Hitchens and the Mind-Forged Manacles of Atheism

During a fairly fascinating exchange with Washington Post's Sally Quinn, appropriately titled "A lifetime rebuking supernatural and superstitious claims," famous atheist Christopher Hitchens speaks about his own mortality at what looms as the parting juncture of a rather industrious earthly existence.

It is more than a sickness unto death that assails the acerbic author. He has recently been diagnosed with metastasized esophageal cancer, the same malady that claimed his father's life. And as another celebrated British author named Samuel Johnson once wrote, "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Curiously enough, as he becomes stoically intimate with his future untimely demise, Hitchens cites the prospect of not being around to read eulogies to his legacy as one of his regrets. His positively wretched state of health may deter some from coldly labeling him a supremely self-centered man. But it would be more accurate to say that Hitchens -- like most of his fellow skeptics -- is guilty only of having a set of terribly disordered priorities.   

Hitchens' voluntary ousting of God from the picture is fitting for a man who appears not the least bit troubled about an imminent rendezvous with his maker, but instead is fastidiously concerned about the proper handling of his domestic affairs pending his exit from the land of the living. There is, in short, no crossroads urgency in his exquisitely tortured mind at this decisive time in his life -- perhaps prolonged for his own eternal benefit -- to dare venture beyond the strict boundary of Naturalism.

But the hermetically sealed intellectual boundary, impervious to any belief in the supernatural, which Hitchens unapologetically accepts as conclusive betrays a gnawing inconsistency within the existential paradigm of this brilliant and presumably open-minded skeptic.

In a classic rebuttal to another skeptic of his age titled "Religion without Dogma," C.S. Lewis -- once also an atheist -- diagnosed this fatal flaw inherent in Naturalism, long before Hitchens came in to the scene.  

Every particular thought whether it is a judgment of fact or a judgment of value is always and by all men discounted the moment they believe it can be explained, without remainder, as the result of irrational causes. Whenever you know that the other man is saying is wholly due to his complexes or to a bit of bone pressing on the brain, you cease to attach any importance to it. But if naturalism were true then all thoughts whatever would be the result of irrational causes. Therefore, all thoughts would be equally worthless. Therefore, Naturalism is worthless. If it is true, then we can know no truths. It cuts its own throat.

Moreover, Hitchens by no means adopted this self-imposed limitation because of his expansive knowledge of the central tenets of any religion -- a fact made evident by his naïve exposition of the concept of eternity as being forced to stay at a perpetual party against one's wishes -- but rather because of his latent hostility toward all of them. And even more surprising is that he cherishes the roots of this conviction as a most liberating epiphany.   

By his own admission, the catalyst that spurred his adoption of this hyper-skeptical stance and eventually led him to "shed any delusions about the cosmos" was a growing resentment for religious authority figures in the Anglican boarding school he attended as a youth, who tended to misuse religion as a "weapon of authority" but had "no special claim to be in charge." Eventually, Hitchens saw himself as being freed from under this tyrannical regime, and he has since devoted most of his life to fighting religion in general, and Christianity in particular, which he derisively refers to -- borrowing a William Blake metaphor -- as the "mind-forged manacles" of superstition.

One wonders, from whom other than himself would Hitchens accept the caveat that not all religious expressions are a form of intellectual totalitarianism, and that he may be woefully wrong in his assumptions?

It is by no means easy to engage in a discussion about religion someone who believes from the outset that spiritual experiences are by and large biochemical reactions which could be explained strictly in scientific terms. And it is doubtful that Hitchens even has enough time at his disposal to reevaluate his decades-long, unyielding stance against something that his most prodigious reasoning faculties are ill-equipped to deny.  

And though his well-known contempt for these largely imagined hucksters of the presumed evils of religion has earned Hitchens a good following, it has also turned him into that which he has always despised: a poorly informed zealot, dogmatically peddling an absolute standard of truth based on his own personal philosophy, with little or no credible authority to do so -- which is a real-life secular version of the same absurd stereotype he has devoted most of his life to eradicating.

Thus Hitchens remains, at the beginning of what could very well be his last chapter, doggedly entrenched in his belief in an accidental universe. And it is by no means a small matter about which he could brook a little philosophical elbow room. It is nothing less than his soul that could be at stake.

Who knows if the God Hitchens has made a career of denying could be trying to get his attention. But one thing is sure: if God does exist, then he has surely been made privy of Hitchens' predicament. God's sovereignty has no cracks through which even a suffering atheist can slip unnoticed. And few things should warrant more serious contemplation and humility from a man who appears to be at the very threshold of eternity.
During a fairly fascinating exchange with Washington Post's Sally Quinn, appropriately titled "A lifetime rebuking supernatural and superstitious claims," famous atheist Christopher Hitchens speaks about his own mortality at what looms as the parting juncture of a rather industrious earthly existence.

It is more than a sickness unto death that assails the acerbic author. He has recently been diagnosed with metastasized esophageal cancer, the same malady that claimed his father's life. And as another celebrated British author named Samuel Johnson once wrote, "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Curiously enough, as he becomes stoically intimate with his future untimely demise, Hitchens cites the prospect of not being around to read eulogies to his legacy as one of his regrets. His positively wretched state of health may deter some from coldly labeling him a supremely self-centered man. But it would be more accurate to say that Hitchens -- like most of his fellow skeptics -- is guilty only of having a set of terribly disordered priorities.   

Hitchens' voluntary ousting of God from the picture is fitting for a man who appears not the least bit troubled about an imminent rendezvous with his maker, but instead is fastidiously concerned about the proper handling of his domestic affairs pending his exit from the land of the living. There is, in short, no crossroads urgency in his exquisitely tortured mind at this decisive time in his life -- perhaps prolonged for his own eternal benefit -- to dare venture beyond the strict boundary of Naturalism.

But the hermetically sealed intellectual boundary, impervious to any belief in the supernatural, which Hitchens unapologetically accepts as conclusive betrays a gnawing inconsistency within the existential paradigm of this brilliant and presumably open-minded skeptic.

In a classic rebuttal to another skeptic of his age titled "Religion without Dogma," C.S. Lewis -- once also an atheist -- diagnosed this fatal flaw inherent in Naturalism, long before Hitchens came in to the scene.  

Every particular thought whether it is a judgment of fact or a judgment of value is always and by all men discounted the moment they believe it can be explained, without remainder, as the result of irrational causes. Whenever you know that the other man is saying is wholly due to his complexes or to a bit of bone pressing on the brain, you cease to attach any importance to it. But if naturalism were true then all thoughts whatever would be the result of irrational causes. Therefore, all thoughts would be equally worthless. Therefore, Naturalism is worthless. If it is true, then we can know no truths. It cuts its own throat.

Moreover, Hitchens by no means adopted this self-imposed limitation because of his expansive knowledge of the central tenets of any religion -- a fact made evident by his naïve exposition of the concept of eternity as being forced to stay at a perpetual party against one's wishes -- but rather because of his latent hostility toward all of them. And even more surprising is that he cherishes the roots of this conviction as a most liberating epiphany.   

By his own admission, the catalyst that spurred his adoption of this hyper-skeptical stance and eventually led him to "shed any delusions about the cosmos" was a growing resentment for religious authority figures in the Anglican boarding school he attended as a youth, who tended to misuse religion as a "weapon of authority" but had "no special claim to be in charge." Eventually, Hitchens saw himself as being freed from under this tyrannical regime, and he has since devoted most of his life to fighting religion in general, and Christianity in particular, which he derisively refers to -- borrowing a William Blake metaphor -- as the "mind-forged manacles" of superstition.

One wonders, from whom other than himself would Hitchens accept the caveat that not all religious expressions are a form of intellectual totalitarianism, and that he may be woefully wrong in his assumptions?

It is by no means easy to engage in a discussion about religion someone who believes from the outset that spiritual experiences are by and large biochemical reactions which could be explained strictly in scientific terms. And it is doubtful that Hitchens even has enough time at his disposal to reevaluate his decades-long, unyielding stance against something that his most prodigious reasoning faculties are ill-equipped to deny.  

And though his well-known contempt for these largely imagined hucksters of the presumed evils of religion has earned Hitchens a good following, it has also turned him into that which he has always despised: a poorly informed zealot, dogmatically peddling an absolute standard of truth based on his own personal philosophy, with little or no credible authority to do so -- which is a real-life secular version of the same absurd stereotype he has devoted most of his life to eradicating.

Thus Hitchens remains, at the beginning of what could very well be his last chapter, doggedly entrenched in his belief in an accidental universe. And it is by no means a small matter about which he could brook a little philosophical elbow room. It is nothing less than his soul that could be at stake.

Who knows if the God Hitchens has made a career of denying could be trying to get his attention. But one thing is sure: if God does exist, then he has surely been made privy of Hitchens' predicament. God's sovereignty has no cracks through which even a suffering atheist can slip unnoticed. And few things should warrant more serious contemplation and humility from a man who appears to be at the very threshold of eternity.

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