iOld School »« Secular Humanists are not and should not be religious

Hitchens’ last eloquent gasp

I just ordered Hitchens’ Mortality; it’ll be out next week. I’m very much looking forward to it in a grim sort of way. You can read the last chapter right now, and incoherent and scattered as those terminal jottings are, it’s still marvelously well-written. My favorite quote so far?

If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.

You know the whole book is going to be full of those.

Comments

  1. sqlrob says

    Next week? I thought I saw it at the bookstore last night, next to his recent set of essays.

  2. says

    The only respectable thing about Hitchens was his atheism. Here’s what I wrote about him a few years ago:

    “Christopher Hitchens, like Lyndon Larouche, used to present himself as a leftist. For many years he had a column in The Nation in which he vied with Alexander Cockburn for the “Most Acerbic” award (a magnificent scarlet inkwell filled with sulphuric acid). Things started to get a little weird in the 1990s when he developed an obsessive hatred of the Clintons. His reasons were partly respectable (triangulating, Dick-Morris-employing betrayers of the revolutionary vanguard) and partly insane (Bill’s serial sex crimes made Ted Bundy look like a boy scout; Whitewater [in which they were guilty, Guilty, GUILTY!) was the financial scandal of the century; Hillary not only murdered Vincent Foster, but conspired with her lesbian lover to seduce, rob and kill dozens of wealthy young fops whose mutilated bodies turned up in seedy alleys all over the DC metro area . .. well, maybe I made up that last one but it’s in the spirit of the thing.) Once he could no longer demonstrate his superiority to the bleating herd of liberal sheep by cheering on Ken Starr, the Iraq war became his next opportunity. His bellicose rantings were enough to drive Dick Cheney to the Quaker meetinghouse. He finally resigned from The Nation, claiming that the refusal of the magazine’s other writers and editors to fall to their knees in grateful acknowledgment of his intellectual and moral superiority on the question of war was proof of their bigotry and hatefulness. He wrote a final hissy fit essay in which he burned every bridge from London to Lompoc.

    As some people have noticed, the Iraq war has not turned out the way it was supposed to. Some of the war’s portside chickenhawk supporters have since issued mealy mouthed retractions; others have concentrated on giving Chimpoleon and his pals unsolicited advice about how to do it better. Hitchens, however, has devoted himself to escalatingly vicious and absurd attacks on the war’s opponents. It’s not unusual for polemicists to turn against their own comrades but Hitchens’s case is particularly disgusting and bizarre. I think that chronic alcoholism destroyed brain cells in his cerebral cortex that normally inhibit irrational emotional responses in the limbic system. Something ticked him off around 1994, and the anger just fed into a positive feedback loop that slowly and steadily grows more intense. Eventually, he’ll lose one too many neurons and lapse into a vegetative state.”

    Hitchens was an asshole. That is all.

  3. Blondin says

    And speaking of books coming out…

    On Aug 26 I received the following email from Amazon.com.

    We now have delivery date(s) for the order you placed on October 05, 2011:

    PZ Myers “The Happy Atheist”
    Estimated arrival date: August 13, 2013 – August 23, 2013

    Well, alrighty then! I should have received the book at least 3 days before I received the email so it must be around here somewhere…

  4. dianne says

    I heard a rumor that Hitchens did indeed make a death bed conversion: As he lay dying he called for a priest and converted him to atheism. I know it’s a joke, but I so WANT to believe it to be true…

  5. nmcc says

    Et tu Myers.

    Could we not just leave the disgusting, ‘thirst for worship’ slobberings over the now deflated windbag to the increasingly idiotic Richard Dawkins?

  6. tbtabby says

    Pastor Carl Gallups on the PPSimmons YouTube channel once claimed that God game Hitchens throat cancer to silence him for his blasphemy. Fat lot of good it did: he kept right on blaspheming up to the end, and his words will be spreading for some time to come thanks to his writing. You’d think an all-knowing, all-powerful being would be able to come up with something more effective.

  7. says

    With all due respect (read “fuck you”) PZ, that is exactly the sort of supremecist jingoistic “goddamn aren’t we nonbelievers awesome? We eat rationality and shit science” bullshit that turned me off from Just Atheism and skepticism. Not looking good for A+

  8. trekkinbob says

    Who could accuse Mr. Hitchens of lack of altruism toward believers? William Lane Craig ? ;) He was a self-sacrificial representation of the human condition and brilliant satirist right up to the end.

  9. says

    I detested Hitchens’ politics, but respected his skill with rhetoric. I cannot condemn the entirety of the man.

    And yes, it is an accomplishment to be an atheist. If it were trivial, there’d be more of us. I do agree that there should be more to being a human being than simply the rejection of gods.

  10. consciousness razor says

    My favorite quote so far?

    If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.

    That is fucked up. Make sure you remember that the next time a loved one who was a believer dies. And when an atheist dies, make sure to savor just how fucking pointless this statement is.

  11. says

    Hitchens said things “in defense of women”? (Whatever that means.) Okay. He also called the Dixie Chicks “Fucking fat slags,” because they insulted his hero George W. Bush.

  12. jaygordon says

    I’m not a God person, but if there is a God I’ll be sure to thank him for making us mortal, because hatred and idiocy such as this need only be endured for a short amount of time . . .

  13. peterhearn says

    @Jasper

    He said many stupid things. No doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean he should be irredeemably vilified despite all the good he did. But if you’d rather beat a dead horse, have at it.

    @cervantes
    Notice those words you quoted were blue? Maybe if you click them you’ll find out what I’m talking about?

  14. peterhearn says

    @consciousness razor

    That is fucked up. Make sure you remember that the next time a loved one who was a believer dies. And when an atheist dies, make sure to savor just how fucking pointless this statement is.

    Hint: Its a joke. Might want to get your satire gauge checked.

  15. Skatje Myers says

    Haha. It’s great because he said something shamefully horrible in a pithy way. Just so long as it’s at the expense of religious people, because then it’s a funny joke.

  16. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    It’s great because he said something shamefully horrible in a pithy way. Just so long as it’s at the expense of religious people, because then it’s a funny joke.

    . . . I’m confused . . . are you saying that mocking religious people for being religious is the same as mocking a woman for being female?

    I feel like I’m missing something . . .

  17. Ze Madmax says

    I think Skatje’s comment was a reply to peterhearn’s “Hint: Its a joke. Might want to get your satire gauge checked.”

    Because “it’s a joke” apparently means “DON’T YOU DARE CRITICIZE MY IDOLS YOU HEATHEN BLARGH BLARGH HURGH BLARGH”

  18. Skatje Myers says

    are you saying that mocking religious people for being religious is the same as mocking a woman for being female?

    Well, that was certainly a very creative and imaginative interpretation of what I actually said.

  19. consciousness razor says

    . . . I’m confused . . . are you saying that mocking religious people for being religious is the same as mocking a woman for being female?

    I feel like I’m missing something . . .

    Well, you’re certainly adding something. Skatje didn’t say anything about women.

    Maybe what you don’t get is that “it’s better that a believer dies” isn’t mockery. It’s just despicable.

  20. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Well, that was certainly a very creative and imaginative interpretation of what I actually said.

    To be clear, I’m not trying to distort what you said – just not grokking it.

    Upthread the discussion is Hitchen’s statements about women, so I thought that’s what you are referring to. However, I also assumed that could be wrong, which is why i asked the question.

  21. peterhearn says

    @Skatje Myers

    Sounds like you also need a checkup. Keep in mind you’re talking about a satirist who made a living going around the media purposefully saying insensitive things to stir up controversy. You’d have to be out of touch to take that statement at face value.

    And Hitchens is not at all my idol. His cardboard cutout is very small next to my shrine to Lord Dawkins.

  22. says

    Oh no, how horrible! He made a joke about death! It’s not like he was dying at the time, and being hounded to convert by assholes or anything… oh wait, yeah, he totally was.

    I guess facing your own upcoming death isn’t enough to allow someone a bit of grim humor. The shame and the horror is that he was dying of cancer, not that he made a stupid joke. FFS.

  23. andyo says

    Sounds like you also need a checkup. Keep in mind you’re talking about a satirist who made a living going around the media purposefully saying insensitive things to stir up controversy.

    That’s one way to look at it. Another would be that he was first and foremost a journalist and author saying things he believed to be true.

    His cardboard cutout is very small next to my shrine to Lord Dawkins.

    That’s a cute joke, but too close to not be a Poe.

  24. jonsharm says

    I usually enjoy Hitchen’s satire, but this just comes off as crass to me. If I had friend’s over for dinner and one jokingly said. “Hey, better a Jew die than a Christian, am I right?” I would toss them out if they didn’t apologise. It’s an awful thing to say.

  25. Amphiox says

    We have no sacred cows

    There’s good eatin’ on one of them sacred cows.

    Hmmm. Sanctity…..

  26. says

    @PZ

    Ffs being a rhetorician is an art…and one that is uniquely served for promoting ones politics. Ones politics is a far better metric to judge someone than their skill in a craft.

    Its like saying you won’t denounce Polanski because he’s a great artist: really frelled up.

    You have taken theists to task for more ambiguous statements than this. For shame.

    In addition to white cis male straight theist privledge maybe we should add genius privledge?

  27. says

    @peterhaven

    I owe dawkins and all NOTHING. I never requested they speak on my behalf and while what some have done is great it doesn’t matter. If were not going to givd weighed critique to people when they’re wrong because of how well they promote rationality we are hypocritical idiots.

    This is why I hate most Atheist punks now, you fucking idiots have replaced one authority for another. You have taken the idea of critical thought and rationality, thrown out the actual tool set and built a shrine around the lables. You don’t thin for your selves or care about reality and you attack people who do and try to shame them because they’re making a hero look bad. You are engaging in the same mentality you criticize catholics for when they defend mother church and have the oblivious audacity to feel superior to them! You know about bias and fallacies and all that but won’t apply it consistantly because deeerp biased and fallacious. Hypocrits, supremecists, liars, self deluded fools.

  28. Paul J. says

    Cervantes: “The only respectable thing about Hitchens was his atheism.”

    Nonsense. His freedom of speech lecture in Canada is better than any of his atheism lectures in my opinion. Hitchens championed many good political causes throughout his life (he didn’t hate Kissinger because of Kissinger’s bad dress sense) and some bad ones. He was sometimes misogynistic and mean spirited. Usually not.

    There would have been plenty of reasons both to despise and admire him even if he’d been a devout Catholic.

  29. lawmom says

    I think the statement has a grain of truth. A dying Christian takes comfort in “knowing” that he is moving on to eternal life in heaven. He’s immortal y’all! An atheist understands it’s all over, that he will not be reunited with loved ones in the afterlife and float on clouds and eat pie all day and not get fat. To me, that makes dying a little sadder for us (although it makes living all the more precious).

  30. Paul J. says

    lawmom: Yes, well. I think you know as well as the rest of us that he probably did intend the statement to be taken in the crude way.

  31. chigau (違う) says

    I was reminded of the Dylan Thomas (whoever he was) poem Do not go gentle into that good night so I went to Pfft.
    People who “analyze” poetry should have something awful and painful done to them.

  32. John Morales says

    Skatje:

    It’s great because he said something shamefully horrible in a pithy way.

    Nope; It’s great because he said something unapologetically horrible in a pithy way.

    Just so long as it’s at the expense of religious people, because then it’s a funny joke.

    Nope; it’s a wry parting shot.

  33. Amblebury says

    I like the fact there’s a hat-tip to Philip Larkin’s Aubade.

    Larkin was a less-than-stellar human being, whose writing I appreciate very much.

  34. consciousness razor says

    People who “analyze” poetry should have something awful and painful done to them.

    I suggest reading your comments. However, making them read Morales’ would be cruel and unusual.

  35. gbjames says

    Christ there is a lot of BS appearing in comments.

    In any case, I’ve had my copy of Mortality for several days, ordered from Amazon.

  36. Amphiox says

    Pedestals are for statues. Not so good for people. People have this annoying tendency to move around.

  37. John Morales says

    [meta + OT]

    chigau, both, but me mostly — you got the faint praise. ;)

    As for analysing (not “analysing”) poetry, I see your request for exemption as special pleading.

    (Nothing is sacred)

  38. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    The first part of the sentence is kind of important and is being ignored: “If I convert it’s because…” he’s joking about is own death while simultaneously discounting a death-bed conversion as legitimate. There’s only one death being discussed here, and it is his own.

    I’ve heard and read (often with disgust) many of the things that Hitchens has said and written, but I would be genuinely shocked if the last clause of that sentence were ever articulated independently.

  39. chigau (違う) says

    jeez
    can’t I just read a pome[sp] without going all Freud on it?

    Christ there is a lot of BS appearing in comments.

    yup

  40. betelgeux says

    The bottom line (for me at least), is that Christopher Hitchens was simultaneously a brilliant and passionate rhetorician who helped rationality and humanism advance to the public sphere, and an extraordinarily stubborn warmonger who supported the deaths of millions. To me, this made him utterly fascinating: a mind that could at once be beautiful and repulsive.

    In other words, he was a human being.

    Both the Hitchens haters and the Hitchens worshippers annoy the fuck out of me. To only look at one side of the man is to do his memory a great disservice: to understand who he was, you need to examine his best and worst qualities. And you need to understand someone before you judge them. Hitchens was unique in having embodied the best of the best and the worst of the worst, the brightest and darkest aspects of humanity. Can’t we all just agree on that?

    @Ing (33)

    I owe dawkins and all NOTHING. I never requested they speak on my behalf and while what some have done is great it doesn’t matter.

    That’s bullshit and you know it. What do you owe them? The fact that you are part of an atheist community. You post all the time over here at Pharyngula, which means that you are part of the online atheism community. A community that, in all likelihood, wouldn’t exist without Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, and, yes, PZ Myers. They were the ones who pushed atheism into the public sphere in the wake of 9/11, they are responsible for energizing young skeptics across the world to take action against extremism and irrationality. After 9/11, America could have easily rallied around Christian fundamentalism, but instead passionate atheists helped drive the public thought toward rationalism. The result was the Second Wave of Atheism, the explosion of freethought into the youth culture and onto the internet. That’s what you have to thank them for.

    Hitch-haters and Hitch-lovers, both in the same boat.

    /endrant.

  41. John Morales says

    [meta]

    I rarely do this, but damn!

    betelgeux, that was a most excellent comment in my estimation!

    (Kudos)

  42. says

    I disagreed with the Hitch about a lot of things, especially politics and feminism. I agreed with him about a lot of things, especially atheism and literature. I always enjoyed his writing style, regardless if I disagreed or agreed. I appreciate some good gallows humor and that is some damn good gallows humor.

  43. says

    That’s bullshit and you know it. What do you owe them? The fact that you are part of an atheist community. You post all the time over here at Pharyngula, which means that you are part of the online atheism community.

    Wow. Take note everyone, I literally am being forced into the community! the A+ critics were right.

    I owe Hitch NOTHING. My view of the community is that it is garbage for the reasons I stated above. if I’m supposed to respect him for helping bring another collective of self deluded hypocritical supremacist yutzes in to existence; bah I say. Bah.

  44. bad Jim says

    This is a rather old joke.

    A rabbi is on his deathbed, and a friend asks him if he has any last requests. The Rabbi asks his friend to find him a Catholic priest, so that he might convert. Confused, his friend asks, “Rabbi, why? You have been a great teacher and leader of your followers, and you have led a good and honorable Jewish life. Why would you want to become a Catholic now, before you die?”
    He says, “Eh, better one of them than one of us.”

    (Note: This joke is also seen with an Irish Catholic replacing the Rabbi, and a Protestant minister replacing the Catholic priest.)

  45. betelgeux says

    @Ing 51

    Wow. Take note everyone, I literally am being forced into the community! the A+ critics were right.

    I believe that Pharyngula is a community, an online community for atheists. I might be wrong, but I believe that PZ and most of the other commenters here would agree. If you don’t like being part of this community, if you think it is full of hypocritical, self-deluded liars and you want nothing to do with it, then what the hell are you posting here all the time for?

    I owe Hitch NOTHING. My view of the community is that it is garbage for the reasons I stated above. if I’m supposed to respect him for helping bring another collective of self deluded hypocritical supremacist yutzes in to existence; bah I say. Bah.

    If you are seriously generalizing all of the people that the prominent atheist authors and bloggers have helped bring into atheism as “hypocritical supremacist yutzes”, then fuck off, Ing.

  46. says

    Ing, what exactly did you expect? You posted an incoherent angry rant that offered nothing but your own spittle to the conversation.

  47. says

    I believe that Pharyngula is a community, an online community for atheists. I might be wrong, but I believe that PZ and most of the other commenters here would agree. If you don’t like being part of this community, if you think it is full of hypocritical, self-deluded liars and you want nothing to do with it, then what the hell are you posting here all the time for?

    a) Pretty sure there’s at least one pagan that would feel excluded by you

    b) Pharyngula =/= the atheist community.

  48. Amphiox says

    Never put people on pedestals.

    It is cruel and inhumane, and leads to bone loss and blood clots.

  49. consciousness razor says

    And yet I haven’t been given a book deal

    You aren’t responsible for making me an atheist either. You’ll need a time machine to go back to the mid-80s to do that. If I were you, I wouldn’t go, but if you do, tell me about 9/11.

  50. consciousness razor says

    That’s just an odd thing to say.

    Yes, it is; but it was sarcasm, in case that’s not clear. I agree that neither of us owes Hitchens anything.

  51. McC2lhu saw what you did there. says

    Considering Hitchens was the one doing the dying in the quote, and it was in notes jotted down for himself, I’m not going to deny a person with cancer whatever moments of amusement they may find or vilify the person for making them. I’m not taking the words at the face value they may have on a printed page without any context. I’m looking at the words of someone who was angry and likely afraid, because dying, especially early, sucks donkey bollocks. If I found myself in the same situation I would probably even quote the same words at that time. Thinking that this was an actual sentiment, rather than just a moment of dark humour, doesn’t seem to mesh with the writing style and moments of what I thought were mostly respectful debate through the years.

  52. Anri says

    Ing:

    I owe dawkins and all NOTHING. I never requested they speak on my behalf and while what some have done is great it doesn’t matter. If were not going to givd weighed critique to people when they’re wrong because of how well they promote rationality we are hypocritical idiots.

    This is why I hate most Atheist punks now … Hypocrits, supremecists, liars, self deluded fools.

    Can I get an “…and get offa my lawn!” with that, Ing?

    In all seriousness, yes, there are many more people willing to call themselves atheists with much less intellectual rigor. A major reason for that is that it’s a lot easier, socially speaking, to self-identify as an atheist, than it has been in the past. But… isn’t that the point?
    More people identifying as atheists means more people you don’t like or approve of identifying as atheists. There really isn’t any way around that.

    As far as not owing the man anything – you have no idea if that’s true, because you don’t know how much of your freedom to express a godless opinion is due to his efforts. It might not be a large amount, but I suspect it’s non-zero. But of course, I don’t know either.

  53. Rawnaeris says

    I am going to be seeing if my Barnes & Noble has it, otherwise I’ll be ordering it from Amazon.

    If my dreams were anything to go by last night, I apparently have not finished grieving for Hitch. I was carrying this book around, reading it and crying…

    (Yes, my subconscious does strange things.)

  54. Rawnaeris says

    And now that I’ve finished reading the full thread, I feel that I should add:

    Was Hitch perfect? Fuck no. But I loved listening to his debates, and his mastery of the English language. I love reading his writing, even when I disagree with him. Which, frankly, I do rather often.

    Disagreeing with him doesn’t mean we can’t mourn the loss of a fantastic writer and orator.

    /my $.02 FWIW

  55. anteprepro says

    So, I guess my takeaway from the Hitch fans is that Atheism + wouldn’t be necessary if only the esteemed members of Atheism * wrote more eloquently and had more rhetorical flair.

    The More You Know.

  56. says

    betelgeux:

    I believe that Pharyngula is a community, an online community for atheists.

    Pharyngula is not exclusively atheist. The majority of the commentariat is atheist, yes, but not all by a longshot.

  57. says

    This odd insistance that I owe Hitch respect not to criticize because I may owe him for stuff he did without my request or even knowledge of me is absurd…and frankly very Christian. Has anyone thought thazt Jesus MAY have paid for your sins?

  58. KG says

    As far as not owing the man anything – you have no idea if that’s true, because you don’t know how much of your freedom to express a godless opinion is due to his efforts. It might not be a large amount, but I suspect it’s non-zero. But of course, I don’t know either. – Anri

    I don’t know whether that’s true of Ing, but it’s certainly not true of me, nor of most British, nor I imagine most west European atheists. The last time I recall this freedom being questioned was the first time I came out as an atheist outside my immediate family – at school, in a religious education lesson, when I was 12 – that would be 1966 or 1967.

  59. KG says

    I’m no great fan of Hitchens, whose misogyny and support for the Iraq invasion were vile, but I can’t see the problem with his bit of gallows humour – which as others have noted, is by no means original with him.

  60. says

    @KG

    Because the idea that atheists are better than theists is already too endemic. I don’t find the sentiment funny, just rather hateful and mean spirited. If Hitch wants to leave that as a legacy well just leave it at that.

  61. Amphiox says

    Because the idea that atheists are better than theists is already too endemic.

    Rather insidious too, as recent events have demonstrated.

    In even the most charitable interpretation, such an attitude breeds complacency.

    If the theists are misogynist, bigoted, and privileged, then atheist, obviously, must not be, because atheists are better. And being better, they don’t have any need for introspection in regards to these issues, no need to improve themselves, because, after all, they are already better.

  62. ChasCPeterson says

    hmmm. You know who else thought it was funny to joke around about who should live and who should die?

    You probably know how much your insults would’ve humored him.

    that’s not what the transitive verb ‘humor’ means.

    I haven’t been given a book deal

    [self-edit]

  63. jim says

    I don’t quite understand the perspective Ing and similar are bringing to this discussion. The “wave” of prominent atheists that includes Hitchens helped significantly raise the visibility of atheism and atheists. I’m not sure that “popularizing” it would be exactly the right word, because at least here in the U.S. atheism still isn’t popular by the general public’s measure, but popularizing relative to how it was perceived before.

    In that way, current atheists or any political persuasion benefit indirectly from the small culture shifts that were (are) influenced by those individuals who in a very public way fought for atheism.

    I think Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be a loose analogy (although, to clear this objection out in advance, I am not saying Hitchens is the Rev. King of atheism). African American leaders who are conservative politically wouldn’t share King’s political views, and in fact would disagree with his ideology in numerous and significant ways. But that doesn’t stop the likes of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice from positively acknowledging the influence King had on race in America.

    I don’t see PZ or anyone demanding fealty to Hitchens or an endorsement of everything he spoke, did, or wrote, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate to posthumously respect the positive things he did for the atheist community at large and from which in some small part all of us benefit from because of his impact on the greater culture relative to atheism.

  64. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Because the idea that atheists are better than theists is already too endemic.

    I agree, but that sentiment is only apparent in the most literal interpretation of the quote. To convert to a position you have been fighting against as your life’s work and then die for the purpose of decreasing the population holding that position is futile. The statement as a whole is ridiculous, and given Hitchen’s gift for word-play, can only be interpreted as intentionally so.

    I also agree that readers of Hitchen’s could be so uncritical as to be misled into thinking that Hitchen’s is proposing that the death of a believer is unequivocally to be preferred over the death of an atheist. Such a reader is likely wrong about lots of stuff through no fault of the authors whom xe reads. I don’t deny that this is a danger, but I am not entirely sure what to do about it other than avoid saying anything sufficiently figurative to allow miscomprehension. It’s a little late to pass that message to Hitchens, though.

  65. anteprepro says

    That’s bullshit and you know it. What do you owe them? The fact that you are part of an atheist community. You post all the time over here at Pharyngula, which means that you are part of the online atheism community. A community that, in all likelihood, wouldn’t exist without Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, and, yes, PZ Myers. They were the ones who pushed atheism into the public sphere in the wake of 9/11, they are responsible for energizing young skeptics across the world to take action against extremism and irrationality. After 9/11, America could have easily rallied around Christian fundamentalism, but instead passionate atheists helped drive the public thought toward rationalism. The result was the Second Wave of Atheism, the explosion of freethought into the youth culture and onto the internet. That’s what you have to thank them for.

    So Dawkins and Hitchens, whose most popular atheist works were published in late 2006 and mid 2007 respectively, are responsible for the atheist community? That’s interesting to me. Because, you see, I’ve been an atheist since at least 2001. During those early days, I was regularly perusing atheist sites, atheist internet resources, reading religious debates. Around 2006, I was one of very many atheists informing (or just plain trolling) religious people on Yahoo Answers. I was regularly hearing about the popularity of atheist blogs before the God Delusion was ever making waves, and I had my own for a year or two before I finally got around to reading it (I still haven’t bothered finishing it).

    Usenet’s alt.atheism was the most popular group talking about religion in 1994 and 1995. Internet infidels was made in 1995. The Atheist Experience has been a webcast since 1997. Atheism.about.com has been around since 1998. Pharyngula joined Scienceblogs in 2005 and existed before that. Uncredible Hallq came into existence in 2005. Rational Response Squad around 2006. Daylight Atheism in Feb of 2006, Friendly Atheist at sometime in 2006 (author Sold His Soul on eBay in Feb of 2006, and published his book on it a month before Hitch’s book). The now-converted Raving Atheist was blogging since 2001, 2002 Aron Ra has been on Youtube since August 2006. Twin Youtube atheist assholes: Thunderfoot has been on youtube since the month God Delusion was published, Amazing Atheist the month after.

    The fact of the matter is: The internet has been used by atheists and has popularized atheism since the internet itself became widespread. Dawkins and Hitchens haven’t created this wave: They are riding it. They have possibly added to it, sure, but we are most certainly NOT indebted to them enough that one can assert we wouldn’t have online or offline atheist communities without them. That assertion is absolute hogwash.

  66. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    …Hitchens is…

    Goddammit. Trying to write while people are talking to me = bad idea.

  67. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Dawkins and Hitchens haven’t created this wave: They are riding it.

    Too true. Atheism is as old as belief.

  68. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    FWIW, I don’t have any feelings at all about Hitchens because I didn’t know him. He articulated some ideas that I liked and some that I didn’t. That’s it.

  69. consciousness razor says

    The statement as a whole is ridiculous, and given Hitchen’s gift for word-play, can only be interpreted as intentionally so.

    And given Hitchens’ gift for saying repugnant shit, it can only be interpreted as intentionally repugnant. But you’re right: it’s ridiculous too. I’m glad that’s settled.

    Now I’ll step back to this:

    I agree, but that sentiment is only apparent in the most literal interpretation of the quote. To convert to a position you have been fighting against as your life’s work and then die for the purpose of decreasing the population holding that position is futile.

    You don’t have to interpret it literally to think he sincerely meant atheists deserve more moral consideration than theists. He was fighting against theism as (part of) his life’s work, after all; but this is not something you’d say about people you consider your equals. And you don’t have to leave out the context of him being hounded by godbots to have a deathbed conversion, and that he wasn’t seriously going to convert. Sure, that’s implied, but that doesn’t excuse or invalidate everything else the statement is implying. Maybe he didn’t literally mean theists should die; but unless the whole thing is so “intentionally ridiculous” to be total bullshit (which isn’t a good defense), I don’t know what else to take from it except that he meant theists are inferior.

  70. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    And given Hitchens’ gift for saying repugnant shit, it can only be interpreted as intentionally repugnant.

    I doubt Hitchens ever said anything that he himself found to be repugnant, although I’m sure that he often found things that he said to be clever.

    He was fighting against theism as (part of) his life’s work, after all; but this is not something you’d say about people you consider your equals.

    I also doubt that Hitchens saw many people as his equal at all.

    Maybe he didn’t literally mean theists should die;…

    Being the entirety of the point that I’m making.

    …but unless the whole thing is so “intentionally ridiculous” to be total bullshit (which isn’t a good defense),…

    A defense of what? I’m just saying that, “If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.” doesn’t mean the same thing as “It’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.”. Specifically, the former statement is about the improbability of a death-bed conversion, while the latter is about the value of people’s lives.

    …I don’t know what else to take from it except that he meant theists are inferior.

    I think you’re wrong about that. I think it means that the only reason that Hitchens would consider converting was so patently ridiculous, that one could safely put the idea of a death-bed conversion to rest.

    Don’t get me wrong. I found many of Hitchen’s stances to be repugnant. Just not this particular sentence.

  71. consciousness razor says

    I think you’re wrong about that. I think it means that the only reason that Hitchens would consider converting was so patently ridiculous, that one could safely put the idea of a death-bed conversion to rest.

    That doesn’t make any sense. Do you mean ridiculous or meaningless? Since we’re (rightly) assuming he had no intention of converting, the rest of the statement is arbitrary. It could be anything whatsoever, like “If I convert, it’s because chocolate ice cream is tasty.” That’s a patently ridiculous reason for converting to a religion. However, if he had said that, you wouldn’t simply assume he thought it was false that chocolate ice cream is tasty. If he had instead said something he clearly didn’t mean, like “If I convert, it’s because shit is tasty,” then you can apply your sophisticated hermeneutics to figure out he didn’t really mean that. But that’s all you’re doing: you’re assuming he meant the first part is false, then letting that carry over to the second for good reason at all.

  72. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    But that’s all you’re doing: you’re assuming he meant the first part is false, then letting that carry over to the second for good reason at all.

    It isn’t that difficult.
     
    Premise: It’s better for a believer to die than an unbeliever.

    Argument: If Hitchens converts, a believer dies. If not, an unbeliever dies.

    Conclusion: Hitchens should convert.
     
    Everything that Hitchens had said or written about his own death indicated that he had no plan to convert– he didn’t think he should. I’m not assuming it. This is a matter of record. Therefore, unless you can find a flaw in the argument, the premise must be false.

  73. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I should have written:

    …This is a matter of record. I’m not assuming that the conclusion is false. It is false. Therefore, unless you can find a flaw in the argument, the premise must be false.

    Sorry for being unclear.

  74. consciousness razor says

    Above, I meant “for no good reason,” obviously.

    Therefore, unless you can find a flaw in the argument, the premise must be false.

    You said yourself that it’s a reason for converting which is “so patently ridiculous.” Now it’s a valid argument, which we’re supposed to take seriously?

  75. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    cr: You’re engaging in sophistry. Of course the argument is ridiculous because there is no real difference to any actual outcome whether Hitchens converts or not. It is pure wankery. That doesn’t mean that it lacks the structure that an argument takes, which was completely relevant to the point that you were making regarding the connection between the premise and the conclusion, and exactly what you thought I was assuming.

    I need to cook dinner.

    Back later.

  76. consciousness razor says

    You’re engaging in sophistry. Of course the argument is ridiculous because there is no real difference to any actual outcome whether Hitchens converts or not. It is pure wankery.

    Let me get this straight: it’s pure wankery, and you’re just telling us all about how we don’t get what the wankery is really all about. And I’m the one engaging in sophistry. Weird how that works.

  77. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    The sentence in question doesn’t mean what you claim it means.

    My pointing out as much is of no importance. It began as SIWOTI, but has become an exercise in onanism. I’ll stop.

  78. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Let me get this straight: it’s pure wankery, and you’re just telling us all about how we don’t get what the wankery is really all about. And I’m the one engaging in sophistry. Weird how that works.

    Ok. Last thing. It’s a joke. Of course it’s wankery. That’s what jokes are.

    And for the record, I’m not the only person here who has recognized as much. So let’s not pretend that I alone am differing with the multitudes for whom you have elected to speak. It’s a dishonest tactic and not one thatI remember you having engaged in before.

  79. consciousness razor says

    And for the record, I’m not the only person here who has recognized as much.

    I didn’t mean to imply you were alone, or that I was speaking for multitudes. I understand how you’d get that from “you’re just telling us all,” so I apologize. I’ll retract that and the keep the remainder.

    Maybe with your “sophistry” remark, you meant I’m dodging the issue of the validity of the argument (if that’s the issue — hard to tell at this point). I don’t know where to begin. What Hitchens does isn’t what Hitchens should do. The fact that he didn’t convert and didn’t intend to convert, combined with making such an assertion, doesn’t magically render “it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does” false. It simply doesn’t work that way. That’s a general statement about what’s better. His choice of actions have no effect on it, so it doesn’t follow, meaning the argument (such as it is) is invalid. And the premises are false. It’s not an either/or, because the facts of the matter haven’t been shown to have any connection to one another in the first place.

    Or it’s a joke. In that case, I know explaining the whole thing ruins it, but I wasn’t laughing to begin with.

  80. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I got frustrated myself, so sorry back at you*.

    I’m neither a fan of jokes nor (especially) of Hitchens**. I concede that if this wasn’t something Hitchens wrote to give himself a giggle, it’s wretched.

    *and then petulant. Eww.
    **The sexist warmonger wrote a book I liked.

  81. consciousness razor says

    **The sexist warmonger wrote a book I liked.

    I’ll give you that. I liked God Is Not Great. Then again, I’m pretty sure it didn’t change my mind about anything, so I’m pretty biased. It might be good, but what is it good for? What’s the point? It’s not an argument for atheism. It covers some of what’s bad about religion, but that’s easier than shooting fish in a barrel. It’s certainly well-written, and that is hard to do. But being well-written isn’t what a book is for.

    *trails off into sophistry*…

  82. Paul J. says

    anteprepro:

    So, I guess my takeaway from the Hitch fans is that Atheism + wouldn’t be necessary if only the esteemed members of Atheism * wrote more eloquently and had more rhetorical flair.

    The More You Know.

    Why would that be your takeaway?

    It’s really not difficult to be a fan of Hitchens while being a) sad that he could sometimes be a damn neanderthal, and b) glad that a movement is being formed which should have a positive effect on the whole atheist community.

    But hey, if you like strawman building…