Monday, May 14, 2007

Hitchens' flat world

Hitchens' flat world
Father Raymond J. De Souza
National Post

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hitchens' approach is to romp through history, using his cutting literary style to spoof and mock all the absurdities he finds in the world of religion. If Hitchens met a local vicar with bad breath, religion is to blame for halitosis. It's a fun game, but not really an argument.

Despite Hitchens entertaining style, his book quickly becomes tedious. If you are the sort of person who thinks it very clever to respond to, say, an argument defending the role of religious believers in a pluralistic society by shouting, "What about the Crusades?", you will be nodding along with Hitchens in emphatic agreement. If you find such ad historiam arguments tedious, you will be simply nodding off.

Page after page, Hitchens piles one outrage upon another. So convinced is he of the rightness of his conclusion -- "religion poisons everything" -- that he does not blanch from the most breathtaking rearrangements of the facts and terms of debate. With an apparently straight face he excuses the evils of secular regimes, by blaming the Catholic Church for Nazism and classifying North Korea's communist regime as a religious cult.

What then does Hitchens propose as the antidote to the poison of religion? He opts for scientific materialism, the banality of which he tries to hide behind such -- dare we say it? -- "pious" invocations about the sense of wonder induced by photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope. It's like saying that the ultimate questions of life and death that religion grapples with can be set aside by watching the sunset.

Hitchens inhabits a flat world, devoid of the spirit even broadly understood, and thinks that he can see farther, not realizing that he has razed all the interesting features of the landscape. It is a literally parenthetical comment that exposes the barrenness of Hitchens worldview: "Charles Darwin was born in 1809, on the very same day as Abraham Lincoln, and there is no doubt as to which of them has proved to be the greater 'emancipator.'"

Only in world stripped of all that is distinctively human would Darwin's theories about the evolution of finch beaks provide greater emancipation for the human spirit than Lincoln's sublime words about human dignity, sacrifice and the better angels of our nature. On balance, Lincoln on our destiny is a better bet for a humane world than Darwin on our origins.

"Religion has run out of justifications," Hitchens concludes. "Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important." Hitchens is not unlike the zealots he assails, which explains how an obviously intelligent man could write something so embarrassingly stupid.

Here are some unimportant questions for which a microscope is rather unhelpful in answering: Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the purpose of human existence? Hitchens is so fascinated with what he can see in the skies or in the laboratory that he is blind to the world in which men actually live. Perhaps he thinks that without religion there would be more peace, wisdom and beauty in a world dominated by politics, science, entertainment and industry. There is no evidence for that claim whatsoever, and good reason to believe that such a flat world would be more brutal to live in.

God has no place in the world Hitchens wants, but nobody else has ever lived there either.

1 comment:

  1. Not a single comment! This was a withering critique.