Oh, christ. It’s the philosopher’s version of the Courtier’s Reply. There’s been some back and forth about Christopher Hitchens on Salon, with the first hack at Hitchens by Curtis White (and a ghastly bafflegab it was), followed by a defense by Dellora, and now Joe Winkler charges in, arguing that Hitchens wasn’t a philosopher.
All right, stipulated. He was not a philosopher. Much as I may respect some philosophy, you know that it’s no insult to state that someone is not a philosopher, and when someone uses philosophy as a clumsy bludgeon as does this Winkler fellow, it’s actually a compliment.
It’s another terrible effort at religious apologetics through confusion. This one paragraph ought to be enough to indict him on charges of sowing doubt and discord through dissembling noise.
Religion itself, especially the avant garde thought of religion, has been grappling with the issue of historicity in an honest manner for decades. What’s worse is that Hitch doesn’t really do justice to the systems of countless of thinkers (Wittgenstein, Jung, Heschel and Niebuhr) who discuss the nature of religious claims and their relationship to truth. At no point does Hitch think to ask himself in this respect, what kind of truth are we talking about, historical truth, experiential truth, or maybe symbolic truth?
Jebus. I throw up my hands and throw up my lunch.
So what is, for instance, the claim of an afterlife? Historical? Nope. No one has died and come back to credibly summarize the event for us. Experiential? Have you died lately? Symbolic? Symbolic of what? We can play this game for every single contrivance of religion — it’s authority in morality, the power of prayer, transubstantiation, salvation, whatever. I don’t give a good god damn what label you give it or whether somebody believes in it fervently — it doesn’t make it true in any reasonable sense of the word.
And I mean true in the good old practical, pragmatic sense of being repeatable or verifiable, having some material evidence for its reality, or having verifiable consequences that cannot be explained by mundane, plausible phenomena.
How about true in the sense of it actually happened, or the process actually works?
You know, in the kinds of masturbatory games some philosophers and theologians play with the truth, they could just as well argue that Harry Potter is “true”, in the same sense as Jesus. Winkler tries to argue that what he calls “polemics”, or what I call cutting through the pretense, are “interesting, enlightening and often compelling, [but] rarely further the conversation.” That’s true, but only because he seems to regard spewing more bullshit as “conversation”. Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is shut down the stupid conversation by tearing apart its counterproductive premises, and simply ending the circle jerk.