Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is Christopher Hitchens In Hell?

The short answer is: of course not. Hell doesn't exist. Hell was invented in the first century AD to keep back-sliding Christian converts in line. Before then there were only vague concepts of an afterlife in the Hebrew Bible; and in the Greek and Roman mythologies Hades was a gloomy sort of half life. And how could hell actually work for humans? We evolved from arboreal lemur like creatures which in turn evolved from amphibians and if you want to go all the way back a billion years ago, our distant distant ancestors were bacteria floating in the primordial soup. Consider these bacteria. If you take penicillin to kill the bacteria in your lungs during a spot of flu do the dead bacteria go to a bacterial heaven? Do house flies and viruses go to heaven? At what point along our evolutionary journey did homo sapien heaven evolve? I hope that you can see that this is a reductio ad absurdum. 
...
The reason I bring this up is because of the gleeful tone of some of the Hitchens obituaries and commentary. Of course it is to be expected from irony challenged, petty crypto Stalinists such as Alexander Cockburn but it's more surprising when you encounter triumphalist bile from theologians. Islamic and Catholic apologists seem to be the most ecstatic about Hitchens's death I suppose because they suffered the most under Hitch's withering attacks. Jewish rabbis who have debated Hitchens (and mostly lost badly) have had praise for Hitch's humanism and intellect. Even the fundamentalist Protesant pastor Douglas Wilson (one of Hitch's better adversaries) wrote a thoughtful commentary on his dealings and debates with Hitch over the years. So what is the religious argument that Hitchens deserves to be in hell? From the doctrinaire Christian theologians it seems to be this: Hitchens refused to believe in a God or an afterlife that his intellect told him was completely bogus. That's it. That is sufficient reason for him to go to hell. For using his brain and following the dictates of logic and for not keeping quiet about it. Personally I'd be ashamed to make an argument like this, but I suppose that this is what passes for philosophy these days in the mighty religion of St Francis, St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Alasdair MacIntyre. 
...
A more interesting assault on the non existence of the afterlife can be inferred from the work of Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom. Or in the lovely late Isaac Asimov short story The Last Answer which has been uploaded here.

47 comments:

Dana King said...

I was never a Hitchens fan, but the reaction of allegedly religious people reminds me that we don't see many of those WWJD tee shirts anymore. Few Christians are interested in what Jesus would do. That would involve a lot of not casting stones and forgiveness and loving sinners while hating since, all of which can be a lot of work and involve some self-examination.

My wife had a couple of tee shirts made for me several years ago, inscribed WWASD? (What Would Al Swearengen Do?) More people subscribe to that philosophy than the other. At least I'm honest about it.

Martha said...

At first I was dismayed because this seems to be a particularly bad time to lose one of the few articulate voices of reason in America, but then it occurred to me that there would never be a good time to lose Hitch because there apparently always was and always will be an ample supply of idiocy here. I hope someone picks up his torch.

frankie said...

This has made you angry hasn't it? I don't read newspapers so I haven't had to read all this sort of crap. I expected there would be plenty of it to be had after Hitchens death. I think I said this before, that I don't understand why people think they have to agree with Hitchens or others to appreciate them. I don't agree with some of what you write, but that's what makes for an interesting and balanced life.

I have Asimov's Guide To Science books.Very good.

frankie said...

My neighbour told me that I am a Humunist. When I get a chance to look up what one of those is, ill get back to him on it.

seana said...

My theory is that Hitchens is in hell, much to his surprise, and enjoying it immensely.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: though a God would a sense of humor would have sent Hitchens to Heaven.

Well, folks of Father Raymond J. De Souza’s bent have license to fling hatred and vituperation to their hearts’ desire because they can excuse themselves by pretending they wish a merciful judgment for their targets.

“I take a different view, and do sincerely pray for a merciful judgment,” De Souza writes, the unnecessary “sincerely” revealing an almost endearing sense of doubt about what he writes even as he writes it. Why would he add that word? Why would he think it necessary that anyone would doubt his sincerity unless he doubts it himself. Or maybe he was just too clumsy a writer to cover up his lie.
===================================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Is there a philosophy for someone in despair for whom religion and spirituality have been no help?

frankie said...

Ill go to Heaven for the weather, and hell for the company.

(The Streets)

Peter Rozovsky said...

Here’s a lesson to that hate-filled priest on the right way to assess a man's faults.

One other criticism of Hitchens the atheist that I've just read is that he never engaged great religious thinkers. Whether this is true or not, I don't know.
===================================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

lil Gluckstern said...

Language, literature, and ideas-what a loss.
It could also be said of Asimov at a different level. I saw him many many years ago, and he was elfin, charming, and brilliant.

Dan said...

Aahhhh d'Souza, the king of ad hominem attacks strikes again. I have read a fair bit of him as he is a great example of poor argument structure and he trumps himself here...good grief. He even argues that Hitch had a chance to redeem himself towards the end so he would NOT go to hell, which is illogical as he did not believe in it.
Anyway, like you I have trawled through a lot of post mortems regarding the man and statistically speaking, the more vituperative the attack, the less logical. The two seem to go hand in hand.
At work yesterday I was involved in a heated discussion about the existence of an afterlife and my protagonist asked me to prove why there was not one.
No, I replied, that is not my purpose here. You prove to me why I should believe in an afterlife, or in a 'god'. Using the tools of logic, reason and good argument, convince me beyond any reasonable doubt there is one, then I shall consider it.
Unfortunately they stormed off, telling me I was going to hell haha.
Martha wonders whether someone will pick up his torch. There are plenty of people out there who could, but they are big shoes to fill....
great post mate

adrian mckinty said...

Dana

What drives me nuts about those T shirts is that the people wearing them are almost never doing what JWD. They're at wrestling matches and at NRA rallies not in the local homeless shelter.

adrian mckinty said...

Martha

I can't remember who said it but someone said "the only two things that are infinite are the universe and human stupidity."

adrian mckinty said...

Frankie

Its definitely a good idea to read people that you completely disagree with. Esp if they're smart its a good mental work out.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

He's probably down at James Joyce's house inventing limericks.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

It was almost comically silly that piece. I could practically see him rubbing his hands and cackling with glee couldnt you?

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

Sounds like my average day.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I liked that piece but I do think some Americans are rather Puritanical about drinking. Knock smoking all you like but drinking? I remember going to Thanksgiving Dinner once and there was one bottle of wine for 8 people and we'd brought it. At a similar party/dinner in England or Ireland that would never have happened.

adrian mckinty said...

Lil

He wrote way too much but when he was good he was very good. The Last Question is a classic short story. And The Last Answer isnt bad either.

I like Eric Asimov's drink columns for the Times.

adrian mckinty said...

Dan

I'd like to hear what those arguments could possibly be. Maybe they've seen ghosts or something who knows?

I switch off a bit when they start using as evidence a two thousand year old book thats basically a collection of short stories.

frankie said...

What amazes me is adult people who have lived in the world can have such irrational views on a man like Hitchens. It really makes them look ridiculous. That's why I think faith schools are a bad idea if we want logical people. Children as a right should have the room to develop their own ideas. I went to a couple of C of E schools and I don't remember them being very stringent on hell or anything very religious really. I choose not to be very logical, it makes me happier, but I don't hate people that are. Do you know what I'm saying?

adrian mckinty said...

Frankie

Everyone says that America is God obsessed country buts its interesting that under the First Amendment religion is specifically prohibited from being taught in US schools whereas in the UK because of the 1944 Education Act religious education is compulsory in all UK schools.

frankie said...

Well I didn't know that. I can't believe it. How does it go from there to bumper stickers and anti abortion laws? In my last school 1 of 16, in RE the religious pupils could skip it and have a study break in the library, which always seemed unfair. Have you seen the Dawkins programme Faith Schools Menace? In the Rabbi Shmuley Boteach piece on Hitchens athough quite touching and balanced, he seems a bit harsh on Richard Dawkins, calling him a "hate filled atheist" ooooh get your Rabbi handbag out!

streuth said...

I was never really sure about Hitchens (all that lovey-dovey stuff about Lenin and Trotsky: God Is Not Great But Trotsky Is) but then he wrote that piece in Vanity Fair about how women aren't capable of being funny and then I realized he was a real man. Good stuff.

May he rest in peace.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I think Father De Souza’s piece was silly but hardly comically so. And no, I can't associate the word "glee" in any form with a man like that.

Leaving aside American attitudes toward drinking, I have some sympathy for criticism of loud-mouthed, obnoxious drunks, having run into one or two myself. But Pollitt’s criticism was at least sympathetic. De Souza sees excessive drinking as a weakness, or a character flaw, or an affliction, and, entirely in character, kicks and mocks the man who suffers from it. That’s as disgraceful a piece of writing as I’ve seen in a long while.
=======================================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Adrian said...

Frankie

Well of course if you dont like the lack of religion in US schools you can always sent your kid to a private or a parochial school and there are a LOT of those.

Adrian said...

Peter

Its a ghastly piece. I'm glad they ran it though because it brought only shame and embarrassment to the writer and none at all to Hitchens.

I suppose if Hitchens had debated a Christian conservative who wass at least competent in moral philosophy they could have given him a run for his money. Alasdair MacIntyre or Charles Taylor or Michael Sandel would have given him a run for his money but no one else really did.

Adrian said...

Streuth

I dont know if its about the business or the biology but very few women comics can make me laugh. Certainly not peoples champion Tina Fey. But being honest very very few male so called comics can make me laugh either. Steven Wright. Norm MacDonald. I think thats about it.

frankie said...

Adrian, I've never heard of those comedians. Peter Kay, Micheal Macintyre, Dara O'Brien, Chris Rock? That's wher funny is at! This is explaining much to me.

Adrian said...

Frankie

I know of Dara and Chris Rock and although I liked their early stuff either they are getting less funny or I am getting more grumpy.

frankie said...

Probably both. Comedians get less funny at about the same rate as men get more grumpy.

Gavin said...

The thing about logical arguments for/against the existence of God is that they really all go back to the same one or two.

Aquinas has the same arguments as Maimonides, whose arguments are the same as Judah haLevi, and so on, which is none of them like the idea of infinite regress. (Although it's interesting that haLevi and Maimonides also say that logic only takes you so far -- they both say that Aristotle's argument for eternity is equally valid, but that ultimately we fall back on tradition. IIRC Aquinas doesn't make that concession).

And the atheist argument is also pretty much a matter of denying the axioms of the theist argument.

Kate said...

I read C.Hitchens' obituary of E.Said.in Slate and didn't think it was an attack like Cockburn said it was. Parts of it were critical but it was also honest, thoughtful, and respectful. When Said died, no one really replaced him. Without ES and CH it's harder to be hopeful about an Israeli-Palestinian future.

How stupid was I to annoy a much smarter Catholic when I said I couldn't buy the Trinity concept because it didn't seem logical? She said the Trinity was a matter of faith and faith transcended logic. I thought maybe logic was all we had.
Adrian, did George Carlin ever make you laugh?

adrian mckinty said...

Frankie

Thats not much comfort. Here's a Steven Wright joke:


I read the dictionary once. It turns out the zebra did it.

adrian mckinty said...

Gav

I think the problem with those first mover arguments is that modern cosmology has pretty much done away with the need for them. Yes the universe can come ex nihilo. In fact it did from the quantum soup.

I do think Dawkins and Hitchens could both accept that Asimov story as a possibility though. In fact Dawkins has said on more than one occasion that he believes God-like beings have almost certainly evolved in the universe. And God like beings could I suppose transmute the software component of your brain into another form. Although it would probably be easier for them to copy your brain state instead, and if they did that the you that is you would still die.

adrian mckinty said...

Kate

You're right. In no way was it a hatchet job. There are a couple of Hitchens essays on Said in Arguably and they're both very thoughtful pieces. I couldn't agree less with Said but for Cockburn to say that Hitchens tossed Said on the pyre is way off base.

Anonymous said...

I've been re-reading God Is Not Great and am enjoying it more the second time through, though Hitch leans a little too heavily and too often on Ockham's Razor in some of his arguments, IMO. But that's a minor quibble about an otherwise brilliant book.

Brian O

adrian mckinty said...

Well it looks like we do now know where in fact Hitchens ended up:

http://www.christianpost.com/news/christopher-hitchens-body-donated-to-medical-research-65729/

seana said...

Well, we know where his body ended up. As to what happened to his peculiar essence, it is a mystery.

Frankly, I think people who argue for and against the existence of God on logical vs. dogmatic grounds kind of deserve each other.

By the way, even I can make men laugh out loud. It isn't really all that hard.

adrian mckinty said...

Brian

He's not really a philosopher. More of an outraged dude.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I dont think its crazy to be in the middle on this one. Although I do think Pascal's wager is a bit shabby.

Gavin said...

Adrian,

Even with the quantum soup, you can get a first mover question -- where did the space-time come from?

But all I'm really saying is that all the decent proofs for God's existence come down to the first mover question (I think Anselm's argument is silly, for example). But, in the end, it also begs the question of the existence of a first mover, so you end up with a back & forth about axioms.

I think one of the things I liked about Maimonides is that he's willing to concede that he can't really prove his axioms, and that at a certain point it comes down to faith.

It's sort of weird to throw around Medieval philosophers as the last word on the question, I guess, but later writings on the existence of God always seem to me to be going over the same ground that they covered.

adrian mckinty said...

Gav

Well the cheat there is that the probability wave function extends into the future and past, so the universe reaches into the nothing of the past and creates itself.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least he knows there's a God beyond a shadow of a doubt now. His questions have been answered. He's probably bending over for the devil as we speak. :(

Sheiler said...

The problem with comedy is that once the joke's been told, it's hard to get back to that place of being pleasantly surprised. But I have to toss out the tv show Roseanne, which was hilarious for many years (before she let that ape husband of hers take co-production and co-writing credits). Lily Tomlin on stage and also performing work written by her partner, also a woman, in Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (staged production only; don't bother with the movie). Also her performance in All of Me.

Madeleine Kahn.

Even the stand up comedienne Jessica Kierson.


Hitchens was brilliant and talented. He was also a dumbass man.

I grow weary with the xx xy diatribes.

adrian mckinty said...

Sheiler

I'm with you on Roseanne. The early seasons of Roseanne were good but I can't follow you with Lily Tomlin. Always found her irritating.

Except and its a big except in the brilliant Flirting With Disaster.

Frankie said...

Eddie Murphy!! Got to be one of the biggest bitches in comedy.

Bit late, sorry