July 14, 2007

"We have been created diseased, by a capricious despot, and then abruptly commanded to be whole and well, on pain of terror and torture."

The horror of creationism, as phrased by Christopher Hitchens, responding to the statement by Michael Gerson that "In a world without God, this desire for love and purpose is a cruel joke of nature -- imprinted by evolution but designed for disappointment."


hdhouse said...

Not sure what to make of his rant. I get confused by what he says and by the existence of my new born granddaughter who was not born diseased or inpure but rather angelic and without unpure thought. She doesn't need anything now but love and food, a little warmth and softness.

I think Mr. Hitchens must have deprived of all that at, and after, birth or worse yet hasn't justified the existence of a newborn or witnessed that miracle and explains it other than by a simple label of procreation.

It is too bad really. He misses a lot.

TMink said...

Agreed. What a bitter, dried up man he is.

I shall endeavor pray for him.


Dave said...

Hitchens is great. Were I religious I would worship him.

Benquo said...

hdhouse, in your first paragraph I thought you were agreeing with Hitchens. Hitchens is arguing that by Christian theology, your granddaughter is born with original sin ("impure") and with an overall tendency towards sin ("diseased"). The implication is that because such as assertion is on the face of it monstrous and absurd, we should not believe it.

You don't disputea reductio ad absurdum argument by saying that its premise is absurd; that, in fact, would constitute agreement.

What's your beef with Hitchens?

Dave said...

The principal argument against Hitchens is that he repudiates the ostensible good of religion and embraces only its bad elements.

Hitchens and I agree that its bad far outweighs its good.

(How long before someone responds with "well, yeah, but the Soviets and Nazis were not religious and they slaughtered tens of millions!" This would be an example of tu quoque argumentation and so is as unpersuasive as ontological argumentation.)

ricpic said...

Christian theology's reminder that man has "an overall tendency to sin" acts as a brake on his equally overall tendency to swell headedness and self-deification.

rhhardin said...

Vicki Hearne analyzes Harold Bloom's take on the Book of Job, concluding that he is afraid of animals, in her book _Animal Happiness_. One line, after citing

[the ostrich, who] leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers : her labour is in vain without fear.

``It can be a joy to labor in vain, perhaps, and what is interesting about the Book of Job is not the problem that arises when God doesn't turn out to be as restrained and kindly as benevolent governments are supposed to be, but the fact that his servants labor in vain, without fear. For an ostrich, it seems, that is her piety.'' p.220

``You might say that what God tells Job is that he [Job] is not capable of being kind, of fully desiring kindness, toward the whole planet.'' p.227

Or in Wittgensteinian terms, the language goes on holiday when you take words from the ordinary uses that tie them to the interests that created them ; and you will not notice this, except that women tend to drop the course and take something else. They tend to lose interest when the words do.

For the guys who are left in the course, the lesson is that you have to simultaneously contrive how you're going to understand the answer, when you ask a question with words gone empty.

Religion brings back an everyday context for the question, but of course you're also stuck with a fiction then. Not to put down religion, which when well done is a poeticizing of human ethics. For which see Emmanuel Levinas _Difficult Freedom_ ``A Religion for Adults.''

hdhouse said...

Benquo said...
"What's your beef with Hitchens?"

Original sin and being born in sin is not a universal religious doctrine and Hitchens lumps into one size fits all which I find to be intellectually dishonest.

Second, looking at a newborn that is a tabula rasa it is pretty hard to inscribe the Hitchens view of God or his take on theology onto the scene. It is more a protectionist stance of keeping evil away rather than stamping out what little there is that is there.

Last, I find him to be a snarly bastard in interviews who seems so full of venom and bluster that I can't take him as a serious thinker although many do. His understanding of theology and the diversity of thinking it represents is sophomoric and purposefully abstract.

What does he see when he hears Bach, sees a Matise, holds a newborn, reads a Sonnet? Would he not question his total denial of something devine?

dix said...

Like Hitchens, I find it difficult to rationally believe in God. We differ in that until my answers to questions like 'why are we here?' are really good, I hesitate to rip into religion. I may disagree with them, but at least they're giving it a try.

Paddy O said...

Hitchens and I agree that its bad far outweighs its good.

Ah, yes but the "Because I and a famous person agree so it must be true" argument is extremely persuasive.

Ron said...

Didn't Bach create what Bach created?
So now God's Bogarting the credit? Whom are you trying to give credit to, Buddha? Please don't just intone "the divine." Maybe some deities would not approve of the 'wrong' creations!

And when you see pictures of torture, do you not doubt the presence of the divine?

Hitchens is quite right to protest.

TMink said...

Hmmm, from reading the comments on the thread it appears that my prayer list has grown. 8)


Joan said...

The real problem with responding to Hitchens is the sheer volume of verbiage he generates. He will grossly exaggerate, distort, cherry pick his facts and set up a straw man in one or two sentences. Any kind of response that attempts to address each error immediately sounds whiny and nit-picky. I've read debates between Hitchens and believers, and without fail everyone of the believers gets lost in the thicket of Hitchens' bilious prose.

Hitchens' main problem is his lack of imagination. His portrayal of heaven as dreadfully boring demonstrates that he can't conceive of the transformation we undergo when our physical bodies die. In point of fact, we have not been created "diseased", but in the image of our Maker. "Imperfect" is not the same as "diseased." "Capricious despot" -- hardly, when all along we've been shown the way to salvation. I doubt Saddam Hussein spared anyone just because they confessed their sins and said they were sorry. We are not "commanded to be whole and well," we're commanded to try to be good people, to struggle against our selfish nature. Why, exactly, is that bad?

I can't argue that the threat of terror and torture have been used to keep people in line (as Hitchens would say.) How horrid that would be if it were a lie, but what if it's true? Don't we warn our children not to run into the street without looking, lest they get flattened by an oncoming car?

Ron, God's not bogarting anyone's credit -- but many of the most phenomenal artists have credited God with inspiring them and guiding their hands and hearts.

Rafique Tucker said...

Amen, Joan. I believe you've called it. Hitchens has a first-rate mind on most things, but when it comes to religion, he just doesn't want to play by the rules. He hides behind rhetorical tricks and his wholly false conceptions of faith in general, and Christianity in particular.

The Bible teaches that man was not created diseased, but made in the image of God. However, because of original sin that image has been corrupted, and mankind now needs redemption, to once again have fellowship with God. So, God sends his Son Jesus Christ to redeem us from sin, and we have the CHOICE to receive Him. God gives us the CHOICE to serve Him. The tyrants Hitchens compares God to surely do not.

I think Hitchens' hatred of religion, is dare I say it, almost religious.

Anonymous said...

"... the statement by Michael Gerson that "In a world without God, this desire for love and purpose is a cruel joke of nature -- imprinted by evolution but designed for disappointment.""

When are religious people going to come to the realization that this need for a Deity to give purpose to their life is not a need shared by everyone?

clint said...


Hard to know what to make of your comments.

Hitchens tends to be a bit over the top about things, and his rants can be off-putting (he is indeed a snarly bastard, and would freely admit so), but his point isn't really that complicated, and you seem to have missed it completely.

You may not personally believe that mankind is sinful or that we all rightfully belong in Hell, but it's silly to pretend that these aren't a part of how most Christian denominations explain the meaning of the crucifixion.

If you believe that your newborn granddaughter does not deserve to be tortured forever, then you too are rejecting the faith that Hitchens is railing against. He may use coarse language, but hundreds of millions of people actually claim to believe, in calm and polite tones, that the eternal torment of your newborn granddaughter would be just and righteous. And they have the audacity to claim that believing this makes them morally superior.

Gahrie said...

As a Deist, I too reject religion. However where I differ from Hitchens is how I evaluate Religons impact on the world. To be concise, I don't believe that civilization is possible without religion.

To expand on this a little:

Civilization requires large numbers of people to live in close proximity peacefully. Most human beings require some sort of extrinsic motivation in order to accomplish this. A large part of all the world's religions is comprised of codes of behavior, and the extrinsic motivations for following them. (usually involving punishment in the afterlife)

clint said...


""Capricious despot" -- hardly, when all along we've been shown the way to salvation."

That's right. We've all been told that we can end the eternal suffering of death and rebirth by expanding our minds and denying the illusion which traps us in our petty lives. The Buddha has shown us the Way, we have but to follow it.

Or, wait... I mean... We've all been told that we can avoid damnation by total Submission to the will of The God, as expressed by his final prophet, Muhammed.

Heck, even among devout Christians there are vast differences of opinion -- does salvation require the direct intercession of a Priest of apostolic descent from St. Peter? Does it require good works (see "by their fruits you shall know them"), or is a simple heartfelt expression of belief in Jesus Christ sufficient?

Exactly which way to salvation is it that we've all been clearly shown?

And you're absolutely certain that in this world of thousands of competing doctrines no one could possibly be confused about the one true path to salvation??

Steve M. Galbraith said...

How can one read the Constitution and not conclude that it was written by and designed by men that viewed humans as corrupt?

Whether one wants to trace this corruption to Original Sin or the Christian Lusts or secular explanations, the desire or willingness of men to rule over men is innate in his nature.

Torquemada or Lubyanka or Kampuchea, same results.

The Framers knew what they were doing, believe me.


John Stodder said...

If you read last Sunday's NY Times magazine piece about Williams Syndrome, you'll have a chance to catch up with some of the latest research on evolution and the brain. It is now believed by some scientists that the need for gossip was the survival mandate that led to the evolution of our ability to talk. (Because we had to work within a group to survive, and we had to understand the nature of the people in our group in order to survive within it.)

All that to say: I am sure that Gerson is wrong and Hitchens is right, that our moral qualities are going to be identified as an evolutionary adaptation with a specific location in the human brain. It is evolution, not God, that separates us morally from animals.

Saying that doesn't disprove God, either, but I'm just saying, Gerson, find a new argument.

P.S. Gerson says "Proving God's existence in 750 words or fewer would daunt even Thomas Aquinas." Geez, if that was the only problem, I'd think the WaPo would give him a little more space!

Unknown said...

"What does he see when he hears Bach, sees a Matise, holds a newborn, reads a Sonnet?"

He probably sees the same I see: human genius.

As an atheist I must really believe in the goodness of man, otherwise life would be completely hopeless for me, as I do not have some divine being I can rely on to make things right.

blake said...

Dave F--

You set up the argument so that it is a "tu quoque" but you're missing the causality: The equation of man to animal allows him to be killed as freely as an animal might be killed. At least, I think that's a better phrasing of the argument.

blake said...


Funnily, I have the exact opposite appraisal of babies: They seem so clearly born with personalities.

Robert Cook said...

"The Bible teaches that man was not created diseased, but made in the image of God. However, because of original sin that image has been corrupted, and mankind now needs redemption, to once again have fellowship with God. So, God sends his Son Jesus Christ to redeem us from sin..."

A succinctly well-stated thumbnail of Christianity's core concept, and one, therefore, that allows us to see what pure gibberish it amounts to.

Carl Sagan's final book, A DEMON HAUNTED WORLD is a powerful and important demolition of humankind's devotion to irrational beliefs. Though Sagan strives to be polite and does not come out and call believers of any faith foolish, one can surely see he longed for rationality to rise to ascendancy in humans...at which time such notions as "god" or the existence of an afterlife would be broadly and rightly rejected as ignorant silliness.

"Good" and "bad" are abstract human concepts which attempt to descibe those human behaviors which tend to favor or impede cohesion of society and the survival and well-being of our fellows--and the survival or failure of all our fellows is crucially important to our own survival or failure as individuals in the world.

TMink said...

Mike wrote: "When are religious people going to come to the realization that this need for a Deity to give purpose to their life is not a need shared by everyone?"

A good and fair question. Maybe never!

That should not allow rude boorish behavior, and I hope that anyone who is trying to share their faith with you leaves you alone after you let them know you are not interested. I mean, how effective is bothering someone? Not very.

But those of us who are evangelical were comanded to share our faith. It goes with the territory. But that still does not justify bothering someone in my view.


hdhouse said...

Its just my personal point of view but I don't think of God and His place in capital letters so much as I do as a wise person who has seen it all who prodes a bit, tries to make you think things through, engages you to live in proximity peacefully (as Gahrie aptly put it) but not as a from the getgo unrelenting sob who wacks you first chance he gets.

That indeed may be Hitchens issue. we have all seen them in action at one time or another and they kinda smell up the place in the name of religion..but thats just it...in the name of religion but not in the name of God.

And as to Bach being responsible for Bach...the beauty of his work is that you can look at it that way and you can look at him as devinely inspired and he looked at himself and his monumental output, all to the glory of god, as doing his best to honor god. there is a good and dry book called "the bach reader"..probably out of print, but it is a compendium of every thing bach wrote - all his letters, places where his signature still exists, etc. it gives a very different look of him. and i am happy to admit that there are 7 (i think that is right) extant bach signatures floating around...i saw one in a doctoral seminar 30 years ago belonging to a musicologist in Louisville. His hand trembled whe he took it out of its case and trembled slightly, perhaps thinking that we were looking at something representing someone who his (bach's) god touched directly.

Joe said...

Another angle is what do you prefer, treating other people decently because you are afraid of being punished or treating other people decently because you believe you should?

The underlying reward/punishment system of most religions has always bothered me. It reduces goodness to something trivial and selfish. This is a big reason I chose agnostic humanism over the conservative religion in which I was raised.

Anonymous said...

Hi Trey - You missed my point a little. I'm not bothered in any way (I'm not one of those angry atheists, like Hitchens). I'm just commenting on the oft heard assertion that without God, life clearly has no meaning. Apparently, that's true for believers and that's fine, but I find it presumptuous (and a little annoying) when it's stated as an obvious truth.

VekTor said...

The Bible teaches that man was not created diseased, but made in the image of God. However, because of original sin that image has been corrupted, and mankind now needs redemption, to once again have fellowship with God. So, God sends his Son Jesus Christ to redeem us from sin, and we have the CHOICE to receive Him. God gives us the CHOICE to serve Him.

The problem of "original sin" lies firmly at God's doorstep, not man's.

If God knows the end from the beginning, as the Bible contends, then he knew before he created the Garden that the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would be eaten, despite his "warning".

He could have arranged matters differently, yet chose not to. I've heard the "free will" defense put up with respect to this, but it always seems to lack one vital point that I have yet to see addressed.

The disobedience of Eve (who was not yet created when God gave his edict in Gen 2:17), or the disobedience of Adam in following her action after the fact, cannot rightly be judged as an immoral or sinful act, because they lacked the moral capacity to know that disobedience was evil.

They were denied the knowledge of good and evil, and then all of mankind was condemned because they failed to make a proper moral decision regarding whether listening to the serpent's argument over God's edict was evil.

Seems more than a bit like a frame-up, doesn't it?

We don't judge an infant as evil if it commits a bad act without the infant understanding that the act is bad, yet God knows in advance that this bad act will happen, and does nothing to stop it. He, in fact, lays the groundwork by denying Adam and Eve the very tools they could have used to make a sound moral judgement... the ability to know good from evil.

And we are expected to treat it as just and good that all of mankind inherits "original sin" from the actions of those who had no knowledge of whether their actions were good or evil?

A logical conclusion from a reading of Genesis would therefore be that mankind is corrupted because God ensured they didn't have the tools to prevent themselves from making moral errors (like the ability to know good from evil), and therefore would eventually commit sin, and knew in advance that they would do so, before he gave the warning which defined it as a sin to begin with.

Tell me again... who's responsible for man being corrupt?