A Very, Very Fond Farewell

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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75 Responses

  1. mark boggs says:

    Superb, Mr. Kelly.Report

  2. 1)  I am rather amazed that anyone, much less anyone who contributes on any of the sub-blogs or on the main LoOG page, would ever ascribe your lack of belief to an intellectual or moral shortcoming.  Not that people don’t (sadly) make those kinds of assumptions.  I just can’t imagine anyone making them about you, being that doing so is so patently preposterous.

    2)  From this theist’s perspective, the only kind of God worthy of worship and prayer is the kind of God who would grade on honesty, courage and the best parts of the human spirit (and who would thus welcome a surprised Hitchens without qualm).  Any god who would do otherwise is no kind of god worthy of human adoration or praise.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      Hitch would be surprised, but amused and pleased at the same time, and quick to admit with gentlemanly modesty and panache that he’d been wrong. And he’d have lots of questions.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      Hitchens at his worst never got that far.   His viciously unfair critique of Mother Theresa comes to mind.   The religious doubt:  such is the nature of any belief, scientific or religious.

      Let us not grow maudlin over Hitchens’ passing.   Though he never publicly expressed any of his private doubts, it’s fair to say he was as dogmatic in his beliefs as anyone of his religious enemies.   Let us not put lipstick on this pig and declare atheism is a lack of belief for that definition applies to agnosticism alone.   Atheism has concluded there is no God and believes this to be a fact, not merely believing but preaching it in contradiction to what others believe.

      Toward the end of his life, Hitchens began to act like an observant Jew out of deference to his grandmother’s heritage:  were it the case that El Shaddai did not bring his people out of the House of Bondage, why observe the commandment in Exodus:  “You shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what Elohim did for me when I came out of Egypt”, hmm?   That is exactly what is said at every Seder and Hitchens sat there calmly enough and said as much to his children.   Silly old hypocrite, “god” may not be great in Hitchens’ book and religion a subject only fit for mockery but not hateful enough that he would not recite from the Haggadah:

      And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God:
      ‘A wandering Aramean was my parent,
      and they went down into Egypt, and sojourned there,
      few in number; and became there a nation,
      great, mighty, and populous.
      And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us,
      and laid upon us hard bondage.
      And we cried unto the Lord, the God of our parents,
      and the Lord heard our voice,
      and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.
      And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt
      with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
      and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.

      If honesty and courage were among Hitchens’ virtues and they were, in his embrace of Nominal Judaism he showed himself somewhat less than firm in his convictions.    I know several Jewish atheists who still observe the rituals of a faith they don’t really embrace and a God they don’t believe.  I’ve teased them about it.   Oh, they say, that’s just culture, not really belief.

      Perhaps Hitchens ought to have substituted Seder for Prayer Meeting and seen himself as he is now seen, a bit frightened of people he doesn’t really know.   The Strange City might be his own.Report

      • wardsmith in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Damn but you’re a great writer Blaise! My wife thinks I’ve lost it, smiling and nodding while I’m reading your posts.

        To Tod, I like your post except that you’re conflating faith and religion. I know many (myself included) who still have “the faith” but look askance at virtually all forms of organized “religion” with nary a thought that there could be any dissonance. One of the greatest preachers I’ve ever heard says often, “I can’t wait to die and go to Heaven and learn all the things I’ve always been wrong about”. There’s a good reason there are innumerous flavors of Protestantism (and Christianity itself for that matter). Everyone upon getting closer to the “spirit” of the thing begins to suspect that the gilded layers of church dogma, “culture” and habit have nothing whatsoever to do with the message Christ preached and suspiciously looks quite like what he criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees of practicing.Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to wardsmith says:

          Perhaps.  If so, feel free to mark me down as having neither.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            And good on you for not believing.  For what it’s worth, I’ve come to believe in a stronger flavor of that bit of Article VI in the US constitution which reads “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.”

            If there is to be no religious test, how much more beneficial it might be for all Americans if more professing atheists held high office? For all the hagiography surrounding the Founding Fathers and the lies told about this “Christian Nation”, most of them were grimly convinced of the necessity of a regime without religion to encumber and strangle it.

            Thus did America become the most-religious nation in the world. Yes we are. Every flavor of religious kook and dissenter flocked to our shores, creating a haven for religious freedom. If the atheists ran the show, and I’m firmly convinced they should, we should have more freedom than ever and less of this pernicious cuddling up to Relijin amongst our politicians.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to wardsmith says:

          Damn but you’re a great writer Blaise!

          He really is. It’s just amazing, especially at the rate and volume of his comments. Truly remarkable.

          I was gonna comment on this a few threads ago – how dazzled I am at the language and argument structure – but I didn’t want to appear to partisan about praising him. Now that you’re on board, ward, I can offer compliments free from partisan bias.

          BlaiseP’s comments are master-level performance art.Report

      • James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

        His viciously unfair critique of Mother Theresa comes to mind.

        What is it about his critique you find unfair?Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to James K says:

          As a parlor trick, I used to ask my little children “What’s Rule #1?”   They’d merrily chirp for the edification of family guests “Life is not fair!”   It’s unfair because I believe it’s unfair.   You must decide what’s fair for yourself:  I can’t ask you to go along with what follows as if it would change your mind.   That said…

          Where to begin?   There’s a point I’ve made before here, ever so tiresomely but you did ask.   First, if we really must drag up the Medieval Corruption of the Church as the summum malum of Western Civilization, let Lenin’s and Stalin’s and Mao’s body counts stand as absolute proof of what Atheist Fundamentalism managed, run amok.    Those miracle workers  cleverly pitched at least four civilizations into the flames, no better (and very considerably worse) than Savonarola and the Taliban, burning up the works of Botticelli and blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan.   Fundamentalism inevitably leads to the auto-da-fe.

          And do not try to parse away Marxism/Leninism from Atheism:  history has shown us Atheism without Marx but not Marx sans Atheism.   Yes, I suppose if history had gone down different paths, things might have worked out differently but these are historical facts, beyond dispute:  it was Atheists who did these things and made gods of themselves, as surely as the Medieval Corruption of the Church installed monsters in the Vatican.   Herein has Hitchens made an ass of himself, quite needlessly.

          Yes, Communism and Christianity were both corrupted but the intelligent man would ask “Who or what corrupted them both?”   If God has shown himself to be a disreputable notion and the Catholic Church a haven for sin and a furtive protector of child molesters, the Atheists are herein cautioned to view their own positions through the lenses provided by history:   every such movement arisen in history has been coopted by seekers after power and thereby debased.  Let the entire 20th century bear mute witness to the legacy of Lenin and Mao.   I sympathize and admire the Atheists, I have said so, even here.  Man without God is not man without morals any more than Man with God is a moral man:  the Atheist does not have to be the enemy of religion.

          The intelligent man might ask another question “How can I prevent my own beliefs from being coopted?”    Moreover, he might question his own axioms, constantly, lest he be led into the quicksand of the dogmatic utterances of others, unwittingly embracing half-truths and cheap shots.   Hitchens asked no such questions of his own positions.   The contrarian is the weakest of all debaters:  it isn’t enough to say “No” to someone else’s positions.   He must put forward an alternative to those positions, serious alternatives, not the pawky feel-good prescriptions so often heard from the pulpit.

          Speaking of hermeneutics, Hitchens constantly made me laugh in his usually-justified attacks on organized religion.   Most of what Jesus Christ and his cousin John the Baptist had to say in the Gospels was condemnation of their own established religion and its unscrupulous connivance with the Powers-that-Be.   Christ’s accusers would even turn on Pontius Pilate, threatening him with the power of Rome, saying if he did not condemn Jesus, they would tattle on him and say Pilate was no friend of Caesar.    Little did any of them know this obscure Judean sect would become not only the Friend but the Tool of Caesar, well, Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus, a.k.a. Constantine and the cross upon which they crucified him would tower over Rome from the heights of St. Peter’s.   In hoc signo vinces.

          So Mother Teresa despised divorce.   I know a prominent divorce attorney who used to practice criminal law, a lot of capital cases.   She observes criminal law is a process of casting terrible people in their best possible light.   but divorces reveal good people at their worst.    Does anyone genuinely love divorce?   Try one on for size.   See how you like it, walking down the aisle of a court to be separated from someone you once loved with all your heart and swore to love for the rest of your life.   It was a contract, that marriage.

          The most egregious unfairness I save for last.   Mother Teresa embraced the poor and dying.   Hitchens would have us believe this is atrocious and morbid.   He would sing a different tune when he was dying, very glad of the company of those who loved him.   There are people in the world who do not have those comforts and the Sisters of Loretto did what they could to provide them.  If that ghoul Mother Teresa believed our suffering brings us closer to Jesus, nobody was forced into her Little Hospice of Horrors.   I’ve seen dying children since I was a little boy watching my mother and father running a dispensary on the edge of the Sahara Desert.   They weren’t overwhelmed by their insufficiency to heal every wound.   They did what they could.

          “Hypocrite” is a word generally used by those who have no intention of being good of those who are trying to do good.   I might apply the commutative law here and call Christopher Hitchens the most eloquent hypocrite of his age.Report

          • Tod Kelly in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Blaise –

            Hitchens dispised Mother Theresa because of divorce and helping the poor? This seems a pretty poor translation of his issues with her.

            Not knowing enough about her to speak toward the accuracy of his charges, as I recall Hitchens issues with MT were that a). she used little of the billions she raised to help the poor, instead arguing that they should accept their lot; b). she used her fame and the resources of the church to help prop of despotic tyrants who were the very cause of suffering (this support based entirely on extreme right-wing ideology, even when said despots were cruel to their poor), and c). when not on documentary cameras lead a lavish lifestyle.

            As I say, I cannot speak to the truth of Hitchens’ charges against her; but to say he hated her because she was against divorce and liked to help the poor seems rather incorrect.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              You are at liberty to make of my summary what you wish.   I specifically said it was my own reaction to what he had to say about Mother Teresa. I do know what he said and I have judged it according to my own lights.

              As for accepting money from despots, I haven’t been faced with that predicament.   I can’t say what I’d do with it.   There’s an old Yiddish proverb:  coins are round, they roll away.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Again, I was not arguing for or against Hitchens’ position; just noting that it wasn’t what you suggested.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Whatever it’s not, it did contain the elements I have laid out at very considerable length.   Why do I bother, I periodically ask myself.

                 Would it have been worth while,
                To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
                To have squeezed the universe into a ball
                To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
                To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
                Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
                If one, settling a pillow by her head,
                Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
                That is not it, at all.”

                Now off you go, to write a few paragraphs, convincing me why Hitchens’ position isn’t what I’ve suggested.   No more of this flabby naysaying.Report

          • James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

            And do not try to parse away Marxism/Leninism from Atheism:  history has shown us Atheism without Marx but not Marx sans Atheism.

            Let’s review your attribuitonal model:

            1) Atheism is necessary but not sufficient for Marxism.

            2) Yet you assert that atheism is essential to the evils of Marxism.

            Why atheism?  Why not their rejection of modern physics?  Or the love of the Labour Theory of Value?  Or for that matter their totalitarianism, which is what I’m pretty sure was actually responsible for the most evil parts of Marxism.

            Marxism is a good rebuttal to the idea that religion is the source of all evil, but I don’t see anyone making that argument.

            If God has shown himself to be a disreputable notion and the Catholic Church a haven for sin and a furtive protector of child molesters, the Atheists are herein cautioned to view their own positions through the lenses provided by history:   every such movement arisen in history has been coopted by seekers after power and thereby debased.

            Yes, powerful people will do terrible things if they are not kept in check.  What does that have to do with whether or not gods exist?

            And as for your rebuttal to Hitchens on Teresa, you’re not focusing on his central argument – that she solicited donations under false pretences, and did far less to help the suffering than she pretended to.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to James K says:

              Let’s just take the facts as they are given to us in history.   That’s how things worked out, not in theory but in practice.Report

              • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The existence of South American marxism must drive you mad. Especially those priests.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                No, not at all.   Marxism can only arise in the well-manured fields of Feudalism.   In a world where the peasant doesn’t own anything anyway, it’s easy to preach a gospel where nobody needs to own land.

                Didn’t Mao say “A landless peasant is already a Communist”, hmm?

                Frank Zappa observed (how often I quote him!)  “Communism will never work.  People want to own stuff.”Report

              • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Perhaps you’ve forgotten your claim above, then.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                The Catholics of Central America didn’t preach Marxism.   They preached something called Social Justice, land reform and the like.

                The very idea, that the Catholics preached Marxism.   Eet eez to larf.  Christianity practiced a primitive form of Communism in Jerusalem and Antioch eighteen centuries before Marx put in an appearance.   Acts 2:44 ” And all that believed were together, and had all things common;”Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                You definitely need to read up on Liberation Theology and South American socialism then. True, the Vatican doesn’t like it, but it was Marxist and theist.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Chris says:


                Oh, those priests.  Well, they were secret atheists, doncha know!Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                I don’t have to read up on it.    I lived through it, from 1983 to 2008 in Guatemala.   I got to know many of those Marian sisters who came around preaching the Social Gospel.

                You must understand I was then building libraries in the hamlets around Quetzaltenango.   These villages all have a patron saint but it’s really a syncretic religion,  masking the Mayan deities behind saints’ names.   These hamlets have societies called cofradias, sort of a saint’s fan club.   Each year one of the men would be elected president of the cofradia and he would put on an enormous fiesta, thereby earning prestige in the community.   I said, if the cofradia will put aside some of the money and a room in the cofradia headquarters, I will send the students from my language school up to their hamlet to turn it into a library.   We will run an open-book operation and we’ll purchase books and the presidente of the cofradia will get to sign his name in the flyleaf of every book purchased during his term.   The villagers found this idea tremendously appealing and we have since put in fifteen such libraries on that basis.

                My parents were missionaries in Niger Republic and were strictly non-political.   I adhered to that principle in Guatemala:  I cautioned the Marian sisters to stay the hell out of politics and just do good works.   They didn’t heed my advice and many of them were expelled from Guatemala and several were murdered.

                The Guatemalan Civil War ended when Bush41 the Wiser got a mortal case of the ass at a particularly nasty dictator name of Rios-Montt and cut off all military funding.   That dirty war petered out within six months after 36 years.    Where there is no fuel the fire goeth out says the Book of Proverbs, and where there is no whispering there are no quarrels.

                I make an argument from authority here, one I think I’ve earned.   I categorically state the Marian sisters did not preach Marxism.   They never made any headway politically or sociologically.    They did back land reform on the basis of what the Bible had to say about social justice, but pointing bony fingers at los ricos didn’t change anything.   Los ricos never gave me money for my libraries.     Little guys with bare feet who wanted prestige more than life itself did give.  I made a difference.   The Marian sisters never did.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

                Clever focus on the Marians, as though they stand for the whole of liberation theology, as though prominent advocates didn’t include Franciscans and Dominicans.

                Kudos, though, for mentioning cofradias, only the second person I’ve known to use the concept.  Very different from the concept of Spanish village-based fishing groups, where I’ve seen the term before, so very interesting to see how its used here.  I think the term means, essentially, brotherhood?  Which would make it appropriately adapted to the two very different cases.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                You would not be the first to accuse the Liberation Theology folks of Marxist tendencies.   All the dictators of the region did, Reagan’s folks, too .   It is, simply put, a nasty lie from top to bottom.

                I have said before that every time someone said “Land Reform” the dictators heard “Communism”.   Do be careful whose lies you repeat, especially at third hand.   I wouldn’t dream of accusing you of being a liar but you know what they say about a lie getting around the world three times before the truth has gotten out of bed and tied its shoes in the morning.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                A paper outlining Liberation Theology, carefully chosen from the Humanist Society, so I don’t get my little messenger murdered on his way to ringside in this Emperor’s New Clothes parade.Report

              • Christopher Carr in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I believe Cabot Cheese and Ocean Spray are “Marxist companies” in a significant sense.Report

              • CC:  Dude, seriously… are you just going to leave that tantalizing sentence hanging there?Report

              • I’m planning a post! I have more free time for blogging from now until February abouts, and I’m planning on getting it out there, but there are a few other posts in front of it in line.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It seems quite truthful to say that atheism is necessary for the evils of Marxism.  But it seems truthful in the same way that Christianity was necessary for the evils of the inquisition, or that Catholicism in particular was necessary for the evils of perpetuating pedophilia in Holy Church during the late 20th century, or that both Judaism and Islam are necessary for thousands of years of evil in the middle east.

                It also seems true in the same way that the doubt of atheism or agnosticism in needed for the willingness to explore the origins of life and the universe; or that belief of religion is needed for the good works of faith based charity.

                Which is to say it is not a truth that actually tells us anything; worse, if we choose to recognize it as a particularly “important” truth we might well begin to justify evil excesses of our own.

                People are capable be of great good and great evil.  It is a folly indeed to suppose that your beliefs make people good, and others evil.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Tod, you don’t need a church to perpetuate pedophilia, just a football program.

                That’s glib, but “protecting the institution” is the constant here, and can be factored out of the equation.

                As for the Inquisition[s]—and especially the Spanish one, which was ordered by King Ferdinand, not the Vatican—the story is far more complicated.  By 21st century standards it’s impossible to defend or even discuss, but by its own standards, it secured due process for those charged by the state, which hijacked religion for its own [secular, shall we say] purposes.


                During the 16th century, when the witch craze swept Europe, it was those areas with the best-developed inquisitions that stopped the hysteria in its tracks. In Spain and Italy, trained inquisitors investigated charges of witches’ sabbaths and baby roasting and found them to be baseless. Elsewhere, particularly in Germany, secular or religious courts burned witches by the thousands.

                As for a necessary link between atheism and Marxism—or Stalinism and Maoism—our inherently Western understanding of liberty and rights comes via Christian thought, which also subsumed classical thought.  Whether liberty and rights can be philosophically derived without certain “natural law” assumptions about the nature of man remains a nettlesome problem for [godless] modern philosophy.

                That’s a formal philosophical problem, but the rubber hits the road often in the real world, and “inalienable rights” is having a tough go of it vs. The Needs of the Many.


              • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Tom, I can’t tell if you are agreeing with me and adding additional insight or if you have misunderstood my meaning and are disagreeing with me?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Tod, first these overly-familiar historical touchstones need sorting out:  what is essential and particular from what is common.  For instance, pedarasty in the Roman Church.  As we see, the same “defense of the institution” is common to football programs as well.  Yes, there are specifics about the Roman Church’s celebacy for its clergy.  On the other, child star Corey Feldman charges that Hollywood is rife with pederasts, too.

                This is an area where Hitchens was particularly weak as a critical thinker.  As one [stronger, to my mind] thinker wrote,

                As best I can tell, Hitchens’ case against faith consists mostly in a series of anecdotal enthymemes—that is to say, syllogisms of which one premise has been suppressed. Unfortunately, in each case it turns out to be the major premise that is missing, so it is hard to guess what links the minor premise to the conclusion. One need only attempt to write out some of his arguments in traditional syllogistic style to see the difficulty:


                Major Premise: [omitted]

                Minor Premise: Evelyn Waugh was always something of a bastard, and his Catholic chauvinism often made him even worse.

                Conclusion: “Religion” is evil.

                Hitchens was a hack when it came to religion.  He could never separate the Problem of Evil [which is really the problem of man] from the Problem of God.

                Since another of his critics pointed out that Hitchens was not a man of sentiment when it came to obituaries [calling Reagan a “cold, cruel lizard” a day after his death], in true Hitch spirit, it’s not too soon to rebut the hagiography already forming around him, such as the OP.

                As for whether I’m agreeing with you or not, I find almost every sentence above sorely in need of unpacking.  For instance, Hitch would blame Islam [and religion in general] for its violence, but as you write,

                It is a folly indeed to suppose that your beliefs make people good, and others evil.

                Contra Hitchens, on its face I think—I just read an Islamic apologist argue that Islam doesn’t make people violent; it’s those already disposed to cruelty and violence who fasten onto those passages in the Quran that are the harshest, and not the most benign.  An exc argument, I thought.

                But can religion make a man better than he would be if left to his own sentiments?  Quite possibly.  On those occasions I’m able to turn the other cheek, I assure you it’s not for love of man.

                It all needs sorting out of the kind Hitchens was incapable of doing: the essential and unique qualities of x from those qualities it shares with other institutions or ideologies just by virtue of being populated by human beings and human nature.Report

              • RTod in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                I think you are largely arguing what I said.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                That’s a relief, RTod.  Re-reading the OP with the context that we’re agreeing, it lines up.

                What threw me was the assertion that Hitchens “evicerated” his opponents in debate, and I took this in the larger context of the OP, praise for his [New] atheism.

                The sad fact, and the offense against “reason” itself here, is that Hitchens was the evisceree, and that he never realized it.  Worse, neither did his cheering fans, who fell for his sophistries and cheap ad hom debating tricks.  We can only hope that those who could be reached by the debates—then and in the future—realize that a genuine philosopher like John Haldane wasn’t according him credibility by giving Hitchens equal status as a debater, but was using Hitchens’ own notoriety to reach a larger audience.


                The criticism of New Atheism is not for its atheism but for its shallowness and lack of understanding of the classical arguments for theism.  Rest assured many atheistic philosophers are held in high regard by serious theistic ones.

                As I argue above, Hitch never made the distinction between the Problem of Man debate [evil, and also religions as doctrines or institutions]  from the Problem of God [his skepticism*-as-atheism vs. philosophical theism].  He cheapened the debate, and cheated it.



                True in its way, but, this is anti-philosophical at its heart, since it asserts that what cannot be known does not exist, or even discussed intelligently.  This doesn’t simply ignore metaphysics or teleology; its effect is to abolish them.

                He also dismissed without refutation the classical arguments for theism, which are the product of reason not faith or revelation, and do indeed advance themselves as “proofs” of God.  Hitchens is nowhere on record with legitimate philosophical rebuttals, hence the charge of being a hack.  [There are valid philosophical rebuttals, but they are beyond the ken of the New Atheists, hence the charge of hackery.  Those who do have valid rebuttals are respected and engaged, not dissed.]



              • RTod in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                TVD- As to who eviscerated who, I suspect that it is rather similar to Cav fans and Laker fans arguing two years ago who was he best player in the NBA.

                Everyone was being very honest in that argument too.Report

              • James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Yes, well in practice it takes a lot more than picking on select facts to extract insights from history.Report

          • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

            “The contrarian is the weakest of all debaters:  it isn’t enough to say “No” to someone else’s positions.”

            Amen, brother.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to BlaiseP says:

        You’re not attacking Hitchens uniquely here, Blaise.  (And how do you know that he recited rather than just sitting calmly?  How do you know what he told his children?) Huge numbers of atheists face the choice of what to do when around their religious families.  You really think it means something – hypocrisy, no less – that they participate in saying grace so as not to raise the issue at family gatherings?Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew says:

          How do I know?   Because a Seder is a meticulously-observed ritual.   It wouldn’t be a Seder without the recitation of those exact words.

          If atheists face the unpleasant task of enduring the vain utterances and hocus-pocus of their religious families, they might exhibit the decency to remain true to their own beliefs at all times and all places.   They seem brave enough to cast aspersions on religion and the faithful when not in the presence of their loved ones, annoying everyone else with their unhelpful catcalls and cheap shots.   Well, it can’t be helped, I suppose.   Atheism as an un-belief structure will have to evolve a bit, learn the tolerance and forbearance they urge the faithful to exhibit in their presence.Report

          • Tod Kelly in reply to BlaiseP says:

            This response betrays a pre-disposed opinion about the mindset of all people who don’t believe in God, Blaise.  When I accompany my wife to church the week of our anniversary, I do indeed take communion, and then come forward to have our marriage blessed.

            Is this hypocrisy, this thing I do out of love and respect for my betrothed?  If it is, you will have to explain to me how it is so.

            Perhaps you see it as hypocrisy because being an unbeliever I must, as you note, “cast aspersions on religion and the faithful when not in the presence of [my] loved ones.”  You might also need to prove to me that I do this.  I had thought that I respected, valued, and often envied those with faith.  Still, you obviously know the inside of my head better than I, so I am happy to have you explain to me there error in my thinking about what I actually think.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              I am glad to read you exhibit the decency to tolerate those little rituals.   I cannot see the harm in participating in rituals of that sort but it is hypocrisy made manifest to take the Eucharist in unbelief.

              I do not cast aspersions upon the atheists.   You, it seems, are intelligent enough to avoid visiting the same cruelty upon the faithful.   That’s common decency in action.   I saw Hitchens in action on several occasions, a thoroughly decent man in person but a mean-spirited horse’s ass in print when it came to the subject of religion.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Also, let me be sure I understand your claim about Hitchens.  What you actually know is that he attended Seders.  And from that, because of how totally consistent every Seder table is throughout the owrld, you know that he vocally participated in the incantations and also what exactly he told his children about what it all meant and why he was doing it?  Or are you just saying you know that at the very least he sat impassively while the recitations were performed, perhaps with his head bowed – and you’re just making an assumption about what he told his children?  What’s your knowledge claim here?  What’s your source?  Given the man’s verbosity, I can’t imagine that if he wrote about it, those writings didn’t include an explanation of the philosophical implications of his actions (though perhaps they didn’t).Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Gosh.  Cornered by logic.   You win.   Hitchens didn’t actually say these things because I wasn’t there to record them.    Perhaps Hitch had an un-Seder, where all the affirmatives of the Haggadah were systematically negated and ham sandwiches and shrimp were served instead of  zeroa and beitzoh.   Perhaps he wore a propeller beanie instead of a kippah.    Via sovereign logic, we can infer many such Perhapses and Negations.

                And when his oldest child was instructed to ask their father how this night was different than every other night, as the ritual goes, Clever Hitch would respond “This sure is different than every other bloody Seder conducted around the world tonight. And how!”Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Beth below seems to corroborate your account. She says he was more exuberant about it than resigned, and so be it.  Perhaps he was a fraud on the God question, or perhaps he just saw the cultural traditions of Judaism as worthwhile independent of the formal theological holdings.  I have no idea.  Clearly, his public views must have been known to those he communed with.  So, with respect to you charge of indecency, either they didn’t find it indecent for him to take part in their rituals when he didn’t believe most of the teachings the teachings, or he disavowed his public writings to them, which would make him a fraud, or else they regarded him as indecent but didn’t say so to his face.  Or else none of it would be indecent in any case.  Let’s say it’s the first – he was in fact a nonbeliever in the theological holdings s of the tradition, and was truly welcomed at the table by the believers there (assuming there were actually some) as such, in full knowledge of his views on theism per se.  What, again, is your charge against him for this?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Ecch, who am I to call Hitchens a fraud?   We all evolve in our belief structures and levels of tolerance, usually for the better over time.   Dogmatism ill suits the thinking man.

                Look, my own faith has evolved over lo these many years.   I sincerely believe the atheists are closer to the truth than many of the soi-disant Faithful.   Atheism is just now struggling to come to terms with itself as a belief structure.    Let’s not quibble about terms, we can with equal facility substitute un-belief for belief if you wish:  the argument runs along the same lines.

                When each of the world’s religions began, they were stomped on by the orthodoxy of their times.   Atheism has been around since the Dialogues of Plato:  his remedy for atheism was imprisonment, conversion and the death penalty.   Therefore, Atheism, whether or not it is a belief structure, is treated like one.  Socrates was put to death on just such charges, corrupting the young by teaching skepticism.

                If atheism is to make more headway in the world, its thinkers must transcend the logical shortcuts of religions.   They’ll have to learn how to preach better sermons.   Without going ilk-hunting, I have concluded Hitchens and Dawkins have made a dog’s dinner of atheism, taking offense where none was offered, stinking up the joint with cheap shots.

                Don’t atheists know they’re throwing the very bricks at us we’ve been throwing at each other for centuries?   Hubristic little puppies, as if their arguments were so original and incontrovertible:  “man made gods of wood and stones that cannot see or hear or eat or smell”,   That’s Deuteronomy, that’s what we’ve been saying for millenia. silly shibboleths convince nobody and amuse those of us who know the history of those borrowed bricks.   Sincerely religious people understand religion is a big nothing:  pull it apart and it’s so much cotton candy, tradition, hearkening back to what our forefathers once did.

                Hitchens is gone now, and will be sorely missed for the excellence of his rhetoric.   If he wanted to observe Seder, it never contradicted any of his beliefs about God.   But his ranting about religions will not be missed.  In this, he was no different than some killjoy preaching against Santa Claus on the street corner.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Blaise –

            We both come here to debate.  You choose to engage on the topic of theism.  I assume then that what you want from the others of us here is a straightforward engagement of our beliefs with yours.  That’s what this place is for, I thought.  I didn’t think it was for holding back on certain topics simply in order to smooth over differences.  And that’s what you seem to be asking for, not tolerance.  it would be intolerant of me to tell you I don’t want you around ehre if you’re going to express your views about God.  it is not intolerant for me to tell you that God does not exist, or that I elieve God does not exist.  You need to get that straight.

            As to what is decent at my own family’s holiday table, you ought to leave that question to me.  I’ll figure out what’s decent there.  What you claimed was that it was hypocritical for Hitchens to potentially participate in some part of his family’s traditional holiday rituals.  It may be, to some extent, but I think it’s of trifling importance.  You don’t seem to actually have a rebuttal for your friends who say that participation in a cultural ritual doesn’t necessarily imply belief, much less any particular belief.  You just laugh at them.  Or perhaps what you really do is laugh uncomfortably to yourself.

            Now the issue for you has become decency.  But decency to whom?  How  is it so decent for me to force this uncomfortable question into my family gathering – where they will notice if someone does not participate in saying grace as we have done since before I was born?  Unlike this place, I don’t consider that a place that is for having such debates – ours is a family that believes devoutly, myself excepted.  I don’t wish to challenge my grandfather’s faith at his table.  We all come here to talk about these things, and have no claim to be spared the conflicting views that otehrs will hold.  Again, tolerance does not involve being protected from hearing other views.

            I can’t help but suspect that when you say it would be decent for me to refrain from saying grace, what you really feel is that it would somehow be decent of me to provide you with the satisfaction of being able to imagine that I experience as the consequence of my strident nonbelief the possibility of causing the discomfort that I and my family would feel if we had to confront the fact that for some of us the family’s faith did not “take.”  Because what is it to you how decently I act at that gathering?  Why is the level of decency in that place of interest to you at all?  Perhaps my grandfather would rather I participate even if I have lost faith (I never really had it), in hopes that continuing to pray at times might lead me back.  You don’t know.

            But that’s what so great about this place – we don’t have to deal with each other in nearly as many parts of our lives as we do with almost any person we interact with on a regular basis in meatworld.  I had thought that that meant that, since this place was created to facilitate frank, open discussion of matters of general intellectual concern, that we could assume that if a person chose to be here, we could presume that they were here to hear what others really think about the issues that come up.  The question of God’s existence has definitely come up here repeatedly.  It has never been ruled out of order by the proprietors.  Moreover, I view a claim that a God who will judge my actions and determine my eternal fate a claim that directly concerns me; when I hear it I feel I have been invited, even compelled, to say whether I think it true or not.  In a place like this, where we come to say what we think, that is.  What I say to my grandfather is really quite a different question, and one on which you simply aren’t going to be able to score any points.

            What you complain about here, I realize, is being “brave enough to cast aspersions on religion and the faithful when not in the presence of their loved ones, annoying everyone else with their unhelpful catcalls and cheap shots.”  As Tod says, it’s hard to know what you are referring to here – us, or just Christopher Hitchens.  “Your God doesn’t exist.”  Aspersion? Cat call? Cheap shot?  As I have said, I feel that question is one that this place has always been equal to hosting, even if when it has arisen and been treated, generally it then gets sublimated for long periods since it is intense.  But it’s not off the table.  It is off the table at my grandfather’s table.  If you think that proves something, great take that to the bank.  If some other interaction beyond a straightforward debate on theism has made you feel insulted or cat called for your faith, that is regrettable.  I don’t recall it, but certainly.

            As to Hitchens, who did disparage religion beyond merely arguing against theism as a proposition, he published his views very prominently.  They couldn’t have been unknown to his family.  He was still welcome apparently.  What do you require of him, anti-faith jeremiads at his sister’s or aunt’s Passover table?  Publishing in the public sphere is simply a far different matter from intimate family interactions.  You talk about decency.  What you should recognize is that if your quarrel is with someone’s public views, the decent thing is to engage them on their terms, and not try to use the exigencies of navigating one’s intimate relations to try to score points against them on the field of public discourse.

            And what you will never be able to change is that, despite your language of victimization, this remains a world more shaped by religion than not, including in the intimate sphere, and including the reality that, especially for people European and Western Asian descent, for the most part, atheist or believer, pretty everyone’s entire cultural and familial heritage is tied up with one of a very few monotheistic faiths and its holdings about the nature of the universe.  That’s a reality that just about everyone has to deal with, and something that the faithful will always hold over the non-believing.  You own a large share of our cultural consciousness and often the strong allegiance of most of our families. (While there may be a few people of faith raised in atheist families who have to deal with navigating family interactions, overwhelmingly for those who have to bear a burden of that nature, the positions are reversed.  It’s us, not you, who has to deal with this heterogeneity of belief.)

            So it’s remarkable to me that you would presume to pronounce to us how we should go about it, though I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by this posture from people like you.  One might think you’d be a iittle more circumspect about lording your cultural hegemony over the minority in this case, but there it is.  It’s unfortunately not all that surprising to me that you would also choose to use spurious information about how one of dealt with such questions to gain an imagined high ground for yourself in a public quarrel you had with that person that was cut short by death.  That just seems to be how you, and since you don’t mind attributing certain uncivil people’s actions to atheists generally and turnabout is fair play, many others like you engaged in the pushback against public atheism, roll.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

              For my part, when I realized that much of what Theists do to communicate group membership is a matter of taste rather than a matter of morality, I chilled out.


              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                What do you mean that you chilled, exactly?  I actually feel very chill about going along to get along when I feel like it, and not when not.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                There was a Superatheist! period I went through where it was exceptionally important to me to witness to theists about The Truth contained in Atheism.

                Holding hands and praying before a meal? This is an opportunity to talk about *ME*! Sitting down to watch a Christmas movie? This is an opportunity to talk about *ME*! Playing dinosaurs with the nephews? This is an opportunity to talk about *ME*!!!!!!!

                I mean, Atheism.

                Chilling out involved merely smiling, nodding, holding hands, watching the movie, and saying “rarrr”.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                “But aren’t you just talking about you, you, you now?”

                “Yes, but I’d like to think that I’m not putting my thumb in your eye.”Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Gotcha.  For me, it was one day walking out of church when I was sixteen or so and still sometomes went with my mom jut cuz it was what we did – I’d already done the Wednesday night confirmation classes and been confirmed, etc., and I said to myself, “You know what young fella, you’re sixteen, nigh on a grown man (sic), you might consider  thinking over what it is you actually think about all this (since, like, I hadn’t, really), since if it’s true, that has all knsd of quite legitimate implications for how you’re gonna ant to lead you life ‘n stuff.  So I thought about it for a minute and said, “yeah, you know what, there aren’t really any two different kinds of stuff in the world, material and spiritual; there’s no quasi-frontier between our world and a place-that’s-not a place where dead “people” go, where maybe a spirit who thinks much like a person, or allows us to relate to Him in such a way that we think he does resides; there’s no such Figure or Being or Essence that is a kind of thing that isn’t like the stuff we touch and feel and breathe, or anything.  There’s just stuff like the stuff we touch and breathe, but different because of chemistry, going out forever and ever until it stops and that’s it, and we’re just more of that stuff, and that’s what there is.”

                I pretty much had all of that run through my head between the time my pew emptied into the aisle that Sunday morning and the time I got to the sanctuary door.  But there wasn’t much to do beyond that.  My sister was younger and wasn’t thinking about that stuff yet (she later had a similar experience, she told me); my mom had told me she was basically a doubter with faith and said i should decide for myself, but wanted me to know the teachings she had grown up with as a parochial school student at a  Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church-school.  Most of my friends did not have religious families, so it wasn’t a matter of reconciling with them.  The only outstanding group in my life was my mom’s tight-knit extended family in Racine, Wis. – three sisters with husbands and a bunch of resulting cousins of mine, all deeply devout, one family essentially born again into faith after experiencing some quite bad times.  Last year my mom’s mom died, and this October my cousin gave birth to a tiny, very sick baby girl who was due to be born next week and is still in an incubator.  Needless to say, the family has clung, and I mean that term with the deepest possible affection, to each other by way of sharing faith.  In other words, I know of what you speak when you talk about faith being a matter of communicating group membership.  It’s just that that is a somewhat jarringly clinical term for how I experience it.

                Despite not literally sharing belief in the literal terms of that faith, I nevertheless feel the communion with this particular group of people ad look forward to being among them again next week.   But it’s also the case that to all of them but me and my sister, and I suspect maybe one or two other cousins (who all approach the question of how to treat the rituals and statements of faith in the group), the faith that is shared is really central to the communion we all feel together.  What for me is about the family per se, is for them about how the family shares faith in a higher power, and in Jesus Christ.  And it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that that is how it is for them, because t doesn’t change the togethernee I feel for them.  But if I made a point of abstaining from the expressions of faith that for many of them cement the bonds of our mutual support, I fear that for some of them, the communion we feel would be lessened.  And as a result, it would be lessened for us all.  No one made our family this way – we just are that way.  And I don’t see any reason – any upside – to acting in that setting any differently than how my human instincts to preserve the bonds of family make me want to act.  So I don’t.  And then here, it’s different – I hadn’t perceived that people come here expecting or wanting people to act so as to preserve bonds of that nature.  On the contrary, I had thought we came here to have a place free from such real, thick social context to share the counsels of our truest intellectual consciences (if we so chose), with people who want to share theirs, and/or hear that of others.  If we need to set aside certain topics in the interest of preserving certain bonds (or expectations) that I hadn’t before perceived here, then we really ought to go about doing that in an explicit way. (Not that you are suggesting that we do, JB.)

                And not that you actually asked about any of that, or suggested anything to the contrary.  Just thought I’d share. 😉Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Santa Claus is especially instructive, I think.

                Yes, everybody (most everybody, anyway) lies to children about Santa. When asked direct questions about Santa, it’s easy to wax philosophical and explain that, well, Santa is real in our hearts. I am Santa, and your mom is Santa, and gramma and grampa are Santa, and now that you know the truth, YOU are Santa too.

                Welcome to being a grownup.

                And, of course, there may be a period where it’s awfully easy to be indignant that grownups lie about Santa (“I would *NEVER* lie to *MY* children!”) and perhaps even enjoy spoiling it for others (“There’s no such *THING* as Santa!”) but, strangely enough, there’s a kernel of truth in the whole “You are Santa too. Welcome to being a grownup” thing.

                “Santa” is shorthand for a lot of things. It contains a lot of insights that sink in slowly over time and, as they say, “poetic truths”… and these can be appreciated at different levels depending on where you are.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Michael Drew says:

                FWIW, I found this comment somewhat profound.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew says:

              I don’t presume to debate the topic of Theism. I have furthermore contorted myself into a rhetorical Klein Bottle, stipulating to the fundamental bias of my own positions, couching my judgements using adjectives like “unfair” to describe Hitchens’ disgusting calumnies against Mother Teresa and the faithful in general.

              Now you pay attention this time. It’s hypocritical to participate in religious ritual if you don’t believe in it. You are at liberty to believe otherwise. We just have a different definition of Belief in this context. Spare me any more of this sort of ill-considered clucking and faux outrage about what you do at your own table. You asked, I answered, saying there’s no harm done by participating in a family ritual, just don’t pretend it isn’t hypocrisy. It isn’t of trifling importance, this business of Faith and Belief: people have died for their convictions. Honesty dictates we remain true to our own beliefs but human decency would lead us into many little hypocrisies — how could anyone survive in society if they told the truth about everything?

              You may say it’s of “trifling importance”, tell it to the Conversos of Spain, who did convert to Christianity and were still murdered for being Jews. This business of Être Juif comes with a high price. And why should you disappoint your grandfather?

              There’s a wonderful bit in 2 Kings where Elijah heals Naaman the leper. Naaman was a Syrian general, an enemy of Israel. He comes to Elijah, humbles himself, washes in the Jordan and is healed. He takes two loads of Israeli earth back to Syria so he can worship Jehovah on it, a common enough superstition, but he adds a curious codicil to his conversion: Naaman has to worship with the king of Syria in the temple of Rimmon and has to bow down. Elijah tells him to go in peace, neither forbidding it or allowing it, leaving it up to Naaman himself.

              It’s perfectly acceptable to be both Jewish and atheistic. You’re in good company, with Spinoza and Einstein. Marx was a slightly different story. Everyone knows that bit about “opium of the people” but few remember what immediately preceded it: “religion is the heart of a heartless world”

              At the Seder table, a place is always set for Elijah. Elijah’s a curious figure in the history of Israel. After his triumph over the prophets of Baal, summoning lightning on Mount Carmel to ignite his sacrifice and ending the drought, Elijah sinks into a terrible depression, as often happens to anyone after a great victory. He cries out to God, saying he’s alone in his beliefs. An angel appears to feed him and sends him on a journey into the desert for forty days and nights. He stands outside his cave looking for God. A wind arises, a fire passes and God is in neither. Then a still small voice comes to Elijah and asks him what he’s doing there. Elijah squirms and goes on whining. God sends him off to anoint his own successor and crown the king of Syria.

              Trust me, my problem is with Christopher Hitchens, not you. Hitchens, not his family, rootled around in the family legacy to find his grandmother’s Jewish past. Yes I do talk about decency and for all of Hitchens’ nastiness in print, Hitchens found it in his rationalist heart to embrace a bit of the Hoary Religious Tradition he called nonsense when he didn’t know it was there in his own family tree. Spurious my ass, I call ’em like I see ’em and have the moral fortitude of my convictions.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                When I was a child, I thought that the most important things were X, Y, and Z (and in that order).

                When I hit adolescence, I thought that they were Y, X, and Z (and in that order).

                Now that I’m a grown-up, I am pretty sure that Z is the most important thing and Y and X are merely fun diversions.

                Who knows what I will think is important when I reach adulthood.

                For the record, when I was an adolescent, I thought that adults were hypocrites for thinking that Z was important and that X and Y weren’t.

                I’m now in a place where I realize that they just understood some stuff that I hadn’t yet.Report

      • jfxgillis in reply to BlaiseP says:



        Speaking of fond farewells, we discovered sad and upsetting news about Bill Harrison.


        (I’ve been lurking in the threads here a little bit to see if you appeared)Report

  3. Murali says:

    I neither altogether agreed with him, nor thought that his views were robustly thought out. Nevertheless, he said things that needed to be said and for that if for nothing else, he will be missed.Report

  4. Beth M. says:

    Christopher was a Jew,  determined by his maternal heritage.  Although he only discovered his background as a young adult,  he was quite proud of it.  He found a distant lineage between his himself and Sidney Blumenthal,  one of his closest friends until Clinton’s triangulation interfered.

    Christopher was not a religious Jew, but he was religiously Jewish,  relishing in the annual Passover Seder, marrying a Jewish Girl, Carol, and rearing a Jewish daughter.

    Don’t let his athiestic POV fool you: it was a gimmick to sell controversy, his lifeline to success.

    The real Christopher Hitchens will be left and written about by those few confidents who knew him best.

    Christopher,  we hardly knew ye…Report

  5. Koz says:

    Just so that no thought of mine, however inconsequential, goes unpublished I’ll say this:

    For me, Hitch’s religious antagonisms are more or less unoriginal and uninteresting. His political-cultural views and antagonisms are very idiosyncratic and highly interesting. But precisely because they are so idiosyncratic, it’s a mistake to think of them as some Grand Unified Theory of anything. They are simply the expression of one singular, eccentric personality. Take each little particle on the merits and accept or reject as appropriate.

    It’s difficult in general to eulogize the meaning of a man’s life. Was it vain, was it purposeful, maybe it just was. It’s especially difficult in Hitch’s case.Report