Thursday, May 24, 2007

Christopher Hitchens, no longer my hero

Last night, I watched Christopher Hitchens speak about his new -- and excellent -- book, "god is not Great." As longtime TPV readers know, I think Hitchens is a great writer, and I found his new book an inspiring call to arms for atheists and freethinkers everywhere. So how'd he hold up in person?

Answer: not good. For a whole variety of reasons that I'll try to parse out in list form:

1. He's a dick. When one lady asked if he really thought Saddam was a religious figure, rather than a secular despot, he leveled an icy glaze and asked the woman if she knew about the history of the Ba'ath Party, and its control of Syria, and its alliance with Hezbollah. Having confirmed that she did not, he chortled in triumph and moved on. The whole exchange lent tremendous credence to "Big Daddy's" argument that Hitchens' attacks on those who opposed the Iraq War were virulent to the point of being pathological.

2. He's really a dick. Also during the Q&A, some lefties in the back started to boo and hiss when Hitch reiterated in no uncertain terms his continued support for the war. As said hissing continued, he castigated the crowd, saying, "How dare you hiss the soldier who risk their lives to save your worthless bodies." Uh, Hitch, they were hissing you and your ad hominem attacks.

3. Did I mention he was a dick? Perhaps the most disappointing realization is that Hitch isn't very thoughtful. His co-host, an incredibly smart dean of a local church whose name eludes me, repeatedly tried to get Hitch to explain the transcendent and the luminous, concepts that Hitch seemed to find in secular Shakespeare but not in religious texts. Rather than answer this question, Hitch just rattled off some pithy remarks that played to the crowd -- in other words, he preached to the converted.

All in all, Hitchens reminded me of all too many people I met in Yale's "Conservative Party," people who liked to debate by sneer and derision instead of principles and reason. I still believe that "god is not Great" -- currently at #1 on the NY Times bestseller list -- is an important, even groundbreaking book, because it refuses to debate religion on religion's terms. But I no longer want to grab a drink with the guy.


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