Two thoughts. One recent and tragic. The other, something that’s been tumbling around in my mind for quite a while, and I only just realized I’ve never actually written a response to it on this page. Because it seems to tie in so well with the other thought, we’re going to handle them both at once.
Firstly, Christopher Hitchens, a personal hero of mine, whose talent for saying of religion exactly what I thought but in language by far surpassing anything I could come close to summoning on even my best of days, died a few days ago. I should have blogged then, but instead, I did what I suspect The Hitch would have wanted his readers to do--I drank, I smoked, I ranted. It’s what that great man was known for. And yet, even drunk, he was so much more--more eloquent, more educated, more well-read, more human--than any of the rest of us are sober. Many who knew him personally (which I did not), and most of his most devoted readers have suggested that the work by which he’d most like to be remembered is God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, his epic verbal broadside against the greatest tyrant of them all: the imaginary tyrant promoted by most of the world’s religions as a “loving father.”
He’s remembered fondly by outspoken atheists such as myself who appreciate having had someone of such credentials and such rare mental agility on our side, calling things not only as he saw them, but as they were (and are). Most others either immediately take offense or simply retreat behind the vacuous façade of “thou shalt not offend,” and read only his book’s title, without bothering to delve deeply enough into the contents to realize that it is not hyperbolically intended, but is in fact an accurate and meaningful description of what religion is: a poison--a toxin, a parasite, a cancer rapidly eating away at the insides of human civilization, a disease desperately in need of a cure.
For explanation of why we recognize religion to be a poison (I will NOT stoop to such noncommittal language as “why we believe religion is a poison,” as has been suggested to me in the past, by people who seem to value political correctness over accurately expressing the simple truth), I can only recommend three courses of action, as I won’t be going into great detail on that matter here. Firstly, by all means, each and every one of you should go and purchase a copy of The Hitch’s book, God is Not Great. It’s a wonderful read, reasonably inexpensive--in fact, during this holiday season, I’m sure it also makes for a wonderful gift (perhaps a stocking stuffer for that person in your life who keeps inviting you to their church even after you’ve said countless times that you have no interest…just saying)--and goes farther toward explaining the point behind its subtitle than I could ever hope to accomplish. (Parenthetically, I would suggest, in honor of Hitchens’ own thoughts on the matter, that if you go to Borders, you should steal a copy, but alas both Borders and Hichens are no more, so it seems hardly worth mentioning.) Secondly, read this article by Ray Garton, a friend of mine whose remarks upon Hitchens’ death echo my own thoughts in much better form than I could have hoped to accomplish. In the article, he explores Christians’ reactions to the death of the great man, and explains how the believers themselves prove Hitchens’ point better than anyone else could hope to. And finally, stick around this blog for a while, as I’m sure you’ll be seeing plenty of examples of exactly what we’re talking about.
Now, moving along from sad news to the infuriating. Go on the Internet for a while, and find any comments thread or message board in which people are arguing about religion, and you’re sure to hear something like this: “You militant atheists are just as bad as the evangelical Christians! Why can’t you just let people believe what they want to?” It’s phrased in various ways, but the argument, if one dares to call it that, remains the same. These people seem to think that by comparing the rhetorical volume of atheists to the evangelicals, or by analyzing how in some cases both varieties of commentary can have a certain sharpness of teeth, that they are creating an equivalence between what appear to be warring factions. And, the “logic” goes, if there’s an equivalence, isn’t this just a case of the pot calling the kettle black?
But they’re missing the point. As evidenced by the incredible volume (and I refer to volume both in the auditory sense and in the sense of measurement) of Christopher Hitchens’ work (and if you prefer, you could also look at Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, P.Z. Myers, or any number of other brilliant authors, orators, or commentators), the complaint we have against the evangelicals is not that they speak their mind, nor even that they do so loudly. The complaints we have against them are numerous and, I’m sure, somewhat varied from individual to individual, but it basically comes down to this: they’re WRONG! Not only are they mistaken, but they’re so willfully ignorant, corrupt, and downright stupid that one cannot take them seriously. And yet, as we so often, so loudly, and yes, sometimes even viciously complain, they are taken seriously. They rake in BILLIONS of dollars, on which they pay no taxes, and all they do in return is, as Hitchens so succinctly put it, “poison everything.”
I don’t care how loud you are. If you believe something, say so. Say it loudly and proudly. Shout it from the rooftops (literally, if you so desire, and even that won’t bother me). But if you’re wrong--if you’re stupid, if your statements are so misguided as to be laughable, if the implementation of your suggestions would cost humanity scientific progress, if you support an institution that systematically costs human lives, increases human suffering, or stands in the way of scientific progress--then I have no respect for you as an intellectual or as a human being. These people deserve ridicule, and for my part, that is what they shall receive, no matter how quietly they whisper their poison, nor how loudly I shout my response. Religion is dangerous humbug--THAT’S my complaint. And I’m going to keep making that complaint until this blight is removed from human civilization.