Saturday, May 19, 2007

How to insult a man of the cloth

Christopher Hitchens, the man who has just published the book God is Not Great, and who has been slagging off the now dead Jerry Falwell, seems to be a very brave man. He is obviously prepared to take on even the most pious men of the cloth in the most extreme but entertaining manner.

He is after all the guy who wrote a book aimed at exposing the hypocrisy of Mother Theresa which he called The Missionary Position, but whose original title, Holy Cow, was thought to be too offensive by his publishers. As The New Republic Blog reports, Hitchens appeared on a US radio programme last week, and really let rip.

At one point Hitchens was joined on-air by Stephan Munsey, an evangelical pastor from Indiana. After making some pretty weak arguments on behalf of his faith, Munsey got to the crux of things. He explained how his 11-year-old daughter developed a grave case of Hodgkins' Disease a few years ago. "She's dying in front of me," the minister recalled. "I kneel down, and I put my hand on her hand, and I ask God, 'Would you heal my baby?'" The girl recovered. "You've come too late to me, Christopher Hitchens, to tell me that that was not an act of a real God," Munsey declared.

Here I thought even Hitchens would put on kid gloves and grant the man his beliefs. "Are you going to call this father, Christopher Hitchens, a charlatan, a fool?" asked the host, Tom Ashbrook. Of course, that's precisely what Hitch proceeded to do:

Well, it's flat-out unbelievable testimony. And it's been the basis of religious charlatanry all along... I'm very sorry if I sound callous, but I do know of a lot of children who have died horribly despite being prayed over with exreme fervency. And I think it's disgusting to suppose that those prayers were infererior to other people's.... There are such things as unexpected recoveries... [T]o claim that you have a personal line to God and that he'll intervene for your convenience is a disgracefeul thing to say, mind you. And an insult to those whose children continue to suffer despite agonies of prayer on their behalf. This is a conscious attempt to defraud people. It's the basis of a great deal of religious hucksterism. And besides being immoral, it's highly unattractive.

You can listen to the whole program here.


Michael Osborne said...

Pierre, thanks for posting the Hitchens material. I admire his relentless savaging, not just of home-grown right-wing Christian evangelism, but also of what he describes as global "Islamo-fascism." Hitchens walks a very difficult line. He enthusiastically punts the "war on terror." At the same time he spits contempt at the very domestic U.S. constituency -- right-wing Christians -- most inclined to support Bush's crusade.

One of Hitchens greatest foes is Dinesh D'Souza, a U.S. arch-conservative (who made his name, by the way, in his fight against AA at U.S. universities.) D’Souza’s new book ‘The Enemy at Home,’ argues that American Christians should recognise that their best hope of defeating the forces of secularism (i.e. Hitchens and company), is to make common cause with global Islam, which shares an interest in combating the dark forces of atheism, democracy, feminism, homosexuality and blasphemy.

Makes me think that progressives around the world should dearly hope that the battle between Christian and Islamic reactionaries endures forever….

Masgruva said...

This demonstrates that the only intolerance still tolerated or even encouraged is that against religion. The shameful hypocrisy of this type of feigned pluralism is that if a person is entitled to think an action right, the next person is just as entitled to think it wrong -- something these rabid antireligioniacs seem to conveniently forget the moment they get on their pedestals to spout their own intolerance. He's made of that very same cloth that he's denouncing.

Michael Osborne said...

Masgruva, when religion is truly the victim of intolerance, as it was in the Soviet Union, and is now in the PRC, it deserves our full support -- even if we think its teachings are nonsense. But in most places around the world it is the racism, homophobia and misogyny propagated by powerful faiths that are the most prevalent (and damaging), forms of intolerance. America’s right-wing Christians preach that gays are wicked people (and demands that children be taught absurd scriptural mythology in place of science.) It is fundamentalist Judaism that tells Israelis that they have the right and duty to throw Palestinians off land that God promised to Jews 3000 years ago. The Catholic church teaches Africans that condoms are sinful. And it is Islamicists who throw acid in the face of young women who dare to show their faces in Afghanistan. Why should we tolerate their intolerance?

Pierre de Vos said...

Michael, I agree with you. This is an old red herring - if one criticises religion or the representatives of religion then one is intolerant. Well, I am intolerant of many ideas and the people who support and propagate it. But religious people claim for their ideas a special protection and asks us to be tolerant of the homophobia, sexism, racism, hucksterism that accompanies much of the religious teachings today. I wont tolerate that.

Of course, if they want to waste their lives believing that stuff, I will not advocate for them to be locked up or persecuted, but I would support mocking and ridicule.

Masgruva said...

I might have gone off half-cocked in my previous post. Having read up more on Hitchens, he seems a bit of a neocon -- although still vitriolically anti-religious. I'm sure there's much we'd even agree on. I'll rather emphasise a subtlety that didn't make it in my previous post: when one extrapolates the fanaticism of certain religious nuances as the successful debunking all of religion, one is merely punching at a strawman. I know Muslims who watched in horror as some of their religious comrades danced in the streets after 9/11; Christians who view homosexuality as no worse (and no better) than pride or adultery -- with a clear distinction between the 'sinner' and the 'sin'. Often the point of contention has nothing to do with the religion. I'll wager that Fred Phelps and his loon-cocoon masquerading as 'Wesboro Baptist Church' are such odious folk despite the teachings of their ‘holy writ’ rather than because of it. At best they are incredibly confused, although I suspect they're simply abusing religion to pander to their pet prejudices. A man tossing acid in a woman's face is similarly motivated by a deeply ingrained cultural misogyny -- somewhat supported by an eisegetical reading of their holy books. Such people need to be exposed as the two-faced twisters they are. We are firstly human, then religious/non-religious; often the latter functions as an easy outlet for the former.

Intelligent Design and the RCC's teaching on condoms is a matter for another day.

Masgruva said...

I'm certainly not advocating for an 'infallibility' or 'immunity' of religious teaching. It should be deconstructed and scrutinised like any other system.

Michael Osborne said...

Hitchens is uniquely difficult to classify. He has made common-cause with Neocons re Iraq. Yet he disagrees vehemently with them on most other issues, including Palestine. Hitchens sees no inconsistency between his position on Iraq and his bitter lifelong campaign against arch-conservatives like Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft (who, like many other U.S. conservatives), opposed the Iraq war. As for Hitchens’ anti-religious polemics, he says religious “moderates” act as enablers for the fanatics. The vicious homophobia of the hard-core religious right draws strength from the fact that “liberal” Christians do not come out and condemn the extremists who promote bigotry under the banner of Christianity. By the same token, “moderate” Muslims provide implicit support to Islamo-fascists by failing to disown fanatics who claim to act in their names. And the orthodox crazies who go out and set up new Jewish settlements on the West Bank would get nowhere but for the same Israeli government that purports to support a freeze on new settlements.