Christopher Hitchens Says, 'Bah, Hannukah'

Christopher Hitchens has achieved for himself quite a strong position as the American center-right's favorite Trotskyite. To a large extent this is well-earned. Hitch has stood fast in his adamant support for the War on Terror in all its aspects when plenty of fainter hearts far to rightward have fallen into equivocation, second thoughts, and whining.

But there is another Hitch, one who defends his remaining hard-left convictions with a vituperation hard to match in the English-speaking media. We usually see this Hitchens when he's writing about religion.

Hitch the Rabid was in full display in "Bah, Hannukah" in the December 3 edition of Slate. Having given Christianity a good whipping, he's now out to give the same treatment to Judaism. All on the basis of religious belief, mind you -- Hitchens is a civilized man, with no use for anti-Semitism as such.

Hitchens' latest atheist manifesto takes the form of an attack on Rabbi Michael Lerner, the left-wing spokesman and Hillary pal who usually deserves whatever he gets, though not in this context. "Bah, Hannukah", in large part a critique of a Lerner article dealing with the origins of the Jewish winter feast, is the usual tidal wave of disinformation, error, and sheer trivia that we get whenever atheists cut loose.

Hitchens begins his argument with kind words for the Seleucid empire, one of several gimcrack imperiums founded by the Diadochi, the successors to Alexander the Great, finding it infinitely superior to the Jewish Maccabees who revolted against it

Well, the problem here is that the Seleucid emperor in question, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (which can be translated as either "the Glorious" or "Slightly Cracked") had ordered the Jews to drop their backwoods ways and start worshiping the Greek pantheon. When they refused, he set out on the sort of customary killing spree that mars much of Jewish history.
This makes the revolt of the Maccabees and the concurrent reaction against things Greek a little more comprehensible than Hitchens would have us believe. One would think that a convinced atheist -- one who has put a lot of time and wordage into attacking the Jihadis, in particular -- would have strong objections to actions of Antiochus, but you won't see a word about it here.

Hitchens also digresses to let us know that such elements of the Christmas season as the yule log, the Christmas tree, mistletoe, etc., aren't Christian at all, but actually pagan! (If there's anybody out there who truly wasn't aware of this, see me after class.) Here, Hitchens is simply revealing that he knows far less about religion than he'd like us to believe.

Christianity -- in particular the Catholic Church -- borrowed useful elements from paganism, ranging from Roman law and organization to the multitude of shrines across Europe that started out being dedicated to Diana or Hecuba, only to later honor Our Lady. (There's even a theological theory to cover this: the pagan elements are actually "forerunners" of Christianity, the numerous virginal and motherly goddesses being reflections of the Blessed Mother, and so on.)

It's for this reason that a Christian monk of my acquaintance once said that if somebody wanted to become a good pagan, they'd become a Roman Catholic, the Mother Church having absorbed all the worthwhile elements of paganism.

But Hitch's real target here is the menorah that we often see on public property around the time of Hanukkah. These seem to bother him more than mangers, shepherds, wise men, and all the other features of the standard Christmas display -- though they get a few whacks too.  There's something about the menorah that really gets to him. He unleashes a torrent of nastiness against the display, and the legend it celebrates (the lamp that, thanks to divine intervention, burned for eight days unattended) of the kind he normally reserves for Saddam, Osama, and other international criminals. (And if Hitchens truly believes, as he states, that "the secularists and the civil libertarians" have had nothing to say about Menorah displays, then he has a little bit of homework to do.)

Clearly, Hitchens is missing the point. The menorah displays are not primarily religious in intent, but rather a symbol of inclusion, an expression of civic harmony. Shortly after his first election, George Washington was asked by the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island whether Jews would be welcome in the United States. His reply is worth memorizing:
...the Government of the United States... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance... May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
That's what the menorah displays are about. A symbolic fulfillment of Washington's implicit promise: that the U.S. would never fall to the level of the nations and peoples who tormented the Jews for centuries. That in this country, all are brethren under God. As a very bad Catholic, I don't find that particularly hard to take. I find it sad that Hitchens does.

Hitchens has done great work for the cause of liberty and the survival of the West, and he will continue to do so. But this is a case where he -- along with the rest of his atheist tribe -- is utterly blind. It's a blindness that causes him, as soon as religion is involved, to turn against the very values he spends so much time defending. But that is Christopher Hitchens as he is, and that is how we are going to have to take him.

J.R. Dunn is contributing editor of American Thinker.
Christopher Hitchens has achieved for himself quite a strong position as the American center-right's favorite Trotskyite. To a large extent this is well-earned. Hitch has stood fast in his adamant support for the War on Terror in all its aspects when plenty of fainter hearts far to rightward have fallen into equivocation, second thoughts, and whining.

But there is another Hitch, one who defends his remaining hard-left convictions with a vituperation hard to match in the English-speaking media. We usually see this Hitchens when he's writing about religion.

Hitch the Rabid was in full display in "Bah, Hannukah" in the December 3 edition of Slate. Having given Christianity a good whipping, he's now out to give the same treatment to Judaism. All on the basis of religious belief, mind you -- Hitchens is a civilized man, with no use for anti-Semitism as such.

Hitchens' latest atheist manifesto takes the form of an attack on Rabbi Michael Lerner, the left-wing spokesman and Hillary pal who usually deserves whatever he gets, though not in this context. "Bah, Hannukah", in large part a critique of a Lerner article dealing with the origins of the Jewish winter feast, is the usual tidal wave of disinformation, error, and sheer trivia that we get whenever atheists cut loose.

Hitchens begins his argument with kind words for the Seleucid empire, one of several gimcrack imperiums founded by the Diadochi, the successors to Alexander the Great, finding it infinitely superior to the Jewish Maccabees who revolted against it

Well, the problem here is that the Seleucid emperor in question, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (which can be translated as either "the Glorious" or "Slightly Cracked") had ordered the Jews to drop their backwoods ways and start worshiping the Greek pantheon. When they refused, he set out on the sort of customary killing spree that mars much of Jewish history.
This makes the revolt of the Maccabees and the concurrent reaction against things Greek a little more comprehensible than Hitchens would have us believe. One would think that a convinced atheist -- one who has put a lot of time and wordage into attacking the Jihadis, in particular -- would have strong objections to actions of Antiochus, but you won't see a word about it here.

Hitchens also digresses to let us know that such elements of the Christmas season as the yule log, the Christmas tree, mistletoe, etc., aren't Christian at all, but actually pagan! (If there's anybody out there who truly wasn't aware of this, see me after class.) Here, Hitchens is simply revealing that he knows far less about religion than he'd like us to believe.

Christianity -- in particular the Catholic Church -- borrowed useful elements from paganism, ranging from Roman law and organization to the multitude of shrines across Europe that started out being dedicated to Diana or Hecuba, only to later honor Our Lady. (There's even a theological theory to cover this: the pagan elements are actually "forerunners" of Christianity, the numerous virginal and motherly goddesses being reflections of the Blessed Mother, and so on.)

It's for this reason that a Christian monk of my acquaintance once said that if somebody wanted to become a good pagan, they'd become a Roman Catholic, the Mother Church having absorbed all the worthwhile elements of paganism.

But Hitch's real target here is the menorah that we often see on public property around the time of Hanukkah. These seem to bother him more than mangers, shepherds, wise men, and all the other features of the standard Christmas display -- though they get a few whacks too.  There's something about the menorah that really gets to him. He unleashes a torrent of nastiness against the display, and the legend it celebrates (the lamp that, thanks to divine intervention, burned for eight days unattended) of the kind he normally reserves for Saddam, Osama, and other international criminals. (And if Hitchens truly believes, as he states, that "the secularists and the civil libertarians" have had nothing to say about Menorah displays, then he has a little bit of homework to do.)

Clearly, Hitchens is missing the point. The menorah displays are not primarily religious in intent, but rather a symbol of inclusion, an expression of civic harmony. Shortly after his first election, George Washington was asked by the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island whether Jews would be welcome in the United States. His reply is worth memorizing:
...the Government of the United States... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance... May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
That's what the menorah displays are about. A symbolic fulfillment of Washington's implicit promise: that the U.S. would never fall to the level of the nations and peoples who tormented the Jews for centuries. That in this country, all are brethren under God. As a very bad Catholic, I don't find that particularly hard to take. I find it sad that Hitchens does.

Hitchens has done great work for the cause of liberty and the survival of the West, and he will continue to do so. But this is a case where he -- along with the rest of his atheist tribe -- is utterly blind. It's a blindness that causes him, as soon as religion is involved, to turn against the very values he spends so much time defending. But that is Christopher Hitchens as he is, and that is how we are going to have to take him.

J.R. Dunn is contributing editor of American Thinker.