Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Hitchens’

Alcohol

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 24, 2012

Instead of intimating once again that much has happened and leaving you tantalised, I shall simply write: About five weeks ago I foreswore the use of alcohol. Although there was much going on in my life at the time – I had just completed a five day festival involving drugged binges, nudity, dancing, abberation and chaos – it was not for these reasons that I decided to permanently abstain. It was more a feeling of enlightenment, a feeling that my time had come, that I was “done with alcohol”.

Annual or tri-annual weekends of excess are not unusual for me. I plan for them, I enjoy them, I become obnoxious, and I recover from them. Sleep and solitude is a wonderful therapist. The thing about alcohol is that it’s one of the few truly pleasurable drugs for the tongue. It has a palette, rather than choking your lungs or tasting like metal chalk. Due to my mental illness and my medication for such, very few illegal drugs are available to me. Hence, I have enjoyed the legal ones far too much at times. The irony of course, is that alcohol, our pre-eminent legal drug, is probably one of the more dangerous of the pack: Addictive, depressant, destructive, instigator of violence and death, destroyer of families, jobs and lives. For myself, I managed to stave off addiction although I will say that I was becoming perilously close. At the end, I was imbibing an entire bottle of wine every single day. Sometimes more. For months and months on end. It’s a testimony to my genes, my stamina and my caution that I was not sucked into the bottom of the barrel.

wine

I am glad I could give up so easily. From the moment of my decision I have not had cravings, nor had difficulty staying on the wagon. In the words of an old hymn, Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow. I confess, I have had two drinks since then. It’s part of my agreement with myself that I am allowed a glass of wine with one particular friend as it’s something of a ritual. However, the difference between a single glass per month and 7 glasses per day is palpable. And speaking of differences, if you want to lose weight – give up alcohol. The weight has been falling off me with very little effort and I now require belts to hold up trousers that were once bulging.

Alcohol is a wonderful friend. If I may borrow from a noted enthusiast, Christopher Hitchens drinks, he says, “because it makes other people less boring. I have a great terror of being bored. But I can work with or without it. It takes quite a lot to get me to slur.” Or so he says.

Elsewhere, he writes:

“Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing. The only worthwhile miracle in the New Testament—the transmutation of water into wine during the wedding at Cana—is a tribute to the persistence of Hellenism in an otherwise austere Judaea. The same applies to the seder at Passover, which is obviously modeled on the Platonic symposium: questions are asked (especially of the young) while wine is circulated. No better form of sodality has ever been devised: at Oxford one was positively expected to take wine during tutorials. The tongue must be untied. It’s not a coincidence that Omar Khayyam, rebuking and ridiculing the stone-faced Iranian mullahs of his time, pointed to the value of the grape as a mockery of their joyless and sterile regime. Visiting today’s Iran, I was delighted to find that citizens made a point of defying the clerical ban on booze, keeping it in their homes for visitors even if they didn’t particularly take to it themselves, and bootlegging it with great brio and ingenuity. These small revolutions affirm the human.” ~ Christopher Hitchens in Hitch 22.

However, alcohol is also the friend who stabs you in the back. It’s probably churlish of me to suggest that Mr Hitchens’ terrible death may have been assisted by his vices. It’s likely that tobacco was the direct cause of his throat cancer. And there may be an argument for making the adage, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” the cornerstone of one’s social life. Nevertheless, a bevy of cancers, obesity, strokes, brain damage, rotting teeth and general deterioration can be laid at the feet of alcohol. For every Christopher Hitchens who can control himself, there is a Manson-esque figure who abuses his family when taken by the demon drink.

I’m not here to preach the virtues of teetotalling for others. Occasionally I do miss the flavour – non-alcoholic wines, thus far, leave something to be desired although there are a couple that may be alright once I have acquired a taste. The range of potable non-alcoholic drinks at most bars is revolting. I am developing a skill in very nice alcohol-free cocktails.

All things considered, however, I am rather enjoying a clear head and a full wallet.

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George Thoroughgood – I Drink Alone

Posted in personal | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Sorry Hitch, You’re Nothing

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead. Long live… No, can we please not do that. Let’s tell it like it is. Hitchens, like all men of sense and reason™ was an atheist and a materialist. In other words, there is no God, and all that exists is the physical world we can measure with Hadron colliders, molecular resonance imaging, Hubble telescopes and schoolboy chemistry sets.

But he will be remembered! Briefly. For about ten years, maybe twenty, those who knew him or once read his columns may pause and say, “Ah, Hitchens. Damn fine writer.” Perhaps our children or grandchildren may find a dusty copy of “God Is Not Great” on our shelves and scan it curiously. More than likely, physical books will have gone the way of the cassette tape and be little more than a historical curiosity. Any surviving data of Hitchens’ will no doubt be lost in the tsunami of electronic porn, advertising and fiddle-faddle that passes itself off as “information” these days.

He will mean nothing. It may be small comfort to say that he never did mean anything, on a cosmic scale. Even on an earthly scale, he was little more than a ripple in the puddle of humanity. In 10,000 years Christopher Hitchens will be forgotten, like Madonna, Bill Clinton, Osama bin Laden and so many others who seem so terribly important to us now. If he is lucky he may rate a footnote in some obscure cyber-history of the early 21st century, to be catalogued and filed with the billion other PhD history theses published that year. If we haven’t already eradicated ourselves as a species, of course.

His dust will stick resolutely to the gravity well of a small and once-beautiful planet, perhaps fertilising a meagre plot of weeds. In a billion years a few atoms that once made up part of his spleen may be blown far across the galaxy as the dying sun ejects matter into eternity.

Sorry Hitch, you’re nothing. And the only reason we eulogise you is to help us avoid the knowledge that so too, are we.

Front Line Assembly | Everything Must Perish

Posted in atheism, God, god, Meaning of Life, ontology | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

The New Atheists’ Narrow Worldview

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 1, 2011

Stephen Asma has written a critique of the new atheists which I want to share. It’s a sociological look at religion, in other words one that places religion it in it’s social context. In particular he argues that animism (the world’s most common religion) makes more sense than a mechanistic world view if one is poor, and that the new atheists completely miss this due to their rich Western lifestyle. He argues they miss the psychological benefits of religion, which are still worthwhile. (He also argues against ‘dangerous’ religion.)

What follows is my distillation of the points that interested me. I recommend reading the whole thing.

“The new atheists, like Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett have failed to notice that their mechanistic view of nature is in part a product (as well as a cause) of prosperity and stability. Most friends and even enemies of the new atheism have not yet noticed the provincialism of the current debate. If the horsemen left their world of books, conferences, classrooms, and computers to travel more in the developing world for a year, they would find some unfamiliar religious arenas.

Having lived in Cambodia and China, and travelled in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Africa, I have come to appreciate how religion functions quite differently in the developing world—where the majority of believers actually live. The Four Horsemen, their fans, and their enemies all fail to factor in their own prosperity when they think about the uses and abuses of religion.

Harris and his colleagues think that religion is mostly concerned with two jobs—explaining nature and guiding morality.

spirit house

Boontham Khuenkaew places a food offering at the ‘spirit house’ in his yard in Thailand.

They’re wrong in imagining that the primary job of religion is morality. Like cosmology, ethics is barely relevant in non-Western religions. It is certainly not the main function or lure of devotional life. Science could take over the “morality job” tomorrow in the developing world, and very few religious practitioners would even notice.

The zealous attempt, on the part of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Red Guard in China, to root out this “opiate” also rooted out all the good stuff about Buddhism that I’ve labelled “psychological.” The attempt to do away with all gods or religions always throws the baby out with the bath water. There is much good “medicine” in Buddhism (just as there is much good in other religions), but if the Asian Communists found you practicing it in the 1970s, you were as good as dead. And that form of militant atheism should ring a cautionary note: Religion is not the only ideology with blood on its hands.

I’m an agnostic and a citizen of a wealthy nation, but when my own son was in the emergency room with an illness, I prayed spontaneously. I’m not naïve—I don’t think it did a damn thing to heal him. But when people have their backs against the wall, when they are truly helpless and hopeless, then grovelling and negotiating with anything more powerful than themselves is a very human response. It is a response that will not go away, and that should not go away if it provides some genuine relief for anxiety and agony. As Roger Scruton says, “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.”

The Four Horsemen and other new atheists are members of liberal democracies, and they have not appeared to be interested in the social-engineering agendas of the earlier, Communist atheists. With impressive arts of persuasion, the new atheistic proponents just want to talk, debate, and exchange ideas, and of course they should do so. No harm, no foul.

But Sam Harris’s new book may be a subtle turning point toward a more normative social agenda. If public policy is eventually expected to flow from atheism, then its proponents need to have a more nuanced and global understanding of religion.”

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Bad Religion | Atheist Peace

Addendum

Here are a couple of quotes from Asma which support my contention that Buddhism as practiced is much more “religious” than many Westerners think:

Many of the new atheists have recognized that Buddhism doesn’t quite belong with the other religious targets, and they reserve a vague respect for its philosophical core. I’m glad. They’re right to do so. But two days in any Buddhist country will painfully demonstrate to its Western fans that Buddhism is an elaborate, supernatural, devotional religion as well.

The mix of animism with Buddhism is so complete in Asia that monks frequently make offerings to these spirits, and Buddhist pagodas actually have spirit shrines built into one corner. The Buddhist religion is built on top of this much older animistic system. Animism was never supplanted by modern beliefs.

Thanks to Tracy for passing this article on to me 🙂

Posted in atheism, Buddhism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Atheist Spirituality

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 11, 2010

Can you be an atheist and be spiritual? I came across philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville’s Book of Atheist Spirituality in Unity books yesterday. I haven’t read it yet, but I’d like to. [Edit: I’ve now read more, see this post]

Comte-Sponville is not the only atheist using words that we might expect of a religious devotee. As I wrote previously, Christopher Hitchens uses the word ‘numinous’ about certain experiences. Also see The O Project’s Spirituality for Atheists. I recall the sense of wonder Carl Sagan used to evoke in me as a youngster with his excellent Cosmos television series, and I’ve speculated on the non-theistic spirituality of Avatar.

Author Comte-Sponville has had a number of “spiritual” or “mystical” experiences involving a sense of “infinite happiness”, an “eternal sense of peace”, and the “dazzling presence of the All”. These experiences apparently lasted for only a few seconds but they were the “most beautiful moments of his life”. Is it valid to describe such experiences as “spiritual” or “mystical”? Comte-Sponville also writes about being so absorbed in an activity that we lose all sense of self or ego, and that this is a kind of ecstasy.

An amazon review writes

He considers matters of emotion, like the “oceanic feeling” and our response to the immensity of the Universe. These are often taken to be religious feelings, but Comte-Sponville show how they can be better and more coherently understood, and enjoyed, from an atheist viewpoint. He brings in Western philosophers, like Spinoza and Nietzsche, and Eastern philosophers, like Nagarjuna and Lao-Tzu, to bolster his arguments for an atheist approach to spiritual concepts and feelings like simplicity, unity, silence, eternity, serenity, acceptance, and eternity. He certainly left me feeling more serene, and with a more unified idea of what spirituality might mean for an atheist. His argument that religious spirituality involves a temporality that is not needed in an atheist spirituality is particularly strong, and there are many other arguments that reveal the depth and subtlety of his thinking.

Daylight Atheism commends “its approachable, open tone. Comte-Sponville defends atheism firmly, but gently. At times, as I said, I found him almost too conciliatory; but I think a believer would find this book very non-threatening, and might be led to read it and gain a better understanding of the atheist viewpoint.” Several commenters on other sites praise the book highly, one suggesting it should be read along with current works by Richard Dawkins, David Dennet et al.

I’m not convinced speaking of spirituality is useful in this context. By “spiritual” experience are we merely meaning something that is profoundly moving or perhaps emotional? Is this part of a cunning atheist plot ™ to appropriate spirituality from the religious domain? “Look, not only does your position not hold water, but we can also mimic the experiences you supposedly hold the key to”.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote, “Andre Comte-Sponville has written a truly inspiring essay. Using logic that is thoughtful and profound, he makes it possible to see that human goodness need not be divinely inspired to be beautiful, and that the meaning of life comes from life itself. Many will find comfort in his assertion that love, trust and ethical behavior are possible without belief in the supernatural. This is an uplifting and timely tribute to Godless spirituality.”

I suppose spirituality could refer to anything ‘supernatural’ that doesn’t involve a god. I once knew an atheist who was a fervent believer in astrology, a system that I find rather absurd.

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If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy Mystical Experience in a Godless Universe, Nature Was Sacred and Atheist Spirituality : Real Poetry?

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Posted in agnostic, atheism, Christianity, Sociology, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

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:
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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.

Posted in atheism | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »