Been contemplating what to write about Christopher Hitchens since it got out about his evidently terminal cancer; responses seem curiously polarized, with some notable exceptions. But in poking around amongst the negative responses I find the purest form from a radio talk show host.
I have some differences of opinion with Hitchens, hardly alone amongst skeptics when it comes to that. I think I’ve mentioned before how this blog got started thanks to Richard Dawkins’ minions being festering twits, and how it affected my opinion of him, too. I have had a big problem with Hitchens re: Iraq. But what seems interesting about some of the responses to his illness revolve around these differences. How does one sympathize with a suffering person you may not like? Are we supposed to only sympathize with people we agree with completely? Well, when the harpies at Hitchens Watch chimed in at Pharyngula, PZ Myers spoke to this particular issue.
I don’t like Hitchens’ ideas about how to handle the middle east, either. So? Argue and criticize his middle east plans, don’t gloat about his future death. That’s just chickenshit cowardice.
And that’s pretty much where I stand. I may find him right on some things; wrong on others; a jerk by temperament; and yet I still don’t find myself wishing a suffering slow death on Hitchens. I read the Hitchens Watch article about his reaction to Billy Graham in the hospital back in 2007, and where is the ire? Aimed squarely at what Graham did, where it belongs. Hitchens’ own article on the ‘Topic of Cancer’ they describe as whining and self-pitying. Again, I’m not seeing it.
In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
I can only hope I hang onto enough of a sense of irony and self-deprecation as this, if I end up dying slow instead of fast. He mocks the idea of self-pity before it even gets out of his head.
Pair this up with the radio talk show host I mentioned at the top. I think I will enjoy revealing the malice of this fellow, most likely a xian, and then mocking him for it. There’s the hypocrisy in this whole mess; you’d think xians would be ‘above’ all this gleeful gloating and pot-shot-taking, but nooo. If you’re so much better with Jesus, why can’t I tell?
Typical of many bigots, he clings to his burning hate unto the final hour — it is all that is left to warm his dark, desiccated soul.
This is the radio talker, Jeffrey Kuhner, whining about Hitchens’ mention of wanting to write Pope Benedict’s obituary. Ah, bigotry. It’s easy to toss around an insulting title like this, devoid of its context. Yes, I as well am intolerant of and prejudiced toward organized, covered-up, hush-money-paid for, wide scale pedophilia. And this is the best Kuhner can do. Namecall. Oh, call me a bigot again, sir, defend institutionalized pedophilia some more.
Like all atheists, Mr. Hitchens is a hypocrite. He denounces the existence of God while simultaneously living off the ethical norms established by the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Here, Kuhner asserts xian heritage for everyone’s morality, using the ethics of medicine as an example. And yet, where does medicine derive its prime ethic? The Hippocratic oath seems to predate xianity by just a few centuries, and even in its more modern invocation I find no mention of xian influence. And such ‘ethical norms’ as the golden rule are hardly the exclusive province of the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition.’ And we know this, why? Because they have popped up in other cultures with no prompting from xian missionaries.
I don’t even run my own life with any xian ethical crutches. I rebuilt my own system of ethics since then, and I continue to change and refine it. But it is an amusing position of smug superiority the radio talker picks up here. You’re only moral because of me. Heh. Piss off. You’re only as moral as the rest of society makes you. I, at least, can admit that’s likely true of myself as well.
In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Mr. Hitchens assures his atheist followers that he will never embrace religion. In fact, he states that should he — at the end of his life — make some kind of deathbed conversion, it will either be a lie propagated by religious fanatics or the result of the cancer having driven him mad.
It’s a shame that Hitchens even has to make statements like this, but as skeptics we are well aware of the vulturous ways of xians, lurking around deathbeds, pouncing on old skeptics bereft of their wits (Antony Flew, for example, I’ve mentioned before). Always looking to score a point (or an imagined soul) for their lord, willing to lie for Jesus. Yes, we do have to take precautions while we have the capacity. Shame, that. You’d think xians would have some sense of dignity. Nope.
I don’t really care about Kuhner’s ranting about conservatism, communism, Marxism; Hitchens is a neocon, it doesn’t inspire any sympathy from me. But when he can bring himself back to the supposed god-hating, he stumbles over the hypocritical catholic stance on contraception.
Moreover, he stresses that the church is directly responsible for the deaths of millions of AIDS victims because of its stance on contraception — despite the fact that, if followed, the church’s teachings make the sexual transmission of the disease impossible.
And, if not followed — and they’re not, and the church provides no method for achieving this other than moralizing and stern shaking of the finger — death indeed results, by the millions.
Mr. Hitchens also champions anti-Catholic bigotry because the church opposes the left’s radical sexual agenda. Mr. Hitchens is a virulent supporter of abortion, homosexuality and even — I am not making this up — masturbation.
What does virulent mean? Poisonous, disease-causing, deadly? A virulent supporter. I found it an amusing choice of words, especially in light of the RCC policy on contraception re: Africa. Could one say the church is a virulent supporter of abstinence? Perhaps! But that’s more of a tu quoque response. Seriously, it’s just interesting to me, that choice of words. As if supporting people’s freedoms is somehow poisonous, bad. As figurative well-poisoning I guess you could call it virulent. (/cue rimshot)
Anyway, Kuhner ends on a time-honored xian canard and it’s worth shooting down, yet again, for the lulz.
Self-professed atheistic regimes have resulted in infinitely more deaths than religious abuses. The regimes of Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot led to the slaughter of more than 100 million people. The gulags, the killing fields and the Holocaust were the direct result not of religion, but of murderous neo-paganism.
So, what have we here anyway? ‘Atheistic regimes’ or ‘murderous neo-paganism’? Get carried away with the labels, eh? But to address it specifically re: atheism…well, I’ll let a fellow skeptical blogger explain.
Unless he shows, which he hasn’t, that the communists committed their atrocities qua atheist, that is, that is was their atheism that inspired their murderous rancor, the argument fails. In fact, of course, Marxism/Leninism and Maoism were irrational ideologies that became objects of fanatical, indeed, “religious” devotion for many of their adherents. If theism can take on poisonous and destructive forms without thereby discrediting theistic belief in general, precisely the same should be said of atheism.
Likewise, it’s well known that Hitler was a church member, was never so much as excommunicated by the pope, and that the atrocities Pol Pot instigated were motivated by ideological and ethnic differences. I can’t rule out that some atheist out there killed someone in the name of no god, but I have yet to see a good case made. Whereas killing in the name of some god or other, well…that happens with boring regularity these days.
Anyway, so Hitchens is probably going to die soon, though it’d be nice if he didn’t. I agree with him on some things, like skepticism; disagree with him big-time on others, like some political issues. I don’t have to agree with him on everything. He’s a human being, he doesn’t have to be my hero or have to be perfect. And I wouldn’t wish him suffering and death any more than I would wish it on anyone. Anyone ought to merit that sort of basic respect. And I doubt he would ask for more.