Hitchens on the road again

Some good lines in Hitchens’s account of his book tour. First stop was Little Rock:

At the end of the event I discover something that I am going to keep on discovering: half the people attending had thought that they were the only atheists in town.

Just so. That’s why some atheists think there really is a need for atheists to be ‘militant’ or ‘aggressive’ or ‘strident’ or, to put it in less vituperative language, articulate rather than silent and active rather than passive. That’s why some atheists think there really is a need for atheism to become public, talkative, unembarrassed, unapologetic, taken for granted, normalized, quotidian, rather than private, silent, ashamed, secretive, and weird. We think that because of all those people in Little Rock and Dallas and Jackson, Tennessee, who think they are the only atheists in town, and feel isolated, outnumbered, and intimidated as a result. We think we need to speak up more so that all those people in small towns and less cosmopolitan cities can become aware that they are neither alone nor abnormal.

To the New York Public Library to debate Al Sharpton, a man who proves every day that you can get away with anything in this country if you can shove the word “Reverend” in front of your name…In the evening to debate with Marvin Olasky at the L.B.J. Library. Olasky is the man who coined the term “compassionate conservatism” and helped evolve Bush’s “faith-based initiative.”…My challenge: name an ethical statement or action, made or performed by a person of faith, that could not have been made or performed by a nonbeliever. I have since asked this question at every stop and haven’t had a reply yet.

Well, yes. We’re always hearing that Christianity teaches compassion or that Islam teaches charity – as if nothing else did. Why is that?

At the airport, strangers approach to say, “Thanks for coming to take on the theocrats.”…Again I notice two things: the religious types are unused to debate and are surprised at how many people are impatient with them, or even scornful.

Another reason for atheists to speak up more – or to be more ‘militant.’

Jerry Falwell—another man who managed to get away with murder by getting himself called “Reverend”—dies without being bodily “raptured” into the heavens. Indeed, his heavy carcass is found on the floor of his Virginia office.

Maybe it’s an imposter?

At one point I ask [Reverend Mark Roberts] if he believes the story in Saint Matthew’s Gospel about the graves opening in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, and the occupants walking the streets. Doesn’t it rather cheapen the idea of resurrection? He replies that as a Christian he does believe it, though as a historian he has his doubts. I realize that I am limited here: I can usually think myself into an opponent’s position, but this is something I can’t imagine myself saying, let alone thinking.

Well it is difficult. As a Christian I believe it, as a historian I have my doubts – how does that work? Do you set up an imaginary door inside your head, and believe or doubt according to which side of the imaginary door you’re on? But if so, how do you avoid being aware of what you think on the other side of the door? But then that is what puzzles me about the religious mind: few believers really act as if they believe all the time, so why doesn’t that fact interfere with their belief? Well, maybe it does, far more than the usual polls would lead you to think; hence all those atheists thinking they’re the only ones in town.

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