Tuesday, December 27, 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.