Friday, February 08, 2013

Hitchens: Religion is fossilized philosophy

Hitchens is missed during the ongoing debate on drone strikes and on the upheavals in the Middle East. Nice to still have his ideas to consider, if only posthumously:

Hitchens: One can’t be neutral about religion. One can’t just say it’s wrong---one has to say it’s a wicked thing to desire. I mean, why would anyone want it to be true that one was subject to permanent round-the-clock supervision, surveillance, and possibly even intervention, all of one’s waking and sleeping life? And one couldn’t escape it by dying.

It’s worse than any kind of totalitarianism; it means you’re absolutely held as property, that you have no autonomy, that you throw yourself permanently on the mercy of somebody. That is the description of the servile condition; that’s why both Islam and Christianity were both perfectly adapted, and still are in many ways, to feudalism or absolute monarchy, which of course is one of feudalism’s counterparts.

Andrew Sullivan: But the kind of Christianity that Jefferson espoused...

H: He had no Christianity.

A: Well, he constructed his own Bible.

H: Yes, but only by snipping out, or razoring out, every single supernatural or immoral claim. It left him with, as you know, a very slender volume. And even that he didn’t dare to publish. And I think that if he had been in a position where he did dare to publish---and this is after his retirement form public life---if he felt free to say what he freely thought, I’m confident that he would’ve been at the least, or most, a deist. No more than that. Certainly not a subscriber to any one monotheism. And in his braver moments, I think it’s very clear from his correspondence and his reflections that he’d had the experience of being an unbeliever and had not been able to forget it.

A: But a lot of people of faith have had that experience.

H: Of unbelief? Of course. There’s a famous prayer, “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” It’s an old paradox, in this case a Christian one.

A: There’s also this, that if you strip religion of dogma, i.e. its big empirical truth claims…If one understands mystery to be the core of it---in other words that one is worshipping something one cannot understand, which requires a certain letting go of it---its best expression is something like ritual. Wordless. Then it’s reconciliation to immortality.

H: Then you end up where Simon Blackburn---a professor of philosophy at Cambridge, author of a very good recent study of Plato. He puts it: religion is fossilized philosophy, it’s philosophy with the questioning left out. It’s something that becomes instated and no longer subjected to any further philosophical inquiry. Well, why would that be, from any point of view, a desirable thing?

A: No, because philosophy doesn’t help you live.

H: It’s the only thing that helps one live.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link.

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