Monday, August 11, 2008

The Paradox of Christopher Hitchens

This doesn't really have anything to do about politics, but I liked it.

Christopher Hitchens has published a new book, called "god is Not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything", detailing the many iniquities of religion that has rocketed up of the bestseller lists. The main premise of his book is that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, have been responsible for most of the evil in the world. Hitchens is apparently a quite nice guy, a perfect person to have a drink or ten with. (If you can't drink all ten, Hitchens will pick up the slack. By his own admission, he is pretty fond of alchohol). Hitchens has a few screws loose, and frequently makes claims that are ridiculous, such as his belief that Mother Teresa was actually evil (she opposes abortion) and that Stalin's atheist dictatorship (bear in mind that it was illegal to own a Bible in the Soviet Union) was actually a theocracy (yes, a theocracy). Instead of making him look like a balanced, logical man of letters, these statements make him look like the atheist version of Westboro Baptist Church.

Even more importantly, though, his basic premise that religion is morally bad is impossible. If there is no God, then there no objective good or evil. Any attempt to make a distinction, even the most basic, is simply a matter of opinion. It is like saying red is a better color than blue. Without an objective judge, there cannot be any sort of moral standard.

Taking a look at some of Hitchens's writings, it is obvious that he does make use of an objective moral standard. In this rather odd piece about Mother Teresa, Hitchens writes: "She [Mother Teresa] was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family ...". Notice the use of the word "worst". Who is Hitchens to say that the Duvalier clan is immoral? As compared to what? Hitchens's own personal standard of morality? If so, why his? Wouldn't the Duvalier's moral standards count too? Without the aforementioned objective moral judge, every act is equally good, and equally evil. All morality is a matter of personal opinion.

The Duvaliers were responsible for the executions of any individual who disagreed with them. Ask Hitchens, and he would say that these acts are murder. Ask Francois Duvalier, and he might say it is Darwinism, that he is fighting to survive in a tough world. Who is right? Who decides?

Although the above example is valid in theory, in practice it might lack punch, since the Duvaliers have few supporters and social Darwinism is going through a down period right now. However, there is another illustration of this point that my resonate with the average person a little more. Hitchens received a good deal of publicity after his comments following the death of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, during the course of he responded to a question that asked whether he believed Falwell would go to heaven (if, of course, there is such a place). Hitchens responded that he wished that there was a Hell, so that Falwell could go there.

Now, here are two intellectual figures who are diametrically opposed on nearly every moral issue. Falwell is against abortion, for religion, and against gay marriage. Hitchens is for abortion, against religion, and for gay marriage. Both of these men are intelligent (yes, Hitchens is a eccentric, but he is capable of brilliant insights on nonreligious issues. No one defends the war in Iraq better, and his writing style is first-rate). But they are absolutely opposed on most moral issues. Who's standard is right? Can morality be proved from logic alone? No, because all proofs depend in some way on certain fundamental postulates (a postulate, by the way, is a statements assumed to be true without proof). The only way for there to be any postulate regarding morality is for there to be a God, who's opinion would by definition by infallible. Without this attribute, there cannot be any sort of moral judgement of the kind Christopher Hitchens makes use of.

While this fact doesn't prove there is indeed a God (after all, maybe all morals are subjective), it does at least prove that Christopher Hitchens's central thesis is grounded in illogic.


At August 12, 2008 at 10:29 AM , Blogger Beth said...

I suppose this is how it is without a moral compass to live by.

As for an atheist theocracy that could happen, since some do call atheism a religion.

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