Sunday, May 27, 2007

Christopher Hitchens' superficial attack on religion

His recent book on "how religion poisons everything" seems to be very needed currently but unfortunately seems to suffer from a certain characteristic superficiality. I have not read it yet but heard some interviews on TV and youtube. Here is a link to youtube of a panel discussion during a bookfest in LA.

Also here is a link to an article I wrote a few days before 9/11 on the fanaticism inherent in religion.

Hitchens managed to courageously and correctly grasp and express the idea that religion can be tremendously detrimental to civilization as it engenders solipsistic fanaticism which says: "we are the ones who have a mission in this world from the absolute almighty and we are going to carry it out with fanatical zeal." In the process the religious fanatic does not notice that we all live in a world created by man.

In my view certain religions have a huge tendency to support this sort of anticivilizational attitude and they ought to be criticized for exactly that. Islam is pretty high on the list of propensity toward fascism while Buddhism would be probably low. Fundamentalist Christianity would be high on this list while Anglicans probably score near the Buddhists.

The other panelists tried to point out the shortcomings of Hitchens' superficiality, but none of them seemed to get to the core of the issue. Hitchens understands religion only in the narrow sense of the word, which understanding is also shared by the fanatical believers, that professes a certain necessity of belief in the unbelievable, in entities and beings beyond experience which then dictate a horrendous moral statute. Religion in broad sense of the term is an expression of our spiritual experience, our human fact of our physical finitude while grasping the infinite with our minds. Religion is a way of dealing with the "ultimate concern" - to use Tillich's words - about our existence in this world - and it does not necessarily imply any belief in things beyond experience.

A similarly superficial essay on religion was written by Bertrand Russell - I am surprised by the reluctance of Anglo-Saxon thinkers to truly examine the depth of the question.


Anonymous said...

People should read this.

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