December 16, 2011

"Christopher Hitchens — the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant..."

"... died today at the age of 62."



"Exchange views with a believer even for a short time, and let us make the assumption that this is a mild and decent believer who does not open the bidding by telling you that your unbelief will endanger your soul and condemn you to hell. It will not be long until you are politely asked how you can possibly know right from wrong. Without holy awe, what is to prevent you from resorting to theft, murder, rape, and perjury? It will sometimes be conceded that non-believers have led ethical lives, and it will also be conceded (as it had better be) that many believers have been responsible for terrible crimes. Nonetheless, the working assumption is that we should have no moral compass if we were not somehow in thrall to an unalterable and unchallengeable celestial dictatorship. What a repulsive idea!"

(From "The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever.")

ADDED: From the NYT obituary:
In a political shift that shocked many of his friends and readers, he cut his ties to The Nation and became an outspoken advocate of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and a ferocious critic of what he called “Islamofascism.” Although he denied coining the word, he popularized it.

He remained unapologetic about the war. In 2006 he told the British newspaper The Guardian: “There are a lot of people who will not be happy, it seems to me, until I am compelled to write a letter to these comrades in Iraq and say: ‘Look, guys, it’s been real, but I’m going to have to drop you now. The political cost to me is just too high.’ Do I see myself doing this? No, I do not!”

138 comments:

Robert Cook said...

I never understood how people could think that, absent religious feeling, one has no basis or capacity for moral/ethical feeling or behavior.

It seems to me, actually, that religious teachings serve to codify the moral/ethical impulses that are innate in us.

In broad terms, those behaviors that we deem moral or ethical are advantageous to preservation of the species, and to order and harmony within communities, (e.g., don't kill, don't steal, don't lie, and all the variations and elaborations of these).

In short, we have a horror of murder not because God tell us it is wrong, but because we understand instinctively that murder among ourselves will harm the pack, and thus, ourselves; in the wild, among pack animals, the safety of the individual is dependent on the well-being of the pack.

edutcher said...

I hope it was as painless as possible.

Robert Cook said...

I never understood how people could think that, absent religious feeling, one has no basis or capacity for moral/ethical feeling or behavior.

Possibly by looking at all those atheist dictatorships Cook loves so much?

Jim S. said...

I think Hitchens and Robert Cook have misunderstood the argument. The claim is not that atheists cannot know right from wrong, that they cannot recognize that murder and rape are immoral. Of course they can. The claim, rather, is that these beliefs cannot be correct if atheism is true. If there is no metaphysical ground or anchor for morality then it is subjective to the individual, group, or culture. So it's not an epistemological claim about whether we can know moral truths, but a metaphysical claim about whether there are moral truths.

In their defense, however, this is a common misunderstanding. I wrote about it on my blog here if anyone's interested.

HT said...

What kind of denial was I in? I didn't know his death was imminent.

He was such a fighter, and persisted in his activities throughout, I thought death would not come so quick.

I'm very sad.

Marshal said...

"mild and decent believer who does not open the bidding by telling you that your unbelief will endanger your soul and condemn you to hell."

Why would such a belief make one indecent? Sure speaking it aloud or directly breaks a social convention and it would be better not to. But Hitchens's comments, which seem representative of a certain strain in western society, seem to hold that religious pluralism requires the religious to moderate their beliefs until there is no difference between believers and unbelievers. But this is not tolerance of religion, it's demanding religions meet certain criteria to be deemed acceptable.

Believing "the tenets of your religion is an attack on my beliefs" is exactly the position of dark age Christians toward the Jews which led to the pogroms. Christians took Jewish denials of Christ's divinity as an attack justifying a remedy. Here we see Hitch characterizing modern religion in the same way. Every single religious belief, including unbelief, includes a tacit understanding that anyone who believes differently is wrong. The truly tolerant accept this fact as inherent and unavoidable, and most importantly that it is not an attack. So people believe something you don't. Big deal, move on. Taking affront is the very essence of intolerance even though those doing so are often claiming the mantle of tolerance.

The social convention what Hitch describes as indecent only exists to mitigate the conflict created by the intolerant taking offense. So Hitch was one of the intolerant whose views are so extreme we have to agree not to talk about religion for fear of inflaming their ridiculousness.

I've seen this often recently, including directed at Tim Tebow. Maybe this is an outcome of decades of the left targeting the "religious right" as their political bogeyman. Maybe this is in part because Hitch has a more European outlook and religious intolerance has a long and glorious history there. But it would be a mistake for American society, at least those who don't desire an eternal political war with their neighbors.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Of course there's nothing indecent about believing that unbelievers are going to Hell. What's indecent is approving of it.

Freeman Hunt said...

Jim S. already wrote what I was going to write. Very common misunderstanding. Hear it all the time.

Robert Cook said...

"If there is no metaphysical ground or anchor for morality then it is subjective to the individual, group, or culture. So it's not an epistemological claim about whether we can know moral truths, but a metaphysical claim about whether there are moral truths."

Well, from cosmic viewpoint, then, there are no moral truths.

These are abstract concepts devised in the minds of men. But they are concepts that, as I stated before, arise from innate behavioral drives within us that serve to enhance and prolong the life of the species. We see cooperative and mutually protective behavior among pack animals in the wild...do they have a morality or ethos? No. It is innate behavior that serves to protect the herd. The herd is more important than the individual, but the individual's well-being is dependent on the preservation of the herd.

Self-seeking behavior by the individual, at the expense of the herd, will endanger the well-being of the herd, and self-seeking behavior of all individuals in the herd, at the expense of the herd, will lead to...no herd.

There are animals that are not pack animals, but we are pack animals, and none of us can survive in the wild without a self-sustaining, cooperative community. Our "morals" or "ethics," so-called, whether described by philosophy or theology, is just our after-the-fact codification of our in-borne pack animal behaviors.

But, there is no universal, handed-down-from-God-or-the-Universe set of laws that apply universally, and human cultures over time and geographic variety have held disparate moral beliefs, even if, at base, they abided by the general broad behaviors that enhance the survival of the community.

Psychedelic George said...

Some days ago there was a discussion here about Hitchens' desire to die and the Nietzsche quote.

I looked again at his last Vanity Fair essay, the one that quotes Nietzsche. In it, he writes:

"Only two things rescued me from betraying myself and letting go: a wife who would not hear of me talking in this boring and useless way, and various friends who also spoke freely."

That's why he didn't take the cowardly, selfish way out—because he knew he owed a duty to fight, to stay alive, to life itself, to his wife, his friends, and ultimately to himself.

He was frightened. It would have been superhuman not to have been. But he was brave and strong and courageous.

Gabriel Hanna said...

So it's not an epistemological claim about whether we can know moral truths, but a metaphysical claim about whether there are moral truths.

Is 2 + 2 = 4 only true because God decreed it? If God turns out not to exist, do 2 and 2 cease to add to 4? If God changes his mind, does 2 + 2 become 5?

When a believer says that moral truths don't exist if God doesn't, they are simply assuming that--you can tell because they do not apply this logic to any sort of factual truth. So either a statement of moral truth is different from every other kind of truth, in that it can only shown true if God exists; or the existence of God has nothing to do with whether we can evalaute a statement about moral truth.

Marshal said...

"What's indecent is approving of it."

1. Does Hitch make this distinction? Certainly not in the exerpt.

2. I wonder how many religious people "approve" of it. I would have guessed most either (a) don't think about it at any practical level, or (b) think it's a regrettable byproduct of nonbelief.

3. Why would it matter? If you don't agree with their religious beliefs why do you care what they say will happen to you when you're dead? You're still trying to invent outrage.

Tom G said...

RIP Mr. Hitchens. You challenged my thinking in a thoughtful way and often had me reaching for a dictionary.

He lived life to the fullest - I'll miss him greatly but his words will live on.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Robert Cook:
Our "morals" or "ethics," so-called, whether described by philosophy or theology, is just our after-the-fact codification of our in-borne pack animal behaviors.

And when one pack wipes out another to take its territory, then that is moral or immoral?

All you've done by appealing to "nature" is to say that whatever is, is right.

Simon said...

Ludovic Kennedy once recalled the experience of watching the Bismarck sink. As a sailor, he observed, you hate to see any ship go down, even an enemy; there's a certain respect, even for the deadliest of opponents. Like the Bismarck, Christopher Hitchens was fast, lethal, elegant, battleship gray... Full of seamen, too; he had enormous balls: While most people were exchanging opinions about waterboarding, Hitchens went and had it done to him and reported back. If you were going to go up against Christopher Hitchens, you loaded for bear or prepared to be mauled.

He never wasted a reader's time, he was often exceedingly funny, and he was always worth reading. With his untimely death, the world is a significantly safer place for wafflers, blatherers, and half-baked opinions.

I bid an exceedingly fond farewell to my double compatriot.

Scott M said...

Nonetheless, the working assumption is that we should have no moral compass if we were not somehow in thrall to an unalterable and unchallengeable celestial dictatorship.

And...?

Oddly enough,

WV - "pygod"

Paul Zrimsek said...

The argument that most religious people are able to live with the doctrine of hellfire because they don't bother thinking it through is one that Hitch would probably have been content with.

I too have had the experience of writing a long blog comment about something and only then realizing that it isn't important. Annoying, isn't it?

etbass said...

Christians didn't make it up that there is a hell reserved for the unbelievers. They get it from their founder, Jesus Christ who said so Himself. He offers redemption to all who will believe and those who won't condemn themselves. He has a right to do so because He is God. Don't like it? Sorry but that is what Christianity is.

Marshal said...

"The argument that most religious people are able to live with the doctrine of hellfire because they don't bother thinking it through is one that Hitch would probably have been content with.

This is why discussions require an element of goodwill. The issue isn't that they don't think about their beliefs, but rather that they are tolerant and believe others have the right to their own decisions. But to someone implacably determined to believe that everyone else is wrong the temptation to intentionally misunderstand must be irresistable.

amba said...

Suffering from blog fatigue, I haven't been here much for quite a while, but it's telling that this is where I come right away when I hear Hitchens has died.

"In 2007, when the interviewer Sean Hannity tried to make the case for an all-seeing God, Mr. Hitchens dismissed the idea with contempt. 'It would be like living in North Korea,' he said.

amba said...

I hope it was as painless as possible.

Pneumonia is actually somewhat merciful.

Freeman Hunt said...

This is very sad. Sixty-two is awfully young.

He was great fun and will be missed.

amba said...

Our "morals" or "ethics," so-called, whether described by philosophy or theology, is just our after-the-fact codification of our in-borne pack animal behaviors.

That "just" ... typical Darwinist reductionism. Says one who believes there is natural law whether or not there is a God as we humans conceive one. After all, the word "God" simply means "what humans worship" with a capital letter.

In nature there is constant creation and destruction, because organisms have to eat, compete, and mate, and tectonic plates gotta move. When a conscious being with the capacity for a "theory of mind" deliberately collaborates in destruction, that's evil. The fulfillment of consciousness is compassion and dispassion, approximately said the Buddha, who didn't posit a God in the same sense we do.

amba said...

I could have said that all in one word, to Gabriel Hanna: "Word."

amba said...

"Full of seamen, too." Wins thread!

Scott M said...

a conscious being with the capacity for a "theory of mind" deliberately collaborates in destruction, that's evil.

Whether I have a capacity for a "theory of mind" or not, if I kill and eat a deer, or reap and eat crops, I'm destroying them.

Paul Zrimsek said...

This is why discussions require an element of goodwill.

You can say things like this, or you can say things like "You're still trying to invent outrage." Not both.

Robert Cook said...

"And when one pack wipes out another to take its territory, then that is moral or immoral?"

External to ourselves, the question is senseless, as there is neither morality nor immorality in the universe.

One pack wiping out others to take their territory is the history of mankind. We define behavior as moral or immoral according to the perceived positive or negative outcomes respective behaviors will have on our pack. Packs who wipe out other packs will always define their behavior as not only moral, but as "supported by god (or the gods)," because, in the short term, such behavior benefits the pack.

However, now that we are truly a global pack, interdependent across borders, and with many vital resources growing scarcer, such behavior amounts to internecine warfare, and must be seen as harmful to the long-term well-being of the pack...that is, all of us.

By that standard, we must define our territorial and imperial behaviors, our wars for resources, (though always defined as "wars for goodness and justice"), as "immoral."

Robert Cook said...

"Pneumonia is actually somewhat merciful."

Compared to cancer, perhaps, but otherwise, not necessarily.

I had pneumonia a few years back, and spent three days in hosptial, and another two weeks at home from work recuperating. It's not so fun, and can be quite painful.

Robert Cook said...

"All you've done by appealing to 'nature' is to say that whatever is, is right."

No, I don't say that. I say: "Whatever is, is."

We define whether something is "right" or "wrong."

Robert Cook said...

"'Robert'" you're not even a capable neo-Darwinist: many species demonstrate altruistic behavior for one."

Yes, I pointed that out in my very first comment on this thread. As I said there, it does not bespeak a morality or ethics, but is innate: such behavior serves to protect the life of the species, of the school, the flock, the gaggle, the murder, the herd, the pack, the tribe.


Without such inborne behavioral drives, we would exterminate ourselves in short order, or allow external forces to winnow us down to none, and then we would not be, and the question would be moot.

Moose said...

An amazing man. Views on atheism aside (well, even with them - he raised great moral questions) he was a singular light of a generation that should continue to be celebrated.

RIP - no offense intended...

m stone said...

Well said, Moose.

Hitchens's last last days were chronicled in a recent Vanity Fair piece (sorry no link) and were agonizing, yet he continued to be sharp.

caplight45 said...

I truly admired Christopher Hitchens for his courage, his writing and for his consistency. He is a person I wish I had known personally. I will miss his work and the world is a little poorer today for want of his thought and character. A true liberal. RIP.

m stone said...

Here's Hitchens's last article:

Vanity Fair-Jan

showbiz111 said...

The only reason non believers have a moral compass at all is the judeo crhistian culture that infuses them with such ideals and morality. So subconsciously they are channeling the very ideas whose Author they reject.

Almost Ali said...

I viewed Hitchens as the great intellectual gladiator of our time. Now he's left the arena, not in retiring silence, but kicking and screaming.

Patrick said...

"We define whether something is "right" or "wrong.""

Based upon what?

The Crack Emcee said...

Once Again: "Ancient" Teachings Should Stay That Way

Salamandyr said...

I've always found Hitchens' atheism to be the least interesting thing about him. Of course, as a rule, I find religious belief in general to be a less than interesting topic, but at least the religious have a reason to constantly badger others. Atheists, who aren't selling anything to anyone, should have the politeness to keep it to themselves, lest they infect the young. (some part of the above statement was tongue in cheek, your guess is as good as mine how much)

The beautiful thing about Hitchens wasn't necessarily that he was right. In general, he was wrong about as often as he was right, if not more; and can't that be said of all of us. The beauty of Hitchens lay in the fact that he was a thinker. He could have his mind changed. He could be convinced of the error of his ways. If it didn't happen often, it was only because changing a well thought out position is a difficult task. But his positions were well thought out, even if they were wrong.

Robert Cook said...

"The only reason non believers have a moral compass at all is the judeo crhistian culture that infuses them with such ideals and morality. So subconsciously they are channeling the very ideas whose Author they reject."

So, you're saying that (non-superstitious) humans who do live and have throughout history lived in non-Judeo-Christian cultures--the number of whom far outnumber those who do and have lived in Judeo-Christian cultures--do not have and have had no "moral compass," that is to say, have lived lives of complete wanton abandon, without structure, without order, without inhibition against any behavior at all (that we would define as "bad")?

Skyler said...

A great man, who will be much missed by me. I always enjoy reading his latest piece of sharp wit.

Phil 3:14 said...

This is a nice piece from Christianity Today by a guy who went on a debate tour with Hitchens

Robert Cook said...

"'We define whether something is "right" or "wrong.'

"Based upon what?"

I dunno, Patrick...a flip of the coin, a toss of the dice?

I've stated in several comments here what I believe to be the basis of human morality or ethical systems. Do you want me to repeat myself?

bagoh20 said...

If you are a believer and it was proven to you somehow that there is no God, would you change your behavior? Would you become less moral? How would you live differently?

slarrow said...

Hitchens always misunderstood this objection--and I think willfully so--about morality. It wasn't about the content of morality, it was about the grounding of morality. Hitch had no problem expounding on his own moral intuitions, but when he was called on that and asked why his moral intuitions were justified, he did a lot of polemic hand-waving and never addressed the real question (just like this excerpt.)

Contra Robert Cook, this was a real problem for Hitchens because he consistently criticized moral elements of groups to which he didn't belong. He didn't hold to the relativistic nonsense that the Islamofascists' behavior was "right" for their pack and that his attacks were "right" for his pack. No, he thought he was right and that the Islamofascists were down and dirty horrible. In other words, he took the attitude that there was a transcendent moral order while refusing to consider what the source of that transcendence might be. That's because Hitch was a very good polemicist and a very poor philosopher. Fascinating man, and I'll miss him, but I don't think he ever truly struggled with this core question. He just fought it instead.

rcocean said...

I know we're supposed to praise the newly dead but come on -"Incomparable critic"? "Master rhetorician"? "Fiery wit"?

I must have read/watched another Hitchens.

The man had a Hodgepodge of superficial ideas that changed over the years. His only constant was his desire to never offend anyone with real power. Which is why the NYT, Vanity Fair, etc liked him so much.

Intellectually, he was as "brave" as Kieth Olbermann.

The Unknown Pundit said...

Good-bye Mr. Hitchens and condolenceses to his family and friends.

etbass said -
Christians didn't make it up that there is a hell reserved for the unbelievers. They get it from their founder, Jesus Christ who said so Himself. He offers redemption to all who will believe and those who won't condemn themselves. He has a right to do so because He is God. Don't like it? Sorry but that is what Christianity is.

I'm glad this was posted because this is a pretty typical declaration on these matters from a believer. So don't take this personally, etbass.

Actually, no one alive knows whether any religious dogma is true or not. Certainly Christians believe what you posted to be true. But believing something unverifiable to be true is different from proving that something is true. It would be helpful in all sorts of human interactions if Christians, Muslims, etc. were intellectually honest about this.
As for me, I find great value in the teachings attributed to Jesus. The Golden Rule, loving your neighbor as you do yourself, and seeking the truth in order to free youself from superstition are wise principles to live by.

wv - reproba Heh!

bagoh20 said...

I think Cook hits on it in the first comment:

"It seems to me, actually, that religious teachings serve to codify the moral/ethical impulses that are innate in us."

Cultures without formal religions still have the basic taboos, which predate all modern religions.

At worst, Hitchens' would have to submit that his moral basis is no better than that of the religious.

It's a chicken or egg question, and both are chicken.

Lem said...

RIP

wv morivir.. though dead, Hitch's writing will not.

bagoh20 said...

What was Hitchens' answer to the fact that atheists have shown in the 20th century that they are quite willing to fire up their own burning stakes to quell their heretics?

kristinintexas said...

Is 2 + 2 = 4 only true because God decreed it? If God turns out not to exist, do 2 and 2 cease to add to 4? If God changes his mind, does 2 + 2 become 5?

In a word, yes. 2 + 2 = 4 because of the order God gave to the universe when he created it (which he did, whether it took him 6 days or 6 million jillion years). So, no God means no order, and therefore no math problems.

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Col 1:17)

Whether we believe in God or not, we have our moral compass, our ability to reason, and our capacity to love all because we were created in his image.

(Amba, welcome back - I missed you!)

slarrow said...

bagoh20, the apostle Paul addressed this question centuries ago: "if the dead are not raised, 'let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'" (1 Corinthians 15:32, for reference.)

The trouble with Cook's point (and extending to Hitchens) is that it doesn't address the question of why we have innate moral intuitions, much less whether they're trustworthy or what to do when they conflict. Theists have an answer to that; a-theists of Hitch's stripe refuse to consider it even a question. Then they're vulnerable to the burning stakes of the atheist charge you mention.

From the debates I read, Hitchens' approach was to try to distance himself from those people entirely. He treated it more like a political question than a philosophical one. Rhetorical points, but hand-waving doesn't actually address the question.

kristinintexas said...

And yeah, I realize I can't prove anything I just said.

rcocean said...

"What was Hitchens' answer to the fact that atheists have shown in the 20th century that they are quite willing to fire up their own burning stakes to quell their heretics?"

Well, first he skipped over the fact that he was a communist in the 70s/80s and was then in favor of burning heretics. Then he would say Stalin and Hitler weren't "True Atheists". And then he'd change the subject and start talking about the Inquisition.

Jim said...

Hitchens used to challenge his debate partners and other believers to name a moral or ethical statement made or action performed by a believer that could not be made or performed by an unbeliever.

No one was ever able to give him a good answer. Reading the comments here today, I can see that hasn't changed.

Scott M said...

Hitchens used to challenge his debate partners and other believers to name a moral or ethical statement made or action performed by a believer that could not be made or performed by an unbeliever.

How about, I don't cheat on my spouse because I believe it to be a sin? I don't see how a non-believer could say or do the same. Sure, a non-believer could practice 100% monogamy, but not for the reason stated above. If I make the choice to abstain from extra-marital affairs purely from the sin angle, how can that be copied on the non-believer side?

MikeR said...

I have always been fascinated by what I see as the contradictions in Hitchens' life. Even this brief post displays them clearly. Of course atheists can be decent people. And yet, and yet: Hitchens found it necessary to fight fiercely on behalf of the freedom of strangers in Iraq, because he felt that it was the right thing to do. To fight - almost alone. Overwhelmingly, atheists like him chose to abandon the Iraqis. And overwhelmingly, seriously religious Americans felt it was their duty to try and help them if they could.

I wonder if it bothered Hitchens to be in a cause espoused mainly by him and a lot of Evangelical Christians.

(Please don't try to sidetrack by claiming that Iraq might not be such a good cause. I know that, and maybe even agree. But still, part of the opposition to Iraq was based on the same reason as opposition to the Cold War: moral cowardice. Who says we have to oppose evil? Hitchens didn't feel that way, and didn't think others should either.)

I don't understand why this is open to dispute. People who believe strongly in a religion will - sometimes - do things they otherwise wouldn't have done because of the religion. They will - sometimes - help other people and give their time and money to charity, when they wouldn't have otherwise. They will - sometimes - give their lives to take care of their sick spouses or to fight tyranny, when they wouldn't have otherwise. They will also, unfortunately, sometimes commit evil acts in the name of the religion, when they wouldn't have otherwise.

That's what it means to have a religion; it - sometimes - affects what you do. So I would have thought that good religions make people and society better, and bad ones make it worse, and that has always been my experience.

sonicfrog said...

Of all the things I’ve read from this brilliant man, this is the one blindingly obvious insight I will always remember:

“By all means, stupid people should be represented, but not by stupid people.”


I wrote a little memoriam at my blog.

CachorroQuente said...

"I think Hitchens and Robert Cook have misunderstood the argument. The claim is not that atheists cannot know right from wrong,..."

But, many believers _DO_ make the claim that atheists cannot know right from wrong. Indeed, in this very thread of comments that claim is made at least once. To see that claim targeted at Hitchens himself, watch the debates between Hitchens and that obnoxious sophist jumping bean Dinesh DSouza available on Youtube.

slarrow said...

Hitchens used to challenge his debate partners and other believers to name a moral or ethical statement made or action performed by a believer that could not be made or performed by an unbeliever.

Yeah, I'd see him do that. But the respondents didn't give him a "good" answer because they'd try to correct him on the question. They were never saying that nonbelievers couldn't do good things (which is what Hitchens' challenge would have disproven.) They were saying that without God, where do you build up the concept of "good" that you're working with? That was Hitchens' problem, and he steadfastly refused to address it.

Put another way, imagine the concepts of "good" and "justice" and "morality" as glasses. Their meaning was poured into them from a pitcher called Judeo-Christian Tradition. Hitchens wanted to smash the pitcher but drink from the glasses. His opponents weren't insisting he couldn't drink from the glasses; they were saying that he couldn't fill the glasses.

William said...

He was a man of some style. Whiskey and cigarettes were fashion accessories. He consumed them with more panache than any man since Bogart. Still, it must be admitted that such vices contributed to an early, painful death. It must further be admitted that conversion to Mormonism or the Seventh Day Adventists would have yielded him a far longer and more comfortable life. Hedonism has its downside. His choices were no more productive of happiness those of St. Francis......Spinoza remains my favorite atheist. He preached that the great crimes occur when people worship their hatreds. When people think that hating this person or that group makess them a more complete and moral actor, that's when we find humans at their most despicable. During Spinoza's time, such hatred was found foremost among religious believers. Christians, guilty as charged. But in the last hundred years, such fervor has been found chiefly among Marxists, nationalists, and Muslims.

CachorroQuente said...

"Then he would say Stalin and Hitler weren't 'True Atheists'."

Stalin was an atheist, I suppose, but all that proves is that being an atheist does not prevent someone from being a monster. Hitler, on the other hand, was no atheist at all -- he was a Catholic. As a Catholic, he knew the Gospel of John quite well.

Titus said...

He was a contrarian which made him interesting.

We need more contrarians.

Scott M said...

We need more contrarians.

No we don't.

Meade said...

LOL

bagoh20 said...

"Their meaning was poured into them from a pitcher called Judeo-Christian Tradition."


As Hitchens asks in the video: What about the 98,000 years before that? There was no sense of right and wrong, no justice, no compassion? Of course there was, even before monotheism. We have it in writing.

Terry said...

As I understand it, God does not condemn you to Hell. Sinners condemn themselves to Hell by refusing the unearned gift of salvation, usually out of pride.
A sinner can't get into Heaven because he refuses to enter.

Jim said...

You've completely failed at Hitchen's little exercise. His precise point was that objective morality is a human trait, not one that comes from god. There are plenty of atheists in the world who don't cheat on their spouse, and not just because Moses wrote that on a stone tablet a few thousand years ago.

Again, there are numerous examples of cultures throughout history that had no concept of the Judeo-Christian god but came to many of the same conclusions about the immorality of rape, theft and murder all on their own. Your claim that those things necessarily rose up from a belief in god has absolutely no basis in history or fact.

Terry said...


Stalin was an atheist, I suppose, but all that proves is that being an atheist does not prevent someone from being a monster.Hitler, on the other hand, was no atheist at all -- he was a Catholic. As a Catholic, he knew the Gospel of John quite well.

Poppycock.
When was Hitler last in communion with the Catholic Church? As boy?
Stalin attended Orthodox seminary as an adult.
The amount of ignorance you find on the web these days . . .

Scott M said...

There are plenty of atheists in the world who don't cheat on their spouse

That was my point. In that example I was not cheating because I was averse to sin. This is something that cannot be copied on the other side of the equation. Yes, both sides can be faithful, but the question was to make a moral or ethical statement that could not be copied by the atheist. And atheist cannot avoid an action because of sin aversion.

Patrick said...

Robert Cook: Forgive my laziness, I hadn't spent much time on the thread.

"We define behavior as moral or immoral according to the perceived positive or negative outcomes respective behaviors will have on our pack. "

Perhaps if you substitute "beneficial" for "moral," I could agree. Even if not, though, I think you still lack an underlying theory as to why it is moral to act in the interest of the pack, even to the detriment of the individual. "The herd is more important than the individual" is a moral judgment in itself. I can certainly see how it applies to animals, but it's too easy to see how that can lead to consequences I would find disastrous or horrible with regard to humans.

Just something to think about.

Any way, I'll join those who
hope Mr. Hitchens has received a very nice surprise.

Don said...

the working assumption is that we should have no moral compass if we were not somehow in thrall to an unalterable and unchallengeable celestial dictatorship.

Sigh...too bad we will never know what he thought he meant he was saying by that. Well at least the strawmen of the world will sleep more soundly now.

tennvols87 said...

For all Hitchens declared courage, he was at best the second most courageous writer at Vanity Fair after Dominick Dunne.

ken in sc said...

It's my understanding that Hitler favored a religion based on Wagnerian myths. He is supposed to have ordered the SS to create a new religion for Germany devoid of any Jewish influences, as Christianity was. The SS itself was based on the Jesuits. However, he was not an atheist.

bagoh20 said...

"And atheist cannot avoid an action because of sin aversion."

Then the corollary would be that believers only do right out of fear of sin and it's consequences. It seems to me that the atheist has the more noble motivation. He does it because it's simply right.

Regardless, motivation is unimportant. What produces the best outcome is the question, and I don't think it's very clear. I think that for the fair-minded atheist, if there is a god, it should be more clear that believing in him is beneficial.

The question for the atheist is: Would you encourage belief if it produced better outcomes for society?

slarrow said...

bagoh20, that's a perfect example of Hitchens avoiding the question again. That's an attack on the purported insufficiency of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but that's more smashing the pitcher. Just saying "there's justice outside that tradition" does nothing to fill the glasses. It really only helps Hitchens if he starts referring to those 98K years and the lessons to be drawn from them to explain what "justice" and "good" and "immorality" might mean. But he never did. Hitchens always attacked in those debates. Never really noticed him defending all too well.

Scott M said...

Then the corollary would be that believers only do right out of fear of sin and it's consequences. It seems to me that the atheist has the more noble motivation. He does it because it's simply right.

Without defining how he knows it's right? That seems to be the corner we keep trying to turn, but never get around.

Regardless, motivation is unimportant. What produces the best outcome is the question, and I don't think it's very clear.

That's the utilitarian argument for what makes a right action right, isn't it?

The question for the atheist is: Would you encourage belief if it produced better outcomes for society?

If it were clearly beneficial, only the most dogmatic (lol) atheists would refrain from admitting it.

David R. Graham said...

@Robert Cook: You a fan of Heidegger? Whitehead? Dewey?

There is no religion on the horizontal axis of existence. There is on the vertical axis.

It is a conceit of atheism and its innate morality - secularism/humanism - to portray the vertical axis of existence as coextensive with the horizontal. It works for a while ("man is a pack animal"), then it doesn't ("I and mine, including you, are more than anything you can name or conceive").

Man is a rational creature incorporating a trans-rational component. His urge is both forward and upward.

For some creatures, the urge is both backward and downward. They are not human. Religion is not in those creatures and neither is morality or culture.

Scott M said...

@Robert Cook: You a fan of Heidegger?

I have it on good authority, unimpeachable really, that Heidegger was a boozy begger.

bagoh20 said...

"Without defining how he knows it's right?

I think the atheist argument is that he knows it exactly the same way as the believer, but without use of the infrastructure. He believes both being, man-made or naturally occurring, depending on your definition of natural.

Terry said...

Ken in SC-
Hitler made a god of the German state, which he saw as the communal agent of the German people. It is impossible to believe that Hitler saw any authority on earth -- including the Catholic Church -- as having the power to morally judge himself or the German nation. It's textbook fascism.
Hitchens wasn't really an atheist, no matter what he called himself. He believed in the numinous. What he did not believe in was in a creator God with the power of moral judgment over mankind or men as individuals.
This is very close to the old heresy of dualism, and as a philosophy it founders on the same rocky headlands.

Scott M said...

He believes both being, man-made or naturally occurring, depending on your definition of natural.

There have been many different cultures and mores over the period of human existence, but there does tend to be some fundamental similarities (always with isolated exceptions). To agree with Hitchens on the "innateness" of what makes right, right, would seem to assert that this is the best way for communities of abstract, sophont individuals to order themselves. Thus, taboos on murder, stealing, and desires for fairness (at least within the same social strata) all would logically be naturally occurring.

This arises from the same sector that believes in zero divine involvement in human evolution. In other words, from an horribly chaotic, cutthroat, and winner-takes-all nature, mankind somehow evolved above the baser existence.

That just rings hollow to me.

CachorroQuente said...

"The amount of ignorance you find on the web these days . . ."

Quite true.

As to Stalin, I have no knowledge of his religion. It has been posited that he was an atheist and I am willing to suppose that for the sake of argument.

As for Hitler, the assertion is often made that he was an atheist which is demonstrably not true. He may not have been a good Catholic, whatever it is to be a good Catholic I leave to the Catholics to decide, but a Catholic he was.

Scott M said...

but a Catholic he was

You don't think, for the sake of the current discussion, his practicing status and/or belief in canon was important? Simply because his mother baptized him Catholic and made him go to church and Sunday school does not an adult Catholic make.

ALP said...

A dark day at our house. I introduced my partner to The Hitch a few years ago when I bought him "God is Not Great." My partner, a lone wolf type who is rarely impressed by anybody, eventually proclaimed that he "Loved that man" for his articulate defense of atheism in addition to his overall sharp mind.

He was reading "Hitch 22" and was afraid that once he finished it, Hitch would be dead. Well damned if he didn't finish the book last night.

A dark day at our house.

Simon said...

CachorroQuente said...
"Stalin was an atheist, I suppose, but all that proves is that being an atheist does not prevent someone from being a monster. Hitler, on the other hand, was no atheist at all -- he was a Catholic."

Not unless one accepts the notion that "Catholic" is an ethnic identity separate from religious practice in the manner of "Jewish," allowing for the possibility of "Catholics" and "Jews" who do not practice the Catholic and Jewish faiths. Hitler and Stalin may both have had religious aspirations as young men, but so what? Legions of avowed atheists were brought up in religious homes, and not a few devout faithful were brought up in atheist homes.

Jim said...
"You've completely failed at Hitchen's little exercise. His precise point was that objective morality is a human trait, not one that comes from god."

Morality is a human trait because our creator built it into us. Hence why, as you say, "there are numerous examples of cultures throughout history that had no [knowledge] of the Judeo-Christian god but came to many of the same conclusions about the immorality of rape, theft and murder all on their own." The problem lies in your assumption that people know God's law only when it is revealed to them externally, rather than it lying on their hearts as an artifact of their creation. It is most clearly articulated and elucidated in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but that tradition is not its source.

slarrow said...

I think the atheist argument is that he knows it exactly the same way as the believer, but without use of the infrastructure.

Precisely my point: the glasses, not the pitcher. It's what he drinks and thus is "simply right".

Incidentally, the pitcher/glass analogy is designed to talk about the meaning we pour into our moral terms. The Theist position goes a bit farther: it states not only is there a God who pours from the pitcher, He's the one who created us to enjoy the drink.

That's why Theists aren't too worked up by the appearance of moral constraints outside Christianity proper. Paul dealt with that somewhat in the first chapter of Romans: by creating us and the world, everyone gets a little something to drink.

Simon said...

Scott M said...
"You don't think, for the sake of the current discussion, his practicing status and/or belief in canon was important? Simply because his mother baptized him Catholic and made him go to church and Sunday school does not an adult Catholic make."

Right. Was he confirmed? Did he attend Mass regularly? What makes him a Catholic? Surely CachorroQuente wouldn't rest such a charge on nothing more than the man's own self-identification! Self-identification puts the question in the hands of the person who knows least and has the most incentive to lie. If you want to know what a man thinks about pornography, you don't ask him, you check his internet history! Who cares what Hitler thought of himself? If you had asked him to describe himself in two words, do you think he'd be more likely to describe himself as a genocidal dictator or as a dog lover and an artist?

CachorroQuente said...

"
Not unless one accepts the notion that "Catholic" is an ethnic identity separate from religious practice "

So, a Catholic who stops participating in the rituals ceases to be a Catholic? Fine by me. Then Hitler would be better described as a non-protestant Christian and lapsed Catholic. Sounds like most of the people I know who call themselves Catholics

CachorroQuente said...

He was confirmed so was a Catholic at one time. He never formally left the Catholic church and he was never excommunicated so it would seem to me that in the official opinion of the Catholic church that he remained a Catholic. But, I'm perfectly willing to leave the question of when someone ceases to be a Catholic up to the Catholic church. So, what are the rules about that? How long between confessions need one go before becoming an ex-Catholic? How often need a Catholic attend mass and take communion without losing the status?

Robert Cook said...

"Perhaps if you substitute 'beneficial' for 'moral,' I could agree. Even if not, though, I think you still lack an underlying theory as to why it is moral to act in the interest of the pack, even to the detriment of the individual."

Patrick, my whole point is that we create "moral" beliefs as a derivation of and to explain to ourselves the mysteries of our inborne drives toward behavior that tends to be "beneficial" to the pack and away from behavior that tends to be detrimental to the pack. Our "moral beliefs" or "ethics" are, as I've said, a codification in abstract terms of our innate behavior as pack animals.

What "underlying theory" do you want, or do I lack? Why is it "moral" (i.e., beneficial) to act in the interest of the pack, even to the detriment of the individual? Because the individual may die--will die--but the species--the pack--the community--will live on. In order for pack animals to survive, they must rely on each other and they develop over geologic and evolutionary time inborne, instinctive behaviors that will drive them to act cooperatively, to insure the members of the pack get enough food to live on, that the females can bear their young and nurture their young until they grow to maturity...as only in the new generations can the species/pack/community continue.

We give the name "love" (and have erected a whole story to tell ourselves what love is and means) to behavior this is biologically driven; we assign abstract meaning after the fact to feelings we have that arise due to biochemical activity that spurs us to mate, to pair bond--for life or for a time--to reproduce and bear young. It's all about--and only about--furthering the survival of the species and cementing the cohesiveness of the members of a family or community or tribe...also to further the survival of the species.

I don't have time to be as concise as I'd like, but I hope in my excess of words you can get a sense of what I mean to say.

There is no theory, there is only the biological mandate to reproduce and keep the species alive; creatures all over the world without conscious thought, or with thought but little or no abstract thought, do this for eons. Because of our capacity for abstract thought, we assign meaning to that which has no meaning: the whole of the universe.

rcocean said...

Read the writings of both Hitler and Stalin and their recorded conversations.

Both were atheists and Darwinists.

That there should be any argument is laughable.

Robert Cook said...

Scott M said:

"To agree with Hitchens on the 'innateness' of what makes right, right, would seem to assert that this is the best way for communities of abstract, sophont individuals to order themselves. Thus, taboos on murder, stealing, and desires for fairness (at least within the same social strata) all would logically be naturally occurring.

"This arises from the same sector that believes in zero divine involvement in human evolution. In other words, from an horribly chaotic, cutthroat, and winner-takes-all nature, mankind somehow evolved above the baser existence.

"That just rings hollow to me."


Scott, there are many species of creatures that develop cooperative, "altruistic" behavior...this is hardly the unique quality of human beings. And who says nature is necessarily "horribly chaotic, cutthroat, and winner-takes-all?" In this respect, humans are far more cutthroat than animals in the wild, who kill only to obtain food or to defend against becoming food.

Scott M said...

So, what are the rules about that?

We're getting tied up in a particular denomination for no reason when the real line of demarcation is whether or not he was a Christian, not Catholic. As Simon mentioned, asking someone this is not as telling as letting their actions speak for themselves.

Regardless what he called himself, Hitler was not a Christian if for no other reason than his promoting the state uber alles.

CachorroQuente said...

"That there should be any argument is laughable."

True, that.

Scott M said...

In this respect, humans are far more cutthroat than animals in the wild, who kill only to obtain food or to defend against becoming food.

Laughably not true. I don't have to look any further than my cat to rebuke your assertion.

Patrick said...

"I don't have time to be as concise as I'd like, but I hope in my excess of words you can get a sense of what I mean to say. "

I more or less do, but I don't think you and I are going to figure out the source of morality in the universe on an Althouse blog post. At least I'm not, too many things to do.

Regards.

Robert Cook said...

"@Robert Cook: You a fan of Heidegger? Whitehead? Dewey?"

Never read any of 'em. I don't read philosophy. (I took an Intro to Philosophy course in sophomore year of college and can remember only traces of it.)

Scott M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott M said...

@RC

Honestly, given that we have previously established that we have widely divergent views on what constitutes a "Christian" in the first place, it's likely the pinnacle of Sysiphean endeavor to continue this debate at all.

Besides, Sysiphus would be quite pissed if we reached a pinnacle.

Gabriel Hanna said...

So in this thread, we have religious believers saying that whatever God tells us to do is right; but they can't or won't explain why it would be wrong for us to, say, eat a live baby if God told us to.

And we have Robert Cook saying we can eat live babies if it's for the benefit of the pack, and by the way he's the one to tell us who's in our pack. Because, while it's ok for one wolfpack to rob another it is not ok for, say the US to take Iraq's oil. (Not that I agree that actually has happened.) Our pack now includes the whole world because Robert Cook said so.

I do wish some more thinking would go on.

CachorroQuente said...

"As Simon mentioned, asking someone this is not as telling as letting their actions speak for themselves."

My impression is that Simon was using adherence to rituals as the defining characteristic of a Catholic. It seems to me that you are implying a "know them by their fruits" test. In my experience, identifying someone's religion, or lack there of, by actions doesn't work very well.

The Unknown Pundit said...

We need more contrarians.

No we don't.


LOL

All non-conformists please take one step forward.

Scott M said...

All non-conformists please take one step forward.

LOL I did Steve Martin's "Non-conformist's Creed" on stage in front of about five thousand once. It's really only funny for the one leading it, but putting the joke on that many people that quickly is the genius of Steve Martin.

Blue@9 said...

The claim, rather, is that these beliefs cannot be correct if atheism is true. If there is no metaphysical ground or anchor for morality then it is subjective to the individual, group, or culture.

Really? So if a culture didn't have a god or religion to anchor its moral beliefs, it would just descend into rape and murder by default?

How about the notion that we don't rape and murder because it's destructive to society and individuals and not conducive to social order? I don't need a holy book to tell me that I'm better off in a society where neither I nor anyone else is free to rape and murder. Reason is good enough, yes?

(I remember in high school my religious friends would ask me, "If you don't believe in god, what's to stop people from just killing and stealing? There's nothing to say it's wrong!" And I would respond, "So you think killing and stealing are wrong only because the bible says so? That's sad.")

Methadras said...

RIP Hitch. I know where you are right now.

Simon said...

CachorroQuente said...
"So, a Catholic who stops participating in the rituals ceases to be a Catholic?"

Yes. That's why I can't stand the term "practicing Catholic"—it implies that there is such a thing as a non-practicing Catholic. It's an attempt to place the onus on the faithful rather than the lapsed.

"Hitler would be better described as a non-protestant Christian and lapsed Catholic."

He would be better described as a Nazi.

"Sounds like most of the people I know who call themselves Catholics"

Yeah, a lot of people have it in their heads that if their parents were Catholics, they are too, no matter how far removed from the Church they are in practice and belief. Those people are why you can't trust any poll that surveys "Catholics."

Simon said...

CachorroQuente said...
"My impression is that Simon was using adherence to rituals as the defining characteristic of a Catholic. It seems to me that you are implying a 'know them by their fruits' test. In my experience, identifying someone's religion, or lack there of, by actions doesn't work very well."

The defining characteristic of being a Catholic is being a Catholic, as opposed to simply having been baptized and raised by Catholic parents. Catholicism isn't genetic—you don't inherit it. It isn't contagious—you don't obtain it by mere proximity to it. You must actually be one. Of course, one allows a measure of slack for the reality that we are imperfect, sinful human beings, and sometimes our actions fall short of what of faith requires without impeaching that faith. I can't give you a precise definition of what must and can't be done that accounts for every marginal case. But when someone is not a Catholic in anything they do or intend, that's a very clear case.

Robert Cook said...

"I do wish some more thinking would go on."

I do, too.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Robert Cook, perhaps I've misunderstood you and you are just making Thrasymachus's argument, with "the pack" substituted for "the stronger". I see that you acknowledge that you can't go from "is" to "ought" and we agree there. But the topic really is how we get to ought, I think, not so much that you can't get there from "is". I do not agree that our morality can extrapolated from anything we evolved from: human cultures are far too varied.

The argument that morality is whatever God says it is is pretty lame, and was when Plato challenged in in "Euthyphro".

Scott M said...

The argument that morality is whatever God says it is is pretty lame, and was when Plato challenged in in "Euthyphro".

It's not lame. It's arbitrary. If, in fact, there is a God in the Judeo-Christian vein, and he laid out the rules then turned us loose with free will, arbitrary is what one would expect.

CachorroQuente said...

"The defining characteristic of being a Catholic is being a Catholic, as opposed to simply having been baptized and raised by Catholic parents. Catholicism isn't genetic—you don't inherit it."

Of course Catholicism is not inherited, thank God. But here we are discussing someone who was raised as a Catholic and who went through the formal process to become a Catholic. Upon confirmation, he was clearly a Catholic. So, if at some later time he was no longer a Catholic there must be some rule of the Catholic church which caused that change in status. What was that? Is there a rule of the Catholic church which says that homicidal, megalomaniacal psychopaths can't be Catholics? If that's so, why were no Nazis but one excommunicated, and that one for marrying a protestant? It's certainly not because the nature of the beast was unknown in Rome. And, what about Pinochet who was a Catholic until death?

"But when someone is not a Catholic in anything they do or intend, that's a very clear case."

Not to me, but then, I'm not a Catholic. Perhaps there are parallels between being a Catholic and being a Scotsman.

Catholic acquaintances of mine disagree with you about how a Catholic becomes a non-Catholic. I am told that one can't actually behave himself into being non-Catholic -- just into being a Catholic bound for Hell. None wants to accept our current topic as a Catholic, though. Pinochet (for example), maybe, but not the Austrian.

hombre said...

Blue@9 wrote: Really? So if a culture didn't have a god or religion to anchor its moral beliefs, it would just descend into rape and murder by default?
.... (I remember in high school my religious friends would ask me, "If you don't believe in god, what's to stop people from just killing and stealing?....


That, of course, is not the claim made by Jim S. at 6:03. He stated the argument quite well. You might want to read it again.

Since you are presumably not in high school any more, it would be appropriate to up your game accordingly.

mtrobertsattorney said...

It would be interesting to know who Hitchens was conversing with during his last days and on what subjects. I read somewhere that he numbered one or two Jesuits among his friends. Were they there? If they were, I doubt they would say very much about it.

Robert Cook said...

"Robert Cook, perhaps I've misunderstood you and you are just making Thrasymachus's argument, with 'the pack' substituted for 'the stronger'. I see that you acknowledge that you can't go from 'is' to 'ought' and we agree there."

Gabriel, I'm sorry, but I don't know who Thrasymachus is or what his argument was, and I don't mean the pack as a substitute for the stronger. I mean it to describe our respective communities or tribes, on the microscale, and the species as a whole, on the macroscale.

I also do not know what you're referring to in your references to the uncrossable gulf between is and ought.

I'm not arguing from any background of philosophical knowledge...I essentially have none. I'm just describing my own perception of the whys and wherefores of human behavior and how our evolutionarily developed pack behavior has been described after the fact using terms such as "morals" or "morality" or "ethics."

In short, I think we're just bright animals who behave in ways to further our survival as individuals but also, (and more importantly, if less consciously) as a group. There's no extrinsic meaning or morals, and such concepts are created by us to explain that which just is.

Terry said...

Robert Cook, you've explained nothing.
You can't even postulate that there is moral and immoral behavior.
Hitchens could do that.

Simon said...

CachorroQuente said...
"But here we are discussing someone who was raised as a Catholic and who went through the formal process to become a Catholic. Upon confirmation, he was clearly a Catholic."

What's your source for the proposition that he was confirmed?

"So, if at some later time he was no longer a Catholic there must be some rule of the Catholic church which caused that change in status. What was that? Is there a rule of the Catholic church which says that homicidal, megalomaniacal psychopaths can't be Catholics?"

If one is not following the precepts of the Church, that's a pretty loud alarm bell that one has lapsed. There are a few variations in wording and order that you'll see, and an extra two float in and out, but the five universal precepts—attending Mass every Sunday and other holy days of obligation set by the Church, receiving the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist at least once a year, fasting and abstinence on the days established by the Church, and material support of the Church, see CCC2042-43—are a pretty good benchmark.


"Catholic acquaintances of mine disagree with you about how a Catholic becomes a non-Catholic."

I'm sure. And are they themselves lapsed and/or in dissent on articles of faith that modern liberals find inconvenient (Humanae Vitae and/or Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, perhaps)?

rsb said...

Too bad about Hitchens. I wish there were more people like him in the world

HT said...

From the article in VF

During my next hospital stay, in Washington D.C., the institution gifted me with a vicious staph pneumonia (and sent me home twice with it) that almost snuffed me out.

With every passing year, it is more and more clear to me why people hate hospitals.

HT said...

One time he got on the bus I had boarded a couple stops away. He was so adorable in his rumpled white linen sport coat, with one half of the collar up, the other down. He sat in the seats up front and kind of hung on to the pole looking dazed yet intently around at everything. I figured he was on his way to do a CSPAN interview. He seemed half drunk at the time, but his half drunk is a level of alertness that most people at their best can never attain.

Jose_K said...

They get it from their founder, Jesus Christ who said so Himself.
No, the man of greatest faith, a pagan. The most charitable a samaritan.The puppies also has right to eat ... the sirian woman. Jonas was sent to save the followers of belcebu.

Jose_K said...

The man had a Hodgepodge of superficial ideas that changed over the years... only fanaticas and fools dont chage their minds

Robert Cook said...

"Robert Cook, you've explained nothing.
You can't even postulate that there is moral and immoral behavior."


I've explained all there is to explain.

Terry said...

Robert Cook wrote:
I've explained all there is to explain.
After I wrote:
Robert Cook, you've explained nothing.
We're both right! Hitchens' idea that his idea of morality was non-transcendent was empty & meaningless! Hence your defence of the notion that morality is meaningless.
Brilliant!

Scott M said...

I've explained all there is to explain.

Hubris on parade.

Terry said...

Let's get this straight.
Just because something is innate does not mean that it did not come from outside of a thing. Some people believe that morality comes from outside of us, just not from a God whose nature is good. Morality determined by nature comes from a source external to man or a man.
Hitchens was too smart (I hope) to believe that nature provided us with moral example, that is, morality is not found in nature, it is found only in men.
He was very good at asserting his moral authority to condemn Clinton, Mother Teresa, Henry Kissenger, Nixon, and of course Sydney Blumenthal, but he was never any good at explaining why his moral judgment was any better than Clintons', Mother Teresa's, etc. I think that it is reasonable to believe that Blumenthal does not believe Hitchens has the right to judge the morality of his actions. Why should we listen to Hitch and not to Blumenthal?

MrEddy said...

The discussion of the source of morality contained in this tongue-in-cheek review is the best I've run across. http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3822&context=fss_papers

Erik said...

Come on, people, this isn't difficult. From the Christian perspective being good and moral and virtuous outside of the faith *doesn't matter* because being good and moral and virtuous isn't enough for redemption and eternal life. So the whole point is moot. When Christians say, essentially, "you can't be good without God" what they really mean is that you can't bypass the Gospel demands of belief in Christ to gain entrance into heaven. You can never be good enough. That's the whole point.

Atheists obviously don't agree. So yes, they can be moral. And they're fine with it, because they don't care about this other thing that from the Christian point of view is necessary (belief in Christ). And they clearly don't find it necessary to justify their assessment of what is right and wrong. The truth is, critics of Hitchens (and Cook, who is far less articulate and can't seem to understand the issue) tend to do a bunch of hand waving. Because they don't have the answer. They're not looking for it. They don't care.

And yes, this makes them look like idiots when they argue about this point. And it's because atheists and Christians have completely different understandings of the nature of the world, and will never resolve this question.

To the point that continued bantering over well-trod ground gets a bit tedious.

Terry said...

Erik, what do you think of Luke CH 10? (the story of the Good Samaritan).

Robert Cook said...

"...(and Cook, who is far less articulate and can't seem to understand the issue) tend to do a bunch of hand waving. Because they don't have the answer."

Hey, I never claimed I was another Christopher Hitchens, but my explanation for the basis of "morality" is the answer.

Religion comes after morality and is not the source of it.

Ralph L said...

I figured he was on his way to do a CSPAN interview.
The first time I saw him on TV was in the mid 90's on CSPAN's old Journalists Roundtable at 7 am. He was obviously hungover, but he was there.

Terry said...

Religion comes after morality and is not the source of it.
More handwaving. Religion can be said to have begun when people began to bury their dead with their heads pointed towards the sunrise, if not sooner. That was tens of millennia ago. The evidence that it was preceded by morality?
Exactly zero.

Jim S. said...

The question of morality is a question of objectivity. Are our beliefs that murder is wrong, rape is wrong, the Holocaust was wrong something about us or something about reality? If you think it's just something about us then you're saying these beliefs are not really true; if we believed differently they wouldn't be wrong. If you think it's something about reality you think these beliefs are really true. If the Germans had won World War II and successfully wiped out the Jews, then proceeded to kill or brainwash everyone who disagreed with them about it, there would be no one left who thought the Holocaust was wrong. Say they rule humanity for 10,000 years: then the vast majority of people who have ever lived would think the Holocaust was not wrong. If you think morality is something about us you would have to say that the Holocaust would not really be wrong under these conditions. If you think morality is something about reality you would be able to say that it would still be wrong. That's what "objective" means: it's true regardless of whether anyone believes it.

Obviously, Hitchens believed that morality is objective. The problem is that it is difficult to see how this could be the case if there is no God.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Jim S:If you think it's just something about us then you're saying these beliefs are not really true...

Rubbish. You're confusing "truth" with "objectivity".

If you think morality is something about us you would have to say that the Holocaust would not really be wrong under these conditions.

No I don't. If millions of people believe that "Jack and Jill" was a great movie, I am not forced to choose between a) Jack and Jill really is a great movie or b) Jack and Jill was a terrible movie because God says so.

The problem is that it is difficult to see how this could be the case if there is no God..

Ah, the Argument from Personal Incredulity. "I don't get it, therefore it's not true". YOU may find it difficult, but other people don't.

A meter is an objective unit of measure. It was not decreed by God. It was invented by humans. Nonetheless meters measure length, and are perfectly objective, in that everyone can unambiguously determine how long a meter is and use it measure things. They can do the same with feet or cubits, true, but that doesn't make length standards "false".

Jim, my counter question which no believer in this thread has yet addressed--is it moral to eat a live human baby if God tells you to? All you are doing here is repeating Euthyphro's argument. Which was lame when Plato ridiculed it.

If whatever God tells us to do is good by definition, then if God tells you to wipe out Jews, or eat live babies, then that is moral. A lot of people in this world today think that God tells us to kill for Him. Why are they wrong? Don't they have an "objective" source of morality?

If God only tells us to do moral things, and would never tell us to do immoral things, then moral standards are not defined by God.

You are in exactly the same boat as an atheist. If God tells you to do something, you have to decide if it is moral or not. But you hide this from yourself by pretending that you know God will only ever tell you to do moral things, and so if God says something immoral then you know God didn't really say it. In other words, you judge God by your own standard of morality.

Furthermore, you confuse the concepts of "true", "objective", "absolute", and "decreed by God". There have been thousands of years of discussion about this issue. The foolish things have all been said many times, and remain foolish.

Jim S. said...

Rubbish. You're confusing "truth" with "objectivity".

Yes, part of the definition of truth is objectivity. The alternative is self-refuting. Is it objectively true that truth is subjective? Then you're asserting there is objective truth. Is it subjectively true that truth is subjective? Then you're not saying something about the way things are but about yourself -- which leaves completely open the possibility that there is objective truth.

If millions of people believe that "Jack and Jill" was a great movie, I am not forced to choose between a) Jack and Jill really is a great movie or b) Jack and Jill was a terrible movie because God says so.

Which, of course, is not the argument. You're attacking a straw man. The claim is not that God has to tell us moral truths but that in order for there to be moral truths there must a metaphysical ground for them, which ends up sounding a lot like God.

Ah, the Argument from Personal Incredulity. "I don't get it, therefore it's not true". YOU may find it difficult, but other people don't.

I was being gracious by saying "It's difficult to see..." By this I mean that no one has ever come up with a good argument or reason to show how morality could be objective without positing a metaphysical ground for it, despite millennia of trying to find such an argument or reason. If you think it's easy, go ahead and try. It will be revolutionary.

Also, can I take this to mean that you do think morality is objective after all?

Jim, my counter question which no believer in this thread has yet addressed--is it moral to eat a live human baby if God tells you to?

I can't make sense of the question. God has traditionally been understood as the ground of morality. Moral truths have traditionally been understood as expressions of God's nature. To ask whether the ground of morality could be complicit in a moral atrocity is close to a contradiction.

All you are doing here is repeating Euthyphro's argument. Which was lame when Plato ridiculed it.

No I'm not repeating the Euthyphro dilemma. I'm not a divine command theorist. Rather than go off on that, I'll just point you to this post I wrote about that issue.

Furthermore, you confuse the concepts of "true", "objective", "absolute", and "decreed by God". There have been thousands of years of discussion about this issue.

I know. I've been immersed in these discussions for a long time. You seem unaware of the most basic elements of them. The Euthyphro dilemma was solved nearly 2000 years ago for example.

The foolish things have all been said many times, and remain foolish.

Dude, if these things have been discussed for millennia by the most intelligent people throughout human history then obviously the main school of thought on the issue isn't foolish. It may be wrong but it's not dumb just because it doesn't let you believe what you want.

Robert Cook said...

"Religion can be said to have begun when people began to bury their dead with their heads pointed towards the sunrise, if not sooner. That was tens of millennia ago. The evidence that it was preceded by morality?
Exactly zero."


If people were organized enough to have communities and to consider the matter of formal burial of their dead, we can assume they long exhibited cooperative pack behavior that we would today characterize as "morality." Without such behavior, they would never have survived long enough to develop their burial beliefs and rites.

Ergo, "morality" preceded religion.

Issob Morocco said...

Perhaps one of my most interesting rememberance of Mr. Hitchens, was he and his brother Peter on CSPAN, about 7 or 8 years ago around Christmas time. I stumbled upon it as it started and ended up watching for nearly two hours which seemed compressed into 10 minutes in my mind.

The perspective he brought to a discussion and a beating pulse of feeling he could put in words, was amazing, whether I agreed or not with his views.

His brother, while perhaps not as blunt has the same acerbic, but truthful wit. Good family stock.

God bless Mr. Hitchens, just in case....

You will be remembered and missed either way.

Simon said...

Robert Cook said...
"Ergo, "morality" preceded religion."

That's true, so long as "religion" is defined (somewhat artificially, but not wholly incorrectly) as the human attempt to systematically understand the law laid down by God. I can happily stipulate that religion is a human attempt to understand divine revelation. Because God created mankind—stamping the moral law on their hearts—long before man began to try understanding his place in the universe, and long before God began giving us helpful tips through Moses, the prophets, and ultimately His son, it can correctly be said that the morality stamped in humankind by God precedes mankind's attempt to understand it and His subsequent attempts to explain it to us.