Hitchens vs. Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens has already made a name for himself as a “public intellectual.”  His bread and butter is attacking religion, exposing it for the wish-fulfillment that it is, and for the danger that it unleashes on the world.  In particular he likes to go after iconic figures.   He achieved a particular notoriety for his small book on Mother Theresa entitled “The Missionary Position.”  He summarizes his views in an interview with Free Inquiry Magazine:

Free Inquiry: According to polls, Mother Teresa is the most respected woman in the world. Her name is a by-word for selfless dedication in the service of humanity. So why are you picking on this sainted old woman?

Christopher Hitchens: Partly because that impression is so widespread. But also because the sheer fact that this is considered unquestionable is a sign of what we are up against, namely the problem of credulity. One of the most salient examples of people’s willingness to believe anything if it is garbed in the appearance of holiness is the uncritical acceptance of the idea of Mother Teresa as a saint by people who would normally be thinking – however lazily – in a secular or rational manner. In other words, in every sense it is an unexamined claim.

It’s unexamined journalistically – no one really takes a look at what she does. And it is unexamined as to why it should be she who is spotlighted as opposed to many very selfless people who devote their lives to the relief of suffering in what we used to call the “Third World.” Why is it never mentioned that her stated motive for the work is that of proselytization for religious fundamentalism, for the most extreme interpretation of Catholic doctrine? If you ask most people if they agree with the pope’s views on population, for example, they say they think they are rather extreme. Well here’s someone whose life’s work is the propagation of the most extreme version of that.

That’s the first motive. The second was a sort of journalistic curiosity as to why it was that no one had asked any serious questions about Mother Teresa’s theory or practice. Regarding her practice, I couldn’t help but notice that she had rallied to the side of the Duvalier family in Haiti, for instance, that she had taken money – over a million dollars – from Charles Keating, the Lincoln Savings and Loans swindler, even though it had been shown to her that the money was stolen; that she has been an ally of the most reactionary forces in India and in many other countries; that she has campaigned recently to prevent Ireland from ceasing to be the only country in Europe with a constitutional ban on divorce, that her interventions are always timed to assist the most conservative and obscurantist forces.

Recently, he has published his memoirs, entitled Hitch 22. What is of particular interest is that his brother, Peter Hitchens, a devoted Anglican himself published a book simultaneously, The Rage Against God.

Curious as to its contents, I went to Barnes and Noble the other day to do a little reading.  I wasn’t planning on buying the book, and it’s not that great to be honest, but there are some nice ideas in there. In particular, Peter takes on his brother’s claim that utopian dreams like that of the Soviet Union are also to be blamed on religion.  I noticed his response in particular because it was the claim made by Christopher at a debate I attended in New York City that most caught my attention.  The claim is that utopian totalitarian regimes imitate religion for their success.  Such regimes would be unsuccessful unless they presumed a religious mentality in people and aped the methods of religious organizations. Thus, religion is also to blame for them.

Peter responds to his brother:

We are told by my brother, for example, that Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union was in fact a religious state.  In the mouth of any other person, serving a cause other than the comfortable West’s rejection of self-restraint and divine law, such thin, self-serving stuff would produce scorn and mockery from the anti-religion advocates…. To say that Stalin used many of the outward forms of religion is perfectly reasonable and true.  But to claim that the outward forms are more important than the inward character is plainly false.  It is precisely the inward character – submission to an earthly authority instead of an eternal authority – that makes all the difference.

A good response I think.  He goes on to note that in the U.S.S.R., Christianity was outlawed while in places like North Korea, ancestor worship is not frowned upon at all, since there is nothing in it at all hostile to the power of the state.  Form without content has always been destructive.  Thus, to blame religions for the creation of a form — absolute obedience to authority, for example — while removing the content of true religious belief will of course create the worst kind of totalitarian state.  The best response is for religious people to live out fully the inner content and cautiously preach against those external forms in the political arena that are inseparable from the content of faith.

I also couldn’t help but notice the shot taken by Peter at the Jesuits.  Peter and Christopher do seem to have one thing in common: they both hate liberation theology — Christopher in God is Not Great and Peter in this book.  Peter writes:

It is important to grasp that the Marxist moral worldview has no lower limit and that its most charming, civilized, and tasteful adherents all necessarily share the same lack of scruple – Jesuits with no fear of hellfire.

But other than that, it looks interesting.  I may give parts of it to my seniors after they read some of Christopher.  He provides what may serve as a popular antidote to God is Not Great. Echoing de Lubac in The Drama of Atheist Humanism, Peter notes:

After all, intelligent Christians must – if they are candid – accept that faith has often led to cruel violence and intolerant persecution. They may say, as I would, that this was because humans often misunderstand or misuse the teachings of the religions they follow.  This is not because they are religious, but because Man is not great.

One Response to Hitchens vs. Hitchens

  1. Stephanie Griffith says:

    I bet they have some lively Thanksgiving dinners at their house.

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