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The Atheist As Moralist
Townhall.com ^ | October 15, 2010 | Michael Gerson

Posted on 10/15/2010 11:28:20 AM PDT by Kaslin

WASHINGTON -- Christopher Hitchens -- bald from cancer treatments, speaking between doctor's appointments -- has a special disdain for deathbed religious conversions. Appearing before a group of journalists organized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, he criticized the pressures put on Tom Paine to embrace Christianity and the malicious rumors of faith that followed Charles Darwin's demise. "I've already thought about this a great deal, thanks all the same," he explained. The idea "that you may be terrified" is no reason to "abandon the principles of a lifetime."

At this event -- a joint appearance with his brother Peter, a Christian -- Hitchens applied those principles with typical vigor. His arguments on the political dangers of religion are strong. In Turkey or Russia, he notes, "'faith-based' is not a preface to something positive." In Iraq or Iran, a "secular" ruler would be cause for celebration. The alliance of faith and power is often unholy.

But Christopher Hitchens is weaker on the personal and ethical challenge presented by atheism: Of course we can be good without God, but why the hell bother? If there are no moral lines except the ones we draw ourselves, why not draw and redraw them in places most favorable to our interests? Hitchens parries these concerns instead of answering them: Since all moral rules have exceptions and complications, he said, all moral choices are relative. Peter Hitchens responded, effectively, that any journey becomes difficult when a compass points differently at different times.

The best answer that Christopher Hitchens can offer to this ethical objection is himself. He is a sort of living refutation -- an atheist who is also a moralist. His politics are defined by a hatred of bullies, whether Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein or the mullahs in Iran. His affections are reserved for underdogs, from the Kurds to Salman Rushdie. The dreams of totalitarians are his nightmares -- what W.H. Auden described as: "A million eyes, a million boots in line / Without expression, waiting for a sign." Even Hitchens' opposition to God seems less of a theological argument than a revolt against celestial tyranny.

All this fire and bleeding passion would seem to require a moral law, even a holy law. But Hitchens produces outrage, empathy and solidarity without it.

At close range, the pitiless controversialist is actually kind to people he could easily humiliate -- a category to which most of us belong. The ferocious critic of Christianity accepts and seeks the company of Christians. Friendship is a particular talent. One review of his memoir, "Hitch-22," described it as "among the loveliest paeans to the dearness of one's friends ... I've ever read."

In earlier times, without derision or irony, this would have been called "humanism," a delight in all things human -- in wit and wine and good company and conversation and fine writing and debate of large issues. Hitchens' joy and juice put many believers of my acquaintance to shame -- people for whom religion has become a bloodless substitute for life. "The glory of God," said St. Irenaeus, "is man fully alive." Hitchens would hate the quote, but he proves the claim.

Hitchens' career, character and illness have led to an unexpected development -- unexpected, one suspects, particularly to him. While he remains unmellowed, he has seen a flood of affection. His disdain for Christianity, his animus for Islam, can still offend. But we admire the vivid, irreplaceable whole.

Hitchens has now been given his most astounding assignment, a visit to what he calls in a Vanity Fair article "the sick country." His account is raw, honest and impressive. He reports "a gnawing sense of waste" and the loss of "chest hair that was once the toast to two continents."

"To the dumb question 'Why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?" He is, in some ways, a particularly reliable, clear-eyed witness -- unclouded by sentiment, free from comforting illusions, even illusions I view as truths. It is like watching a man assault Everest with only a can opener and a Q-tip. There is honor in the attempt. And the longer the assignment continues, the better for all of us.

At the Pew Forum, Christopher was asked a mischievous question: What positive lesson have you learned from Christianity? He replied, with great earnestness: the transience and ephemeral nature of power and all things human. But some things may last longer than he imagines, including examples of courage, loyalty and moral conviction.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: atheism; atheist; morality
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1 posted on 10/15/2010 11:28:21 AM PDT by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin
The idea "that you may be terrified" is no reason to "abandon the principles of a lifetime."

Hey, Chris...wait until you're REALLY terrified and see if you feel the same way?

2 posted on 10/15/2010 11:37:20 AM PDT by SonOfDarkSkies
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To: Kaslin
Excellent!

Hitchens (and any atheist) has no grounds to object to "bullies" or any other "evil" since all morality and ethics must be something we create and re-create at will.

Every atheist moralist (and that seems to include all atheists, at least at this time) is a contradiction in terms.

3 posted on 10/15/2010 11:39:22 AM PDT by Zionist Conspirator (Vehe'emin beHaShem; vayachsheveha lo tzedaqah.)
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To: Kaslin
The idea "that you may be terrified" is no reason to "abandon the principles of a lifetime."

Why would someone convinced beyond any real doubt that there is no God, so convinced in fact that he is part of an effort to brand religious belief as an unmitigated evil and remove it from the human sphere the way we removed smallpox, be afraid of death at all, much less during the course of a painful an ugly disease?

4 posted on 10/15/2010 11:42:29 AM PDT by Mr. Silverback (Anyone who says we need illegals to do the jobs Americans won't do has never watched "Dirty Jobs.")
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To: Kaslin
The idea "that you may be terrified" is no reason to "abandon the principles of a lifetime."

Why would someone convinced beyond any real doubt that there is no God, so convinced in fact that he is part of an effort to brand religious belief as an unmitigated evil and remove it from the human sphere the way we removed smallpox, be afraid of death at all, much less during the course of a painful and ugly disease?

5 posted on 10/15/2010 11:42:39 AM PDT by Mr. Silverback (Anyone who says we need illegals to do the jobs Americans won't do has never watched "Dirty Jobs.")
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To: All
This should sum it all up.

Of course we can be good without God, but why the hell bother? If there are no moral lines except the ones we draw ourselves, why not draw and redraw them in places most favorable to our interests? Hitchens parries these concerns instead of answering them: Since all moral rules have exceptions and complications, he said, all moral choices are relative.

Or Like this atheist said...

Death is the solution to all problems. No man - no problem.

Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach.

I believe in one thing only, the power of human will.

It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.

Death solves all problems

And who was this wise atheist who drew up his own moral compass? The man inthe picture below of course...

The fool hath said in his heart,There is no God.Psalm 14

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.Proverbs 26:11.

When all philosophies shall fail, This word alone shall fit; That a sage feels too small for life, And a fool too large for it. -Chesterton, G(ilbert) K(eith) Ballad of the White Horse, bk.8.

6 posted on 10/15/2010 11:44:00 AM PDT by mainestategop (Don’t Let Freedom Slip Away After America , There is No Place to Go)
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To: Kaslin
Hitchens says that Christianity is a net-loss for humanity. I wonder if he believes that his Christian friends who are fervently praying for him are a net-loss. In this time of his greatest need, it isn't atheists who are providing him companionship, comfort and encouragement. It is his Christian friends.

If he does not wish to come to faith because of the "coercion" of terminal illness, he should come to faith because of God's love for him, as exemplified by God's people reaching out to him in his time of deepest illness.

7 posted on 10/15/2010 11:46:54 AM PDT by Guyin4Os (A messianic ger-tsedek)
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To: Kaslin

Can we say “to hell with him” then?

Atheists continually hijack the principles of the Christian worldview — of life and reality — in order to live and function daily. If I punched one of these loudmouths in the face, the objection would come back...”that’s not nice..” Based on WHAT?

Yet, Hitchens continues to spew forth constant denials about the reality of and existence of his Creator.


8 posted on 10/15/2010 11:47:44 AM PDT by Tribemike1
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To: Zionist Conspirator

To be consistent,

a “moralist” who rejects the idea of objective morality and objective right and wrong

cannot object to anything “evil” or “wrong” in the world as those concepts are defined by the individual and are nothing more than an opinion.

No one lives that way, though. They will be afronted when someone “wrongs” them, or will be upset about some evil or suffering in the world.


9 posted on 10/15/2010 11:49:21 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a (de)humanist and a Satanist is that the latter knows who he's working for.)
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To: Zionist Conspirator

I have always figured that if you totally believe in God and you are wrong, you haven’t lost anything. If you don’t believe in God and you are wrong........you best cover your butt because all hell is going to break lose.


10 posted on 10/15/2010 11:52:06 AM PDT by RC2
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To: Kaslin
Hitchens claims to be an atheist but his comments all seem to be directed at religious congregations and their leaders.

There is a major difference between God and religious organizations. Religious organizations and people are human and subject human error, that doesn't prove that God doesn't exist.

11 posted on 10/15/2010 11:54:00 AM PDT by oldbrowser (Welcome to the new workers paradise..)
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To: MrB
No one lives that way, though. They will be afronted when someone “wrongs” them, or will be upset about some evil or suffering in the world.

Exactly!

12 posted on 10/15/2010 11:55:03 AM PDT by Zionist Conspirator (Vehe'emin beHaShem; vayachsheveha lo tzedaqah.)
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To: Zionist Conspirator

I’m an atheist and I am probably of higher moral character than most believers. It does not take a god to instill a good sense of right and wrong.
Those people who think that it takes a belief in god to achieve a higher moral state are a little annoying.


13 posted on 10/15/2010 11:57:02 AM PDT by Captain PJ
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To: Kaslin

Love him, hate him, or pity him, this is a guy who’s dying with class.


14 posted on 10/15/2010 11:57:02 AM PDT by Elwood P. Doud
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To: Kaslin

`Man cannot make a worm but he can create gods.’
Montaigne


15 posted on 10/15/2010 12:00:30 PM PDT by tumblindice (Here's to Christopher, he's a damn fine mammal.)
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To: Captain PJ
I’m an atheist and I am probably of higher moral character than most believers.

Humbler, too.:-)

16 posted on 10/15/2010 12:01:04 PM PDT by SonOfDarkSkies
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To: Captain PJ
I’m an atheist and I am probably of higher moral character than most believers. It does not take a god to instill a good sense of right and wrong. Those people who think that it takes a belief in god to achieve a higher moral state are a little annoying.

Who makes the rules that govern morality in your little world? Do you pull them out of your tachat or do they exist in some sublime Platonic sphere of Ideals?

At least you have the "humility" part down!

17 posted on 10/15/2010 12:05:08 PM PDT by Zionist Conspirator (Vehe'emin beHaShem; vayachsheveha lo tzedaqah.)
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To: SonOfDarkSkies

Again, the Coke on the keyboard...


18 posted on 10/15/2010 12:05:36 PM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: Captain PJ

Why are your morals valid, or more valid than someone else’s that would be in opposition to yours?


19 posted on 10/15/2010 12:07:05 PM PDT by MrB (The difference between a (de)humanist and a Satanist is that the latter knows who he's working for.)
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To: Kaslin
A handful of related threads:
In Drunken Rage, Atheist Guru Hitchens Bullies Hero Priest of 9-11 (Father Rutler!)
Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson
Is Christianity Good for the World ? (The Doug Wilson-Christopher Hitchens debate)
Christopher Hitchens: Faith No More, What I've learned from debating religious people worldwide.
20 posted on 10/15/2010 12:07:07 PM PDT by Alex Murphy ("Posting news feeds, making eyes bleed, he's hated on seven continents")
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