"We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes - one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
"Why do humans exist? A major part of the answer: because Pikaia Gracilens survived the Burgess decimation."
— Christopher Hitchens
Being a public intellectual in America is not easy. Even more difficult is being a public intellectual that matters in a culture that prizes populism and frivolous entertainment over intellectual honesty. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him on the several issues he covers it is always challenging, stimulating and worth discussing.
"Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter." Dr. Martin Luther King
Life is too short to be silent. Most men go to the grave with the song still in them. Hitchens cannot be accused of that. Whatever the outcome with this blow of fate his writing and voice have been heard. When it comes to death we are all comrades. The uncertainty of life and the certainty of death unite all of us who come to this existence on this blue planet.
"The powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse." — Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass)
Hitchens: It’s not for everybody. Not everyone wants to always be an outcast or out of step or against the stream. But if you do feel that the consensus doesn’t speak for you, if there’s something about you that makes you feel that it would be worth being unpopular or marginal for the chance to lead your own life and have a life instead of a career or a job, then I can promise you it is worthwhile, yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: What’s the worst part of it(Cancer)? Is it -- it puts some sense of mortality in your focus?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: No, because I think the focus on mortality is a useful thing to have, and that’s why I begin my book with it. You should always know--
CHARLIE ROSE: Before you knew.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: -- that your time is very limited, and that you’re lucky to live in a time and place where you can be healthy until you’re 60, as I was. Most people in history never had a chance even to hope for a thing like that. So, no for the avoidance of hubris, I think it’s good to have a sober feeling of the presence of death.
Zarathustra, however, remained standing, and just beside him fell the body, badly injured and disfigured, but not yet dead. After a while consciousness returned to the shattered man, and he saw Zarathustra kneeling beside him. "What art thou doing there?" said he at last, "I knew long ago that the devil would trip me up. Now he draggeth me to hell: wilt thou prevent him?"
"On mine honour, my friend," answered Zarathustra, "there is nothing of all that whereof thou speakest: there is no devil and no hell. Thy soul will be dead even sooner than thy body: fear, therefore, nothing any more!"
The man looked up distrustfully. "If thou speakest the truth," said he, "I lose nothing when I lose my life. I am not much more than an animal which hath been taught to dance by blows and scanty fare."
"Not at all," said Zarathustra, "thou hast made danger thy calling; therein there is nothing contemptible. Now thou perishest by thy calling: therefore will I bury thee with mine own hands."
When Zarathustra had said this the dying one did not reply further; but he moved his hand as if he sought the hand of Zarathustra in gratitude.
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. -Kafka
Live to the point of tears. -Albert Camus
I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart. - Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Need one go through the problems in the world due to lack of critical and free inquiry? I defend the New Atheism on the basis that it goes where others will not due to polite society(Neo Victorianism) and gives some people the chance to break free from religious dogma and the tyrannies of the mind.
Let me paint a picture for you. Religious dogma is a thick sheet of ice and the person is trapped underneath it. To use a quote from Kafka it sometimes takes an Axe to break the frozen sea. I see the New Atheism as an Axe that for some it isthe only instrument to break the sheet of ice and allow them some fresh air of reason and scientific wonder. For those individuals the New Atheism was a necessary good. I think religious liberals feel that their thin ice of religion is being attacked by that Axe and it seems superfluous. I think that is the misunderstanding. The New Atheism is most beneficial for the thick ice not the thin ice.
For some people they don’t even realize there is a world beyond the ice sheet and for those people I see the New Atheism as a benefit. Now that does not mean it is completely without fault. There could be problems with the style and delivery that turn people off or make them go deeper into dogma. Perhaps a more indirect approach of wonder and skepticism is better to thaw the ice instead of break it with a blunt instrument. A warmth of intellectual stimulation would be better to thaw out the ice of dogma for some. For me the writings of Ernest Becker and Gerry Spence were important in thawing out my ice sheets of the mind. But I also understand that the Axe can be necessary for breaking the frozen sea within some of us. And when I think of Spence and Becker's writings they are quite blunt with powerful imagery in their use of syntax.
There has been a critique of the Dawkins and Hitchens Atheism as too aggressive, militant, angry, and simple. This New Atheism is uncultured, unsophisticated and lacks theological and philosophical nuances. Ironically this critique comes from the far right religious fundamentalists along with the academic left. Strange bedfellows but they are both invested in protecting the status quo. Some on the Academic left (for example Karen Armstrong) see religion as an ornament of culture and it should be studied and appreciated as part of the human fabric. Academically speaking this is something reasonable to consider –to be dispassionate, apolitical and passive with the subject you are studying. Unfortunately most people do not have the access to all that Academia offers to take part in a grand study of religion. Not only do they not have the access to an opportunity of research but - this is important - they do not even have the dispositionto study something from afar because the religion owns everything they see. When one is under the thumb of dogma it is impossible to rise to the heights of freethought.
Religion is a real force in parts of society and the impact is real in the lives of people. It is not benign and the attacks on science education, sex education and free inquiry are very real. There is a growing culture of anti-intellectualism and it should not be taken lightly by anyone who prizes a liberal education. I know there is good reason for the suspicions of Western Imperialism &Colonialism but somehow this suspicion has been widened to the New Atheism which is looked at as a form of the previous hubris(Possibly because of Hitchens politics on War). And this is where I think Karen Armstrong and others like her see religion as a part of culture and therefore should be protected to a certain extent from aggressive atheism. It is out to destroy culture and the status quo. Parts of the academic left see no distinction between religion and culture, the religious right sees it as the only culture worth protecting, and the New Atheism is a destructive and blunt object of a movement to both. For me the status quo is not something to protect but to be challenged. Not to make the world a utopia but to allow for free inquiry and expression. Nothing should be beyond the right to question.
For a large number of people in the world religion is a real influence in life that takes on many forms that are not always soft or benign. Religion often gets in the way of a child’s full potential to education and greater vision. For this reason alone I cannot view religion as something to behold in passive appreciation. There are other foes to contend with such as racism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, fascism and many other isms so it should be acknowledged that there are many variables to the problems in the world and humans with or without religion have a will to power that needs to be checked by the persistent voice of reason.
"Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter" Dr. Martin Luther King
Author of Blog
Born in the United States of America. Spent my Childhood in Kenya, East Africa. Graduate of George Mason University in Global Affairs with a concentration in Africa and the Middle East. What I desire is not total agreement but thoughtful people. To share ideas and expand knowledge in the era of globalization.