Christopher Hitchens: Religion poisons everything

Christopher Hitchens, left, and Tony Jones.
Christopher Hitchens, left, and Tony Jones.
Jones (left) and Hitchens leave the stage.
Jones (left) and Hitchens leave the stage.

He’s an amazing speaker — was the opening address for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House. I couldn’t take notes cause they turned down the lights and I can’t recollect his whole arguments — he’s extensively thorough on each point, with numerous tangents. So these aren’t his exact quotes — there’s a telecast on the ABC site.

I’d thought there would be argy bargy as I saw some Traddies in the foyer (traditional Catholics) but only the MC, Tony Jones, was asking questions.

Hitchens covered the angles of “I don’t need supernatural supervision to do good deeds” and gave an example of how he likes to donate blood.

Also, he said religious people have to accept that the Abrahamic God took a long while to intervene in people’s history — only 3000 years ago — and yet there had been a lot of wars and raping and kids killed before then. He said that had to be acknowledged, andhe doesn’t buy the arguments: “God’s ways are greater than ours, He works in mysterious ways, his ways are opaque.”

He criticised the Jewish celebration/remembrance of Abraham offering to slaughter one of his sons as a sacrifice to God, but God intervened at the last minute.

He said: “If someone on the bus today starts saying they are hearing messages from God, do we run towards them? No. They’re schizophrenic or epileptic. We move away.”

He said people wouldn’t take notice of a burning bush nowadays. And that religion was the human race’s first primitive attempts at philosophising and we’ve moved on since then.

He acknowledged that religion will always be around because a lot of people are genetically programmed to believe in it. But he felt reason and inquiry should be used instead of being told what to do. He supports religion being taught in schools because “it’s a sure way of producing atheists”.

He said he was the last person to ever play the Devil’s Advocate role for the sainthood of Mother Teresa — the role was dropped so more saints could be fast-tracked through. There used to be a Catholic office for this role but it has been abolished. So he said it was the first time he said “Yes, I will Holy Father” when he agreed to do the role, and he figured he was the last person to be doing pro bono work for the Devil.

When he dies, he said he won’t change his mind at the last minute — becacause if there’s a God and they meet, he hopes God will say: “You were honest.” “I’d hope God would have that much integrity. But Christians don’t believe he has — they insist you have to convert before death or it’s eternal damnation.”

2 thoughts on “Christopher Hitchens: Religion poisons everything”

  1. What a pack of nonsense: Hitchens, (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris ad naseum) preaching their ignorance against religion. Sure, they are gifted, charismatic charlatans, and their revelations all seem so clear provided you ignore 99% of the data (much more actually). To be even slightly honest, they would have to present their ‘new atheism’ as a ‘Walden III’, the next new utopian vision. It just isn’t at all new. True, they can tear up theists pretty easy on the theistic home turf, but there are two basic reasons for that: They are taking on the lightweights, and the theists are more interested in hanging onto the illusion of moral high ground than winning any arguments. Life is a rough and tumble business as the theists’ own cannon is testimony to, so it is not all together clear why they are so desperate to distance themselves from it (the radical ‘true believers’ excepted). For a taste of the real world, watch the history channel and see the lion do it to the zebra. For a bit more honest view of real society, read (or re-read) that most famous pamphlet on real-politick, ‘The Prince’. Dawkins’, in is rather lucid ‘Selfish Gene’ recognizes that survival is not about how nice anyone is, but how successful you are in your particular niche of the environment or step on the food chain. So, let’s take a statistical look at the success of human communities vs. belief as an independent variable.

    Atheistic would be a community, family or band that has no ceremonies or artifacts indicating homage to some ‘great spirit’ or similar virtual (not of this world) entity. Spiritual would have such artifacts, and religious would have alters, as a minimum and professional priests (supported by public funds or donations).

    What data then does history and archeology offer us: Hominids with no spiritual belief in their culture, 2.5 MYBP to 35,000 BP, sticks, stones and fire technologies, population estimates of 50 to 200 thousand individuals living throughout greater Africa, Eurasia.

    Humans with spiritual beliefs: 70,000 BP to present, widely varied stone, wood, bone tools, dwelling huts, some domestication of plants and animals, art and jewelry. Population estimates from 0.2 to 20 million individuals, living throughout virtually every land mass of the earth save Antarctica.

    Humans with religious beliefs: 8,000 BP to present, built cities, states and empires, metal tools, wide use of domesticated plants and animals, etc. Population estimates from 5 million to > 6 billion (not at any one time of course).

    My daughter hasn’t a clue how an internal combustion engine works, nor the workings of a modern industrial economy, but she can drive to the mall and charge a pair of shoes. She has no clue about radio waves, but can text on her cell phone. It does not appear to me that either political or religious leaders, historically or today has a clue as to how religion ‘works’, but they have been using it for thousands of years to build thriving communities. I would think any rational person would want to know why theistic communities have out competed non-theistic communities before advising anyone to give up belief. I would think any responsible person would want to know why the only communities that have evolved into cities, states and empires have had religion before suggesting that anyone give up religion.

    To be honest, I don’t think the inventors of belief systems had a clue as to what it was they were inventing, it was just some random experiment that evolved into a very effective social technology. A meme, to borrow again from Dawkins, which like the genes before it that gave us big brains, gave the possessing group a decided advantage.

    That’s more than two cents worth, so I shut up.


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