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Sunday, March 25, 2018

SUNDAY WITH ATHEISTS: Hitchens and Nietzsche

Beginning last week, and over the next few Sundays, this blog site will feature noted atheists.  Today, I feature Christopher Hitchens, the most vitriolic of atheists, for he referred (passed away in 2011) to himself as an antitheist, for atheists, he thought, waffled too much on the matter of a God.

While he was born in the state of New Hampshire, his parents were British, and he spent most of his early years in the United Kingdom.  At the age of 32 in 1981 he moved to the U.S. as part of an editor exchange program between New Statesman and The Nation.  He was a political writer until 2007 with God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

This is one of the books I picked up to learn about religion when I wrote SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity a little more than a decade ago.  I did not get very far and kept it in my car/golf bag.  Most of my reading was accomplished between the second and third holes at the Ala Wai Golf Course, for this is where you can wait up to 45 minutes.  If not for golf, I would never have finished God is Not Great, which was only a couple of weeks ago.

I guess this was no different from many who spent a decade and more to read The Bible or Koran.  I took copious notes which were carefully written in the blank spaces, and my intent was to show a few quoted remarks in some relevant sense.  However, that seemed like too much work, so I'm borrowing from
  • “[E]xceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.” 
  • “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. This is even more true when the “evidence” eventually offered is so shoddy and self-interested.” 
  • “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody—not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms—had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would like to think—though the connection is not a fully demonstrable one—that this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell.” 
  • “God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization.” 
  • “My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilization, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either.” 
  • “And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.” 
  • “Philosophy begins where religion ends, just as by analogy chemistry begins where alchemy runs out, and astronomy takes the place of astrology.” 
  • “There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.” 
  • “We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.  We do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning “punctuated evolution” and the unfilled gaps in post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication.” 
  • “The holy book in the longest continuous use—the Talmud—commands the observant one to thank his maker every day that he was not born a woman.” 
  • “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience. There” 
I can go on and on as the book did for 307 pages, but you get the point.  He is angry at how religion poisoned everything.  Then again, God, in some form is in the mind of many, and Hitchens is dead.

Reminds me of Friedrich Nietzsche's Gott is tot, or God is Dead, articulated 135 years ago.  Nietzsche, of course, was an atheist, and he didn't mean that God had actually died, but rather, that the concept of one was gone, for science had now overcome divine providence.  While many still smirk about which one is, indeed dead, you can probably trace the beginning of the secularization of Europe to Nietzsche.

Mind you, more than three quarters of Italy and Greece believe in a God, but France and Scandinavian countries are all around one quarter and less.  Interesting, though that the percentage of professed atheists in the latter group is around half that fraction.  Around 90% of Americans believe there is a God.

Finally, agnostics and atheists, combined, only amount to 7% the world population.  So to be a non-believer today places you in the very tiny minority.   So perhaps Nietzsche is dead and God is not.  And, what is a gnostic?  Feel free to click on that link.

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