Tag Archives: Hitchens

Audio: Hitchens Lecture On Thomas Paine

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If you have some time this Sunday, have a listen to Christopher Hitchens hour lecture on Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine was a citizen of a free world. He was true to his convictions whether pamphlets decrying British rule over the American colonies and writing Common Sense for independence or The Rights of Man about the issue with religion and the enlightenment values of freedom.

The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.

Hitchens brief introduction to the Rights of Man is, together with Letters to a Young Contarian, the two books I would say read if you only know Hitchens from youtube.

Brief edited extract from Hitchens take on The Rights of Man book here.

Hat tip to @futiledemocracy for sharing video on twitter – a blogger to follow, a Paine in the making and at present available for work in media with dreams of being state side.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Video: Hitchens and Ramadan Debate: Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

The video of Hitch and Ramadan is further down, and what follows is a report not only on that but the Oxford Union debate recently uploaded, and how they contrast. You can watch the Oxford Union debate here which had the same motion: Is Islam a religion of peace?

Watching the Oxford Union debate it felt opponents of the motion were holding something back in their vigour, with the exception of Daniel Johnston who made clear a need to speak against the motion without hesitation.

The real reason may have been the events in Woolwich only the day before, and fear of repercussion for suggesting that Islam was in total not a peaceful religion. Totality matters because just like any other religion Islam makes universal claims on everything and claims absolute authority to be followed. Adam Deen (Islamic theologian) for the motion made clear that the Koran and Hadith had something to say about just war, social justice and living in peace – with a right to defend itself justly from repression and extermination (pacifism morally wrong he claimed). He could have said it also covered eating, banking, the bedroom and the art of going to the lavatory as well in how Islam advises in total on all things.

It was thinking of the “total” aspect of religion which reminded me of Christopher Hitchens opening his debate at 92Y in New York 2010 on the same worded motion as at the Oxford Union. I realised his main points were not coming through from the opposing side at Oxford (except Johnston). It was like Peter Atkins and Anne-Marie Waters had never seen his debate. I recommend all do watch.

Hitchens V Ramadan video

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Hitch

It was left to Mehdi Hasan at Oxford to point out atheism by its nature had an issue with all religions. It was a point not mentioned by the two/three atheist opponents – that atheists would claim religion makes demands on followers that do not promote peace. Hitchens used this well at 92Y saying before the debate was underway that he mentioned where Christian churches had been used in the Rwandan genocide. Christopher opened with Christendom and the misery it had caused, and the freedom to study Islam in contrast was lacking. Daniel Johnston used that line at Oxford using academic scrutiny of Christianity and how that could not be done in Muslim countries for Islam.

Hitchens argument at 92Y is no book and no man is perfect and flawless. Cannot happen. Once you start claiming it is you demand people to believe the impossible. When you achieve believing the impossible then everything becomes possible. It is a matter of life and death what you believe on these things, with heresy, and apostasy to follow. We are stuck with a perfect text set in stone with 7th century thinking. The golden age to return to.

The counter to perfection is to freethink for yourself, to meet with other freethinkers and work out what is the best way to deal with issues like war and peace, social justice and human rights but no one book or person reigns large as sacred or holy. It seems a better shot than suggesting the main ideas are solved by a man spoken to by an angel, and a book based on an oral tradition of these encounters. Scholarship becomes the law maker, not the people. Theocracy is the system rather than democracy.

It felt watching the Oxford debate as if it was lost before it was won. Daniel Johnston mentioned himself that there was no Islamic theology to back up death to apostates (just hell in after life) but Islamic states nevertheless did it. There they either agreed violence is not the true Islam, or a reflection of extremists. That islamic states had their own culture and Sharia. The motion was therefore a lame duck.

Hitchens’ rebuttal to this is that there is no authority on what makes someone a Muslim, or what is Islam. The Taliban, or Saudi scholars claim a version which is counter to Mehdi Hasan. Both would condemn each other as having lost the true interpretation of Islam as understood by the prophet. The Sunni Shiite schism plays out in bloody retribution and religious claims in the Middle East. No need for a one unifying leadership of a Muslim pope to sort this out, rather the text the faith was based on clearly did not lend to all a peaceful interpretation of living but was used for anything but peace in daily life.

We need to get beyond one text, one totalitarian system way of thinking. Pluralism the idea at 92Y by both speakers to change this way of thinking.

Tariq Ramadan

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It takes two to tango, so I must bring in Tariq Ramadan, the proponent at the 92Y debate – the man that Johnston at Oxford calls a wolf in sheep’s clothing for islamism. Where at Oxford, Hasan was good with the fire of a true believer turning on those blaming his faith for all evil in the world done by Muslims, Ramadan was softly spoken talking about the human condition. That religion was about dealing with human issues rather than for him about divine sanctions. Islam dealt with violence and peace because that was innate in human beings. The thing was to examine what was written rather than use to justify bad things. Ramadan also said the problem was not the text but the reader; tell me what you think, I will know how you will read the text.

Ramadan mentioned If he said Islam said something good critics say well he would say that would he not? If on the other hand he said Islamists do something bad then everyone believed that must be Islam – if so then he was defeated before he began to make a case. He accused Hitchens of closing the debate before it had started by framing it that way.

Then through the debate he mentioned other islamic scholars that spoke for democracy. Towards the end of the debate mentioning Sharia, he said that the US clearly had a body of law with which a citizen could obey and use so no need for sharia. Hitchens was not so sure and mentioned Anjem Choudary as an example of attempts to supplement secular law.

The two debates

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I appreciate the format at the Oxford Union did not give time for the developed answers, exchange and interaction that 92Y did. The point of information at Oxford for interruptions was denied by both sides to the other when talking, and Hasan was the only one to take on board what the other side said to push his own line home. Hasan was not challenged on suicide bombings – even if we said they were all about foreign occupation their targets went against what Adam Deen claimed were innocents. Nor how using those with learning difficulties by the Taliban and others as remote control bombs was legitimatised by fighting a foreign power.

Someone should have at a minimum mentioned the Islamic idea of martyrdom in the training and thinking of deliberate suicide bombers. Could a religion of peace so easily be used to manipulate people if the message is clearly against violence, a golden thread running through it? Deen’s counter was that pacifism was worse but there were clear rules how to resist. If only he had been asked about suicide bombers and whether the Taliban had a moral right to kill our soldiers and Afghanistan soldiers in Islam.

The most common theme in both debates was disagreeing with the motion question simply because the practise of Islam is not homogeneous. It was therefore destined to fail, because rejecting the motion would mean Islam was an incitement to violence for all believers across the world, a threat that could not be tolerated. A paranoia confirmed no less than by Oxford University that would destroy religious freedom and human rights if we ever accepted that idea. Hasan in closing the debate stated that majority of Muslims are peaceful – do not vilify them opposing the motion.

A typical debating ploy is if you can make the proposition or opposition to a motion a world no one would want to live in you will win whatever arguments happen. Hasan, love him or loathe him, played that to perfection and before Peter Aitkin stood to close for his side it was already game over, Peter not even mentioning that the proposition was Islam and not how Muslims in the UK live their lives. The lame duck motion had already been cooked and served to the proponents to tuck into by then.

I recommend the video here of Hitchens and Ramadan at 92Y – though Johnston and Hasan stand out for the Oxford Union one. Because whilst I think Hitchens wins, Ramadan runs him close and leaves me thinking I need to read up on his scholarship and think about it for myself. There is a battle going on within Islam and I know which version the world needs. One with human rights, liberty, secularism and a touch of humility about itself to spread.

UPDATE: Tariq Ramadan’s meanings by Kenan Malik

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Should you pray for an atheist?

The real question is would an atheist be offended if you told them that you had prayed for them? The answer depends on the sensibilities of the person concerned, but my attitude is it cuts both ways. So pray it if it makes you feel better. The only harm may be if prayer stopped you from doing something more useful for the atheist. Like calling for an ambulance, or performing CPR. Less drastic, do something for them they would appreciate.

Once a student showed me their pendant that said “I am a Catholic, in an emergency please contact a priest.” This provoked the quip that I needed a pendant that said “I am an atheist, in an emergency please contact the appropriate emergency service.”

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The focus for an atheist is on this mortal coil of flesh rather than the safety of their immortal soul finding heaven. To my aid, I shall not limit myself to people cut of a certain frock, ideology or particular hobbies. Key is that they can perform the necessary life saving procedure due to their expertise and training. Hopefully, I will have the chance to thank them. Rather than first thank someone I never thought was there to begin with. The reserves of mental strength to be called on will be the positive reinforcements of memories of those I love and future plans, rather than a call to the mystic forces of the cosmos to see my hour of need. We all know though that at some point, our course will be run. While the energy never dies, what made up this carbon based entity will be spent in this incarnation.

My gratitude, beyond thanking those responsible for helping me pull through, would be to thank goodness. As Daniel Dennett mentioned on recovering from a life saving emergency operation:

Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now. [Source]

The late Christopher Hitchens on Christians organising a prayer for his soul:

“I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries,” the atheist author wrote in a first-person article for Vanity Fair’s October 2010 issue.

“Unless, of course, it makes you feel better,” he added, echoing a past comment. [Source]

That last point is the thing. By all means pray. But rather than offer just them to the person, give something more tangible. Goodness is goodness whatever we think happens after this life.

Related Blog: Say a Little Prayer For You

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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In a restroom – Hitchens and Mother Teresa

What will follow is an article by Hitchens on Mother Teresa, but reading it reminded me of something that happened to me in the USA last year which I shall start with linked to the otherwise obscure title of this blog.

This was the first and hopefully last time I am ever accosted for my world view in a bar toilet. That convenience being a restroom in Virginia USA the evening of Hitchens talk at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in Crystal City. Naturally wearing my branded A t-shirt I did stand out. That it said Staff Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science meant that as part of the OUT campaign I was out there with a Red A to a bull in the Men’s Room.

Naturally I did not expect a conversation to start in a restroom with an American, let alone one wearing an Arsenal football top. But he noticed my T shirt and asked about what I was doing. Mentioned that I had just listened to Hitchens and then the fun began.

Because what was worst of all for this young man of catholic faith was the books that Hitchens had written on her –  The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice – was for him all out disrespect for a great person. Now being taken literally on the fly, I pointed out that letters she had written revealed that she did not actually have faith in the supernatural – her belief in belief actually drove her to take a stand which did not help the poverty of people, notably on birth control and safer sex. As a woman that happened to be a nun with a world platform she spoke against the social reform to end poverty – the emancipation of women on equal terms with men in the economic, social and political sphere.

No doubt charity, vaccinations, food, clothing and shelter do give much needed comfort to the poor. These things were much needed in Calcutta (Bengal). It seems less obvious that strict catholic dogma was what above all the poor needed; or that the only way the necessary aid was going to happen was through faith organisations that were promoting the tolerance of the social norms that allowed the poverty to fester.

As I washed my hands, noticing that in the Gents there were baby changing facilities and thinking how good that was he remonstrated with me that it did some good. As I used the hand dryer I pointed to the baby changing facilities pointing out that I had never seen that in England, but it seemed a good idea. I was open to better ways of doing things compared to rigidly defined social and gender norms.

He said well I guess that a heathen atheist would never understand the good people do because of god. I replied that someone wearing an Arsenal top could not be all that bad. I accept that being that close to Washington DC I was in a bubble that is perhaps a different experience to the rest of the USA. Having said that, where else can you get a discussion with a complete stranger in a toilet about Hitchens and Mother Teresa – pity it did not happen at the bar. Would have been more comfortable. Definitely more restful.

Below is the article that brought forth those memories by Hitchens entitled “Belief in Belief”. Enjoy.

A question that interests me very much (and always has) is this: I know that I do not believe in either any god or any religion, and I can give my reasons in a manner that the other side can at least understand, but can the same be said for those who claim that they do believe? A shorter way of putting this is to ask whether our antagonists in this ancient argument truly mean what they appear to say.

The recent disclosure that Mother Teresa had for almost half a century been unable to feel the presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the ear of God listening to her prayers, is of great importance here. (See the recent book of her despairing letters, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.) Not even her most fervent admirers regarded this woman in any sense as an intellectual, and she evidently struggled to combat her doubts in a highly traditional way—namely, by making ever-more extravagant and even masochistic professions of “faith.” This would be superb confirmation of Daniel Dennett’s hypothesis about “belief in belief”— the strange idea that, though faith itself may be ludicrous and incoherent, the mere assertion of it may possess some virtues of its own.

Even though I have sometimes described her as a fraud (for her collusion with rich oppressors of the poor like the Duvalier family in Haiti and for her other corrupt dealings), I would now hesitate to put Mother Teresa in the same category as a Falwell, a Haggard, a Sharpton, or a Robertson. These men have never done a day’s real work in their lives and are or were simple parasites who pinch themselves every morning at their good fortune at living the easy life of exploiting the gullible. For them, religion is nothing more than a trade, or a racket.

The same, I think, can be said of the numberless clerics convicted of child-rape (why on earth do we allow ourselves the silly euphemism of “abuse”?). Their foul crime is not one of hypocrisy. No priest who sincerely believed even for ten seconds in divine judgment could conceivably endanger his immortal soul in this way, and those in the hierarchy who helped protect such men from punishment in this world are equally and obviously guilty of a hardened and obscene cynicism.

But the racketeering and exploitative side of religion, as with its no-less-marked tendency to generate wars, atrocities, and repressions, isn’t the whole story. What of those who try their best to help others and lead a decent life, attributing this conduct to their belief in a Virgin, a Prophet, or to the story of Exodus, or any other such fabrication? I never cease to wonder, in dialogues with such people, whether they are really saying what they mean or meaning what they say.

To any humanist, for example, it’s perfectly obvious that the city of Cal­cutta would benefit from an influx of volunteer nurses, doctors, inoculators, sewage experts, and others, just as it would not benefit from the attentions of people who regard poverty and death as a secondhand share in the “mystery” of the Crucifixion. There are actually quite a good number of activists of the first type (I spent some time there once, watching the great Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado do his work for UNICEF documenting the massive campaign for vaccination against polio), but for some weird reason the only person anyone can name is a woman who spent her entire life campaigning against birth control—a stupid campaign that Bengal most definitely did not and does not need.

Is it not possible that the missionaries of “faith” regard the objects of their charity as mere raw material—human subjects for a tortured experiment in their own psyches? It seems that, the more Mother Teresa lost conviction in the teachings of her religion, the more energetically she silenced her doubts by ostentatious crusades against divorce, abortion, and contraception using “the poorest of the poor” as her backdrop and her excuse. And does this not degrade such work as she actually did? For her, the helpless beggar was just that—helpless, to be sure, yet for that reason easily available for her own exhausting propaganda. The case for assisting starving Bengalis is complete on its own terms, but most of the money raised for the “Missionaries of Charity” went—as Mother Teresa herself happily admitted—to the building of convents that were consecrated, in effect, to her own ambition and her own very extreme teaching of Catholic dogma. These preachings went dead against the only certain cure for poverty—the emancipation of women from the status and condition of breeding machines—that the human race has ever discovered.

In other words, “faith” is at its most toxic and dangerous point not when it is insincere and hypocritical and corrupt but when it is genuine. At that point, its energy of certainty and self-righteousness can be used, not only to reinforce the Church but also (as Mother Teresa’s continuing reputation demonstrates) to impress even the secular. The evidence now is that this is how she and her confessors squared the circle. Repress your misgivings, overcome your despair, redouble your efforts, and we will make you a saint and later claim that you cured the sick even after your death. It’s at this point that the cynical loops round to meet the naïve and say in effect that anything is permissible as long as it keeps the illusion alive. Again, one has to stand amazed before a clergy who can use, as a recruiting sergeant, a wretched old lady whose own faith, as they well knew, had worn to a husk.

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Round table Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens – The Four Horseman

The Fab Four

Oh to have been a fly on the wall I thought, as we marched from Jefferson Memorial to the White house during the Atheist Alliance International Conference 2007, as I had got wind of this Round table discussion happening but kept my mouth shut sworn to secrecy. So it is with great delight that the discussion between Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens is now available to watch on the internet, and will be on DVD next month.

In many ways the Round table discussion is better than the talks. Because they are bouncing off ideas, anecdotes, and experiences between them back and forth – and dealing with the common criticisms that they have encountered. Do enjoy, about two hours split in two parts below or watch via this link here

Part One

Part Two

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