God is not great

Hitchens’s new book is out. He’s an eloquent bastard.

And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins…is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication.

And that is not a minor difference, or a trivial one, or one that has no consequences; which is why it is irritating when people claim that non-dogmatism is dogmatic.

There is no need for us to gather every day, or every seven days, or on any high and auspicious day, to proclaim our rectitude or to grovel and wallow in our unworthiness. We atheists do not require any priests, or any hierarchy above them, to police our doctrine…[T]o the ostentatious absurdity of the pilgrimage, or the plain horror of killing civilians in the name of some sacred wall or cave or shrine or rock, we can counterpose a leisurely or urgent walk from one side of the library or the gallery to another, or to lunch with an agreeable friend, in pursuit of truth or beauty.

The sacred ‘shallow depression in the earth’ versus the library. A good synechdoche.

We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday, sometimes ratcheted up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness. While some religious apology is magnificent in its limited way – one might cite Pascal – and some of it is dreary and absurd – here one cannot avoid naming C. S. Lewis – both styles have something in common, namely the appalling load of strain that they have to bear. How much effort it takes to affirm the incredible!

I think what he means by ‘strain’ is the peculiarly twisted, ad hoc quality one often finds in apologetics – talk about suffering being good because it gives people an opportunity to show compassion, for instance; that kind of thing. That strained quality. As if every time we have an injury we think ‘Oh good, a chance for people to show compassion!’ And as if the more it hurts, the more pleased we are, because the more compassionable we are and therefore the larger the opportunity for others to show compassion. I accidentally whacked myself a couple of weeks ago, and it hurt like hell, and interfered with my functioning for days; it never once crossed my mnd to be pleased about it for that reason (even though I did get compassion and was glad to get it). The proportion was all wrong, you see, just for one thing – the pain and interference with function were bad and nasty out of all proportion to the pleasantness of the compassion. That’s the load of strain. Urrrgghh – drop – crash. No, it won’t work, will it.

The argument with faith is the foundation and origin of all arguments, because it is the beginning – but not the end – of all arguments about philosophy, science, history, and human nature. It is also the beginning – but by no means the end – of all disputes about the good life and the just city.

I think that’s right. The argument with faith is not some side issue; it’s what it’s all about.

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