January 07, 2008

That God Thing.

I finished D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity? several days ago, so I'm now reading Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

I love both these guys. On the whole, I think Hitchens may be the better thinker, but on this topic he has it wrong—D'Souza gets it right. Of course, the two men had slightly different missions. Hitchens wrote a polemic against all religions, which is, I believe, easier to pull off. After all, no faith is devoid of its superstitious moments, and with the world awash in radical Islam right now, it's easy to point out that "religion" has poisoned quite a lot. D'Souza chose the harder task by focusing on one faith—his very own—and writing a spirited defense of it and its place in the intellectual tradition that brought us good things like science, the American Revolution, and dark beer.

Of course, D'Souza isn't carrying socialism around with him everywhere he goes, so in general he probably has it easier. (He has other ridiculous ideas lodged in his cranium instead.)

It's sure a pleasure to read both of these guys. In an interesting way, they make nice companion pieces to Jonathan Rauch's Kindly Inquisitors. In addition to having coined the term "apatheistic" (to which D'Souza makes one or two snide allusions in passing; sigh), Rauch provides a nice history of the framework of free inquiry that we need to preserve, above all else, if Western traditions are going to endure.

Rauch makes the very best case as to why we might not want to spend a lot of time squabbling over religion, for what that is worth.

Even Hitchens claims that all he really wants his religious friends to do is to "leave him alone," and stop confusing his politeness on matters of faith with openness to witness. Both Hitchens and Rauch were clearly shaken—as they had every freaking reason to be—by the fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, and the ghost of that event flits across the pages of both Not Great and Kindly Inquisitors.

When I went to see Salmon Rushdie speak at a book fair one year I had a few pangs of fear. I knew we'd probably have to pass through metal detectors, but I wasn't sure whether or not the building we were in might somehow be detonated from outside. And I was also acutely aware that the fear I was feeling that afternoon was a part of Rushdie's existence 365 days a year, merely because he wrote a silly little piece of religious satire some time back.

"Aw, what the hell," I told my friends. "We have to die from something." And we headed down the hill to hear the man out.

Religion isn't invariably toxic. But, used incorrectly, it can certainly cause a lot of damage. Just like love, which Joni Mitchell once called "the strongest posion and medicine of all."

The problem lies with human nature. Whether this has to do with overdeveloped adrenal glands, as Hitchen maintains, or original sin is not altogether clear to me. But I know it doesn't quite work.

So: people of faith, agnostics, and athiests—let's be careful out there. Be kind to your fellow humans. Promote public inquiry and criticism. And, you know: try not to kill anybody in the name of God.

Posted by Attila Girl at January 7, 2008 12:57 AM | TrackBack

It's never been about religion. It's the "Haves" versus the "Have-Nots." The "Want-Mores" versus the "Got Somethings." In the Judeo-Christian world, our Prime Directives are clear on a personal level--"Thou shall not kill," "Thou shall not steal." Without religion and the belief in a final judgment, whole groups of people would not exist today. Billions. And that is a fact.

Funny how hundreds of millions have been killed by those that do not believe in a Divine authority. But those killings do buy you a share of a death sentence should your enemies even return to power, don't they? Initiation into your Death Cult and incentives to make sure your enemies never again prevail.

Islam differs from other religions in that those doing the killing are actually following their prime directives. Those that are not are doing so voluntarily and arbitrarily. We all see where that can lead. Think not? Well let's make taxes voluntary and see what happens.

What bothers me is that I know Hitchens is smarter than all that (and me) and I wonder what his motivation might be. He will never "prove" that God doesn't exist and he surely knows that. I will never be able to prove that God does, no matter what I offer. Perhaps Hitchens only realizes what sells with today's publishers. Can't fault anybody for being a Capitalist, can I?

Posted by: Darrell at January 7, 2008 12:39 PM

The real murderer in human history have been government, not religion. The violent period of every religion comes when its alleged adherents gain political power. Christianity went from being the most persecuted religion on earth to being a primary persecutor at the very moment it gained secular authority, and quit being the persecutor when it lost that authority.

Islam has been a persistently violent religion precisely because its adherents have always held that there be no separation of religious and secular authority.

Communism and Nazism were also episodes in which the secular authority was overtly aligned with a particular religious viewpoint, in this case Communism's strident atheism, or Nazism's deification of race.

Posted by: John at January 7, 2008 01:29 PM

And yet the Saudis funded violent extremist Islam as part of a gamble that they themselves would not be taken over if they simply appeased the extremists.

Posted by: Attila Girl at January 7, 2008 02:03 PM

In a few years here, assuming one of those lovely Democrats are in the White House, we may find ourselves being arrested for our comments like this chap. . .

Assuming we still call the Presidential residence the White House, of course, no matter which of them wins. Hey. Everyone thought those college sports team names and mascots were forever too!

Posted by: Darrell at January 7, 2008 11:21 PM

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