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Is Christopher Hitchens Religious?

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 6, 2010

Philosopher Eric Reitan has written Is God a Delusion? where he explains why he finds the ideas of the Dawkins-Hitchens crowd wanting and why readers—atheist or theist—should read something else. I want to read it.

He’s also just written a column where he describes a recent interview Christopher Hitchens has with a Unitarian minister. According to him, the Vanity Fair columnist seemed to be nibbling at the edges of what can only be described as spirituality, leading Reitan to wonder whether Christopher Hitchens isn’t the best of the New Atheists for his willingness to reject atheistic dogmas. Reitan writes:
What struck me the most as I read the interview was that Hitchens and the minister even shared an appreciation for “the transcendent” and “the numinous”: terms that Hitchens himself introduced into the conversation.

When asked about “the soul” (inspired by his oft-repeated claim that “literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and soul”) Hitchens responds:

It’s what you might call “the x-factor”—I don’t have a satisfactory term for it—it’s what I mean by the element of us that isn’t entirely materialistic: the numinous, the transcendent, the innocence of children (even though we know from Freud that childhood isn’t as innocent as all that), the existence of love (which is, likewise, unquantifiable but that anyone would be a fool who said it wasn’t a powerful force), and so forth. I don’t think the soul is immortal, or at least not immortal in individuals, but it may be immortal as an aspect of the human personality because when I talk about what literature nourishes, it would be silly of me or reductionist to say that it nourishes the brain.

Were he not so quick to follow up by deriding religion once again, one might take him here for a deeply religious man.

Hitchens’ strategy seems to be this: if it is good, noble, or tends to inspire compassion, then it isn’t “religion.” It is “humanism” or something of the sort. With no clear definition to guide him, Hitchens is free to locate only what is cruel, callous, insipid, or banal in the camp of religion, while excluding anything that could reliably motivate the heroic moral action exemplified by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King. When “religion” is never defined, but in practice is treated so that only what is poisonous qualifies, it becomes trivially easy to conclude that “religion poisons everything.”

I highly recommend reading the whole article.

2 Responses to “Is Christopher Hitchens Religious?”

  1. […] Is Christopher Hitchens Religious? […]

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