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The Divine Comedy

By Dante Alighieri

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For Christopher Hitchens

Posted on Dec 17, 2011
Mr. Fish

By Mr. Fish

(Page 3)

That’s my point, is obscenity—or God—something we can even have a rational conversation about if we’ve only been conditioned to react to it? Is consciousness an evolutionary flaw?

That’s what I say in my first quotation in the book.

“Oh, wearisome condition of humanity
Born under one law, to another bound;
Vanity begot, and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick, commanded to be sound.”
—Fulke Greville, “Mustapha”

The situation is we’re mammals, we leak and we excrete and then we’re told to forget about that or to deny it. Religion is totalitarian because it demands the impossible. [Like religion], obscenity shuts you down. The secular argument, or the liberal argument, is to, as much as possible, remove taboos so things do not become unmentionable; to let some air into the discussion. I’m old now—I remember when D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley” was banned because the government thought that once you ban the book you can get people to stop thinking about these things. And I remember thinking that’s a mistake, a very obvious mistake. You probably increase the chances of [people] thinking about these things.

Which reminds me of my favorite Lenny Bruce quote.

What’s that?

Knowledge of syphilis is not instruction to get it.

[Chuckles] It was easy to argue this kind of thing in the ’60s, against censorship, against bans on homosexuality, et cetera. Now you do run into people who say, then why would you forbid pedophilia? Would the same standards hold for this? Or snuff movies? Or third trimester abortions? This argument takes place among rationalists and humanists and sociologists. We don’t say that if you allow [these things] we would be comfortable with obscenity. I do think there are lots of things you don’t have to be taught.  Most people don’t have to be taught not to eat dead human beings, let alone to kill them in order to eat them. You don’t have to drill this into children. You don’t have to drill it into children that if one of their parents wants to go to bed with them that they should go and stay at the neighbor’s for the night, you don’t have to. You could say that that’s an argument for a creator with a benevolent view but then you’d have a huge rational argument about why we are programmed to kill and torture and so on. It does show that morality precedes religion, that ethics precedes religion, not the other way around.

Still, I wonder if our survival as a species is something we can will given a consciousness that is able to make its imagination seem real?

We can’t stand far enough outside of our dilemma to think it completely through. It’s like the mind/body distinction. There may not be a distinction. The mind is clever enough to consider the distinction, but it’s not clever enough to get far enough outside the body to arbitrate it.

And that’s the rub.

We don’t know that we’re not dreaming. Look, we can’t resolve these things today. Here’s what I insist on: Those who say they know are out of the argument and should be treated with less respect. We are having, even here in this lobby with the traffic, here in L.A., we’re already having quite a high-level discussion, about things that are fairly imponderable to combat, up against a phalanx of people who say what’s the point in having this discussion? We already know the answer. What’s the point of struggling and arguing and researching? This is what I find hateful.

Some people might accuse you of asking everybody to be comfortable living in a godless universe that is completely indifferent to them. How do you imagine people will go about satisfying their own sense of purpose?

Obviously, it’s not possible for people to do that all of the time, but it is possible for them not to draw any conclusions from their belief that the universe is all about them. If a huge rusted fridge fell through the ceiling and obliterated you without warning, I would think well, that was lucky. Presuming that the fridge was directed at neither of us, it’s not lucky at all. But I would not be human if I didn’t think it was a bit of luck. This is why religion can’t be beaten, because it does derive from all these forms of selfishness, self-centeredness, fantasy and so on. Fine, I concede to that, but then why do people keep saying that I have to respect it? I don’t have to respect any belief, nor do you, that a rusted fridge that killed you and didn’t kill me was a piece of luck. You do not have to respect that. You can recognize it and see where it comes from. You can analyze it, you can even sympathize with it. You can’t really say that I insist also that you respect it.

There is in religion, however, some practical application. Take, for instance, the very radical notion that the meek have some intrinsic value. African-Americans, just to take an obvious example, were told for centuries that they were something much less than human, so for them to have access to a Bible that tells them that they are significant, that white society doesn’t determine their worth, is, well, significant. For them it was a belief system that acknowledged, and still does in large part, that they were human beings that were being mistreated. Respecting that aspect of religion doesn’t demand that you also kowtow to superstition. 

Of course, of course, I see what you’re saying. Since there’s no justice in this world, there better be some justice on offer in the next. Again, you can see where it comes from, fine. It’s the same when Karen Armstrong [author of “The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions”] writes about Islam. Arabs were being teased by Jews and Christians, “You haven’t had a prophet yet.” Well, they were going to get one, weren’t they? Then you have the Archangel Gabriel appear to some fucking peasant merchant who can’t read, exactly borrowed from the [Judeo-Christian] faith. Yes, of course I understand that, but it’s too much to ask me to believe it. It’s too much to ask me to respect it. It’s too much like I would be, too much like myself. I can’t respect something that follows my own wish fulfillment. I don’t. The last time I prayed was for an erection. Don’t ask me if I got it or not—who cares?

* * *

Having had just enough Sunday school to know the story of Lot’s wife and how to recognize an unhealthy temptation when I heard one, I struggled hard to keep my eyes above c-level and asked Hitchens a final question about whose existence was easier to disprove, Henry Kissinger’s or God’s. He laughed and said that it was the same process for eviscerating each high-profile Jew in print and that, essentially, the quantitative differences between nonexistent entities was not measurable, being the difference between the hole in a very old bagel and the hole in a relatively recent one.

When he stood to say goodbye three hours after we began our conversation, I did not stand to shake his hand, not because I was trying to be disrespectful, but rather because I figured a greater disrespect might have been expressed had I fallen down on him. I was drunk. Waiting until I was sure he was a safe distance away, I stood slowly, stacking my vertebrae like hermit crabs beneath a bowling bowl, and zigzagged outside and took a moment to look up at the stars and to recall something that Mark Twain had said: “Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company.” “And back and forth,” I thought to myself, amending the sentiment, “if you have any interest in learning anything about anything.”

Four years later, on the morning of Dec. 16, 2011, I poured myself a glass of red wine and went to the window and toasted the same stars that, although I couldn’t see them, I knew were still there.

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By papabird, December 20, 2011 at 6:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Just a vote of approval for a great journalist who had the courage of his convictions inspite of his flaws He has made his mark by exposing the foolish supernaturalism that has and continually erodes rational thought.

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By John Poole, December 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Leefeller: I have no business disparaging the fellow but I guess I DO have a
need to say he did not necessarily lead a heroic life in my opinion.  He had a clear
and deep need to fly his atheism banner while exposing and mocking the toxic
ignorance and monstrous mendacity of the overwhelming majority of our species
who hide under the slimy rock of dogmatic religion. That is way too intellectually
easy to do in these times but if it made him happy then fine. I just do not find it
heroic or even notable.

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By Leefeller, December 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment

A most memorable quote by C. Hitchens which emulates my thoughts on the topic of Religion as I prefer to see them!

” I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.”


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By Joe the unlicensed plumber, December 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment

I have not written to praise CH or to bury him. I only wish to make a few comments as a person of faith. Now all who worship at the altar of ‘Hitchens’ can pronounce me a fool and get on with their day.

I have not made a thorough study of Hitchens books and philosophy but base my comments on hearing his debates and interviews on TV and u-tube. I just finished reading his bio info on Wikipedia. Very impressive!

He has challenged my beliefs and ended up strengthening them. His vivid examples in the error of strict literal Bible interpretation in particular have helped me to understand the mistakes made by many fundamental Christians. But to throw out the entire text on this basis seems a drastic measure.

Hitchens always gave me the impression of blaming all evil in the world on religion while ignoring any good works done by the institutions.  This demonstrates a huge blind spot in his understanding. The people who carried out the crusades and burned witches were no more devout Christians than Osama Bin Laden was an accurate representative of the Muslim faith. Everything done in the name of religion cannot be blamed on religion. Ten minutes listening to a GOP political debate should be conclusive evidence of this.

I always found him to be intelligent and his arguments compelling. But the same can be said of Newt Gingrich. Both are considered to be skilled debaters and able to sway the audience initially. But will their ideas hold up to close scrutiny over time?

Hitchens with his incredible gifts and intellect could have been a force for constructive positive action but chose instead to spend his time in an attempt to destroy the faith, character, and reputation of others who believe a supreme intelligence does indeed stand above this universe and our limited human intelligence, yes even CH’s.

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By Leefeller, December 20, 2011 at 11:28 am Link to this comment

John Poole,

Though it may be prudent not to fly a personal banner in the face of the dangerously ignorant if one is planning to educate them, I do not believe Hitchens was attempting to teach the ignorant, he was far to enlightened.  He was showing the ugly under belly and exposed the rather hairy ass of ignorance for what it is!

Firefly, yes Hitches was just as enlightening in disagreement as he was caustic in agreement, I will miss his wit! I would loved to have been in Mr. Fish’s shoes drinking ‘whatthefuck’ with Sir. Hitchens!

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By firefly, December 20, 2011 at 10:23 am Link to this comment

I think Hitchens was an incredible man with
unbelievable insight. He’s the kind of man I would
have loved to talk to, have debates with and learn
from, even when I didn’t agree with him (which was
often). I agreed with him about religion, although he
picked on Islam more than any other religion which
was unfair because it was based on the politics in
the US, 9/11 and the build-up to the Iraq war.

He had a fascinating debate with his brother, Peter
Hitchens, who is a devout Christian. I ended up
agreeing with one on one topic and the other on
another: Christopher on atheism, Peter on his stand
against war! And in one sense, Peter proved the true
teachings of Christ by being anti-war, forgiving and
merciful (something that the US war machine
definitely is not!)

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By John Poole, December 20, 2011 at 7:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Defining oneself as an atheist to me is a veiled macho boast and as juvenile as
claiming there IS a bigger tougher alpha male hovering above. It is using a
negative to explain oneself and suggests a combative temperament. Enlightened
minds don’t fly such a personal banner while trying to educate those who they
consider dangerously ignorant.

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By Night-Gaunt, December 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment

One thing Hitchens wasn’t was Liberal nor Progressive if he ever was one at all. Not in my book is he anywhere close to me in those areas of war, peoples’ rights and woman’s right to control their body he is on the other side with those gaggle of dangerous goofs running for office of the president today. If it weren’t for his flagrant Atheism he’d have been embraced by the tentacled octopus that is the fascist theocratic right wing. He fits all their parameters but the religious part. So in that he was still called “Liberal” but I for one would never count him so. And any who do are either willfully blind or ignorant of him and his works.

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By Oceanna, December 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment

“Couple of comments, first I apprentice the interview Mr. Fish, it provides an
enlightening insight into the real Hitchens!”

Huh—apprentice as in Trump’s?  I think APPRECIATE was intended. 

Sorry, but HItchens is a far cry from George Carlin or Gore Vidal when it comes
to atheist spokespersons.

What do you find mentally deficient about the views here, especially the ones
that give Hitchens accountability for endorsing the Iraq War and others? 

I won’t say who your intolerance and inflammatory rhetoric against views
contrasting with your own remind me of.  But thanks for illustrating one of my
earlier points!

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By miroslav, December 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm Link to this comment

and here is Katha Pollitt on the Hitch, I’d agree with
most everything she says: http://www­.thenation­.com/blog/­

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By Leefeller, December 19, 2011 at 10:44 am Link to this comment

Couple of comments, first I apprentice the interview Mr. Fish, it provides an enlightening insight into the real Hitchens!

Reading most of the other posts here, I am not hard pressed to ask ‘who let the barking Dogmas out?’..... so tis posters sound to be…. ‘It is always about me’, inseminating from these same annoying mental deficient posters,  obviously suggests Hitchens comments flew right over their butt licking heads!

Thanks Mr. Fish for sharing, yes a toast to Hitch and many more to come!

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By Oceanna, December 19, 2011 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

“Behavior is as important as any other trait we or any life form has.”

True that.  More often than not, ideology is not in sync with a person’s actions. 

Hitchens presented himself on the left along with the media.  Despite plenty of
evidence to the contrary—e.g., joining the right with Clinton impeachment
attempts, kowtowing to the neocons in the Bush admin, supporting the
oxymoron of humanitarian intervention, etc. 

RIP, Hitchens.  Your feet obviously weren’t well coordinated with your mouth, 
but you deserve credit for maintaining your faith in the face of death.

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By ACT I, December 19, 2011 at 9:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Two points:  (1) I’ve never read one of his books—and don’t think that I’ve missed anything.  (2) Granted that religion has been an evil force in the past; today (in the U. S. at least) it is merely irrelevant—which, though, is a type of evil

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By GoyToy, December 19, 2011 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

Said it once before on this site, and will say it again: the guy was a total dick

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By tony_opmoc, December 19, 2011 at 8:31 am Link to this comment

So, the front page of Truthdig is crammed with
articles about Christopher Hitchens. The fact that no
one doubted his intelligence, made his position even
worse when he became a neocon cheer leader for the
war on Iraq. In my view this makes him and his small
army of fellow writers even more guilty than the
soldiers in the US army who committed the most
grievous atrocities against completely innocent, men
women and children (documented and photographed - but
not investigated) that I have ever seen.

You won’t want to see this video so don’t watch it.
This is simply an example of the truth.

“On the Dark Side in Al Doura - A Soldier in the
Shadows” “As Troops Pull Out of Baghdad, Secret
Killings and Massacres by US Come to Light”

This slideshow is much gentler, but still horrific.

Baghdad Before and After

The devastation to the morality and financial future
of ordinary Americans is nearly as great. This is
what the deployment of the views of Christopher
Hitchens has left.


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By Nap, December 18, 2011 at 11:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In a shower?  And why not “jesus doesn’t want me for a sunbeam”, But the prophet of atheism was a NeoConTortionArtist with disdain for the barbarians organized religions? And spit shine for the love and humanity in the empires, so enough of this moping now, get another glass of whatthefuck and I will leave you alone.

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By Night-Gaunt, December 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm Link to this comment

When it comes down to it it is the human factor that is important. Though the religious, or ideological framework from which they operate is very important to their command and control. Blame evolution for it. Behavior is as important as any other trait we or any life form has.

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By siddhanta, December 18, 2011 at 10:42 am Link to this comment

Apart from the numerous fanatical religious leaders who
have misrepresented their faiths by imposing dogmatic
and draconian practices on their naive followers, there
is definitely a ubiquitous earthly presence of pure-
hearted, morally upright and magnamimous folk that
subscribe to the spiritually pure teachings of prophets
and divine personalities who have provided all of us
with the indispensable mores and ethics through which we
find meaning and order in an otherwise chaotic world.

Please don’t throw out the baby with the bath water by
attempting to discredit all mystic traditions and their
wonderfully transcendent wisdom and miraculous pastimes
based on the aberrant and insidious movements of those
who used religion to gain political power over the
For every harmful religious dogma and religious fanatic
there is an equally damaging atheistic dogma or leader
of a secular movement that has perpetrated horrific
crimes on humanity.

Without creating a score card or Venn diagram to
illustrate this graphically, we can point to several
phenomena of the past few centuries as evidence that
secularism in society is catastrophic for all living
beings on this planet. First, the emergence of
capitalism with its most insidious by-products, the
industrial revolution, mass production, environmental
pollution, consumerism, unsustainable economic growth,
and unequal distribution of wealth is due to the
preeminence of materialism and science born of the
enlightenment which replaced the supremacy of religion
as Europeans occupied the Americas and annihilated the
aboriginal peoples and their earth-friendly, humane,
spiritually-based life principles and practices.
Then in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as
greed-inspired capitalism, bereft of the moral and
spiritual guidance of the church, morphed into
communism, socialism, fascism and Keynesian monetarism,
we witnessed the horrors of two world wars, and
countless other armed conflicts with no end in sight.
So when people like Christopher Hitchens, God bless his
soul, rampage against God and religion, we need to be
reminded that humanity’s only saving grace in these dark
times is a reawakening of our spiritual consciousness by
rediscovering the mystic traditions of our ancestors and
adhering to the pure teachings without falling victim to
the dogma and demagoguery of false prophets and

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By siladas, December 18, 2011 at 3:44 am Link to this comment

It is a sad, but telling, sign of the times when the only people left to revere are alcoholics who have lived their lives repressing their real human vulnerability and trauma in favor of egoistic ranting. Mr Fish, what are you numbing in yourself, that allows you to revere the work of a man who lived in complete dissociation from the brutal effects of his actions and speech - poignantly, those you portray with such clarity in your cartoons?

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By balkas, December 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment

it had been reported a decade or so ago that mother teresa
said that she stopped believing in god.
i agree that charity or any personal dogooding only helps
perpetuate crime against people that mother teresa was
supposedly helping.
it shld have been their inalienable right to get food, shelter,
medicine, medical care, etc. tnx, bozhidar balkas. vancouver

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By balkas, December 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment

yes, the word “cunt” and “vagina” are cut in our brains or part of the brain
that controls the words and/or their meanings.
the first label had been imbued with much unknowledge and the latter not
at all.
no matter how hard i try to consider the word “cunt” as a good and
inoffensive label, i cannot do it unless i excise that part of the brain which
controls the meanings of that word.
it is just like a song cut into a CD or record disc; their melodies cannot be
too bad, but that’s how it seems to be. belief or knowing that god exists
and knowing what he wants us to think/do is also embedded in our brains.
i was spared that operation; thus, the word god means to me
prejudice/ignorance. tnx

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By rumblingspire, December 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

thanks mr fish for a invigorating discussion.

“Still, I wonder if our survival as a species is something we can will given a consciousness that is able to make its imagination seem real?”

I agree with Hitchens, that we need to laugh at and dismiss the superstitious.  I’ve heard both Hitchens and Hedges, within the last two days, say that morality and ethics are in the Heart; our imagined heart.  Religion did not free the slaves.  the heart did.

The Electric Prunes - Wind-up Toys

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By thedancinmachine, December 17, 2011 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

thank Hitchens for exposing what an evil monster mother thersea was.getting tens of millions a year for her"clinic, which didnt have doctors or nurses or medicine or beds or decent food or clean water or electricity.she should have been indictied for fraud. if your kid was dyin of cholera she didnt have an iv drip. she and her nuns layed him on a dirty blanket and prayed for his soul. but she went to the finest hospitals in the world. also like the last 2 popes she told women in areas of aids ground zero if you use a condom youll go to hell.[knowing this caused aids]. nice. maybe thats how you act if ya dont get layed in 90 years.

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