Has Hitchens gone Sullivan?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Earlier this AM I found myself wedged with a minor ethical dilemma. As one who is sometimes prone to engaging in improper (due to any of a number of human failings: thoughtlessness, odd or even twisted sense of humor, occasional fits of pique, etc.) or inconsistent behavior I sometimes wonder if some thing I am considering doing is, in fact, a good idea or if there might be some better way to go about it than I originally thought of.

The specifics of this dilemma are mundane and not the least bit worth detailing. Suffice it to say that there were three courses of action available to me each of which could be construed as unethical regardless of any benign intent on my part. I decided not to decide and, in this instance, to do nothing rather than something since there was no risk of any "sin of omission". Doing nothing was safe and a viable ethical choice in this case - it yielded no harm nor denied any benefit to others.

I am not a person of theologic faith. Since I do possess what I consider to be something akin to faith in matters outside of theology I have some vague sense that I can, at some shallow level, understand or at least sympathize with those who possess theologic faith.

The point I am rambling toward is that it seems quite clear to me that one need not possess theologic faith to ponder matters of proper behavior and to have principles to turn to to guide one's actions. Conversely, theologic faith does not necessarily protect one from finding oneself in a dilemma regarding one's choices related to one's potential courses of actions. It is quite obvious to me that people of theologic faith use that faith to guide their behavior, their actions, yet understand that it does not provide them an unerring moral compass.

So what has this to do with Hitchens? While perusing the latest additions to the YARGB blogroll at the right I clicked upon It Should Be Noted and discovered Take It Easy On the Lawyers Too where the host points to Miers and Brimstone, by Christopher Hitchens at Slate.

How is it possible that someone who so frequently demonstrates such useful intellectual capacity can be so trapped into such narrow thoughts - thoughts which are at best prejudicial and at worst bigoted - about theologic faith? Can this sort of screedly effort by Hitchens be explained? Is it really possible that Hitchens believes there is no intellectual space between faithful adherence to the dogma of a particular religion and abject hypocrisy?

Has Hitchens found his Sullivan moment?


David Thomson said...

Many Americans have been conned into thinking that some values are inevitably based on a religious perspective. This is utterly idiotic. One does not need to be a fundamentalist Christian to feel uneasy about abortion. An atheist is forced to concede that promiscuous sexual relations result in STDs. The nuclear family unit also appears to be the best way of bringing up children. A secular society is essentially indifferent concerning the orientation of one’s values. The only thing that really matters is whether they past the test of rational inquiry before we allow them to be imposed upon the rest of society. And yes, let’s not shy away form the term “imposed.” Every social group imposes values. The only real question is which ones are to be chosen.

Rick Ballard said...

Vituperative attacks upon Christianity are an integral part of the communion rite for all Marxists. They are marks of faith and signs of dispensatory grace. Father Christopher took unholy orders many years ago and has remained dogmatically faithful even beyond the utter collapse of all earthly symbols of his belief system.

It seems unbecoming to denigrate a true believer blindly holding to the tenets of a failed doctrine. Perhaps we should just chalk this outburst up to the effects of imbibition on inhibition and hope that Father Christopher seeks counsel from friends before publishing additional diatribes.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

When I was quite young I decided I could not adhere to the faith my parents had espoused: I couldn't really believe in the God I had been taught. I became an atheist. But I continued to maintain essentially the same values (golden rule + 10 commandments). When I would try to discuss this with people, I found that many of them found it impossible to understand a belief system based on itself rather than on God. Their view was that an atheist could not have any values and must be a murderer, robber, etc.

Years later I came to realize that atheism itself is a belief and essentially a religion. Hitchens never reached this stage of development.

Much later, under the influence of Hinduism, I came to realize that the whole issue of "God" is far far deeper than I had ever realized in my youth. That in fact everyone has some sort of God or Gods, everyone has some sort of theology, whether it has been explicated or not.

Though many claim to be monotheistic, it's rather clear that the various Gods in question are not actually the same. My view is that one can learn a lot about a person by observing their view of God. Last night I was reading a woman's blog where she wrote a fantasy in which God smiting fuzzy-headed Californians. God as the killer of Californians. Like atheism, that strikes me as a pretty narrow view of God.

Knucklehead said...


Oops! I neglected to recall that Hitchens is a doctrinaire marxist with only one bone to pick with his fellow high-priests. I'll not make that mistake again.


Well stated. Even after being informationally upleveled wrt Hitchens by Mr. Rick I remain perplexed by the more general phenomenon of My Fellow Citizens who seem utterly convinced that people of religious faith must be either zealots of hypocrites or, if neither, intellectual midgets. I don't know where this comes from other than as a very shallow (to the point of intellectual midgetry) defense of their own rejection of theologic faith.

How is it possible to hold the view that huge numbers of admirably functioning, demonstrably intelligent, and morally decent people are either zealots, hypocrites, or idiots without at some point being confronted with the evidence that one is a zealot, a hypocrite, or an idiot?

Holding the view requires a faith that is every bit as "religious" as theologic faith, perhaps moreso. People of theologic faith at least place there faith in things for which there is no evidence. The theology-haters put there faith in things for which there is abundant evidence to the contrary. The former soldiers on in the absence of evidence, the latter soldiers on despite the evidence.

Secularists are so wierd I'm ashamed to be one sometimes.

flenser said...

Having just read the Hitch piece, I'd say it looks like his standard fare. He was always far more anti-religious than Sullivan. I assume that by "going Sullivan" you are refering to the hostility to religion in the article?

As a professional pundit, Hitch apparently feels the need to engage in rhetorical overkill. It makes for an entertaining read, even if at the cost of obscuring whatever point he is trying to make.

As I read it, one argument he is making is that no overt athiest could expect to be nominated and confirmed to the Supremw Court, and that this constitutes a "religious test" which is prohibited under the constitution. That is an interesting point, and its a shame he drops it and wanders on to denounce the "fucking lawyers".

It's a fact that many people base their support or opposition to a course of action on their perception of the motives of the actors involved, rather than an objective assessment of the actions themselves. I think we have all noted in the past that much of the opposition to Bush has to do with who and what he is, rather than to principled disagreement with his policy decisions.

One place this was made very clear was in the Schiavo case. Senators Brownback and Harkin both voted for Federal court review of the case. But the exact same action was seen in exactly opposite ways, based on peoples perceptions of the Senators motivations. Harkin was seen as acting out of high-minded humanitarianism (good) while Brownback was depicted as acting out of his "theocratic" principles (bad).

I don't know that there is any solution to this, other than to point out how silly it is, and casting more flares into the darkness. Obsessing about other peoples feelings and motivations, and casting aspersions thereon, is now standard prodedure. Even the WH is getting in on the act.

truepeers said...

I see Hitchens is again speaking of the "alleged" existence of Jesus. As I argued a while ago ar RLS's, I don't think there can be any doubt that Jesus existed. This is not to deny that the only thing about him that the non-Christian or person who suspends religious faith can be sure of is that he was crucified. He, whoever he was, must have been abandoned and crucified - there is no other way to explain the guilt that propels the very real, historically unprecedented, anthropological (forget for the moment about theological) revelations of the apostles in regard to Jesus' scapegoating. There is no other way to explain how the gospels could have been written and the faith proselytized.

This guilt is key to understanding Hitchens too. Guilt entails, demonstrates, our relationship to the sacred; there is no way to fully explain the operations of guilt without considering the role of the sacred in human consciousness. When someone speaks of the alleged existence of Jesus, what he is saying by extension is that we have an alleged relationship to guilt and an alleged relationship to the sacred.

But God and the sacred are not the same thing. The sacred is a worldly fact; God exists for the religious thinker as an other-worldly guarantor of the sacred in this world. Put your faith in God, and the sacred on which your life depends in this world (your life is sacred, no one has the right to take it) will be preserved eternally.

Whatever you think about God or Jesus' divinity, and the atheist may reasonably doubt both, it is silly to deny the sacred. It is an anthropological fact that human culture is centred on things, signs, or places of sacred significance.

I wouldn't care if Hitchens were a devout atheist, but when he talks about the alleged existence of Jesus, he reveals that his atheism actually makes him more of a religious thinker than he need be. To minimize unnecessary or idolatrous religious ideas one needs to accept the sacred as a minimal anthropological fact. Doing so is a boon both to atheists and to certain kinds of anti-idolatrous religious faith; but this is just to argue that some kinds of religion and some kinds of atheism are closer to each other than to Hitchen's kind of atheism.

Hitchen's atheism relies, as this article shows, on an unhealthy relationship to the sacred, and on the sacred's power to attract both good and evil. Hitch's writing is full of what are known as apotropaic gestures, the need to cast out evil, as if he were some kind of primitive shaman. And that is what Hitchens indeed becomes for his faithless fans when he writes about religion and some other things. Sham-an Hitchens! With all due respect to Rick's Father Chris!

When leftist revolutionaries attack Judeo-Christianity it is often because their beliefs are more primitive, not more modern, than their prey. In other words, modernism, the cultural movement, was primitively sacrificial at its core. Hitchens hasn’t fully figured that out yet however many rhetorical attacks he makes on murderous Stalinists or Nazis.

Knucklehead said...


Actually I was wondering if, for Hitchens, religion is or will be the issue about which he is so bonkers that it wrecks his ability to think clearly about unrelated issues. For Sullivan that issue is gay marriage.

I shouldn't have wondered if Hitchens was "going Sullivan" without being more familiar with his overall work.

Your points about the propensity for people to condemn actions based on some assignation of motives rather than on an analysis of the action itself are well taken. Nothing unusual there when it comes to human nature.

Oh well, between you, DT, and Rick I've been enlightened. Disregard the questions upon which I based th original post, they've been answered. Hitchens is a marxist theocrat and as such must always attach competing theologies. People, in general, frequently assign base motives to actions they would otherwise approve.

Eric Blair said...

If you really want to see Hitchens freak out, just ask him about Henry Kissinger. Heh.

Rick Ballard said...


When you ask: "Is it really possible that Hitchens believes there is no intellectual space between faithful adherence to the dogma of a particular religion and abject hypocrisy?" the question pertains to many people other than Hitchens. The fact is that if faith is defined as adherence to dogma, hypocrisy will be found to rampant. Dogma, doctrine, the liturgy (of whatever flavor), articles of faith and confessions are all formulaic rather than substantive in nature. It is certainly safe to say that the majority of Christians rarely go beyond the particular form with which they are comfortable and even safer to say that hypocrisy is normative within that group. That's not to say that Christians concerned with substance rather than form are free of hypocrisy, for they are not. It's just that formulaic Christians provide much easier targets for the juvenile mentality that delights in casting stones at that which it lacks the experience (and, quite often, the intelligence) to comprehend.

Hmmm, given my propensity for imparting high velocity to small objects perhaps I should refrain from continuing until I've completed penance for my last such action.

chuck said...

Father Christopher took unholy orders many years ago and has remained dogmatically faithful...

Other articles of faith:

1) Allende was a saintly democratic socialist, Pinochet a satanic tool of the evil Kissinger.

2) Opposition to the Vietnam war was morally correct, Ho Chi Minh was a righteous Nationalist, and the North Vietnamese were the rightful rulers of the South.

Corollary of the last: avoid discussing nationalism, conquest, reeducation camps, refugees, and the current corrupt and sorry state of the Vietnamese government.

Hitchens can, on rare occasion, be slightly more tolerant of religion, as in his interview along with his Tory and religious brother, Peter. Link.

All and all, Chistopher is a two edged weapon. I wonder if his adamant dislike of religion is not also somewhat related to coming from a state with an established church. Over here it is pretty common to simply ignore religion; there are so many varieties and the stranger sitting nearby could believe in practically anything.

terrye said...

I never read anything Hitchens writes about Christianity or Nixon.

He is very good at going after Saddam in particular and jihadis in general but sometimes I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that Islam is after all a religion.

And flenser is correct, in the Schiavo case Harkin was standing up for the disabled and the right wing Republicans were fanatics. The mere perception of religion for some seems to conjure up burning stakes and arcane rituals.

I am not good at going to church.

But I have seen and experienced things that lead me to believe that there is a God.

The nature of God I don't pretend to understand, but I am not so egocentric that I will simply dismiss the concept.

londoner said...

Two items of background info re. Hitch:

(1) he suddenly discovered he was Jewish when he was in his 30s;

(2) his mother committed suicide when he was in his early 20s.


(Curiously enough, this wasn't mentioned during the discussion with his brother linked to above.)

londoner said...

Sorry, try this link:


JB said...

We can't forget Hitch's views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mother Teresa has not been mentioned specifically, but his views on religion in general have been amply covered above.

Rick Ballard said...


Sorry about the Blogger links problem. This page in an HTML primer shows how they have to be done to work in Blogger.

Alternatively tinyurl will shrink it to fit in comments.

Knucklehead said...

At the risk of drawing the topic away from Hitchens (hey, I started it) I'd like to point to this little gem about a gathering of the religious Left published in the Weekly Standard.

londoner said...


Thanks for heads-up.

It's late at night GMT, but I'll get onto it tomorrow.

BTW, for anyone interested, type 'Christopher Hitchens + mother's suicide', into Google & my failed link's the first hit you get (2002 interview with Lynne Barber for the Grauniad).

Rick Ballard said...

Londoner's link

smart parrot said...

Hitchens is horrible on the subject of religion.


I've placed a ban on reading anything he has to say on the subject. Life is too short.