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Christopher Hitchens: Religion Poisons Everything

Posted on Jun 6, 2007
Edward McNamara

By Jon Wiener

Editor’s note: Christopher Hitchens died Thursday, Dec. 15. (You can find Truthdig Editor Robert Scheer’s remembrance of his friend here.) Jon Wiener spoke with Hitchens in 2007 about his views on religion and the book that would turn out to be one of the milestones of Hitchens’ career. For more on the subject, you can read Mr. Fish’s remembrance of and interview with the public intellectual here.


In his latest book, “God Is Not Great,” Christopher Hitchens makes the case against religion and for “free inquiry and open-mindedness.”  Hitchens, of course, is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, a visiting professor of liberal studies at the New School, and author of many books.  He spoke recently with Truthdig’s Jon Wiener.

Jon Wiener:  You show in your book how many horrible things men have done because of religion. In Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade and Baghdad, men kill other men, and say God told them to do it.  But why blame God for the bad things that men do?

Christopher Hitchens: I don’t blame God.  I blame religion.  I don’t believe there is such a thing as God. Religion makes people do wicked things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. It doesn’t make them behave better—it makes them behave worse.  You couldn’t get people to hack away at the genitals of their newborn children if they didn’t think there was a religious obligation to do so. The licenses for genocide, slavery, racism, are all right there in the holy text.

Wiener: Yes, the Old Testament is full of these horrors.  But it also contains the Ten Commandments, prohibiting killing, stealing, adultery, and lying—isn’t this a good thing?


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Hitchens:  No.  it’s not.  Because these are prefaced by a series of injunctions to fear a permanent, unalterable dictatorship.  The first three commandments say “just realize who’s boss.”  Let’s assume the story of Moses is true, even though archaeologists have utterly discredited it.  Do our Jewish ancestors have to put up with the insult from us at this late stage that, until they got to Sinai, they thought murder and theft and perjury were OK?  Of course not.  There would have been no such people if they thought that.  There has never been a society or civilization that did warrant those things. And you don’t need divine urging to see that they’re wrong yourself.

Wiener: There’s one other commandment, the tenth—thou shalt not covet.

Hitchens: That is a particularly horrible crime of dictatorship, namely the crime of thought.  It says you can’t even think about this.  To say you’re not allowed to steal your neighbor’s possessions—including his wife—that’s one thing.  But to say you’re not allowed to envy your neighbor is absurd.  It’s impossible.  And the spirit of envy can lead to ambition and innovation and initiative.  I would say that’s an immoral commandment.
Wiener: Let’s talk about Islam.  You point out that the 9/11 terrorists said Allah wanted them to fly planes into buildings.  But there are something like a billion Muslims in the world today, and only 19 of them flew planes into the World Trade Center.  Why hold all of Islam responsible for the acts of those 19?

Hitchens:  I don’t.  Islam in fact has one advantage over Christianity—it doesn’t have a papacy.  There is no center that can say “we condemn this” or “we support this,” the way the church supported Franco Spain and said prayers in Germany on Hitler’s birthday by order of the Vatican.  But the centers of legislation and authority in the Islamic world, such as Al-Azhar University in Cairo, have a lot of difficulty condemning suicide bombing.  In fact they’ve never got around to doing it.  They can’t seem to condemn even the blowing up of other Muslims—in Iraq, for instance, where they are blowing up each other’s children and each other’s holy places. No words seem to come from either Sunni or Shiite religious authorities there or elsewhere in the world saying “this is wrong.”  That’s because they don’t really think it is.  If it’s done for their cause, they surreptitiously sympathize with it, and you can detect that surreptitious sympathy if you read any of the statements from the Muslim authorities.  That’s a grave crisis for Islam—and for us, too.

Wiener: Are you saying Islam is worse than other religions?  It seems to me your position has to be that all religions are equally bad.

Hitchens: The position I take in the book is, of course, that all religion is equally stupid and an expression of contempt for reason and an exaltation of the idea of faith, of believing things without evidence.  But that doesn’t mean I think a Quaker and a Bin Laden are exactly the same.  They all have individual disadvantages.  I would say that, with Catholicism, the mad insistence on celibacy is peculiarly deforming.  With Islam, the problem is that it claims to be the last and final revelation.  All that’s required now is that everybody realize the truth of this book.  That’s extremely dangerous preaching, in my opinion.

Wiener: Don’t Christian fundamentalists say pretty much the same thing?

Hitchens: Yes they do.  But I think there is a real problem with Islam of intolerance in that way—it forbids itself to have a reformation.  That’s fanatical and actually murderous right now.

Wiener: Is the problem you have been describing religion per se, or is it the monotheistic religions of the West: Judaism, Christianity, Islam?  Are Eastern religions different and better?  Especially Buddhism, with its compassion for all living things; especially Tibetan Buddhism, with its impressive leader, the Dalai Lama.

Hitchens: The Dalai Lama claims to be a hereditary god and a hereditary king.  I don’t think any decent person can assent to that proposition. You should take a look at what Tibet was like when it was run by the lamas.  Buddhism has some of the same problems as Western religion.  Zen was the official ideology of Hirohito’s fascism that was used to conquer and reduce the rest of Asia to subservience.  The current dictatorship in Burma is officially Buddhist.  The Buddhist forces in Sri Lanka are the ones who began the horrific civil war there with their pogroms against the Tamils in the 1950s and 1960s.  Lon Nol’s army in Cambodia was officially Buddhist.

Wiener: Let’s talk about the U.S.  Polls show that 94 per cent of Americans believe in God, and 89 per cent believe in heaven; of those, three-fourths think they will go to heaven, but only 2 per cent think they will go to hell.  This seems laughable, but what’s the harm in people believing they will go to heaven after they die—and see their mothers there?

Hitchens: All you have to do is promise them 72 virgins, and they’ll kill to get there. That’s what’s wrong with it, along with the fact that it’s a solipsistic delusion.  And the spreading of delusion in the end isn’t a good thing, because credulous and deluded people are easy to exploit.  People arise who are aware of that fact. 

If belief in heaven was private, like the tooth fairy, I’d say fine.  But tooth fairy supporters don’t come around to your house and try to convert you.  They don’t try to teach your children stultifying pseudo-science in school.  They don’t try to prevent access to contraception.  The religious won’t leave us alone.  These are not just private delusions, they’re ones they want to inflict on other people. 

Wiener: Of course, you are right that we have Pat Robertson and, until recently, Jerry Falwell, saying horrible things in the name of religion. Both welcomed 9/11 as payback for America’s tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.  But we have also had Martin Luther King and Daniel Berrigan and William Sloane Coffin.  Why not conclude that religion can lead people to do good things as well as bad?

Hitchens: Let me start with a question: Can you name a moral action taken, or a moral statement made, by a believer that could not have been made by an atheist?  I don’t think so.  I’ll take your case at its strongest—that would be Dr. King. Fortunately for us, he wasn’t really a Christian, because if he had followed the preachments in Exodus about the long march to freedom, he would have invoked the right that the Bible gives to take the land of others, to enslave other tribes, to kill their members, to rape their women, and to destroy them down to their uttermost child.  Fortunately for us, he didn’t take that route. 

The people who actually organized the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin and A. Phillip Randolph, were both secularists and socialists.  The whole case for the emancipation of black America had already been made perfectly well by secularists. I don’t particularly object to the tactic of quoting the Bible against the white Christian institutions that maintained at first slavery and then segregation.  But there’s no authority in the Bible for civil rights—none whatever.  There is authority for slavery and segregation.

The widespread view among white liberals that black people in some way prefer to be led by preachers is a condescending one.  It leaves out heroes of the movement like Rustin and Randolph, and has licensed the assumption that people like Jesse Jackson and, much worse, a complete charlatan and thug like Al Sharpton, are somehow OK because they’ve got the word “Reverend” in front of their names.  That’s done enormous damage, not just to black people, but to the country in general.  It’s the Falwell equivalent.

Wiener: What about practical politics for progressives: since almost all Americans believe in God, for progressives to attack, ridicule and dismiss religion as you do is political suicide that will ensure religious Republican domination forever.  Instead, we must argue that God is not on their side, and we must respect the fact that people belong to different communities of belief.

Hitchens: If you want to argue that God is not on their side, you can’t argue “that’s because he’s on my side”—you have to argue there is no such person. Marxism begins by arguing that people have to emancipate their minds. The beginning of that emancipation is outgrowing of religion.  If religion were true, there would be no need for politics; you’d only need to have faith.

Wiener: I know you’ve often been told that everybody has faith in something—for most Americans, it’s Jesus; for you, it’s reason and science.

Hitchens: That’s not faith, by definition.  You can’t have faith in reason.  It’s not a dogma.  It’s a conviction that this is the only way that discovery and progress can be made.

Wiener: The intelligent person’s argument for religion is that religion and rationality don’t compete—they deal with different parts of life.  Religion answers questions that science doesn’t: Why do the innocent suffer? What is the meaning of life?  What happens when we die? 

Hitchens: I wish it was true.  But, in fact, religion doesn’t keep its part of the bargain here.  It incessantly seeks to limit first discoveries and innovation in science and then their application.  Galileo, of course, but more recently discoveries about the possibilities of limiting the size of your family.  Really, they don’t want us to reconsider our place in the universe, because if we face the fact that we live on a tiny speck in an immense universe, it’s going to be difficult to convince people it was all created with that tiny speck in mind.  It’s not possible to believe that nonsense if you have any interest in science.

Wiener: The final killer argument of your critics is that Hitler and Stalin were not religious.  The worst crimes of the 20th century did not have a religious basis.  They came from political ideology.

Hitchens: That’s easy. Hitler never abandoned Christianity and recommends Catholicism quite highly in “Mein Kampf.”  Fascism, as distinct from National Socialism, was in effect a Catholic movement. 

Wiener: What about Stalin?  He wasn’t religious.

Hitchens: Stalin—easier still.  For hundreds of years, millions of Russians had been told the head of state should be a man close to God, the czar, who was head of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as absolute despot.  If you’re Stalin, you shouldn’t be in the dictatorship business if you can’t exploit the pool of servility and docility that’s ready-made for you.  The task of atheists is to raise people above that level of servility and credulity.  No society has gone the way of gulags or concentration camps by following the path of Spinoza and Einstein and Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

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By Mark Colby, June 14, 2007 at 6:54 am Link to this comment


I’m not ignoring you.  Your post #77766 wasn’t addressed to me.

If you want me to reply to you, you need to show more respect, like the kind I’ve shown you.  I don’t have a “slavish adoration” of philosophy, and it’s not “kinda cute.”  If this is what you think of philosophy and my posts, then perhaps I should ignore you as I would be wasting my time and exposing myself to the thoughtless ridicule of an ignorant person who trivializes reason and critical thinking as “cute.”

You appear to be somewhat confused.  Why do you chastise me for seemingly ignoring your post yet deride my profession as “cute”?  You can’t have it both ways.

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By AustnRy, June 14, 2007 at 3:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Last Part…5…

I like what R. Buckminister Fuller said:  “We’ve come up with all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”  Or Einstein: “Our technology is quickly overcoming our humanity.”  Space is not (hu)man’s final frontier.  The soul is the final frontier.  And neither religion nor technology is going to solve our conundrums and corruptions—nor will they resolve the insolvency of our ethical and spiritual conditions.  Rather, they will likely make them worse.

Spirituality on the other hand, will allow us to keep the right technology for the right reasons, abolishing some, inventing some others, to finally have our humanity catch up, and maybe learn a thing or 3 (thousand) about what we should be doing with our lives and each other.  Hmmm… Love?  Learn?  Grow?  Maybe not kill ourselves and this planet?

That’ll do it for me.  I really hate having to be so verbose:  Complex explanations for surprisingly simple topics.  ‘Been fun, but I gotta run.  Thank you…

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By AustnRy, June 14, 2007 at 3:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

(Part 4…)

I am more apt to observe and recognize, much like the Gaia Hypothesis, that the Universe is, like the planet Earth, “alive”:  A huge-beyond-our-current-measure, unfathomingly intelligent, sophisticated yet simple, utterly Pattern-Creative, transformable/evolve-able, omni-present, almighty living construct of IT’s own design and evolution.  The Intelligence resides within. 

If an intelligence ‘without’ existed before this Existence, becoming one with (joining to—maybe like sexual intercourse?) at the previous Point of Singularity (following that theory) was probably the easiest means by which to define the Universal Constants.  Osmosic Absorptive Universal Constant Impregnation/Conception/Birth/Orgasm all-in-one.  Idea/Potential and Matter/Energy become one.  And its an orgy that’s still happening to this day.  That’s some Big gang-Bang.

No worries, Mr. Hitchens, The IS isn’t a man or a Father.  Perhaps more like a Mother, for the creative aspects.  Really though, both.  People are but one variety of reflections of this Pattern. Yin/yang, again.  Could we say that the Universe is the Mother and that the Architect that defined the Universal Constants is the Father?  Perhaps.  But we haven’t any evidence to indicate that there was or is a “Father”.  But we do have the Mother.  And “she” seems to be doing just fine, as though she’s been doing it all along without some clumsy man to ‘help’.

Everything we’ll ever find in western religious—that wasn’t obviously and similarly concluded by secular or “pagan” peoples—is the product(s) of at least one of several major events/processes:  1)  People just trying to make sense of their world without much a previous explanation—or an effort to improve upon some previous explanation; 2) People who witnessed what they did and had various ways of explaining what they saw—with often conflicting view-points, most of which we never hear about; 3) People with less scrupulous motives seeking to manipulate the masses and change/edit/dismiss/re-invent the original messages or invent new messages and false testimony altogether to fit their own tyrannical, greedy goals; or 4) Extra-terrestrial influence at various intervals.

I would reckon that the first 3 of these are definite, and the 4th has high probability.  Could we consider that some day human technological efforts will be capable of traveling to distant solar systems, finding planets with the “liveable” stuff (water, carbon, various minerals, etc.) and then “germinating” the planet with life?  We have the very early beginnings of that technology now… In a 100 or 200 years, will we be someone else’s “ET’s”.  If our planet and solar system is but 5 or 6 billion years old, and the rest of the Universe is at least 15 billion, then could there be other planets/civilizations/creatures more evolved or technologically advanced than we?  Surely if they were just a few hundred years (by our pattern of development) ahead of us, they would have already been here.  How about 5 billion years?  Plenty of time in the Universe to make something happen.

Of course then, who or what made them?  Maybe Life just happens, but we have been visited by several ET’s regardless, and maybe some of them have had some influence on us, genetically, religiously and otherwise.  Life is full of patterns that already reflect, in greater detail, patterns pre-existant throughout the Universe.  That’s the simplest explanation.  Like creates like.

End part4 ... see last bit later…

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By AustnRy, June 14, 2007 at 3:16 am Link to this comment
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(Part 3…)

Speaking of Map vs. Territory, consider the dichotomy of people vs. principles.  There have been plenty of severe assholes in the world—still are—who claim to be Christ-Like, Buddha-Like, Muslim, or whatever religion.  Doesn’t make them what they say they are… especially when what they do is utterly contrary to what they espouse/preach.  Dubbya preaches democracy, but we all know what he’s really about.  I would not blame or credit the propaganda (the texts), nor the tenets of any religion for the acts which (hu)man commits, heinous or benevolent.  The Biblical quotes and/or other religous dogmas/texts are but tricks we use to fool ourselves and each other into believing that one is right and another is wrong.

See Richard Rorty on “Overcoming the Urge to Dominant”.  (The way to overcome… is to realize that everyone has had this urge… always will at some point.  No-one stands for “Truth” or “Justice”... anything “other” or “Higher”.  We all stand for ourselves… living in a paradise of individuals where everyone has a right to be heard but no-one has the right to rule.)

Truth is what Governs Life.  Belief (ideas, attitudes, etc.) is what governs our Experience of Life.  So what can we observe/describe as the Truth of Life?  Easy.  Creatures are born, live for a time, and sooner or later die.  The Universe expands and contracts.  There is darkness and there is light.  That which we think/feel/experience as being solid or liquid or gaseous is mostly nothing at all.  Atoms are but energy events—the distance between atoms, relative to their size, is like the distance between stars.  Empty space.  There are numerous patterns in/of the Universe.  Some patterns can be observed instantly.  Others take lifetimes or even centuries of physics or meta-physics or simple trial & error to figure out.  And there is that which we can/should call Love.  Not just what we hold for/give to friends, family and lovers… but, yes, the Love of/from the Big IS.

Oh yes Mr. Hitchens, there is an event/existence something remotely similar to that which many people refer to as “God”.  But not as what most people want it to believe IT as.  I can prove the existence of IT without ever referring to any Biblical or “holy” text.  But you’d have to do your own research… I’ll give you a few clues:  Look at all the Patterns.  Look at the fact that we are having this conversation.  Ummm… Remember, we are the Universe becoming aware of Itself ?  Sounds Pantheistic I know.  But resident within the Universe is some intelligence, an intellect of which we can barely begin to fathom.  IT has made ITself and set the stage for ITself to become aware and even to debate whether or not IT exists.  IT grows, IT lives, IT dies, IT is reborn over and over again.  (Though some say this Existence is the 9th Universe.)

IT creates patterns!  That’s the Big Clues.  There has to be some kind of intelligence in order to create patterns.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here—there would be no patterns.  Call it Mother Nature, or Father Nature if you have to, or both.  But that’s just one theory.

(End Part 3… see part 2 later…)

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By AustnRy, June 14, 2007 at 3:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

(Part 2)...

Like the Yogis and your martial arts instructor says, “Just breathe…”

I can’t say I go for much of what any version of the bible says, the Gnostic texts and Gnostic versions of the Bible (both Hebrew and Christian) perhaps.  King James is the worst.  Can’t even stand to look at it.  Sooner burn it to stay warm than read it.  Thankfully I don’t own a copy.  But there are a few quotes or realizations that I can go for, Koranic and Torahn too—all of which can and have been arrived at by secular folks or other religions/spiritualities for thousands of years.

Makes you wonder where these ideas originally came from.  Everyone, every culture has been capable of these realizations.  Its the most preverse and corrupt cultures/civilizations which have spawned religions.  Prophets come to interfere with injustice.  Ever heard of a Pre-Columbian Native American Messiah?  Of course not.  Their cultures were in tune with “God” and never needed it.

I think that Mr. Hitchens needs to make some distinctions about religion and people:  Don’t confuse the Map for the Territory.  People seem to think/feel that they know God through their texts.  Many even claim that their ‘holy’ texts are the word(s) of God.  This is gonna sound rather blasphemous to the word-believers, but the Bible/Torah/Koran was never written by God—it was written by people, mostly men (pretty much all men) trying to “intrepret” the world around them—whether or not they were listening/seeing.  Ever wonder why God is a He, referred to as Himself, etc. ?  God did not create (hu)man is “his” own image, man created God in his image… you all know this already I’m sure.

But what of the “book” of God?  See Planet Earth for immediate down-load of directly readable reality.  Look to the “celestial” bodies—the rest of the Universe—to find clues to ancient chapters not immediately observable on the Book of the Earth. Many correlations between the two may be found. These are the ONLY things (that which we are currently referring to as) God ever published.  Not the Ten Commandments.  Not the Koran.  Not even the Tao Te Ching or I-Ching or Kama Sutra (even though I place more credence in these texts, as being more holy, that is wholly, honorable and practical).

And God?  Does It exist?  Sure.  I’ve written the word “God” several times so far.  We say it every day, several times each probably, in one language or another.  But God is a poor choice of words.  The word is not that which we are referring to.  Its just that, while the Greeks had a fair notion of breathing/spirit, the Gentiles seemed to think that the 3 different divine creatures/events listed in the original Hebrew/Coptic/Aramaic/etc. versions of the various testiments/texts would be confused by the masses… Or else they sought to confuse the masses by creating the acronym G.O.D. = ‘Gomer’ (strength), ‘Oz’ (wisdom), and ‘Dalar’ (beauty)... all human traits.  Surely “God” is beyond human attributes, beyond comprehension.  The word God is, in our attempts to describe It, an insult to that which we are trying to refer to.  But whatever.  Choose your own language.  Pick your own word and your own reasons why.

(The 3 ‘gods’ of which I am referring are can be basically understood as “EL”, “EL OH”, and “EL OH EEM” in Hebrew.  I might have the phonetic spellings a bit off, but basically we have 3 divine creatures/events:  1) The BIG IS—Supreme Ultimate Absolute Omnipresent Unknowable, 2) The Prophet/Messiah—someone who has a clue to The BIG IS and/or does one heck-of-a-job of interferring with injustice and clues lots of people into what f!ck is really going down, and 3) the “gods” of the earth—people.  The Gentiles, and later the Roman Catholics, just put it all into “G.O.D.”, or just God, and we’ve been confused ever since.)

(End Part 2… see Part 3… later.)

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By AustnRy, June 14, 2007 at 3:03 am Link to this comment
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New to this site… my friend Greg turned me on to it.  Maybe he’ll see my diatribe.  I like the site. Good to see that there are plenty o’ thinking people out there. My response to the Hitchens interview (though having not read his book) could be summed up in few quotes and axioms (some of my own design) that I try to live by:

“Strange a God who mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness, then invented Hell; who frowns upon crimes yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon Himself; and finally with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave worship Him !!!” —Mark Twain

Mark Twain also said:  “Go to Heaven for the climate, (go to) Hell for the company.”  And, “When I reflect upon the number of disagreeable people who I know have gone on to a better world, I am moved to lead a different life.”

It’s better to late at the Golden Gate than to arrive at Hell on time. —that’s Me.

The only thing worse than getting your foot stuck in your mouth is having your head up your ass. —Me too.

Short story Long:  I don’t believe in religion (its for people who haven’t been to hell and can’t fathom going).  Okay, so religions are real and its what many people subscribe to… that’s about as much as anyone needs to “believe”.  What I dig is spirituality (its for people who have already been to hell and don’t want to go back).  But why spirituality?  Let’s take the word spirit—derived from the Greek “spiritus”—to breathe.  Hence, respiration, aspiration, transpiration, inspiration, etc.  Anything that breathes has spirit.  Not just people, animals and plants too.  Everything has spirit.  Even the entire Universe—understanding the ebb and flow, cycles, oscillations, the tides, phases of the moon, the seasons, movements of celestial bodies, and, yes, the entire Universe (or Multiverse perhaps) at least with respect to the Oscillating Big-Bang theory.  Breath(ing), in and out, is the oscillating event/habit which living creatures are in constant tune/reminder/connection with/of the Universe’s Most Constant and Basic Pattern—yin/yang.  Human beings (and maybe some other sentient creatures) are but the Universe becoming aware of itself; the sum total of a minimum of 15 billion (measured-in-earth) years of galactic/eco/bio/social evolution.

Hence, spirituality is all about the cycle of Life/growth (and death, and rebirth)... becoming more and more intelligent, gathering more and more information about ITself, to effectively make necessary changes, even mutations, and experiments for continued and improved Living existence.

Like the Yogis and your martial arts instructor says, “Just breathe…”

(End part 1… see part 2 later…)

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By Shenonymous, June 13, 2007 at 11:56 pm Link to this comment

#77766 Billy the Dik
Somewhat cryptic in your post, I think you are not entirely wrong, but you are not entirely right either. It appears mankind has inexorably risen successfully above instinct beginning about 130,000 years ago. Had it not, we would not be here having 280 plus comments on Hitchens’ interview, nor would we have knowledge of our history at all, and no religions known to exist today would exist at all in the world. The fact that humans, uniquely, can think abstractly along with their reasoning power has given mankind the facility to extend beyond instinct. If you agree with this observation, then you might agree that preservation of the species and the world we live in is now dependent on what we as a world do with our much-improved consciousness.  Although we now have the power to detect moralities, decent or indecent (both of which actually have various values in different cultures and societies), our consciousness allows us to make rational choices.  It is explicitly those differences in cultural values that currently denies world peace and effort to safeguard the planet. We can see that we no longer need to resort to physical violence, the mindless violence of animals. But it is by rational choice whether or not we do.  It would take a massive group of conscious people to cease destructive behavior of an entire society, let alone the world.  A few of the enlightened could not do it.  And how would these people, for instance, stop violence on a world scale? What common definitions must all of humanity embrace to create a moral world? 

Humans are only ever motivated to take any deliberate action out of the emotional pursuit for satisfaction. So what exactly is the religious satisfaction dynamic for humans (and we have to note that humans are the only animals that practice reverence for a god or for the gods) and how does it mandate rational behavior among them? I submit that religions actually prevent the kind of brotherhood so often espoused. It is nearly impossible to understand the true nature of religion if one is a participant in a religion because codified doctrine and dogma, definitions and points of view hinder objective appreciation. In other words, one cannot see the forest for the trees. Moreover, from my experience I find most people do not think it is proper to question their religion. And some are vehement about it.

Although you are right that there are the facts of chemical imbalances and psychopathologies, these are aberrant and actually are irrelevant in the higher scheme of human morality.  Also the idea you proposed that survival instincts developed into cooperative strategies and predate social reaction has long been a focus of understanding in biological and social anthropology.

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By Jon0077, June 13, 2007 at 10:33 pm Link to this comment

The thing is the NT isn’t as jolly as many claim it to be. Like Hitchens said—okay, okay… “He who must not be named” if you prefer—pointed out that in the OT you find racism, genocide, slavery, witch burning, mutilation of infants, etc. etc. That’s all mandated, but when the earth closes over you after these treatments, that’s it. There’s no talk of punishing the dead. Not until gentle Jesus meek and mild is the idea of eternal torture for children who die un-baptized introduced.

We can come across beautiful quotations from Jesus such as, “love your neighbor as yourself,” but in the next instance you can find quotations like “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Sort of makes one wonder why Jesus would say “blessed are the peace makers” if he can’t even serve as an example.

One can come across the Golden Rule and think it wonderful and then come across quotations such as “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27). That doesn’t go well with what you said earlier: ”I don’t condemn non-believers because Jesus didn’t and for the same reasons.” He came to set a man at variance with his family (Matthew 10:35-36), and teach to not think about your life, what to eat, the health of your body or about the clothes you wear (Luke 12:22).

On top of that He says “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18). Cherry picking is dishonest to the Bible and to the teachings of God (or the Son of God if you prefer him over the father assuming you don’t believe in the Trinity). It can be done with any other book, but you can’t do that with an alleged infallible bible. You can’t change its words without being dishonest to its ideas. The only way out amounts to avoiding its intransigence entirely. If we allow the “bad” with the “good” while others attempt to extract the atrocities this leaves the Bible open to limitless variations and indeed, there occurs a plethora of interpretations and hundreds of Bible versions. It’s why history gives examples of Christians fighting Christians over who’s a “True Christian.”

If you wish to see only the Jesus you want to see then you are blinding yourself like when wives blind themselves to their abusive husbands they have and provide excuses after excuses instead of seeing them for who they are. By the way, Jesus condones wars of nations unlike what you said earlier: (Matthew 24:6-7 and also see Mark 13:7-8). And, yes, Jesus judges what you say: “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment,” and, “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

Finally, yes I do agree with your last statement. Love and peace to all! Just realize that your moral intuitions have allowed you to surpass the morality of the Bible (both Old and New) in which you are able to extract those verses which agree with your already established morals and reject the detestable verses. Those not so fortunate like yourself have had their ethics clouded by religious metaphysics.

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By Mark Colby, June 13, 2007 at 10:11 pm Link to this comment


I don’t understand your point in 77736.  I reread your earlier one, as slowly as you might wish, but I still don’t see any validity to your criticism.


I don’t think you understand my view about the nature and limits of science.  If you accept the standard definition of “science,” then nothing you said refutes that view.

First, philosophy is not “idealistic thinking”; it is critical, analytical thinking about the concepts, methods, assumptions, and conclusions of other forms of inquiry like that of science.  Since science only describes phenomena, it cannot be used to “evaluate moral and ethical systems.”  A fact cannot evaluate a value; only another value can evaluate a value.

Second, you stated, “Science can’t determine actions based on desires or superstitions, but morality has a lot to do with right or wrong actions based on survival or rules that apply to human behavior. These kind of actions and behaviors fall right into the realm of science.”

This is partly right but a bit confused.  Science can certainly analyze the biochemical nature of behavior, or reveal how superstitions involve false ascriptions of causality.  But it is necessary to distinguish between action and behavior.  “Behavior” refers to those movements over which we have no voluntary control, like digestion, and for which we cannot be praised or blamed.  Behavior is analyzed in terms of causes, and science identifies those causes.  “Action” refers to those movements which we are free to choose to perform or not to perform, like murder, and for which we can be praised or blamed.  Action is analyzed in terms of reasons and intentions.  Science can explain behavior, but it cannot guide action.  Science cannot provide the values that we use to judge which of all the possible actions humans are capable of are right or wrong, good or evil, just or unjust.

What science can do is provide a range of facts about the natural world or homo sapiens.  All your supposed counter-examples against my view actually support my view.  These facts can and should enter our moral deliberations about which actions are permissible, praiseworthy, blameworthy, etc.  But this means only that morality can call upon science to assist it, as it can economic or political considerations.  But science cannot provide a morality.  The myth that it can is called “scientism,” and it appears from what you wrote that you’ve been seduced by this myth.

Nothing that I’ve said means that I believe that morality must be religiously based.

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By DB Moore, June 13, 2007 at 9:14 pm Link to this comment
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Zen is no more a religion than playing an instrument or weightlifting. Mr. Hitchens had my attention until his ignorance was revealed with his statement concerning Zen. Too bad, I was starting to get interested.

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By Ga, June 13, 2007 at 8:42 pm Link to this comment

“I was talking to a group of people who have been debating for a week.”

Well, yeah. If you meant only those with whom you were discussing things would agree on love and peace, then I took a quote out of context and “rant” with it. Meta discussions warrant my limited attention.

I was just using your quote as an excuse to get back to to subject of religion, specifically ‘my least hated favorite one.’

Hitchens, by the way, is, I would propose, a bit of a facsist himself. A bit of a narcisist perhaps. A bit of a sadist even (see Erich Fromm’s definition).

His is a screed filled with sanctimony which give atheism a bad rap.

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By Ga, June 13, 2007 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment

“Love and peace to all, we can all agree on that I hope.”

The thing is, Mike Mid-City, is that we all DO NOT agree on that. That is, some people DO NOT want to extend love and peace to anyone whom they consider to be “wrong.” Over six hundred and fifty thousand dead Iraqis are proof of this. And how many refugees? And how many millions—yes millions—have died over the decades of economic sanctions?

Christianists are horrible people, turning a blind eye, not the other cheek.

“Thou shall not kill” does not mean, to them, thou shall not kill, but thou shall not kill the innocent. Whether it is labeling a person “criminal” or “combatant” or “terrorist” or “non-believer,” Christianists think that it is totally OKAY to kill those they—THEY—think are “non-innocent.”

For, as you said:

“For the informed Christian, war is the strife between right and wrong or good and evil.”

They are always right and good and all—ALL—others are wrong and evil. And that is why they are truly evil and know not what they do.

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By Jon0077, June 13, 2007 at 5:37 pm Link to this comment

Jon, I could live with a modified “love your neighbor as yourself, but first do no harm dummy.”

And interestingly enough, we can say that without believing that Jesus was born of a virgin. Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.

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By Leefeller, June 13, 2007 at 5:05 pm Link to this comment

#77732 by Max Shields
Max, I do not remember stating that I am an atheist. At this time I would consider myself as a discarded Methodist.  My experiences with the Methodist church were less pleasant for me, than any experiences I had in Vietnam.  Religion has always been questionable to me. This may be were reason comes in to play.  Abstract thought has always been of interest to me.  Hitchens diatribes on the fables of religion make sense to me.  So I am in flux right now, the hypocircy of religion is very apparint in my mind right now .

The spiritualist community is something I am unaware of, my nature and curiosity will let me check out your forward.  Thanks for the comments and forward. ‘

Defining the spirit, the feeling of comfort and awe of the beauty provided for us to revel in was the main topic of a small group of us just yesterday.  I suspect our attempt to dfeine spirit may not be the same spirituality you mentioned?

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By Jon0077, June 13, 2007 at 4:52 pm Link to this comment

Sorry, that last one should’ve had the name Mike Mid-City. That was thoughtless citation on my behalf. wink

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By Jon0077, June 13, 2007 at 4:50 pm Link to this comment

Mark Colby: If you don’t believe in a God, is is okay by me.  It does me no harm, does it?

As long as religious beliefs don’t affect me, my family, my friends, or my government, I could care less what people believe in. In general and historically, you will find that non-believers tend to have more tolerance toward others than any other group of people.  The secular nature of the United States government, for example, allows the freedom for people to pursue happiness however they’d like, as long as they do not infringe on others from their pursuit of happiness.

It should be noted, however, that we have choice between evaluating our beliefs by conversation, or giving credence and cover to the fundamentalists by fueling the cultural taboo of not criticizing religion or belief. Interestingly, many critics of Dawkins try to paint him as mean spirited and fundamentalist atheist, yet anyone who has ever read his books and seen his lectures and interviews knows that he comes off as thoughtful, kind and shows great humor. Hitchens, on the other hand, comes off as downright belittling, and I love it! About time, I say, but his belittling has good reason behind it. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.”

Love your neighbor as yourself.

The religious books do talk about loving your neighbors, at the same time they talk about not showing skin of women or killing the infidels. The God of the Old Testament, as I described, is not at all a good ‘person’. The God is certainly a lot better in New Testament. However, when you pick and choose the good verses out of a religious book, the parameters, those you use, does not certainly come from the religion itself. For example, when you say New Testament is better, you are certainly not using Christianity as a judge. The parameters you use are the effect of the morality that is already with you, assimilated from different sources in your life time.

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By Jon0077, June 13, 2007 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment

Mark Colby: I agree with almost everything in your well-reasoned post.  I just want to make one comment.  You wrote, “I do, however, think that science offers the tools to find workable moral codes.” This cannot be done.  Science, whether natural or social, attempts to describe and explain phenomena by identifying their underlying laws.  Its aim is factual.  Moral codes, on the other hand, attempt to prescribe ideals and rules of conduct.  Their aim is normative.  Even if we eventually develop a complete and final science, it could not tell us how to live rightly.

Nonsense. It comes from just that kind of idealistic thinking that *prevents* humanity from advancing moral systems and serves as one of the reasons why religious moral systems haven’t worked. I submit that science serves as *the most important* tool to evaluate moral and ethical systems.

Of course, science can’t determine actions based on desires or superstitions, but morality has a lot to do with right or wrong actions based on survival or rules that apply to human behavior. These kind of actions and behaviors fall right into the realm of science.

Do you want to know whether the golden rule works in particular situations? Science has something to say about rule based systems. Want to know about whether a certain behavior causes a danger to survival? Consult the scientists. Do you want to know the best way to live in a hostile environment? You can do scientific research to find out. Does race or ethnicity have anything to do with reality? Genetic scientists can tell you the problems of trying to define humans in terms of race. And on it goes.

After all, we humans represent actual living, breathing mammals in nature. Science allows us to see the possible ways to choose the best moral system in this natural universe.

On the contrary, trying to determine morals without understanding the nature behind it represents an extremely dangerous fallacy. Religion is viewed by some as a philosophy when in reality it is a doctrine that tells people what they should or should not do on the basis of the “moral codes” being commanded and with a consequence of divine punishment. There is no discussion of ethics only rules to follow most of the time without question. Moderates have to cherry-pick ethical precepts while discarding the bad. This is dishonest theologically speaking and is actually the path toward atheism if you think about it.

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By Shenonymous, June 13, 2007 at 4:19 pm Link to this comment

RE #77679 Billy the dik

I wouldn’t say rather than, but I would say that the tendencies of moral behavior (what you call decent impulses can also be indecent) are both created and shaped and are acted upon by the social environment. Mores arise in a society as itself develops and as it sees which mores are commonly beneficial, which is part of what it means to have “a friendly association with others,” a society. These mores usually become formalized into its moral code.

And ‘learned” assumptions are fine as long as they are open-ended. All of the philosophers I know have open minds, more so than any other group, actually. One’s body of knowledge can’t be discarded.  Ya gotta listen to Paul Simon, m’friend.

And,...uh, Shewalksinthesunlight…

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By Max Shields, June 13, 2007 at 3:50 pm Link to this comment

#77651 by Leefeller on 6/13 at 10:39 am

I believe you’ve stated you are an atheist. If I’m right, then if you’ll permit me - you’re posts on this topic, so far, are what the word REASON is all about.

I’ve professed to be a spiritualist. There is a large community of scientists - perhaps most notably physicist David Bohm, who are deep spiritualists.

Having the curiosity to learn about how people come by this sense of awe and wonder and even find it in their science is something worth digging into is something that might do this thread good.

Leefeller, if my hunch is right, you’re that kind of person. Here’s something on Bohm’s spirituality:

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By Mark Colby, June 13, 2007 at 3:14 pm Link to this comment


You’ve misinterpreted me.  I would never begin from the assumption that science is or could provide a moral code.  How could I, since my earlier post explicitly denies that science can do this?

I agree with you that “science is looking into the evidence suggesting that survival instict may very well involve an innate moral sense.”  I just disagree that any innate moral sense would serve as a moral code since there is just as much evidence of innate dispositions to act immorally.

I disagree with you that “it goes deeper than mere philosophy.”  My point is, and is, that science cannot provide mankind with a moral code, whether from neurology, evolutionary theory, or any other empirical investigation.  Philosophy serves to establish the nature, scope, and limits of any possible scientific investigation.

You also said, “Ultimately, I think the discussion is stunted if people enter into it with ‘learned’ assumptions.”  I make no apologies for my “learned” assumptions, since I am learned.  (I’m a professor of philosophy.)  This doesn’t mean that I think I’m infallible or anything else, but it does mean that I post on an informed basis.  I’m not offended, but I think it’s a good idea not to make unnecessary assumptions about individuals (especially on the basis of a few posts), and to confine oneself to the ideas and arguments.  This is actually the best way to promote discussion.

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By Mark Colby, June 13, 2007 at 1:29 pm Link to this comment


I’ve read “The Moral Brain” and other writings, and I find them philosophically naive, usually because they’re written by biologists, not philosophers.  (Not that philosophers can’t be naive in their own ways, but they have a particular expertise about concepts and logic that scientists do not have.)  The basic defect in any attempt to derive morality from neurology, or evolution for that matter, is that neurological mechanisms and evolutionary processes do not produce only morality (such as the innate tendency to have “decent impulses”) but also the innate tendency to behave immorally (e.g., violence, aggressiveness, and suspicion of out-groups).  So the book “The Moral Brain” could just as well be titled, “The Immoral Brain.”

There are many other reasons why neither neurology nor evolutionary theory can provide a workable moral code for mankind. All they can do is explain how our behavioral tendencies originated.  What they can never do is tell us how to use our power of reason to decide which behaviors are moral, which immoral, on what grounds, and how to justify those grounds.  This is the kind of normative investigation that moral philosophers engage in, and the empirical
investigation of the neurologist or evolutionary biologist or psychologist can never take its place.

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By Shenonymous, June 13, 2007 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment

To finish up, in spite of the dik.
Throughout its history, however, atheism has commonly been erroneously connected with immorality, and very often joined with the belief that morality is directly derived from God, and one cannot be moral without appealing to God.  A moral guideline such as “murder is wrong” is seen as a divine law, requiring a divine adjudicator.

However, many atheists argue that treating morality as needing authoritarian intercession (a god) involves a false analogy, and that morality does not depend upon a lawmaker in the same way that institutional laws do. Plato dealt with this as a dilemma in a famous dialogue named Euthyphro.  Mankind gets old and tends to forget the wisdom of the past, or jaded and constantly needs new and flashy explanations.

Behaving ethically only because of divine mandate is not true ethical behavior but merely blind obedience.  Some philosophers argue that atheism is a superior basis for ethics, claiming that a moral basis external to religious imperatives is necessary to evaluate the morality of such imperatives themselves in order to be able to determine, e.g., in the Judeo/Christian religion, that “thou shalt not murder, commit adultery, or steal, tell untruths about your neighbor, or covet any and all things of your neighbor, ” is immoral even if one’s religion instructs it. Atheists, therefore, have the benefit of being more disposed to make such evaluations.

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By Inherit The WInd, June 13, 2007 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment
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Hitchens is good at being controversial and argumentative. Makes him an interesting interview.  He’ll push a noun against a verb to try blow up something.

Stalin wasn’t an atheist, though he very loudly proclaimed himself one.  He was deeply superstitious and believed that he had supernatural powers.  He believed just by his will he could change the laws of nature.  He saw himself more and more as the focus of all ManKind, moving Lenin asids and finally out of the picture so he, Stalin was portrayed as the founder, focus and center of The Revolution.

He create a cult around himself, and was described in books as “Comrade Stalin, the Greates Genius In The History of Mankind”

Stalin’s successors were forced to discredit his cult, labeling it “The Cult of Personality”.

Stalin wanted to be God, and even believed he WAS God.

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By Shenonymous, June 13, 2007 at 12:26 pm Link to this comment

Although they do not need any support, I stand with Mark Colby and Jon0077. Also portage has made an astute comment.

While there is no universal definition of life, we somehow do distinguish at least two conditions: that which is living and that which is not, i.e., a stone, and other non-organics. What does this have to do with morality?  Well, mankind (a collective noun that includes women) is composed of living beings, but so are monkeys and amoebas living things (beings if you prefer). Monkeys and amoebas have not demonstrated any noticeable concerns with that conscious characteristic commonly called morality. So we can really ignore them from this discussion.

The principle of morality, if we can just for a moment entertain there is such a thing, would not necessarily be a closed system and thereby would be fluid. Since right behavior, morality, varies from one belief system to another, the ever different social conformities greatly influences moral determinations within societies. Although Hume argued that the foundations of morals originate in sentiment, that is, morals are sympathy-based, hypothetically a rational morality would depend on logical argument based in fact, not simply intuitional. Hobbes proposes that in final analyses all morality is intentional and motivated by self-interest. The same could be said for the terms virtue and vice as it seems there is no factual basis for either. But self-interest seems to be on the face of it, sentimentally rooted. On the other hand, a description of a Socratic imperative would include conquering the passionate (viz, the sympathetic and emotional) by the rational (fact-based and objective), the Apollonian over the Dionysian (Nietzsche lovers would understand this). Facts are partially dependent on associated normative principles. That means, facts can be value laden and hence ultimately subject to whether they can actually be completely rationally defended. We tend to accept the norm as truth, although there is no final prescription for truth, and from this reason a standard model forms.  When Occam’s Razor (or Aristotle’s Efficient Cause) is invoked, society often adopts the normative result as truth (viz, fact).  It can be argued with some validity that morality is a product of evolutionary forces and thereby can be fact-based. For instance, the moral code against incest or inbreeding is based in the evidence of defective offspring. As a moral imperative, it became infused into both secular and religious teachings.

Atheists can hold a wide variety of ethical beliefs; its breadth reaches from the moral universalism of humanism, which holds that a moral code should be applied consistently to all humans, to moral nihilism, which holds that morality is meaningless.  Nevertheless, that means there are moral atheists.

Continued to next post

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By Leefeller, June 13, 2007 at 11:39 am Link to this comment

Hitchens usually takes a topic over the top and is successful in getting some folks upset.  Posts here,  have had some very interesting dialogue I will be disappointed when it ends. 

“Religion poisons everything.” the statement s is all inclusive and seems to smack of absolutism, sort of sounds like religion to me.  Even if I disagree with Hitchens on the war,  his points of intellect supporting the war are much more open to discussion than the Lemming over the cliff approach of the clones,  we call Republicans.

It would be surprising to me if Hitchens has been in war,  The red white and blue flag wavers pushing the troops to war would be the first not to go, just like our President.  This is Bush’s war, not Hitchens.  I do not hate Hitchens, I dissagree with him, but it would be nice to have his opinions against the war instead of for it.  Just realized, I am responding to a Leberman post, hence the word hate.

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By Leefeller, June 13, 2007 at 8:40 am Link to this comment

Keep finding new insight and food for thought from so many great posts, yours was indeed an added enlightenment. Mark Corby enhanced the old brain cells even more.

My agreement with Mark, is much more simplistic.  Any time profit motivates entities such as science, religion or politics, morality has an opportunity to go out the window. As a cynic, I would add, it usually does. With due respect you stated,  “I do, however, think that science offers the tools to find workable moral codes.”  I believe your statement offers more questions than answers.

Now we can argue who that special person will be,  that gets to define morality. We have many to choose from.

Your friend Tom’s comment is very powerful, I relate to it quite well and had similar feelings when I walked out of church services in Vietnam, because I felt such a hypocrite. 

Since I no longer attend Church on Sundays, it has been brought to my attention that I will be joining you as the devils dishrag.  (Great analogy).

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By, June 13, 2007 at 7:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think it would be a good idea to remove the juvenile comments that are meant to subvert discussion on this site.  They seem to infect any topic devoted to “relgion”.

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By Mark Colby, June 13, 2007 at 7:28 am Link to this comment


I agree with almost everything in your well-reasoned post.  I just want to make one comment.  You wrote, “I do, however, think that science offers the tools to find workable moral codes.”  This cannot be done.  Science, whether natural or social, attempts to describe and explain phenomena by identifying their underlying laws.  Its aim is factual.  Moral codes, on the other hand, attempt to prescribe ideals and rules of conduct.  Their aim is normative.  Even if we eventually develop a complete and final science, it could not tell us how to live rightly.

Sometimes people, unaware of the logical differences between science and morality, mistakenly conflate the descriptive and the normative, or the “is” of facts and the “ought” of values.  This conflation is called the naturalistic fallacy, meaning that it is never valid to reason in this way.

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By Jon0077, June 12, 2007 at 11:56 pm Link to this comment

Saddam’s regime was anything but secular. You seem very bent on attacking Hitchens himself rather than the ideas. First off, it should be noted that I do not condone nor approve of the Iraq War, much less applaud Hitchen’s support of it. However, as you bring up the scenario, you said that things wouldn’t necessarily be better if we had Hitchens are a president. Aside from the fact that Hitchens isn’t looking for political power, consider that although Mao and Stalin may have had non religious motives for their atrocities, the credulous people they had dominion over were certainly exploited. This is the argument Hitchens repeatedly makes.

Who should we blame more Hitler or the number of people that followed him and held him to power? Bush and his cronies are a manifestation of the credulity people had/have over authorities. Religion essentially creates a group of credulous people that are ready to be exploited. Instead of demanding evidence and rationally analyzing the situation, most were in support of pre-emptive attacks. They did this with the belief that the president was right, that there was a link between 9/11 and Iraq, and that Saddam had WMDs. Many who are still in support of him are mostly his religious base. I do not consider Hitchens as the same monster as Bush because he does not have the ambition to become a political leader. Bush has presidential power, Hitchens does not hold any political power. I also suspect that the failure of the Iraq war has caused Hitchens some embarrassment and has forced him to privately rethink his position. However, because of his battle with his brother (who disagrees with Christopher’s position on war) he probably can’t admit his error for emotional (and other) reasons. Hitchens does hold grudges and only time will tell if he admits his mistakes.

I don’t hold to the idea that atheism provides superior morals. Atheism doesn’t prevent people from owning other intransigent beliefs. Some atheists believe in UFOs, conspiracy theories, etc. Atheism simply describes an absence of god beliefs; it has nothing to do with morals or amorality. However, in comparison to religionists, I have found that most atheists beat religionists hands down in regards to morality. I suspect that this comes due to their openness to scientific ideas and to accept workable solutions rather than relying on absolute beliefs. Science tends to drive people toward atheism more than atheism drives science. I do, however, think that science offers the tools to find workable moral codes.

You seem like a decent guy, but I can already see religion clouding your own ethics even as we speak. Many, like Jason, have detected it. For you to find sheer pleasure in that unbelievers will suffer eternal torments followed by a claim that “God is love” is quite ironic. This mandatory prioritization of defending the faith above all else is what makes religious ideologies—Christian or otherwise—poisonous to good moral behavior.

By the way, I have a question for you. According to your theology, I am headed for Hell. I have had every opportunity to hear and fully comprehend the Gospel and have firmly rejected its most important claims—that Jesus died for mankind’s sins and is the source of eternal salvation. He didn’t, and he’s not.

My friend Tom, who feels the same way, is also headed for the fiery pit and will suffer the greatest torments imaginable right along with me. But when I asked Tom why he didn’t just believe in order to avoid even a miniscule chance of becoming Satan’s dishrag, he said something surprising: He said he wouldn’t be happy in Heaven anyway, knowing that so many people were suffering in Hell.

Are you going to be happy in Heaven, in spite of knowing that Tom, Anne Frank and I will be roasting on spits over an open flame? What if it was a son or a nephew?

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By Leefeller, June 12, 2007 at 6:40 pm Link to this comment

You know,  if a pure through and true atheist wrote a book about “atheism”, it would have to be just like the book “Everything Men Know About Women”, a cover with the title and a book of blank pages.

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By Jason, June 12, 2007 at 5:42 pm Link to this comment
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I am already and atheist and am halfway through the book. So I agree with it. But hitchens better stop smoking or he will make it to the nothingness sooner rather than later.

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By Mark Colby, June 12, 2007 at 4:19 pm Link to this comment


You made some comments to which I want to reply, as an instructor in the philosophy of religion and critical thinking.

1. “I understand that you hold science and knowledge in the highest order.  The primacy of reason should allow for you to accept that God may exist based on people’s transcendent experiences.”

The problem with believing that God exists based on anyone’s transcendent experience is that any human experience is fallible and must be interpreted.  No experience can guarantee that it is correctly interpreted or that it correctly mirrors reality.  For example, experiences seem always to show that pencils placed in water bend, but the reality is that this is only an optical illusion.  So we’ve learned not to trust the experience.

2. “Additionally, many people have noted that the idea of God is intuitive.  Does this lend credence to His possible existence?”

Assuming that you mean “feelings” in using the word “intuition,” the answer is no.  People have intuitions all the time which are they think are true but are really false.  An example is feeling lucky about the lottery ticket one just bought.  The only way to know which intuitions are true, i.e., accurately mirror reality, is by subjecting them to a reliable test, such as an experiment under controlled conditions, or by checking the evidence.  Intuitions on their own are useless as guides to truth.

If you mean “innate” by the word “intuitive,” the answer is also no, because no belief or concept is innate.  Only behaviors are innate.  Beliefs and concepts are acquired when we learn a language.  People learn about the concepts of God, gravity or Martians by being taught them in their culture; no one is born already having these concepts.

The issue isn’t whether it’s possible that God exists, since possibility is a logical concept.  Whatever isn’t logically contradictory (like a round square) has possible existence.  It’s logically possible that Martians exist too.  The issue is what really does exist, which can be decided only on the basis of evidence.

3. “I believe that (out-spoken) atheists have an agenda.  They have a strong desire to deny the existence of God.  They don’t like the idea of the possibility – doesn’t fit nicely within their world.”

First, everyone has an agenda.  There’s nothing wrong with having one as such; it depends on what the agenda is.  Second, you’ve committed several fallacies in claiming that they “don’t like the idea of the possibility—doesn’t fit nicely within their world.”  You’re just speculating about what atheists don’t like, without any evidence, and you’re also generalizing about all atheists.  Some may fit your description, but many others do not.  It’s always better not to speculate about people’s motives, especially those you’ve never met, and better to address their specific reasons and evidence for their beliefs.

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By Shenonymous, June 12, 2007 at 4:07 pm Link to this comment

Mike Mid-City is a laugh riot!  Thank you, your posts are priceless.  Oh, and DSA I love your prayer. You are brilliant.

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By Jason, June 12, 2007 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment

Re: #77378 by Mike Mid-City

This isn’t a criticism, Mike, but I must say that you’re a perfect example of Nietzsche’s slave-moralist.  The “God is love” following immediately after a condemnation of some people to hellfire is priceless.  Are you secretly a skeptic culture-jammer out to make Christians look like boobs?

Originally posted by Mike:

It’s a little sick but one of my favorite quotes is, “The pride of the dying rich raises the loudest laughter in hell.” John Foster.

That’s right you hypocrites, all you rich “Christians” get to burn in hell with your money.

God is love.  Peace of Christ.

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By Shenonymous, June 12, 2007 at 3:50 pm Link to this comment

RE: 77376 Mike

You are quite right, Mike. I have fallen into careless thinking in some ways. It is a human frailty and I plead guilty.  I do not speak for all atheists and thought I made it clear that atheism is “simply not having a belief in god.”  Earlier on I did say more or less that atheists could be of as many characters as any collective. The secular humanism you allude to is one of the points of view many unbelievers I’ve run across have and I hold that view myself. Atheism is a doctrineless view of existence, unless you want to list not believing in a deity or deities a doctrine.  I hardly think it qualifies since it is without dogma, or a set of teachings.  There is no canon. The concept of atheism is depleted of the idea of god and any principles that adhere to that idea.

How do I explain atheism?  How can anyone explain any philosophical view? The best I can do is to say that it is a position held that affirms the nonexistence of gods and rejects theism.  Broadly speaking it is the absence of belief.  How one explains the idea of absence is in a final analysis intuitive, either something is there, or it is absent. There is no one set of beliefs that all atheists maintain.  Some are humanists, others are empiricists, and still others are practical atheistic, theoretical atheistic, epistemological atheistic. These are concepts one can better come to terms with in a philosophy class rather here in this venue. I realize that a clear understanding of nonbelievers is difficult with all the historical religious baggage this culture carries around with it.  And I apologize if I spoke in absolutes.  While I hold there is no divine being, it is not ‘absolutely’ certain. I also believe even that uncertainty cannot be proved and therefore I am not compelled to accept any religious teaching at all and I can hold that legitimately on epistemological grounds, theoretical, and/or pragmatical grounds. It is my belief based on the study of history and life experiences, that religious beliefs are human inventions conceived to fulfill psychological and emotional appetites or needs as it were.

I do not believe atheism is an idea that is passed on generationally as religions are, although the idea of dance is a delightful thought. And I think it is not a position genetically coded either. So while I may have beliefs about a lot of things, such as I believe in mathematical truths, I believe a train would smash me if I get in its way, I believe some foods are healthier than others, these are all beliefs that have nothing to do with atheism. I do not believe in “transcendent” experiences, and have no injunction to accept anyone else’s claim to have had these. I do not have a strong desire to deny the existence of god, I just deny it. It is not the case that I don’t like the idea of the possibility because it doesn’t fit nicely within my world, I simply reject the notion. My life goes on nicely simply without holding a religious belief. I am here explaining simply because I am enjoying the intellectual discussion. And I can handle sarcasm. Yes, peace, definitely, peace.

Now whether other atheists have the same views as I do, I cannot say.

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By DSA, June 12, 2007 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment
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Why do the faithful have to sacrifice poor animals to ask for favors from above???

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By Jon0077, June 12, 2007 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment

(See comment below yours.)

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By Jon0077, June 12, 2007 at 2:42 pm Link to this comment

Mike Mid-City,

I’m discounting religion’s morality, there’s really no need to take what I say personal. I am attacking an ideology not a person and we do this across the board with any beliefs on the table. The truth is that while we may respect people, we certainly do not respect beliefs (and why should beliefs merit humanly treatment?). If a holocaust denier or flat earther walked into a college classroom, should we feel compelled—let alone obligated—to respect those beliefs. Of course not. The point is not to become this boorish character where you try to lurch yourself on an old lady in an elevator to take away her cross pendant. This is an adequate forum for discussion about religion. Even more specific, this forum addressed the problems of religion. Saying that my arguments are “mean” misses the point completely. It should be worth noting that discussions about politics or even art are far more brutal than the ones we have about religion. Yet there seems to be a special treatment that theists want for religion where it is immune from all criticism. In a venue such as this, we have the ability to have a discussion about such important issues that affect society greatly. I don’t think most of us don’t essentially realize that. But we have a choice between have an open dialogue about such issues or allowing these atrocities to continue and not criticize religion because it is seen as politically incorrect and uncivil. There’s nothing more detestable than giving cover these problems that stem from religion. Yes, many Christians act in good ways, but they carry and spread the memes of religion to their children. It only takes a few Martin Luthers, or Hitlers to cause a lot of damage.

The point is not to prove whether I’m morally superior to you. The point is in showing that now only is religion not an indicator of generating a healthier society, but that it can lead to worse problems. As physicist Steven Weinberg put it best, that in an average moral universe and moral society people of goodwill will do such good as they can, and those that are sociopathic or psychopathic will do as much evil as seems possible for them to do, but if you want to get good people to do wicked things you need religion.

Why does religious belief create such monstrous atrocities? Because religion expresses everything into terms of belief, faith, and absolutes, without need for reason or even understanding. Religion puts reality, morality, love, happiness and desire in a supernatural realm inaccessible to the mind of man. How can humans ever achieve peace when their religious scripts has their god condoning war and violence, while man must accept the superstitious belief that their unknowable god does this for mysterious reasons, forever beyond the comprehension of man? How can you understand the physics of the universe if you believe that an unfathomable supernatural agent created everything just a few thousand years ago? How can you live a full happy life if your religion denies the nature of sex, desire, and mind? How can you have workable government if you believe laws derive from an incomprehensible super-being? How can you have the future of the planet or your grand children if you believe that supernatural predestination will end the world?

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By Mike, June 12, 2007 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment
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Re:  #77299 by Shenonymous on 6/12 at 7:32 am

Hello Shenonymous.

I’ve enjoyed reading some of your posts and wanted to speak on a couple of points.

It’s interesting that you berate ‘Anonymous’ for speaking on behalf of everyone.  It seems that you are doing the same for atheists.  You actually go to great lengths to explicate atheism.  To me, atheism is simply not having a belief in God.  Some of the other traits you attach seem to apply to secular humanism – and not all atheists are secular humanists.  Commensurate with this point, how can you explain atheism if there is no doctrine?  Is the idea of atheism intuitive, or will this idea be passed on verbally (or through dance, perhaps) from generation to generation?

I understand that you hold science and knowledge in the highest order.  The primacy of reason should allow for you to accept that God may exist based on people’s transcendent experiences.  Additionally, many people have noted that the idea of God is intuitive.  Does this lend credence to His possible existence? 

You speak in absolutes.  No room for maybe’s.  Amazingly, I’ve run into the one person that has it all figured out. 

I believe that (out-spoken) atheists have an agenda.  They have a strong desire to deny the existence of God.  They don’t like the idea of the possibility – doesn’t fit nicely within their world.

I apologize for the sarcasm; not a very good way to start a conversation. 

Peace.  - Mike

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By Thegrover, June 12, 2007 at 11:41 am Link to this comment
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Atheists believe in realty, Christians are the non believers who do not accept reality and subscribe to myth and superstition.

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By Jonas South, June 12, 2007 at 10:42 am Link to this comment
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At heart, to have religious faith is to believe when there is no rational basis for such belief. Religious faith is quite different from when we say I have faith in a person, or I have faith in a process, or an institution: these opinions are based on prior experience, which provides some basis to ‘have faith’.

This distinction is not inconsequential or esoteric, as shown in Al Gore’s new book. Gore decries the loss of rationality in public discourse, making the case that this loss led us into Iraq and other policy disasters. Without doing so explicitly, Gore is actually pointing his finger at religious faith as the culprit for this loss. How so?

Few brains can flip back and forth, analyse a set of facts critically in one instance, then suspends such critical thought processes in the next instance. If you avoid eating fish on Fridays, or wear a burka, because you are told that pleases God, are you then more likely to fall prey to other lies by other leaders?

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By Shenonymous, June 12, 2007 at 8:32 am Link to this comment

Good Grief, I’m back (I am on the receive notification groove and keep checking in to see what further comments are made) I thought I could withdraw, but this Post is compelling. It is one of the most stimulating interactions I have experienced in a long time. And I do thank everyone involved. Whatever one feels and thinks about Hitchens, this article has certainly generated a lot of dialogue. The human mind is a wonderful thing (if it is open, that is).

RE: 77251 Anonymous
Problems with points made:  First of all – Surprisingly, unlike religious believers, atheists do not ‘advocate’ atheism. There is no missionary aspect to the atheist’s philosophical point of view. And it is not the case that the religious and the non-religious don’t recognize the “outward manifestation of a spiritual life” as the raison d’etre for religion.  For atheists there is no spirit, but there are ethics, morality, and aesthetics. For the religious, it is part and parcel of those who actually practice their religion to cognize that their religion is a manifestation of a spiritual life and they do.

Anonymous speaks for “everyone” which is an argument strategy used to bolster one’s own weak position. It is called the fallacy of inclusion. How does Anonymous know what the majority of people go to religion thinking? The notion that one ought not to believe “everything your religion teaches you…” because it “will confuse you…” is really an argument on the inherent weaknesses of religions. Bifurcating religions into two parts also depletes any reason to “follow” a religion. It is a kind of bipolar attitude. It leaves the question of why bother with religion when one can live simply and humbly much better without it? Without an organized religion, all the other “useless” stuff is simply and humbly not there and you can save your emotional collateral for more humanitarian projects.

RE:  77141Robyn Wolf is typical of the pathetic neo-zealots who are always looking for some thing (a person, a group, a shroud of Turin, and so forth) outside of themselves to truss onto to give themselves a reason to be good. The ignorant are the ones who need religion and cults, for social reasons (misery loves company) but the ignorant mainly need the structure of religions or cults to help them BE good. And for that reason alone is there any justification for religion. Cult are merely pre-religions.

The “Spirit of Truth,” was not an original thinker. The ideas of justice and wisdom are at least as old as the Socratics and a lot older than that since Socrates learned such philosophical thinking from Anaximander, Parmenides, Zeno, et al, even from the Sophist, Protagoras. It is dreadful that such malleable minds of the young are so gullible and potentially dangerous (like the mindless followers of Jim Jones and his Christian doomsday cult).  This kind of programming (sophistry of the 21st century) gives birth to the likes of present day Islamist terrorism, terrorism of any stinky stripe. It is propaganda cloaked in synthetic sweet doubletalk. It is another masquerade.

Too bad, a wasted mind is just another wasted mind.  Too bad they don’t see that the seeds of goodness are within and only need themselves to become truly educated and enlightened to nourish these seeds into a worthy life. That is the real and authentic life, the only real and authentic life. One does not need the bling of religiosity. The authentic life is the only worthy life.

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By Leefeller, June 12, 2007 at 8:01 am Link to this comment

,#77251 by Anonymous

Your post could have been mine as well, it reminded me of a poem by Hafiz.  I will post it after my comment. 

Spiritual feelings, emotions may be in need of discussion.  Our local church which I attended for several year,  some of us found a level of spirituality, an emotional elation that was excessive and scary to the owners of the church.  Interesting that the owners of the church felt threatened by us, so they fired the pastor and we have all gone our way.

Your posts and others before you have helped and guided me decide which direction I may go in the road map of life.

Stop Being So Religious   by Hafiz

What Do sad people have in Common
It seems They have all built a shrine to the past
And often go there And do a strange wail and Worship
What is the beginning of Happiness?
It is to stop being So religious
Like That.

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By Jim C, June 12, 2007 at 6:36 am Link to this comment
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Hitchins was mistaken about Buddhism . Japan is Shinto , not Zen . Shinto beliefs are quite different than Zen though they both fall under the loose definitation of buddhism . He was also wrong about the despots he claimed to be buddhists , they are buddhists in name only . Unlike Christianity , Islam etc you would be hard pressed to find any justification for violence in buddhist teaching ( the words and teachings of the buddha , Gautama ) . If you look at these so called ” buddhist ” tyarants he refered to they kind of made up their own religion and called it buddhism for creditability , it ain’t . Also , the Dalai Lama isn’t supposed to be a god ( there is no god in buddism ) he is simply an awakened being or ” bodhisattva ” ( one who is enlightened but chooses to teach purposely postphoning nirvana ) . Buddhism isn’t really even a religon , the word simply means ” awakened ” or ” enlightened ” , we don’t believe in or worship anything , we simply work at becoming aware . In fact you don’t even have to be a buddhist to become enlightened , though if one does he is then by definition a buddha .

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By Anonymous, June 12, 2007 at 4:36 am Link to this comment
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There is a error that every one makes (atheists and religious advocates alike) when it comes to this issue. They fail to recognize that religion is an outward manifestation of a spiritual life. The majority of the people that come to religion come thinkning that if they follow the rituals, laws, doctrines, and the dogma they will have a spiritual life. This is not true. Believing everything your religion teaches will confuse you more then not following the religion in the first place. That is the greater of the two. It is better to not follow a religion at all then think that your religion will save you.

All boiled down any particular religion can be divided into two parts. One part is its rituals, dogma and explanations of the world. This part is useless. It does nothing more then confuse and misdirect. These things do not lead one to live a spiritual life. In fact they bring one further away.

The other part is the part religious people should be focusing on. All the part says is to live simply and humbly.

Not knowing the line between the two is were people fuck up (i used “fuck” here on purpose i hope you understand why).

So what is the solution? I don’t know.

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By Alan Attlee, June 12, 2007 at 2:12 am Link to this comment
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Hitchens is of course categorically correct on
the major moral and epistemological considerations.
However, on the collaterals he is bafflingly
daft, maybe. Is his support for Bush unlimited?
does it extend throughout the ether to all degrees
of feckless fealty?  Is not the Cheney-Bush regime
the most negligent, the most corrupt, the most
criminal regime in the entire history of
this country?


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By Jon0077, June 11, 2007 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment
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Mike Mid-City,

“All the laws distill to these two; Love and honor God with all your heart, mind, body and spirit.  Love your neighbor as you love your self.” Clear and distinct.

I’m glad you’re able to point to yet another contradiction in the Bible. Very good! Not only is the Golden Rule not original, as it predates Christianity, it need not be taught. This moral intuition is embedded into us neurologically as a survival trait. We see this behavior extend to the animal kingdom quite a number of times. Yet setting up the golden rule to apply as a universal errs here. Would a Christian like to be treated the way an Atheist treats him/herself? Would an Atheist like to be treated the way a Christian treats him/herself? Should a masochist treat others the way…well you get the picture. The Golden Rule can apply to small groups, but in a diverse society it creates problems. The Silver Rule of treating others the way they want to be treated might work better, but still has flaws nonetheless.

You’re quote by the way says something unique about this discussion. Ultimately it isn’t about whether theists have a higher moral ground than atheists. It is about belief and placing it even above ethics! There is nothing more detestable than placing magical thinking over morality.

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By Robyn Wolf, June 11, 2007 at 6:39 pm Link to this comment
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That is the website to the Bahai faith and I am a happy and grateful member of the Bahai faith. We are the youngest and newest religion on earth. Our prophet founder was Baha’u'llah, his name means the Spririt of Truth. Born in 1817, in Persia. He was the one that Jesus predicted would follow him.There is evidence of that in a book called ” Thief in the Night” by William Sears(available at” a fascinating read in which he traced many comments and prophecies in the Christian Bible and they led him to the coming of Baha’u'llah. 

I enclose the Nine Divine Principles of the faith.We were given intelligence so we can discern the truth for ourselves and that is a lifelong challenge. “In religion as in science, Truth reveals her mysteries only to the humble and reverent seeker who is ready to lay aside every prejudice and superstition” Calling for strong belief in the Oneness of God and the oneness of our humanity, Baha’is reach out to people of all faiths, religions, political, ethical and cultural backgrounds. that allthe communities of the worl find realization of their highest hopes.

we are entering a New Era of world unity. It seeks to utilize scientific discoveries for humankinds benefit and urges all people to develop their personal potential to the fullest in the service to God and other humans. May we reach new levels of spiritual development for a better, richer life for all people. We are encouraged to do justice. we have an angelic nature and an animal nature. We are to use our angel nature to ‘tame’ our animal nature.

Some quotes,” There is no force on earth that can equal in its conquering power, the force of justice and wisdom.  and “Nothing whatsoevr in the whole of
creation can thwart God’s purpose. Conceit can never take the place of truth.
The beginning of wisdom is definition of terms” The word religion is from Latin? re… ligate.
we are one global human family and there is a ‘next world’ where we go when we die.  We are immortal.
All people have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization” ” that one indeed is a man or woman who today dedicateth him or herself to the service of the entire human race.
He died in 1892 Much of his life was spent in inprisonment adn exile. He knew intimately torture and the dungeon, scorn and hunger poverty and betrayal.
The Bahai faith is the most extraordinary event of my life as my life is working in splendid harmony.

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By Rob, June 11, 2007 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

Billy the Dik,

You are absolutely right.  I stand corrected.  I would like to leave with a corrected statement from this discussion.  Atheism, in its basic form, is not a belief:  it is the absence of belief.  Thanks for the dialog over the past few days and be kind to one another.  I’m starting to bore myself.

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By Shenonymous, June 11, 2007 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment

It’s like Socrates who knew he didn’t know. I think comments on this article has run its course and nothing new is really being said so I’m saying Sayonara. I enjoyed the gentle debate. I wish believers and non-believers all a good and worthwhile life and hope to encounter you on other issues.

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By Leefeller, June 11, 2007 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment

Billy the Dik

Rob should have said God instead of religion and I believe atheists do not accept religion because of that premise. Just started reading Hichens book so I will soon be able to hold my own with you guys on the definition of atheists.
Enjoy and looking forward to your posts, they always seem to come from another direction, but do not let it go to your head.

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By Rob, June 11, 2007 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment

Atheism is not a belief in no god! As Sheanonymous
has eloquently stated, atheism is the “lack of belief” in religion(s).  It is without a belief in religion.  Its not like there is a god, but we don’t believe in him.  Theism, as used by some says, “that the heavens and the earth and all that they contain owe their existence and continuance in existence to the wisdom and will of a supreme, self-consistent, omnipotent, omniscient, righteous, and benevolent being, who is distinct from, and independent of, what he has created. Atheism merely says that it does not have a belief in such things. Please try not to expand this idea into a religion or retorical
question.  There is no ‘out of context’ for this definition of atheism. It is this and nothing more.

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By Shenonymous, June 11, 2007 at 1:38 pm Link to this comment

Plain and simple, once more, hopefully for a final time, atheism – Greek meaning a- (without), theos, theism (deity) “without deity.” Atheism is completely secular, that is, not religious or spiritual in nature. Not religious means it is not a religion. Apparently this is a very hard concept to grasp. The realization is that it can only be understood by an open mind. The indoctrination of religion is almost indelible. Ergo.

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By Max Shields, June 11, 2007 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

#77018 by Leefeller on 6/11 at 9:47 am

The absurd. Yes, but the absurd is what some would refer to as the human condition. The absurdity comes from the struggle, the grasping for a self that isn’t.

But there is suffering. For some it is the absurd grasping, for others it is the day in and day out survival. Gandhi transformed that daily struggle into its essence to overcome it, and the imperialism that dominated.

There is nothing unreasonable about this notion (Gandhi’s notion), in fact, it can be argued that what is unreasonable is its opposite. Hitchens will never appear at peace. His is a terminal case of struggle - them vs us. The true sign of fundamentalism. Paranoia of the soul.

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By John Hanks, June 11, 2007 at 12:26 pm Link to this comment
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It is possible to believe in God based on personal experience.  Religion is inherently false because it is based on half-knowledge.  Anyone who claims to speak for God is a blockhead or a phony.

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By Rob, June 11, 2007 at 11:41 am Link to this comment


Your ability to express yourself and your ideas is overwhelming.  You should seriously consider writing a book.  But then, I wonder if one should wish the consequences on another.  Thank you for your opinions.

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By Max Shields, June 11, 2007 at 11:27 am Link to this comment

#77013 by Rob on 6/11 at 8:35 am

I think you understate what Hitchens is saying. He is conflating a certain picture - one that has been presented time and again - about religious fundamentalism with a notion of the invalidity of God. And all of this is presented through a prisim by which to think about Islam fundamentalism (not exclusively, the Right wing Christians are thrown in for good measure).

Science can be abducted or hi-jacked for reasons of profit - that was the purpose of my analogy, not to change the subject but to illustrate it. Religion has and can be hi-jacked. Look closely at what happened in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and the continued occupation. Fundamentalist beliefs were tapped and allied with neoconservative ideology (Hitchens prisim), and corporate oil. Together these have been the backbone of the occupation - regardless of facts.

Islam is a complex religion with a vast assortment of traditions and cultural strains. Still Hitchens talks about radicals who would blow themselves up for “virgins”. As if he’s captured the whole story in a little mythology. As I said to understand these religions and how they are manifested you have to study them in the context of the cultures theay are situated in. But it is NOT only the religion that must be understood, the opposition to the religion must be understood as well. For instance, why is Islam having such a difficult time in parts of the EU? This is not just about religion, there are cultural and economic strains that are at play.

Hitchens cojoins his atheism with his rationale for his Middle East prisim. This is, for Hitchens, a symbiotic relationship - its not, as I read Hitchens, all about religion and Godlessness. It’s about superiority and inferiority, it is about racisim as argued through the podium of atheism. It is a justification for the rightfulness of American hegemony, invasion, and occupation of Iraq, and support for the beachhead bases.

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By Shenonymous, June 11, 2007 at 11:06 am Link to this comment

Once again Rob demonstrates the mature mind and is the model for conscientious discussion, minimizing emotional content.  He rightly describes atheism. The religious are determined to call it a “religion,” but it is obvious they don’t even know the definition of the word. The simplest definition is that religion is a set of beliefs concerned with explaining the origins and purposes of the universe, usually involving belief in a supernatural creator, and has certain rituals and teachings.

Those who don’t believe in the existence of imaginary beings demanding obedience and subjugation can be called atheists. Atheism is the absence of belief.  There are no rituals and no teachings. Atheists are skeptical of anything supernatural. There is no one set of beliefs to which all atheists hold. They are not organized. The only thing atheists have in common is that they can be described as “free thinkers.” There is strong atheism and weak atheism. Strong atheists explicitly affirms that god(s) does(do) not exist. The weak form of atheism would include agnosticism. Atheists do not need a belief in a god to be moral; they see the inherent good in ethical and authentic living, whether that is practical or aesthetic (beautiful living) in a social living structure. This is moral universalism of humanism.

There are really only two kinds of lives to be lived: a happy one lived by the ethical and moral and worth living, and a miserable one full of unhappiness, disingenuousness, and depleted conscience and not worth living.

A deep study of all belief systems or worldviews is suggested for anyone interested in cogent and critical discussion, which are apparently what Internet sites for commentary like this one desperately need.

While it is pleasant to imagine a utopian world of beauty, which is not to argue that there is no beauty in the real world, but contrary to Plato’s belief in an ideal Beauty, Max Shields slips in to a sentimentality.  Whether science mutates or not is irrelevant and is setting up science as the straw man standard.  Atheists do discern awe and wonder. But because they don’t have answers for everything doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the beautiful, the unknown, or allegory. They just assign intelligence to humans and do not attribute it to some supernatural entity. The whole notion of genetic identity for causes of diseases, intelligence has not been completely undone. Some of it.  Some isn’t all.  The penchant for war may not be genetic but is does seem to be part of species evolution, as there are some animals that war and others that do not, i.e., some monkeys war on each other and others do not.  Thankfully for the human spirit, science trudges on.

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By Leefeller, June 11, 2007 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

Max Shields,

An inherent need to understand all that is, may be mans weakness over all the other creatures.  We are in a position to appreciate all the awe and beauty provided for us, given to us, heaped upon us by nature, while others in the world are provided death and destruction with no such provision. 

Fundamentalism does retard emergence and very much removes reason from the picture of life. We seem to have a seat in the front row, at the theater of the absurd, watching as the world turns.

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By Rob, June 11, 2007 at 9:35 am Link to this comment

But Max,
Let’s not dissolve the conversation by removing the subject.  When theories are put forth by Science, there are usually corrections to follow.  That the original conjecture was somehow not complete, or factually wrong does not lesson the field of Science.  It is true that we overestimate knowledge in the short-run and underestimate knowledge in the long-run.  Give genetics its day and things we can’t know now will emerge.  Because we can’t presently know everything, does not preclude Science as unreliable.

This somehow is not the subject of Christopher.  It is not the subject of the atheist.  Atheists only agree that they are without a belief in religions.

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By Max Shields, June 11, 2007 at 9:29 am Link to this comment

#76865 by Mike Mid-City on 6/10 at 2:51 pm

While I may not view God in the same way you do, I agree with the direction your posts are attempting to take the discussion.

Aside from Hitchens, who is a questionable, at best, interlocuter on this topic given his neoconservative postions, I think the real issue is fundamentalism.

I think an understanding of fundamentalism - what it is, is not, and some of the root causes for it from a religious perspective, would be far more useful, as you seem to be implying, than the ranting about the logic or reasonability of God.

Much of Hitchens’ argument is really about fundamentalism, as if a small religious group somehow represents all of religion. Religious fundamentalism is as much about culture and, in some cases, post-colonialism and the reaction to liberalism as it has anything to do with what is in scriptures. In the US there are some similarities, thought not entirely.

Taking this down the phony route of radicalism - which is a concept unto itself - is nothing but a red herring. And Hitchens is probably very well aware of this.

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By Rob, June 11, 2007 at 8:58 am Link to this comment


I said “if” I doubt Santa Claus.  Of course, I don’t because I have seen him at Malls and although I have not set on his knee, I feel as if I could. 

Thank you for your discourse.  Maybe reason is an illusion.  If that be the case, life is but a dream.  I will not furnish that dream with god(s) and other such monsters to scare the children.  When we believe in absurdities, we will commit atrocities!

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By Max Shields, June 11, 2007 at 8:53 am Link to this comment

#76990 by Rob on 6/11 at 5:31 am

While I respect your position that belief in imaginary beings is something you (atheists) don’t cotton to. I’d dare say any number of theists would agree.

So, let’s take this out of the religious/atheist realm for a moment. A few decades ago, molecular scientists and geneticists had high hopes in the whole array of possiblities with the replication of DNA and genetics - and from these hopes sprang an entrepreneural enterprise,specifically, Biotechnology. The thought was that genes could be isolated and we could identify genetic causes for disease, intelligence, and even war (aggressive gene). This whole notion has been completely undone. The way in which systems, such as the immune system, works is far too complex to ever be tied to a given gene. Nevertheless billions go into biotechnology and the general public still think that genes are directly connected to oranganismic behavior.

Now, we know there is much to learn, new directions have already been taken by microbiologists in spite of their confounding discoveries. Still, the public and biotech stocks continue to move along regardless of the “new reality” that science is presenting.

Point, belief is complex. To simply relegate the rich history of theology and spirituality to Santa Claus is to miss the beauty and poetry and possible lessons of allegorical scripture . Faith in a “genetic theory” persists with some, but it in no way is the sum and substance of emerging science or our emerging understanding of the nature of life itself. Yes, even science mutates, as do our belief systems. But there is a history from which this here and now has emerged. And that history is rich in its awe and wonder for those who care to discern it.

Fundamentalism in all human endeavors whether in science or politics or religion or economics or culture retards emergence. Thinking theists and atheists can discern this important difference.

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By Leefeller, June 11, 2007 at 8:32 am Link to this comment


Your Santa Claus analogy is similar to Hitchens tooth fairy. At one time, I believed Santa Claus to be real, now I have my doubts.

After I read Hitchens book,  I will decide if his use of reason, is lazy, comprehensive or something else.  Attacking the messenger and not the message is always troubling to me. 

Hitchens proper use of reason,  has been questioned by fellow posters,  lumping him with all atheists.  I suspect,  most people I know are not Atheists so I cannot address Atheists use of reason. 

  My faith based friends seem to cast reason out the window.  From my experiences and observation,  faith especially blind faith does not require reason only compliance. 

Reason is not to be taken lightly. To use reason allows some of us to cast doubts on the existence of Santa Claus.

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By Rob, June 11, 2007 at 6:31 am Link to this comment

Atheism is not a philosophy and the lack of a belief in religion does not constitute an attack on religion.  If I don’t think Santa Claus is a real possibility, it strikes me funny that people who believe in him are threatened.  I do not think there are magic elves on the dark side of the moon, but I have yet to hear from the magic elf society! Atheists just don’t think imaginary things really exist.  For the most part, we think your religions cause much destruction and that they are untrue.  That you couch each other during this discussion with biblical logic is foreign to an atheist.  Atheists have no magic book from the creator of the universe.  If we come up with one, you best believe it will not be full of hatred, contradictions, and factual indescrepancies that would embarras a 4 year old.  Atheism does not seek to convert new members such as children.  By the way, children are all born atheists. We are perfectly satisfied with this world.  I have been told that perhaps a third of the US would cheer in the streets at the sight of a mushroom cloud in the sky.  Really?  Did Kurt Vonnegut have it right when he said that people just don’t like it here?  I think atheists like it here.
Christopher Hitchens is a roll model when it comes to his take on religion. Not just for atheists, but for free-thinkers the world over.
He doesn’t speak for all humanity, but he does further the discussion about imaginary friends.

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By ted, June 11, 2007 at 1:27 am Link to this comment
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      as you point out, it cannot be atheism itself or belief in god itself.  but nor can it simply be religion itself.  it is silly and lazy to generalize as hitchens has done.  but thanks for listening.

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By ted, June 11, 2007 at 1:18 am Link to this comment
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      yes i read the article.

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By Jason, June 10, 2007 at 11:43 pm Link to this comment

Ted, you’ve claimed that plenty of atheists have done something because they didn’t believe in god.  You’ve got two problems with this statement.

First, it’s not analogous to Hitchens’ argument.  Hitchens isn’t suggesting that it’s the mere belief in a god that creates evil - it’s religion.  He said as much in this interview.  Did you read it?

Second, there is no way to derive any ethic whatsoever merely from atheism.  You need something else.  Nothing evil can be derived from atheism on its own.

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By ted, June 10, 2007 at 9:56 pm Link to this comment
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disappointing that you require personal info via “registration” before automatically publishing a viewpoint. hmmmm….somewhat authoritarian, i think.  anyway, 7 hours later, i post this for the 3rd time.
      hitchens logic is surprisingly lazy and fettered with bias.  plenty of atheists have done horrible things specifically because they believe there is no god.  plenty of religious types—catholic and otherwise—have opposed hitler and other facists specifically as a result of their reflections on their faith. hitchens cherry-picks examples to support his silly and sophmoric anti-religious crusade, ignoring any idea that might threaten his thesis.  how sad.  but it probably has made him a helluva lot of money.  way to go, chris.

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By ted, June 10, 2007 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment
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i sent this earlier but you did not post it—perhaps it didn’t get sent properly, so here goes again:
      hitchens logic is surprisingly lazy and fettered with bias.  plenty of atheists have done horrible things specifically because they believe there is no god.  plenty of religious types—catholic and otherwise—have opposed hitler and other facists specifically as a result of their reflections on their faith. hitchens cherry-picks examples to support his silly and sophmoric anti-religious crusade, ignoring any idea that might threaten his thesis.  how sad.  but it probably has made him a helluva lot of money.  way to go, chris.

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By ted, June 10, 2007 at 7:11 pm Link to this comment
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it’s been 2 hours since i posted. where is my comment guys?

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By Jon, June 10, 2007 at 7:01 pm Link to this comment
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Mike Mid-City: “Jesus supersedes the O.T. for us, or at least this, Christian”

Unfortunately for you, Jesus welcomes the atrocities of the O.T. He’s no better than Yahweh.

Not only that, but if you believe in the trinity, Jesus equals Yahweh. It’s not as if the God the Father (Republican if you’d like) finished his 8-year term and now is replaced by Jesus the Son (a ‘bleeding-heart’ liberal). Jesus, in fact, is no better. Like Hitchens said, the O.T. is filled with horrible treatments but when you died and the earth closes over you it’s over. Not until “gentle Jesus meek and mild” do we find the concept of eternal punishment.

“For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished.  Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

—Jesus(Matthew 5:18-19 RSV)

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By Fadel Abdallah, June 10, 2007 at 6:47 pm Link to this comment

#76879 by Billy the Dik on 6/10 at 4:09 pm
(166 comments total)

Hitchens’s book “The Missionary Position” is also of quality scholarship.  But good research habits have nothing to do with his motives for being a knee-jerk reactionary opportunist when it comes to his politics.  He merely showed his true colors when BushCo decided to attack and occupy Iraq.  Hitchens hopped on the bandwagon of power (albeit illegitimate power) and received his coveted attention.  Obviously his credibility is up for sale and should be labled “Buyer Beware” when it comes to his political and economic allegiences.
Obviously. Billy the Dik, you’re not a man of principles. Earlier you attacked me crudely for saying my opinion about Hitchens. In this post I am quoting above, you’re using different words to say exactly what I have said.
It is one of two explanations: (1) You must have a deep seated hate for people who seem to be of Arab /Muslim background, as you assumed from my name, or (2) You must be the ultimate confused creature who can take two contradictory stands, with only hours in between! I am not impressed by people like you. I advice you not to use vulgar and lowly language, like the “F” word; otherwise…

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By ted, June 10, 2007 at 4:56 pm Link to this comment
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hitchens logic is surprisingly lazy and fettered with bias.  plenty of atheists have done horrible things specifically because they believe there is no god.  plenty of religious types—catholic and otherwise—have opposed hitler and other facists specifically as a result of their reflections on their faith. hitchens cherry-picks examples to support his silly and sophmoric anti-religious crusade, ignoring any idea that might threaten his thesis.  how sad.  but it probably has made him a helluva lot of money.  way to go, chris.

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By Max Shields, June 10, 2007 at 4:42 pm Link to this comment

#76868 by Leefeller on 6/10 at 3:02 pm

I hope I didn’t dissuade you from reading Hitchens. I have real concern about his politics and how he’s tied his anti-Arab/Islamic theme (which is visceral).

On the other hand, he has written an excellent book on Thomas Jefferson.

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By Leefeller, June 10, 2007 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment

Max Shields,

You have the advantage, I have only read a few of Hitchens articles and will read more of his work, help me develop some sort of decision. 

Had I gone back to read your earlier posts, I would not have had to ask my question.  Your response is appreciated.

It might be safe to say that Hitchens goal is not to enlighten, but instead simple monetary opportunism.  Why Hitchen’s no longer writes for “The Nation” may be our answer, the right pays better then the left. 

Hitchens credibility is a cause for concern, his support of Bush’s war lends itself to questions rather than answers.

If indeed,  Hitchens turns out to be as you say, I will be disappointed that I purchased his book.

Thanks for your insight.

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By niloroth, June 10, 2007 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment

Actually Mike, you can save your empathy.  Sure, it is frightening to look around at the world, and see the horrible things that go on.  But at the same time it is wonderful to see the beautiful things that happen every day.  I pin both of these on mankind, because i know we are just as capable of good and evil.  I don’t need to believe in some magical sky wizard to think that good things happen, and i don’t need to believe in a demon to think that bad things do.  Our world is what we make it, and as an atheist, i strive to make it the best i can.  That includes looking at the world as it is, not through some distorted lens of faith.  If i was a believer, quite frankly i would be ashamed to admit it, where was your god during the tsunami in 2004?  Or during an earthquake?  I can ascribe these things to nature, what can you ascribe them to but either an uncaring or impotent god?

And while i do happen to believe that there is nothing else after death, since i have not died before, i can’t really prove that.  But i will tell you this, since i believe that this is all there is, i take life very seriously, and consider it very sacred.  And while i guess you could find this view sad, i don’t.  I make the most of every day, and don’t much fret about fear of death.  But i also don’t tell myself unfounded stories to try to make it through the day, in hopes of cheering myself up.  I will take the side of evidence and oblivion over fairy tales and good feelings. 

“Believers have a hope, that beyond this world of injustice and suffering is reprieve.  Eternal and real.”

Atheists don’t, which is probably why most atheists i know are more concerned with making this world a better place, rather then pawning off that job to a fairy tale, and hoping for something better after death.  Sorta the whole ‘2 hands working do more than 10 hands praying’ thing.

“We believe without proof in God.  To live our lives by these beliefs is faith.  No proof but not without reason.”

Well, at least you admit there is no proof, so you are at least realist in that.  As to why you would chose to believe something with no proof, i have no idea.  But i would guess you are very very scared of the idea that we could only have one go round at life.  And that like it or not, life is very chaotic.  Thank you but no, save your empathy for yourself, you seem to need it more.

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By tyler, June 10, 2007 at 1:18 pm Link to this comment
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I realize that Hitchens is taking a very one-sided approach to this particular subject, and although i don’t fully agree with it, i understand it.  I myself believe in a God and i have faith in my own beliefs concerning the God i worship.

I agree though with Hitchens when he says that one doesn’t need divine urging to know the differnce between right and wrong.

I also agree with his point that you don’t see atheists knocking on doors to try and ‘convert’ others to their way of thinking.

People of faith, and atheists alike should be able to sit down together and share the same logical ideas concerning things like basic human rights, sound economic practices, and both civil and individual resonsibility and accountability.

What I understand to be the point of Hitchens ideas, is that religion should be left in church, and in the hearts of those who practice religion, and I agree.

I think religion, of any kind, is fascinating and beautiful at their respective cores, and can help guide people to leading more fulfilling lives. 

I also believe though, that religion has been abused by those in positions of power, over the centuries no less, to influence and exploit their respective congregations for their own selfish gain.

If you’re religious, and your faith and beliefs influence you to love your neighbor out of emulation of Jesus or Allah or Buddah, then great.  If you are not religious and you treat others a certain way because you would like to be treated as such yourself, then thats great too.

It is easy to be so put off by religion as Hitchens is, when one thinks of the millions upon millions of lives that have been lost in the name of religion.  I don’t blame him for his position, and i understand it. 

But, i don’t think religion is directly to blame.  I blame the countless leaders throughout history, and now today, who exploit religion and those who practice religion in order to gain support for their own selfish ambitions.

That is why, i believe, that religion must be completely separate from politics.  Further more, I think religious leaders should be held more accountable for the way in which they lead and influence their respective congregations. 

As religion should be kept out of the halls of government, so should politics be left out of the churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.

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By Max Shields, June 10, 2007 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment

#76809 by Shenonymous on 6/10 at 7:56 am

You miss my point. I’m not arguing with atheism. I’m arguing with Hitchens. I have no crises with creation or God as Hitchens seems to have. I am not compelled to prove that religion is either good or bad. I have no need to condemn the ages because because of their past beliefs in medicene and the like.

I think that Hitchens is a hypocrite and a poor messenger for atheism. If you are an atheist and not a Christian or Muslim or Jew or Spiritualist, fine. I respect believer and non-believers alike. Hitchens atheism may be sincere, but how he (and those who align with him) uses it is in question -at least for me. I would feel the same way if a Muslim or Christian was interviewed by Truthdig and professed to have a superior religion to all others. I would want to undertand why this person felt the need to project this superiority over other; even if I agreed with his general beliefs.

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By TheMofo, June 10, 2007 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment
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“I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.”  Bah.  Cop-out if I ever heared one.  Pick a side.  How’s thiS: Do you believe in magic or not?

Christopher Hitchens is a complete waste of human life.  I detest the man, and sincerely wish I had never known of his existence.  It pains me to agree with him so vehemently.

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By Max Shields, June 10, 2007 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment

“You stated, “Why all the books by professed atheists”. Using the word “professed”, does this mean you doubt atheists to be actual atheists?”

I used the word “professed” in deference to those who are atheists but who do not use their atheism as a hateful shield. If Stalin was an atheist it would be wrong to assume that Stalin and the millions who died under his tyranny is the result of his atheism. I will not make that claim because it is not true and because it would be hateful.

Hitchens has no qualms in crossing that line. I do not think that Hitchens represents a nondiscerning monolithic group of atheists.

But I have not once read, here, an atheist who calls Hitchens out on his unholy alliance with the Bush administration and the Religious Right - a “marriage of convenience” - to fight his Islamic war.

Hitchens is the one who has recently written a book damning religion and those who hold varying levels of faith. I always like to understand where people are coming from to better understand their position. I have followed Hitchens writtings for some time, and he is not simply a man of “reason”. I would suggest you read a little more about him and his politics - which is not separate from his rantings. Perhaps you’d agree with those beliefs as well, but if not you may want to re-consider the motivation behind his current diatribe.

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By Hypatia, June 10, 2007 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment
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Hitchens is a disgusting human being. He is a hypocrit to promote the Iraq war and George W. Bush on the one hand and condemn religion on the other. Greedy Wrong Bastard has used religion to promote hatred, divide his party, divide the nation and divide the world while claiming he’s a “uniter” not a “divider.”  He’s not the decider—he’s spoiled rotten apple cider.

That said:  Hitchens is completely right about religion.  It poisons everything.  But it especially poisons the minds of humans. Once poisoned, your mind has a difficult time seeing reason no matter how intelligent you are.

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By Shenonymous, June 10, 2007 at 11:17 am Link to this comment

Good grief, Abdallah is representative of the slavish religionist (Islamist, Christain, whatever) who have no real arguments but resorts to violence and name calling. He is correct in saying atheists are soulless. They only have liberated minds. But it is a moot point whether there is a soul or a mind. The fact is atheists are liberated from the utter chains of religious bondage. With their liberated minds most atheists can see the unqualified good in uncompromised integrity. Some atheists are good some are evil. The distribution is the same in any population.  All atheists do not support the Bush war, I for one do not and never did, but quite the contrary thought it quite vile and illegitimate, and unconscionable on the part of those that advocated it. Nevertheless, Abdallah commits menial sophistry by resorting to several fallacies both formal and informal (informal fallacies are the hardest to detect because they are couched in what seems to be reasons, and who can argue rhetorical reasons? It is difficult to argue against the rhetorician, hence they fool the uninitiated, uh, that is, the ignorant, but then that is what they count on.): first there are the formal fallacies that have the invalid form of non-argument (Abdallah said “…are prime examples of lowly faithless, soulless creatures who would lie, exaggerate and take things out of context to spread their hateful venom. They overuse the word “reason” in a way which demonstrate that not only they don’t understand the meaning of the word, but also that they are the most unreasonable of God’s creatures.”). What exactly is his argument? It’s just name calling. And he goes on the accuse Hitchens, et al, “He and his elk (sic) are faithless, soulless war mongers and hate-mongers.” Again, infantile name calling.  Then he falls into the snare of informal fallacies: the fallacy of anecdotal evidence, “A picture is worth more than a thousand words;” and …”Very insecure and nervous creature, drawing on the drug of tobacco to calm him down!” Then he commits the fallacy of omission, that is, leaving out most of Hitchens’ valid points. This is usually done to try to strengthen, or rather strong arm, one’s own narrow position. Other fallacies Abdallah presents are equivocation, single cause, false attribution, and a few others, but your infallible intuition can get the projected meaning from all said so far.  His kind of reasoning is what leads to war and rampage. It what really leads to mindless reaction.

What is the point here? Hysteria sometimes sounds like legitimate argument, but on scrutiny, the psychological garbage rises to the surface. The apathy of thinkers, and everyone thinks, is the root of all enmity. All following rules of negotiation is the only way to civilized community. There will always be genetic differences. Nature (or if you prefer, gods) made us that way. It doesn’t matter to an atheist if anyone believes in a god, be it Jehovah, Allah, Christ, Krishna, Olorun, Atacuchu… As long as that belief is done privately. Hitchens is right about the infection of religious zeal. He is not right about the idea of covetness.  Although to envy another’s entitlements may not in itself be wrong and could “lead to ambition and innovation and initiative,” it is immoral to let that envy (covetness) prompt brutality and appropriation, which it often does. So Hitchens commits several fallacies too.

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By MARIAM RUSSELL, June 10, 2007 at 10:15 am Link to this comment
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Religion does exactly what it is designed, by man, to do. It is a framework, within which we may control or guide our society…...for good or ill…


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By Rob, June 10, 2007 at 9:49 am Link to this comment

What is so wonderful about Christopher Hitchens views are that they are able to enjoy the expression of freedom that was not the case when I was a young man.  The Richard Dawkins, George Smiths, Sam Harris’s, and such keeps lifting the veil of ignorance and brutality that is called religion.  Why should I care that the main thing I have in common with these guys is the absence of belief in imaginary beings?  What difference to the subject do their “other” beliefs matter?  I grew up with only distant heroes like Voltaire and Bertrand Russel and Robert Ingersol and Charles Bradlaugh.  I thought there would never be anyone with enough nerve to stand up to the modern televangelists.  Now I feel emboldened to dare feel the freedom of open discussion.  All we have is the ability to take some of this life and make art of it.  Life is so incredible and hopeless, why not do something marvelous.

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By Fadel Abdallah, June 10, 2007 at 9:25 am Link to this comment

#76795 by Max Shields on 6/10 at 5:49 am
(67 comments total)

“These are arguments that foment disdain if not hatred. An atheistic dogma, if you will.”
Well said Max Shields! Indeed atheists’ dogma is to promote disdain and hate for people of faith.

Hitchens, Harris and someone who calls himself “Lefty” are prime examples of such lowly faithless, soulless creatures who would lie, exaggerate and take things out of context to spread their hateful venom. They overuse the word “reason” in a way which demonstrate that not only they don’t understand the meaning of the word, but also that they are the most unreasonable of God’s creatures.

Look at the picture of Hitchens accompanying this interview! It shows a beast in a form of man! Very insecure and nervous creature, drawing on the drug of tobacco to calm him down! That’s why it is said, “A picture is worth more than a thousand words.”

Furthermore, now that I learned from some of the posts on this thread that this beast promoted and supported the Iraqi war, there is nothing further to be said about him. He and his elk are faithless, soulless war mongers and hate-mongers.

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By Leefeller, June 10, 2007 at 9:02 am Link to this comment

Max Shields

Your questions leads me to ask the following.

You stated, “Why all the books by professed atheists”. Using the word “professed”, does this mean you doubt atheists to be actual atheists?  Maybe you feel they should have seminary?  Then you ask “why all the books”?  Two books, or have they written more than two.  On the other hand I know their are more Christian books out than “how to books” and when was the last time a “professed” atheist knocked on your door in order to get you to buy their book?  How many atheist radio stations and television programs and now channels have you heard or seen? 

The separation of state and church is very important, so the following is a personal sticking point and a weakness in Hitchens argument.

Hitchens supports the Iraq war and Bush a “professed” Christian, said God told him to attack Iraq,  this does provide a flavor of hypocrisy.

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By Shenonymous, June 10, 2007 at 8:56 am Link to this comment

RE:  Max Shields #76795
“Professed” atheists don’t have all the answers, but there are those who want to push people to the wall and wring out final answers. It is a reactionary regression from the shock of finding one’s own belief system overwhelmed.  Professed atheists want to sell books, get on TV, radio, Internet just like non-atheists. And they can be just as glib as anyone else. But they disdain religion for all the reasons already put forward in this thread of posts and it would be fruitless to repeat them. Yes, one can easily shove disdain into hate, which is a strategy to ameliorate one’s own basically weak position. Atheists don’t hate, but they do find blind obedience to tyrants of any kind, please focus on “any kind,” as yielding to mental slavery. Despotism is anathema. Again there is no atheistic dogma. Refusal to believe in either corporeal or hypothetically figmented authoritarian beings is not dogma.  Dogma is a system of principles or doctrines, particularly those of a religious sect, as prescribed by some authority.  There are no ultimate authorities except one’s own moral principles. And to argue that in itself is a dogma is not actually a counter argument but a superficial one masking the embarrassment of insignificant response.  It is just name calling. It is chop logic.

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By Max Shields, June 10, 2007 at 6:49 am Link to this comment

#76754 by Shenonymous on 6/09 at 9:57 pm
“Atheists don’t ask anything really except to be responsible for oneself and one’s own actions. That is sans-dogma, without dogma. Atheists don’t even think about dogma. It really is boring. Atheists can be involved in society, can live richly or poorly depending on circumstances and situations. Atheists can love music and dance. Atheists can cook good food or terrible food. Atheists can make love and propagate, or not.”

Interesting narrative you tell. But, then, why all the books by professed aetheists like Hitchens and Harris on why they disdain, and boy do they disdain (no punches pulled) all religions. This is not a case made by someone simply pressing for reason. These are arguments that foment disdain if not hatred. An atheistic dogma, if you will.

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By Leefeller, June 10, 2007 at 2:48 am Link to this comment

Thanks for the quote from Thomas Jefferson’s, letter to John Adams, Been reading Jefferson, but skipped his letters, another mistake on my part. So little time.

The beauty of Hitchens premise, is the more eager the opposition, the more solid his premise becomes.  Yes,  Hitchens the pompous ass, fencing reason like a saber.

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By Shenonymous, June 9, 2007 at 10:57 pm Link to this comment

The chicken/egg question is a ridiculous question when you really think about it. These entities, if we can even call them that, evolved at the same time, not one then the other. You could ask the same question about mankind. Which came first man or the egg? Now if you were talking about a snail that is a whole different thing since they propagate themselves. The infinite regress that globalizati offers is irrelevant.

Buddhism and atheism are diametrically different. Buddhism has its charm, no attachment, meditation on the self and whether there really is a self, seeing into man’s folly, giving up one’s identity, its communal chanting, its perplexing koans, and so forth. It does have its dogma. Atheists don’t ask anything really except to be responsible for oneself and one’s own actions. That is sans-dogma, without dogma. Atheists don’t even think about dogma. It really is boring. Atheists can be involved in society, can live richly or poorly depending on circumstances and situations. Atheists can love music and dance. Atheists can cook good food or terrible food. Atheists can make love and propagate, or not. Atheists can help run governments and jails. Atheists can farm and run printing presses. Atheists just don’t accept the necessity of having a religion and all the bloody mumbojumbo that goes along with giving up your mind.  People love the spectacle whether it is in Baptist gospels, bowing to Mecca, the opulence of the robes of the Pope, making sand paintings, swaying to the chants of the medicine man in the jungle, or holy rolling on a floor. The psychology of religion is that there is some salvation at the end. And fear plays a very big part in religions. Well atheists live a more authentic life because there is nothing at the end. Just the end. And that is what the believers do not want to believe.

For instance, what would it mean if this was it? That there wasn’t anything afterward. You won’t continue in some other kind of existence. It might mean you’d better make the best kind of life you can since you have a mind and can at least for this short time have some satisfaction that it is a life of quality. That your living was worthwhile.

Hitchens points out the violence spawned by religious causes. Religion becomes the handmaiden of some humans oppression and domination over other humans. Too much was really covered in the Weiner interview and poor Hitchens was all over the map trying to address a complex issue.

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By Max Shields, June 9, 2007 at 9:54 pm Link to this comment

#76734 by globalizati on 6/09 at 7:25 pm

I referred you to some of the vast literature on the topics I’ve mentioned. I find after reading a number of responses to the posts on Harris, Hedges, and now Hitchens, that there is a lack of understanding about theology and spiritualism that is not unlike what Americans have brought to our invasions foreign cultures.

Much of it is based on the lowest common denominator of understanding. It uses strawmen and readily knocks them down as if they’ve even touched their target.

But in their deconstructive efforts they demonstrate (and here I’m not talking about Hedges who tries to correct the situation) an incredible irresponsibility. They are proclaiming a kind of war on people of faith. And whether one is or isn’t a “believer” that level of irresponsibility should raise some real moral questions.

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By Max Shields, June 9, 2007 at 9:40 pm Link to this comment

#76734 by globalizati on 6/09 at 7:25 pm

First, my statement was not aimed entirely at yours. Sorry for the confusion. There are those who have been regularly inferring that aetheism is the rightful owner of reason while theists (and perhaps spiritualists) are not so gifted (my kindly rendition). This argument made by Hitchens is specious and fallacious; and obviously so to anyone cares to think about it for a moment.

Connectivism is a theory from which a number of learning and educational theories and practices have sprung; hardly “new age”. The term has been around for ages, but I would note it’s apt use with the work of neuopsychologiest D. O. Hebb around 1947. Emergence is a derivative of sorts. You may want to take a look at the work of neurobiologist and cognitive scientist, Francisco Varela. He and his collegues are highly regarded. Furthermore the work of neurologist and philosopher John Searle.

Materialism (with emphasis on the “ism”) is most definitely at odds with spiritualism. MaterialISM, strictly speaking, is the stated argument that only the 5 senses (6 if you count the mind) reflect all knowledge and representation; i.e., transcendence would, by definition, not be included in this argument.

That does not mean that a spiritualist, nor most theist would not hold reason, logic and science in esteem. To the contrary. It simply does not take those to be the only means of explaining and understanding.

Some atheists have clung to scientism which is a rejection of the non-material. I’ll leave it at that for now.

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By globalizati, June 9, 2007 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment

Mike.. one of two options:
1) another chicken or egg, or, if you go back far enough,
2) a chicken-like animal that is ever-so-slightly genetically different.

Repeat ad nauseum.

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By MARIAM RUSSELL, June 9, 2007 at 8:53 pm Link to this comment
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I was being nice before….

SEE? That nasty GOD made us do it!


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By globalizati, June 9, 2007 at 8:25 pm Link to this comment

For those who think there is something more intelligent about being an aetheist…

Well, I didn’t really say that. Defined broadly, atheism could be considered to include much of Buddhism, at least the forms that don’t believe in a deity. While it may not be true that being an atheist makes one more intelligent, I think one can make a statistically valid claim that the most fundamentalist conceptions of a deity are highly correlated on a population level with low levels of education.

Complexity theory and much of the natural and physical sciences have moved way beyond the framework of materialism and mechanism into emergence and connectivism. These concepts move closer to a spiritual and transcendent view of the universe.

I’m not sure your conclusion follows from your premise. Yes, the natural world is very complex, and some phenomena are described best as ‘emergent.’ And I’m not even sure what ‘connectivism’ means, though it sounds like overly vage New Age ‘explanations’ for things. But that certainly doesn’t lead one to think the universe is anything more than material. Holding spiritual or transcendent views of the Universe itself is not necessarily at odds with materialism—it just means that any claims made by proponents of the supernatural must be subjected to the methods of science if they’re making objective claims.

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By jonathan, June 9, 2007 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment

I must say that I agree with Mr. Hitchens.
Yahweh-God-Jehovah is a ferocious God - a God that does not abide by his own rules.
Exodus chap 15 verse 3 says; God is a man of WAR “The Lord” is his name.
Ecclesiastes chap 10 verse 19 says; A feast is made for laughter, wine to make merry, but MONEY is the answer to all things.
Isaiah chap 44 verse 10 says; Who ? hath formed a God, or molten a graven image (of a God) that is profitable for nothing ?
Intelligent people cannot continue to believe in religions based on drinking blood and eating human flesh and sacrificing of animals and human beings.
(not true that 98% of Americans believe in God - many people say they do, but they don’t)

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By Max Shields, June 9, 2007 at 7:27 pm Link to this comment

#76687 by globalizati on 6/09 at 3:12 pm
(1 comments total)

“Atheists can clearly state that they see no reason to believe in any dogma. But, we should also acknowledge that atheism itself can become a dogma itself, such as within the Soviet gulags.

Think about it.”

Your point is well taken. It has been made any number of times in a variety of ways on each of the Truthdig posts on this topic about God/Godlessness. But it goes ignored.

I am not an aetheist. In a Buddhist fashion, I don’t hold on to a beginning and therefore a creator is not central for me one way or the other.

For those who think there is something more intelligent about being an aetheist - they do the aetheist “cause” an injustice because they come off arrogant and silly. Complexity theory and much of the natural and physical sciences have moved way beyond the framework of materialism and mechanism into emergence and connectivism. These concepts move closer to a spiritual and transcendent view of the universe.

By the way, Hitchens was once a Trotskyite - one of several variants of Marxism. But he moved over to an extreme neocon position which includes Western militaristic interventionism supporting with all the fervor he could muster the invasion and occupation of Iraq. When not debating the issue with pro-peace advocates, he was making trips to the White House to confer with Bush.

To point at religion as the cause of man’s great demise or the basis for all wars is to raise cynicism to new heights. Hitchens is NOT embarking on an argument against the existence of God. Nor does he take the more rational stand that religions illustrate the very best and the very worst of humankind. No, Hitchens has taken the easy mark of conflating fundamental extremist with all faiths. He doesn’t look for what connects us but what divides. And apparently, from the looks of the statements on these topics, he’s found a number of takers in his egocentric rant. And in his blind rant, he argues for nothing less than a jihad against religion and those who are believers.

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By globalizati, June 9, 2007 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment

I’m an atheist.. but I have a beef here. Logically, one cannot compare the “best of ours” with the “worst of theirs.” If one counts all actions performed by people claiming to be “Christians” as a mark against Christianity, one must likewise count all actions performed by people claiming to be “atheists” as a mark against atheism. If not, then whoever is making the argument gets to pick the most convenient definition of their terms to make the other side look as bad as possible, and their own as good as possible. An example, spoke by a hypothetical Hindu: “Muslims are evil—just look at all the evil caused by Muslims! Are Hindus evil? No! A true Hindu would by definition not believe those things or do those things.

Atheists can clearly state that they see no reason to believe in any dogma. But, we should also acknowledge that atheism itself can become a dogma itself, such as within the Soviet gulags.

Think about it.

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By Shenonymous, June 9, 2007 at 4:03 pm Link to this comment

Man’s hubris is unending, and it’s staggering, particularly when he puts words into a contrived deity’s mouth. And that is exactly what has been done throughout the entire history of mankind.  Man invents a god or gods for its own sake, for its own unprincipled needs. Then it had to invent gentle and forgiving aspects of that god because their intelligence reported that their creation has infinite power over them and from the basic survival factor of organisms he sees that he needs a way out, so he invented Heaven. But that is only valid if there is a Hell. So there you go, the entire panoply of religions.

If I were to believe the universe has in it some entity that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, my intelligence would be compelled to ask why such a self-sufficient being would under any circumstance imaginable need puny, petty humans who as a species are mawkish, self-serving, mostly blathering idiots? Then mankind has the absolute insolence to assign their god(s) a need for their own meager existences, to justify their existences. As if their god needed their company, as if their god needed anything? It is the height of conceit. Only mankind is arrogant enough to imagine a god it can read the mind of. Only mankind is omnivorous and capable of wanton atrocities and organized war. Would a kind and gentle god really want that kind of creature as companions? It is completely counter-intuitive. But if there is only a god such as Rob describes, the warmonger, then again it is not worth any faith at all and mankind’s fate is savagery.

On the other hand, only mankind can make its own existence meaningful. This was the message of Poe, Kafka, Camus, Sartre, et al.

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