Christopher Hitchens: Doubting Thomas

"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence"

It has taken me longer than I expected to write this. It is somewhat difficult to write a memorial for a man you never knew. Yet, somehow I felt that his passing was an important loss—yet why? Why was Christopher Hitchens important; was he important? Yes. Yes, he was important. What he had to say was important, for he has helped us all to see that not only is it OK to be a Doubting Thomas, but that we really must be one. This is an especially important lesson for us ex-CoGers—as I’m sure I need not explain. Whether one retains a belief in a deity or not, we have all learned to temper our unquestioning faith in Organized Religion, in the men who run them, and in individual

But that’s the very thing, isn’t it? That is what we (and nearly all people in all religions—esp. in monotheisms) have been told time and time again not to do. One cannot Question. One must not trust their Reason. Sure, we were encouraged to “reason with god”, but only if that reasoning ended up agreeing with everything the ministry told us the bible was saying. Additionally, we were prohibited from pursuing alternate explanations through “dissident literature”. We were told to Prove All Things, but again, like “reasoning with god”, only if we end up proving that those things were so, not whether they were so.

Hitchens has often said, “Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things… one of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority.” How many atrocities have been done through the agency of Unquestionable Authority? Even the Communist nations had religious-style dogma, and instead of an invisible deity, had rather their own human leaders as the Supreme Law of the land (the current President of North Korea is the long dead father of Kim Jung-Il, and was, of course, born of a virgin). Their word was law, their every whim a command. The movie Kingdom of Heaven has a wonderful example of this kind of situation when the priests (very political priests) cry out “God wills it!” as the Be All and End All of arguments. When one cannot argue with those who claim to speak for Mr. Deity, then anything they say (or that they claim the Holy Book says) cannot be questioned and therefore must be obeyed. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

But this article isn’t about criticizing religion; it is about a man who dared criticize it, and about the idea he loudly proclaimed that it is both good and necessary to have that freedom! For centuries, institutions like the Catholic Church held unquestioned (and more importantly, unquestionable) “spiritual” authority that very often trumped the earthly authority of Kings. Well, as the old saying goes, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What was done with this power? Besides influencing international politics (and abusing altar boys), Crusades were launched, Inquisitions were held; people were tortured and slaughtered in the name of Mr. Deity and none of it could be stopped because of the privileged position of Unquestionable Authority that religion had in society.

Today, however, since society has changed (thanks in large part to the secular values of the Enlightenment), religion is not as cruel (b/c people have reinterpreted it through the new prism), nor does it have the temporal power it once wielded. However, it still holds a privileged place in society—one that is generally held to be unquestionable. Sure, people disagree about specific dogmas and doctrines, but the idea of religion, of faith in God, are still held by the vast majority to be unquestionable. That is where Hitchens comes in.

Hitchens had the moral fiber to stand up and say (in essence), “This cow is not sacred! This cow is nothing more than a bovine quadruped…and soon supper!” In reality, though, he did say:

  • What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”
  • We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”
  • Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.”
  • I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.”
  • Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of ‘the flock.”
  • Those of us who write and study history are accustomed to its approximations and ambiguities. This is why we do not take literally the tenth-hand reports of frightened and illiterate peasants who claim to have seen miracles or to have had encounters with messiahs and prophets and redeemers who were, like them, mere humans. And this is also why we will never submit to dictation from those who display a fanatical belief in certainty and revelation.”
  • God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization.”

Whether you agree with his lack of belief in the supernatural or not, it should be obvious how important skepticism of this type is. Because of the societal taboo against “questioning religion” or questioning Faith, some people may not even realize it is an option! With the groundwork of unquestionable authority laid, all the unscrupulous have to do is convince people that their version of Faith/Religion is true. Half the work is done for them already! It is precisely Hitchens’ kind of public Doubting and Questioning that has made some people very defensive and angry.

It was Hitchens’ courage and moral fortitude to dare question the unquestionable that helped me through the process of leaving the controlling cult of the PCG. Listening to his debates, and reading his articles/books helped immeasurably in me not finding myself in another CoG splinter. All that he has said is important for the world to hear, but I write this mostly because of what those words meant for me.

Thank you, Mr. Hitchens.

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10 thoughts on “Christopher Hitchens: Doubting Thomas

  1. Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things

    I may be delusional, but I’m still trying to do my small part in mocking Armstrong.

    Maybe it will accomplish nothing.

    The latest entry in the fray is The Supreme Cult Blog.

    As I mentioned elsewhere, Casey, Robert Thiel with his Church of God News blog was just too tempting, so I created The Supreme Cult with it’s attendant The Supreme Commander as a mockery of all of Armstrongism along with the blog.

    The blog is intended to mirror most of Thiel’s electronic rubbish in the most twisted way possible — by putting the spin of truth into it.

    I wonder what Christopher Hitchens would have thought of us today in 2012?

    • So you went and did it, huh? I’ll have to take a look at that soon.

      “I wonder what Christopher Hitchens would have thought of us today in 2012?”

      Don’t let the picture of him smoking fool you: this was a modern man who just died a few weeks ago.

    • By the way, just read your entry on the LHC’s most recent discovery. Fucking hilarious. Probably the funniest thing in this sad industry that I’ve ever read. Thanks for the laugh, Douglas.

      • “You and your team are probably the only ones that get it”

        Say it ain’t so! I think the folks over at Silenced would get it, and Dennis, etc. We definitely have allies in the effort to emphasize a reason and science based approach to debunking Armstrongism. It’s just that the effort isn’t organized in any way. I’d like to see that changed, since that approach is, in my opinion, the most efficient and ultimately the most beneficial approach. If the experience of coming out of Armstrongism with our help leaves people with a deeper appreciation for skepticism, science, and legitimate scholarship, then we’ve not only helped individuals escape a delusion, we’ve done something to make the wider world a better place. The alternative approach, the counter-cult ministry, can incorporate some of these goals–but it typically doesn’t, and it sometimes goes so far as to preach against them (or even, as in the case of ESN, espousing and promoting anti-atheistic dogma and bigotry). As Andie Redwine said in a recent discussion I had with her, “Abuse is not love”–and misinformation is not support, nor is proselytizing. I plan on doing more outreach to those on the other side of the aisle (i.e., across from us atheists and equal-opportunity skeptics), in an effort to promote reason, skepticism and science in the wider counter-cult/anti-cult community.

  2. Casey, I was suprised when Ralph showed up and commented — I had forgotten about him. James at the Painful Truth certainly gets it. It’s just that using science and logic just doesn’t appeal to Armstrongists. I suspect they find it sterile. They want the warm and fuzzies.

    I am working toward a website of cult science to debunk cults using science. I have the URL and the prototype on my desktop PC. What I have yet to do is contact Jerry Oltion for permission to reproduce his article in Analog, “What Science Means to Me”. Jerry is a happy optimistic positive happily married man, reveling in the joy of living and standing in awe of the great universe. At the same time he is an atheist. If you could see the article, you would understand why I would want to display for the “cause”.

    It is difficult to know what approach to use. Banned by HWA! has the balanced approach using someone like Dennis for the more, shall we say, touchy feely aspects of anti-cult sentiment and NO2HWA for the more clinical approach (but, I must say, with a passion). The hybrid approach is appealing.

    Mike DDTFA (Don’t Drink The Flavor Aid) has an objective approach but his appeal rests in the sense of community the Weinlander refugees have there. It is one he has cultivated. There are a few believers along with atheists. The atheists use an interesting approach: I don’t believe God exists, but I use the Bible to prove Ronald Weinland wrong. They use the Scripture against the False Prophets.

    Unfortunately, science and logic have their limits when it comes to the hard core cultists: They are set in their beliefs and won’t give them up. It’s a tough nut to crack, particularly since they stay even after the guilty verdict, prison term and death of the huckster draining their life away. I know some these tragic people personally and wonder why they fell for the extreme nutcases, and, more importantly, why they stay after the obvious is painfully evident.

    Your approach of building bridges will work and has a positive benefit. We all have common ground even with the extreme divergence of core belief systems because one thing we all know: The cult leaders are wrong and people are suffering from abuse. We want that to end.

    In the most friendly frame of reference possible and with warmest regards, I wish you the best in your pursuit of building bridges. It’s something we all need.

  3. Actually, most commenters who come to my blog are believers to some extent. There is one outspoken atheist, and an ex-member who has evolved in that direction over the past few years since leaving. Some believers are well churched, others on their own.

  4. I notice over on Banned by HWA! (watch that “W” guys, it’s a killer deal breaker) that the PCG, the group owned by the False Prophet, Gerald Flurry (to distinguish him from all the other False Prophets), has been an average of 100 hard core members a year for the last five years, which makes it… thousands… no wait… 500+ so far. That makes it a member+ every three or four days. It’s sort of like a slow leak in the tires of an SUV: You may not notice for awhile, but in the long term, you’re not going anywhere until you fix it.

    So they called for a fast.

    No one has answered me yet.

    Is the fast to retain what members they have (sort of a losing proposition if the fast causes deterioration in the members so they die)?

    Or is the fast to get rid of members faster (pun intended).

    I do hope that it is the latter.

    Armstrong Delusion: It’s working! It’s working!

    • Yeah, we heard about that via someone talking about it…them having read it over on ESN. Flurry says they’ve been losing about 100 a year, though the number is doubtless higher. Unless, he might have meant that even with whatever additions, they’re still losing a net 100 from the overall membership. That would be good.

      But mostly I’m interested in finding out what they feel the root cause of it all is. Will they recognize that they’re doing stuff wrong, or will they blame it on people “not following the no contact policy” and getting sucked out by the wiles of the devil?

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