Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A First!

I never thought I'd see the day when an atheist went on a radio talk show to debate against a Christian conservative and a pastor and have them nearly lay down for his arguments row by row. In this debate you will find fresh witty off the cuff comments by Hitchens followed by silence. You can just hear Hewitt's mind thinking "but shit, I just took a commercial break, c'mon pastor say something, get us out of this one." It's an overwhelming victory. It's such a strong performance byb Hitchens here that ultimately the pastor says that he is grateful for Hitchens because he forces Christians to use their brains and that their doctrines may have to evolve. Hitchens just lays silent for a moment and lets the pastor undermine his entire faith. Also in the debate you hear some statement by the Christians which reveal their comnplete and total lack of understanding of evolution and any scientific rationale behind human nature. They claim to believe in an old earth, but they really don't get the implications of their beliefs at all, nor is it evident that they have ever once thought deeply and honestly about it.

My favorite part was where the "Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin were atheists" argument came up and Hitchens says the following piece of deafening book slamming brilliance that just ends the argument altogether:

"If you want to point out to me a society that went into famine and dictatorship and mass war and torture as a result of adopting the principles of Lucretius and Spinoza and Einstein and Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, then we'd have a level playing field."

End of discussion. In many ways, he adressess some points more effectively than Sam Harris. Hitchen's unabashed audacity provides welcome cover for Harris. Hitchens takes the bad cop role willingly, leaving Harris free to not be the "baddest" bad guy in town.

part1 part2

part 3

part 3 is the best


upinVermont said...

Hey A.,

Here's what I had to do. I went into Dartmouth, downloaded all three segments, went back home, plugged the computer into the stereo system, and listened to the conversation while baking my daughter's birthday cake.

One of my favorite moments came when Hitchen's was asked why he cared about any of this. His response: 'Because I'm a polemicist'. I suppose that answers why *we* care about any of this. We're both polemicists as well.

I *do* think Hitchens won the day, but his victory was like Harris' "victory" over Sullivan. It all comes back to faith and since faith is irrational, one cannot be rationally dissuaded from faith.

The most important question that Hitchens asks is this: Why believe in something that offers no tangible benefits over disbelief?

The questions was never answered.

I can answer it though. Human beings are social mammals (to use Hitchens's nomenclature) who love nothing more than to belong. The powerful sense of identity which comes with a sense of belonging, of being a member of (literally) a "family" with one common (and strict) "father" cannot be overstated. It's no coincidence that one commonly hears "brother" and "sister" being used among parishioners, and in reference to nuns and monks. Atheism simply does not offer the same high.

Religion is a kind of tribalism and it seems that human beings are, by in large, programmed with the capacity to be fiercely tribal. The benefits of this behavior, in evolutionary terms, are too obvious to comment on.

In this sense, Nazism and Stalinism are simply another manifestation of this tribalism and the fundamentalism which invariably informs it. I think this is one of the comparisons Htichens could have, should have, but didn't make.

(I have been reading his book.)

Lastly, what's up with Hitchens' support of the Iraq war (and Bush for that matter...)? How can he possibly conclude that occupying this country was a good idea?

Aaron said...

Why can't you download it from your home computer?

Tribalism, yes, someone should mention that. He does say it is from the infancy of our species alot.

I just find it hard to believe that the talk radio defenders of religious faith *really* believe in the faiths themselves. I'm just not convinced they actually do. Especially someone like Medved who is a Jew who constantly defends Christianity though he clearly does not believe in it. Someone said it isn't the actually faiths these defenders believe. They defend the "belief in belief". Which is frankly sad. Empty. Pointless. And totally nihilistic in my opinion. It's like laying down on your back like a submissive dog in the face of life's challenges. Mitt Romney for instance- despite not believing for a second in the book of Mormon, many Christians admire him merely for believing in *something*. A man of "faith" is a good man, even if his beliefs are utterly false.

Which seems to be another human characteristic- people are not really interested in understanding things, they are interested in finding something to believe which provides hope. And they develop and defend irrational creeds to the ends of the earth to protect this hope. But their faiths turn otherwise very bright people into blathering fools. Faith stunts the intellect like no other. At least half of what constitutes conservatism in American is the ingrained belief that there is a just father watching from on high. Once this belief erodes, one finds the new "conservatism" mostly absurd.

This whole science and reason thing is learned. It comes from the livingrooms of comfort, wealth and excess. Religion stems from lack. Maybe putting food on tables erodes religion faster than anything. The black church for instance is losing members in proportion to the rate at which the black community is increasing in affluence. No coincidence. And you won't find this ridiculous newfangled "doctrine of prosperity" which flips Jesus inside and out more elaborately elucidated than pulpits of black churches (see TBN for details).

Honesty stems from a full belly. When you know you won't be killed today, it's easier to be honest.