Christopher Hitchens, Bitter Brit
Centuries have passed since British kings claimed a divine right, but British subjects still seem unable to accept the fact that their nominal rulers are human. Such, at least, seems to be the case with Christopher Hitchens in his recent attack on Prince Charles. Britain’s sovereigns are scandal-prone and soft-headed, sure. But read about Britain’s daily debauches, blinding stupidity and record promiscuity and one starts wondering whether the British have better royals than they deserve.
Hitchens’ attack is centered on an admittedly silly speech given by Prince Charles at Oxford. Hitchens’ reply, though, just intensifies the London fog of confusion. Take Hitchens’ claims about Galileo:
We owe a huge debt to Galileo for emancipating us all from the stupid belief in an Earth-centered or man-centered (let alone God-centered) system. He quite literally taught us our place and allowed us to go on to make extraordinary advances in knowledge.
Rather remarkably, Hitchens has seized on one of the few supportable things Charles says. The story of the de-centering of man, and Galileo’s role in it, is increasingly dismissed by scholars who view it as a convenient story made up, centuries after the fact, by critics of the Catholic Church. As Ryan T. Anderson noted in his review of the book Galileo Goes to Jail:
[E]ven if Copernicus had demoted the earth–notably, this spin wasn’t proposed until a hundred years after his death–it wouldn’t have been a problem for anyone who declared with the Psalmist, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established; what is man that you are mindful of him?”
Hitchens also makes the false claim that the speech was given at Oxford’s Center for Islamic Studies. While the centre sponsored the program, it was actually given at the Sheldonian Theater, behind the same podium Hitchens stood at a few weeks ago.
The Centre for Islamic Studies,which Prince Charles helped build, is a fine reminder of what’s best about Prince Charles’ wide-ranging philanthropy. Some view his efforts to resurrect walkable towns built on a human scale as kitschy sentimentalism, but I tend to think his commitment to traditional forms of building will strengthen civic life, improve health, and slow the destruction of the British landscape.
The Centre (pictured above) was designed by Egyptian architect Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil who successfully integrated traditional Islamic architecture into Oxford’s highly particular gothic landscape. It is a silent lesson in the possibility and promise of integrating Europe’s Muslim populations. The idea that faith does not lead only or simply to violence may be why Hitch seems to dislike Oxford’s centre—and its batty but benign patron—so much.