This image of two men shows why our movement transcends all the false offerings of religion; it shows the moral courage and intellectual honesty of humanistic atheism, as well our love for all our brothers and sisters in the only life we have.
Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.
That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.
Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.
As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.
Yesterday, I watched this excellent documentary by the BBC about ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers who dedicate their lives to repopulating parts of the West Bank.
It’s a very vivid portrayal of the tension and intense hatred on both sides, and I very much recommend that you watch the whole thing.
What really stood out for me was the conversation between journalist Theroux and a young man [YM] near the end of the documentary:
[YM]: This is our land. You can come and kill us and do whatever you want. We are going to stay here. We are going to die for this country.
[Theroux]: And kill for this country?
[YM]: If necessary, yes. I don’t know if mentally I can do it, but by the law of God, you are supposed to do it. You told me you’re an atheist. Do you like it?
[Theroux]: A lot. It’s very comforting. It’s very comforting to know that there’s no one up there looking after me.
[YM]: It’s comfortable… sure. I think it’s a–you forgive me already right?–a stupid way of life. What are you here for? You think you came from a monkey? Everyone likes to think there’s a big thing behind us, not that we are here just to work, get money, feed our children, and die, and that’s it. You are supposed to be a good man. You are supposed to work for God, not just for yourself.
Of course, the ironic thing is that we’d probably all be better off if we only worked, made money, fed our children, and die. We’d be better off if we didn’t have a great voice in our head calling for us to steal property and kill those in our way. And if you really are going to claim that you, another evolved mammal, actually can comprehend the commands of God, perhaps you should keep it private (or at least announce it with a great deal of embarrassment).
But as long as Israel and Palestine remain racially divided entities founded on the premise of different promises from God(s), there will never be a harmonious society that fully respects human rights.
Therefore, the inspirational thought(s) of the day will be reflections on the purpose of life by none other than Mr. Hitchens:
If atheists wrote religious Facebook status updates, it would be something like this:
Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett. They are the Enlightened Truth, the Path Away from Darkness! In times of struggle, let me hear your wise words that proclaim the GLORY of science. So let us praise Reason! Hear its love and its infinite and perfect wisdom. Forgive us, Science and Logic, for although we are nothing compared to your holy name, we will study your Word and live a life of Righteous anti-godliness.
In the name of Darwin’s ghost, Amen.
And then my friends would comment:
Thank you for your comforting words. They mean a lot to me.
Reason is truth! Yes!
I would get approximately 20 likes.
You are unquestionably one of my heroes.
Dear Christopher Hitchens,
Your clarity of thought, your incisive wit, and your genuine and earnest disdain for religion are an inspiration to me. They have been since I finished reading god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and will be for as many years as I have. Be assured that your effect today on people like myself, all over the world, has been immense. Those of us in positions of education will continue to encourage the development and constant use of critical thinking in our students in part because of you.
I want you to know that you are unquestionably one of my heroes. You stand in rare company.
May you find whatever ease you can in the time you have remaining. Thank you, sir, for so very much.
A teacher in Pennsylvania
It was not an easy journey.
… I cannot give you my atheism, nor do you desire it I imagine, but your words, though they come from a long line of brilliant atheists, gave me the confidence I do have in my stance. My passion to see others such as myself, toppling on the edge but not quite over, finally make their way into ‘de-conversion’ is stronger, and more honest, than anything I had done as a Christian.
I say all this simply to say, ‘thank you.’ Thank you for taking the extra step as an atheist and speaking up where other had been silent…
We can only continue to speak up, and to help people out of the muck, and to see what a life well-lived really looks like, no longer passively longing for the eternal reward of kissing ass or burning in Sheol like the garbage religion would have us believe we are.
A ‘new’ atheist,
Perhaps you truly don’t know the impact you have had.
Your works have helped in the battle for truth and compassion based on reason and logic. Your struggle against the forces of dogma has allowed people like myself to openly live as atheists. We need not be ashamed of the simple possession of critical thinking. The free expression of one’s self is a true gift, and you helped make that so much easier for so many of us.
I am certain that there are people walking around in our world that have benefited from your work, yet have never heard your name nor read anything you have written. I hope you take this as the deep compliment I intend it to be. You have helped create a better environment for all of us. As someone who has read your works and knows what you do for all of us, let me simply thank you and offer you best wishes.
You can read more letters like this and submit your own on DearChristopher.com.
Now this would be a very uninspiring debate had it not been for Hitchens’ closing statement. Basically much of the debate involved back and forth between the two speakers over evolution, where Dembski (embarrassingly a UChicago alumni, I must admit) kept insisting on the conspiracy that atheists were emotionally attached to their position and were therefore making up models and explanations to support evolution. I cannot believe in this day and age that the overwhelming evidence for the truth of evolution is still a worthy topic of debate, but I guess I just don’t visit the Creation Museum often enough.
Hitchens talks about Shakespeare because Dembski brought up the idea of how wonderful it must be to meet Shakespeare in heaven. The reference to children being taught that they are “dead” was another response to Dembski, who said earlier in response to Hitchen’s criticism of the concept of hell, that in fact Hitchens misunderstands: Christianity doesn’t say “believe or die and go to hell”; instead, Scripture says that we are already dead, and that only Christ can make us live.
Well I guess his life story is inspiring in and of itself. After all, Hitchens is fighting cancer right now, and we all hope he will make it through this difficult period of his life with joy and comfort.
But I found it most fitting that Hitchens mentioned how authors are “immortal in the works they leave behind.” For me personally, Hitchens’ writings are the Shakespeare of the modern era, albeit mostly in nonfiction form. I agree with fifty percent of what he writes, and I love every little thing about all his writing: the structure, the vocabulary, the tone. There’s something dynamic about his prose; there’s nothing I like more than elegant ways to say simple things. He’s one of the few people who have made me want to read Slate and Vanity Fair Magazine.
If he leaves us anytime soon, I’m sure he’ll never really die.