Reader Sigmund takes on two recent pieces that have implied that, well, maybe Hitchens had some form of faith after all.
The Huffington Post takes on the “religious” Christopher Hitchens
The Huffington Post and its never-ending supply of buy-my-book religious apologists has decided that now is the perfect occasion to tackle Christopher Hitchens.
More than take him on, they attempt to trounce his most potent argument, the moral challenge, and if that were not enough, go on in a second post to declare that Hitchens was in fact religious!
Back in the real world, we can look on only with a mixture of amazement and disgust at the base antics of those who seek to further ‘moderate’ religion by demonizing and misquoting the non-religious.
In the first piece, “Christopher Hitchens is ‘not great’“, by Kabil Helminski—a Sufi ‘Shaik’—we find an attempt to answer the famous “Hitchens Challenge,” an attempt that is almost breathtaking in the level of arrogance and bigotry it reveals.
The challenge itself is spelled out by Helminski while describing a debate between Hitchens and the journalist Chris Hedges:
During the debate Christopher Hitchens kept offering a challenge to Chris Hedges and to the audience: Show me one moral act undertaken by a religious person that could not have been done by someone who doesn’t believe in God. The challenge went unanswered by Mr. Hedges and understandably by the audience of 800, since there was no microphone for any audience member to counter the interruptions and insults of Mr. Hitchens.
Well, let’s ignore the ad hominem insults and see where we get with Helminski, who says:
I would like to take up that challenge.
Hooray! Very brave of Helminski to attempt a challenge that has been met with nothing but po-faced silence by practically every one of Hitchens debating opponents.
For starters, I recall something Rev. Charles Gibbs, Director of the United Religions Initiative, said: “Go anywhere in the world, as far down the dirt roads into those corners of the world where there is no civil administration and no government aid, go to the poorest of the poor and you will find there people of faith working to help the helpless and forgotten.” You will not find armchair intellectuals there. You will not find people inspired by Bertrand Russell, or Voltaire, or Christopher Hitchens helping out.
Pardon? There are no atheists working to help others in the world? There are no humanitarian aid organizations or charities? Medicine Sans Frontiers, Amnesty International, Oxfam, The Red Cross? None of these count?
Does Helminski even realize what he is suggesting, that all charity or humanitarian aid is religiously based or inspired? That no atheist will work to help the poor? If he does realize the implications, he certainly doesn’t act as if he cares.
Helmiski spends most of the rest of the article decrying secular regimes (naturally those of Hitler, Stalin and Mao are the examples chosen) and complaining that Hitchens was somehow cynically tone deaf towards the ‘spiritual’ side of life.
Perhaps Helminski should have spoken to a fellow apologist who tries an even bolder strategy to destroy Hitchens’ atheistic credentials.
If ever an occasion presented when the entire body of a post could be written with just two letters and a full stop, I doubt we’d see a better example than the next one:
Instead we have the Huffington Post version of Lady Hope, the Reverend Marilyn Sewell, informing us of her conversations with Hitchens during an interview she conducted for a Portland media site.
According to Sewell, she encountered “a surprisingly religious Christopher Hitchens. He ended up using words like numinous and transcendent and soul.”
So, Hitchens was either secretly religious all along or had become so in his final year.
And had, somehow, forgotten to mention it to anyone.
Sewell describes herself as a Unitarian Universalist minister and liberal Christian and as such takes the kind of open-minded, unbiased approach to Hitchens and his views that we have come to expect from modern moderate theists.
I didn’t want to do the interview. As I told editor Randy Gragg, “I don’t like Christopher Hitchens. He is rude. He is a bully. So why should I help get his work before more people?
Unsurprisingly, the original interview doesn’t reveal much other than Hitchens on his usual form, discounting supernatural explanations and humoring Sewell, who comes across as a happy-clappy religious type, desperate to distance her own beliefs from the bad, fundamentalist version of faith, and only too willing to co-opt any artistic metaphor used by Hitchens as proof positive that he secretly believed in a spiritual dimension.
The context in which Hitchens uses terms like “numinous” and “transcendent” defies any religious association but we should know by now that quote mining is standard practice in defense of Jeebus.
It is perhaps best to finish with Hitchens’s original words to illustrate the travesty of using them to paint him as religious:
We know we’re going to die, which gives us a lot to think about, and we have a need for, what I would call, “the transcendent” or “the numinous” or even “the ecstatic” that comes out in love and music, poetry, and landscape. I wouldn’t trust anyone who didn’t respond to things of that sort. But I think the cultural task is to separate those impulses and those needs and desires from the supernatural and, above all, from the superstitious.