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Somebody I Admire Who Won't Shut Up Either
That would be Christopher Hitchens, about whom Michael Kinsley writes in The New York Times:

Hitchens is an old-fashioned village atheist, standing in the square trying to pick arguments with the good citizens on their way to church. The book is full of logical flourishes and conundrums, many of them entertaining to the nonbeliever. How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all? Did the Jews not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments, and if they did know, why was this such a wonderful gift? On a more somber note, how can the “argument from design” (that only some kind of “intelligence” could have designed anything as perfect as a human being) be reconciled with the religious practice of female genital mutilation, which posits that women, at least, as nature creates them, are not so perfect after all? Whether sallies like these give pause to the believer is a question I can’t answer.

And all the logical sallies don’t exactly add up to a sustained argument, because Hitchens thinks a sustained argument shouldn’t even be necessary and yet wouldn’t be sufficient. To him, it’s blindingly obvious: the great religions all began at a time when we knew a tiny fraction of what we know today about the origins of Earth and human life. It’s understandable that early humans would develop stories about gods or God to salve their ignorance. But people today have no such excuse. If they continue to believe in the unbelievable, or say they do, they are morons or lunatics or liars. “The human wish to credit good things as miraculous and to charge bad things to another account is apparently universal,” he remarks, unsympathetically.

Although Hitchens’s title refers to God, his real energy is in the subtitle: “religion poisons everything.” Disproving the existence of God (at least to his own satisfaction and, frankly, to mine) is just the beginning for Hitchens. In fact, it sometimes seems as if existence is just one of the bones Hitchens wants to pick with God — and not even the most important. If God would just leave the world alone, Hitchens would be glad to let him exist, quietly, in retirement somewhere. Possibly the Hoover Institution.

Hitchens is attracted repeatedly to the principle of Occam’s razor: that simple explanations are more likely to be correct than complicated ones. (E.g., Earth makes a circle around the Sun; the Sun doesn’t do a complex roller coaster ride around Earth.) You might think that Occam’s razor would favor religion; the biblical creation story certainly seems simpler than evolution. But Hitchens argues effectively again and again that attaching the religious myth to what we know from science to be true adds nothing but needless complication.

For Hitchens, it’s personal. He is a great friend of Salman Rushdie, and he reminds us that it wasn’t just some crazed fringe Muslim who threatened Rushdie’s life, killed several others and made him a virtual prisoner for the crime of writing a novel. Religious leaders from all the major faiths, who disagree on some of the most fundamental questions, managed to put aside their differences to agree that Rushdie had it coming. (Elsewhere, Hitchens notes tartly that if any one of the major faiths is true, then the others must be false in important respects — an obvious point often forgotten in the warm haze of ecumenism.)

And P.S. I thought this passage in Kinsley's piece was particularly amusing:

The big strategic challenge for a career like this is to remain interesting, and the easiest tactic for doing that is surprise. If they expect you to say X, you say minus X.

Consistency is foolish, as the man said. (Didn’t he?) Under the unwritten and somewhat eccentric rules of American public discourse, a statement that contradicts everything you have ever said before is considered for that reason to be especially sincere, courageous and dependable. At The New Republic in the 1980s, when I was the editor, we used to joke about changing our name to “Even the Liberal New Republic,” because that was how we were referred to whenever we took a conservative position on something, which was often. Then came the day when we took a liberal position on something and we were referred to as “Even the Conservative New Republic.”

Hitchens' new book is God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Posted by aalkon at May 13, 2007 9:30 AM


> The big strategic challenge
> for a career like this is...

A Kinsley-type person, who's brilliant and political (and funny in ways that Hitchens will never be) might imagine that Hitch's career is the product of grand design. When some brilliant performer assumes a previously nonexistent position of leadership in any smoothly running market, people ascribe it to cleverness. It's a reflex as strong as the glance toward the sound of breaking glass in a restaurant: "Yeah, but that's because he....."

But y'know, in order to become Elvis, you actually have to be a truck driver from Mississippi... Then someone offers you a job in the movies. If you just walk around in mutton chops and leatherette jumpsuits, you get nowhere.

Kinsley's saying that Hitchens' contrarianism is just a good pair of sideburns. Hitchens is in on the joke enough to have written a book about it, but that doesn't mean he's insincere. If people feel a need to quibble with him (at the dinner with faculty wives following the lecture where he actually earns his honoraria) because after all, "He can't actually mean that," then what the hell.

In the early 1990's someone wrote the first good book about Ovitz and CAA. It was apparent that 99% of their success in Hollywood was attributable to professionalism and sincere attention to clients throughout the operation. But journalists and others would come into Ovitz' office and ask what the secret was. All he could do was sit, mute... The truth was never going to be interesting enough.

People would rather think it's about cleverness and cunning, because then they can imagine cutting off a slice for themselves. Or if they never do, they can pretend they were too ethical for that kind of thing anyway.

Human nature sucks, and it gets worse: People are also fond of spotting patterns in the thinking of others where there are none. You can try it on this blog. Say three things about events under discussion, making points from your own best judgment. On the the fourth day, you'll load the page to see another commenter accuse you of wanting to kill retarded children in Tuesday morning ceremonies on the courthouse lawn.

Posted by: Crid at May 13, 2007 10:04 AM

You've reminded me of something Gregg said to me about Elmore -- that Elmore (Leonard) can't really give you a good answer as to what his books are about; he says it takes (screenwriter) Scott Frank in a discussion about them to tell him.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 13, 2007 10:19 AM

Kinsley's entire review is better than I gave him credit for.

Posted by: Crid at May 13, 2007 5:16 PM

Was I imagining things or was Hitchens trashed on the Bill Maher show Friday night?

Posted by: miche at May 13, 2007 6:29 PM

Didn't see it, but I have it saved on Dish TV...will check it out.

PS Anyone else with Dish get a call recently that sounded really scam-my about lowering your bill? I should have asked the guy to tell me my account number. I just said I didn't believe he was from Dish, and asked for a number to call Dish myself for the same offer, and hung up.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 13, 2007 8:27 PM

Actually, the number the guy gave me -- (818) 206-4493 -- is a Canoga Park, CA number -- and if you call it, you'll hear the voice (I believe) of the Indian-sounding guy who called me (Indian from India, that is). He says something about it being a Dish Network number. Yeah, right.

I'm going to call Dish Network and find out.

From Reverse lookup

Type: Land LineProvider: Focal Communications CorpLocation: Canoga Park, CA

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 13, 2007 8:32 PM

The number they called from:

(239) 494-8414

Type: Land LineProvider: AT&TLocation: Bonita Springs, FL

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 13, 2007 8:35 PM

I find it amazing that people are so caught up in the exact words of relgious books. Take the Bible. It is 2000 years old and has been translated from different languages many many times in those 2000 years. So to take the Bible word for word is meaningless.

With that in mind does anyone else find it coincidental that the sequences of the Theory of evolution and the story of Genesis are about an exact match. the only difference is the time frame and the root cause. Both say the universe was created out of nothing. Both say the sun formed first. Both say life started in the sea and moved to land. Both say that Humans were the last created. To me it's pretty amazing that humans 2,000 years ago with no knowledge of DNA, the cosmos, and fossils could describe the linear progression of life on earth that fits near-perfectly with the same progression that humans of today have "discovered" as evolution thru hundreds of years of painstaking study.

In other worrds if you take big bang theory and put God in it as the cause AND take Genesis and delete out the 7 days and subsitute 4 billion years. You have the same story as evolution.

Of course it diverges when we get to Adam and Eve but we had to come from some focal point. Some couple had to have started the whole human race at some point in time. There was no mass evolution event that created 100,000's of humans at the same time. So how did that happen?

And another question I ponder. If there is no God what does it matter how you live your life? but if there is no God then at the moment of your life your memory will be gone so all the things you did in this life will be for naught.

Therefore the people that do not believe and act on all their cravings because they are "not beholden to an outdated moral system" will 1 nanosecond after death not rememeber anything and it was all useless. So in the end you have a 50/50 chance of being right or wrong about God. If there is no God but still you worshipped Him during your life you lost nothing because your not going to remember anything anyhow. But if your wrong and there is a God then you lost eternity. The logical and smart bet is to live as if there is a God.

Posted by: unseen at May 14, 2007 9:33 PM

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