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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jean Kazez on Douthat on Hitchens

This piece by Jean Kazez is very good - have a look for yourself, and follow her links.

Among other things, the post raises the important question of whether we'd really want a world totally without religion. Unlike the others of the "four horsemen", Hitchens didn't. I recall watching the video discussion among the four of them that Jean refers to, and it's interesting seeing some of the conversation transcribed.

I actually have mixed feelings on this. My aim is not to eliminate religion from the world: my big thing is not atheism or anti-religion, but secular government. On the other hand, I do think that it's important to go on criticising religion, and I don't think it makes sense to criticise religious influence on political power without someone engaging in criticism of religion itself. The two go well in tandem. And I can't say that I'd be particularly sorry if no one, anywhere, took religion seriously any more.

On the gripping hand, I think I understand why Hitchens wanted ongoing argument, rather than a world where only one side speaks. There are good Millian reasons for that kind of impulse. As Mill said in On Liberty, it's better to have people around who disagree with you, forcing you to engage in self-criticism and refinement of your arguments. If that's what Hitchens means in the video, when he worries about "one hand clapping", I see his point.


Anonymous said...

There's a superb speech on YouTube which Hitchens gave on free speech (it's definitely worth watching) in which at one point he speaks of how it's always essential to hear dissenting views - even when they are in a miniscule minority - in order to test you beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3Hg-Y7MugU
There are 3 parts I think.

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Didn’t Hitchens called himself as an anti-theist rather than an atheist. And Dinesh de Souza thinks what he meant by that was it's not so important that he didn’t believe in God, but that he hated God.

I remember reading an article by Hitchen’s close friend, Amis, linked to from Coyne’s blog, wherein Amis touched on the reasonableness of the agnostic position. I wonder if Amish didn’t try in private to convince Hitchens of the respectableness of the agnostic position.

I am a theist, so obviously I think atheism is a stupid position. But from to time when my head rules alone, even I think that the agnostic position is a better one.

Dave Ricks said...

From Wikipedia: Hitchens said that a person "could be an atheist and wish that belief in god were correct", but that "an antitheist, a term I'm trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there's no evidence for such an assertion."

So someone could be a theist, and worry about eternal torture, but be relieved there's no evidence for it, and be an antitheist.

In other words: 1) Do you believe a theistic god exists? 2) Would you want a theistic god to exist? Hitchens would answer both with "no" (as an atheist and an antitheist, respectively).

Russell Blackford said...

He did call himself an anti-theist, because his most trenchant criticisms were of the claims of actual religions ... and in part the desirability of living in the kind of universe described and extolled by those religions. There's no doubt, though, that he was an atheist. He did not believe that God actually exists.

As I do now and then, I encourage people to establish some kind of pseudonymous identity so we can see who is saying what, rather than just commenting as "Anonymous".

Svlad Cjelli said...

Religion definitely has a good and appropriate place in the world - of D&D.

Tim Dean said...

I agree it's not strictly religion that we ought to be combating, but theism, supernaturalism and non-naturalism in general.

In fact, the social and cultural functions that religion plays are crucial - promoting norms, building community, providing a sense of place in the world - and we shouldn't discard them all just because their justifications are dodgy.

Instead we should be working to replace them with rational/naturalistic alternatives. It's only then that we'll lure many 'believers' over to reason and naturalism.

In lieu of that ultimate outcome, we should promote secularism and pluralism and encourage tolerance and constructive debate. The triumph of reason will come because it is reasonable, not because it is imposed on the unwilling.

ColinGavaghan said...

I'm a little late getting to this one, so no worries if the train has moved on.

'Among other things, the post raises the important question of whether we'd really want a world totally without religion.'

This is an area in which atheists should perhaps be a little wary of misrepresentation traps. Wishing for a world without religion is, it seems to me, unproblematic - or at least no more problematic than wishing for a world where no-one actually believed in astrology or homeopathy. Sure, ok, such a world would be deprived of a little colour and eccentricity, but I think the benefits of a more rational and better informed populace would outweigh that loss. Or at least, it wouldn't be obviously wrong to wish for such a thing.

It does, however, leave us open to unfair charges of seeking to ban, abolish or eradicate religion.

Of course, the fact that some of our detractors cannot distinguish between 'hope one day to persuade' and 'would wish to ban' doubtless says more about them than about us. Nonetheless, if we seek to minimise the chances of being misrepresented, we should probably proceed cautiously with this one.

Personally, I would also want to attach a few other conditions to my (somewhat tentative) wish for a religion-free world, perhaps most notably that the withering of religious belief took place in such a way that it did not cause misery and suffering (or at least not more than it alleviated), and did not leave a void to be filled with something even worse.