Hitchens vs. Hitchens, indeed

Hi Baruch,

I obviously had to buy Christopher Hitchens’s god is not Great and while I am only partway through it, I am happy to report that so far it is by far the best anti-religious tract of the recent spate. He elevates the genre to literature. And he is one of us! I obviously went looking for any mention of Spinoza in the index, and sure enough, he gets a couple of pages of glowing praise, along these lines:

This derided heretic is now credited with the most original philosophical work ever done on the mind/body distinction, and his meditations on the human condition have provided more real consolation to thoughtful people than has any religion.

Christopher, all is forgiven. You have redeemed yourself. Welcome back into the fold.

Not welcome is his brother, who Does Not Get It At All, and makes this clear in an embarrassing, cringeworthy essay in the Daily Mail. Seriously, these are arguments??

For all I know, Christopher is absolutely right – my prayers are pointless and a meaningless oblivion awaits. But if he is right, what a dispiriting, lowering truth it is.


But why should atheists care, or use such terms as “good” and “virtue” anyway?

If we are weak and poor, we can all summon up self-interested decency, behaving in a kind way, in public, towards those from whom we hope for decency in return.

But as soon as we have the power to do evil, we generally do. What is to stop us, unobserved, doing and planning acts of selfish unkindness against others, as so many of us do – for example – in office politics?

So, if religion didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. Stunning. Are we sure these two are related?


One thought on “Hitchens vs. Hitchens, indeed”

  1. It is good to have you back, Bento.

    You are not completely wrong about Hitchens senior. His faults, defence of the Iraq war, and his knee-jerk revisionism, are sort of balanced out by the elegance of his style and the spirit of his polemic. Love of Spinoza is, as you sy, the casting vote.

    But you are badly wrong about Hitchens junior. The essay is not embarrassing, in fact it is really is as good, and bad, as C.H’s screed.

    The nut graf of the article for me is this one:

    “Religious and unbelieving people have both done dreadful things, and the worst of them have committed their murders and their tortures in the belief that they were doing good.

    Nothing is proved by either side in this argument, by pointing to the mountains of skulls piled up by evil atheists, and evil theists”

    Of course he then goes on to list the crimes of the “evil” atheists and claim even the nice ones have no basis in ethics, and lack morality, because they do not believe in a providential god who will punish them for their sins. We Spinozists, better than anyone, know this is not true. In this, CH has the edge on his brother.

    But in his book (which I have not read) does CH really go into the reasons why religion was a force largely against the tyrannies of Naziism and Communism? Catholics helped populate many of the first Nazi concentration camps. Resistance to the Soviets in say Poland was heavily tinged with religion. I don’t know if CH does; you might. While I don’t have an answer to the question of why this should be, why religion can stand against tyranny, I know I have to think about it.

    This is the trick: AS A SPINOZIST, YOU MAY NOT BE AN ATHEIST. The existence of god, logic, the information that rules the universe are the bedrock the whole philosophy is built on. Sure, we can throw out the “god who loves you” claptrap, but there is something there, the ultimate substance. You have to engage with this, my distant Bento, and I suggest you do so on his blog. It may be only the religion of Chris Hedges (see my post below), but Spinoza called himself a religious man.

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