his company’ means ‘I drink with Hitchens’. Someone needs to learn the uses of the present simple and past simple tenses, as well as get used to being laughed at.

It’s touching to note how rapidly good left-liberals can become a firm believer in the accuracy of a report in the ‘American Spectator’. I thought it was only the likes of the evil Hitchens who could do such things…

17

Maynard Handley 11.21.05 at 3:42 pm


But—and I’m surprised by this—the FRC comes off best of all. This group—scourge of teletubbies—apparently now has the confidence to ask Hitchens to speak to them. And it turns out that FRC apparently has an at times rather impressive lecture series. I’d never have guessed that FRC would ask Hitchens, Haldane, George, Kevin Phillips, and so on, to come speak to them. A more ecumenical group than the average university lecture series.

This struck me as an interesting claim, so I shot over to their website to download me some lectures for my iPod.
Probably I’m an idiot but
(1) The only link I could find that seemed remotely relevant to the issue was
http://www.frc.org/get.cfm?c=EVENTS
which, apart from Hitchens, seemed to be every bit as boring and predictable as you’d expect — rants about how church is good, sex is bad and the how the ACLU is destroying America.
(2) Even of this rather pathetic collection of offerings, none of them seemed to offer audio.

Count me unconvinced. I don’t know about the “average” university series, but I know that the university series at at least some US universities (Princeton, Stanford, the UC’s, Harvard) are both available as audio/video over the internet and occasionally feature what I consider to be right-wing nutcases. Usually I can filter these out at the download point but, just two days ago, I skipped over some rant, given at Stanford recently I believe, basically about how multiculturalism had destroyed the good old USA, the speaker establishing his bona fides at the start by telling us how he’d been educated by Leo Strauss, the “greatest political scientist of the 20th century”.

Ob aside — WTF is wrong with British universities in this respect? Do Oxford, Cambridge and the red bricks not have public lectures? Are they so out of touch with technology that they don’t know how to record them or make them available over the internet? I’ve never come across a site that allows for audio downloads from a British university.
And I’ve only come across one Australian university that allowed this, and which, soon after I visited, apparently rescinded the policy or moved everything behind a university-IP’s-only wall.

18

Keith 11.21.05 at 4:22 pm

Couldn’t we Atheists find a someone who isn’t a drunk and an appologist for Imperialism to write a popular book on the subject? I’d do it, but no one knows who the hell I am.

19

abb1 11.21.05 at 4:29 pm

Shorter Dan Hardie: I choose to believe that Hitchens gave an anti-religious talk at the FRC. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, despite common sense and evidence to the contrary.

20

Uncle Kvetch 11.21.05 at 4:51 pm

Boy, am I glad I followed the link to the Spectator piece provided by Chris (comment #5). Otherwise I might have missed this:

Hitchens said Jefferson would be “outraged” that Canada still exists if he returned today and would wonder what the manhood of America has been up to if the Union Jack still flies in Ottawa.

I guess when Yakoff Smirnoff isn’t available, this is what passes for a laugh-line on the right-wing lecture circuit.

21

snuh 11.21.05 at 8:17 pm

in re schiavo, hitch said:

Not content with telling us that we once used to share the earth with dinosaurs and that we should grimly instruct our children in this falsehood, religious fanatics now present their cult of death as if it were a joyous celebration of the only life we have. They have gone too far, and they should be made to regret it most bitterly.

so i don’t see how anyone can accuse him of hypocrisy. regrets? having now listened to the dupe’s drunkard ramblings, i’m sure the FRC has a few.

22

Thomas 11.21.05 at 11:43 pm

Chris, is your response some sort of suggestion that Hitchens acted in this case only for money? How much money does this gig pay? How does that compare to the money Hitchens earns for his writings?

Is this just petty jealousy, since it’s quite obvious no one would pay you to speak to them? (And how much are you being paid to write here? Does it compare favorably with the Atlantic’s rates?) It seems to me quite lucky for you that your high principles will never be challenged–you needn’t worry that FRC or any other group you disagree with will bother you with an invitation and honorarium.

maynard–you’re right that the FRC’s lecture series could use some improvements, including posting of audio/video archives on the web. But the figures I mentioned above all apparently have spoken there, and it is, as I said, a pretty impressive group, all things considered. I’d always thought of FRC as an intellectually timorous group, but their speakers suggest something else. (Bertram’s reaction, on the other hand…)

23

brendan 11.22.05 at 4:21 am

‘I’d do it, but no one knows who the hell I am.’

Oh it’s OK. Increasingly Hitchens doesn’t know who he is (or how he got here, or why the barman hasn’t refilled his drink yet, or if you spilled his pint, or if you want to take this outside) either.

24

Dan Hardie 11.22.05 at 11:43 am

Flattering though it is to have attracted a cyberstalker, it would be more fun if I’d got a slightly less pathetic model.

Re the simulated horror over Hitchens’s drinking on this thread, there can’t be another web discussion so full of adults acting like children, unless it’s a paedophiles’ talkboard.

25

fyreflye 11.22.05 at 3:23 pm

Posted by Dan Hardie ·

Re the simulated horror over Hitchens’s drinking on this thread, there can’t be another web discussion so full of adults acting like children, unless it’s a paedophiles’ talkboard.

There’s a difference between drinking and being a drunk. As one who “got horrendously drunk in his [Hitchens’] company it’s understandable why you may not realize that.

26

Ian 11.22.05 at 5:06 pm

So, to recap: Hitchens, an atheist, gives a lecture to a group of fundamentalist Christians. In the course of that lecture, he claims that Saddam was stockpiling WMDs until March 03; that Cindy Sheehan is the witless tool of neo-Stalinists; and that Joseph Wilson and the CIA are engaged in a treasonous conspiracy against the US administration. Oh, and he also slurred his words and fell off the stage clutching the lectern.

Well, maybe not. But he DID give a lecture to fundamentalists. And he talked about Jefferson ‘n’ stuff!

You guys are sounding a tad desperate. If you really need a 2-minute hate, there’s the usual quotient of nonsense in Hitchens’ latest Slate piece. But what he actually writes isn’t really the point, is it?

27

Jon H 11.22.05 at 9:31 pm

“If we’re very, very good, Hitch will call his next book Well, that about wraps it up for God.”

If he’s really been looking ill, it’s more likely the next will be a posthumous collection called “Well, that about wraps it up for Christopher Hitchens”

28

Dan Hardie 11.23.05 at 7:20 am

I love this thread, I do. You just couldn’t parody the spinsterish puritanism in this remark:’There’s a difference between drinking and being a drunk. As one who “got horrendously drunk in his [Hitchens’] company it’s understandable why you may not realize that.’

Next up: Chris Bertram confesses to once having been drunk in the company of one-time buddy Norman Geras (who bored the pants off all present with cries of ‘Dude!’); shocked CT commenters agree to counsel CB on his ‘alcohol issues’.

29

Chris Bertram 11.23.05 at 7:23 am

You know, you and I really should have a pint some time Dan ….

30

Dan Hardie 11.23.05 at 9:08 am

I’ll buy the first round, you buy the second, and Dsquared can order us some of those £300 cocktails popular with City boys…

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