In my last appearance in this space, I wrote erroneously that Christopher Hitchens had favored both Anglo-American wars on Iraq. In fact, he strongly opposed the first one, back in 1991. I remember this so vividly (I was delighted with him at the time) that I can’t understand how I could be so embarrassingly forgetful when I wrote as I did. I owe him an apology, which I cheerfully offer.
Still, I can’t help suspecting that the current war, which he does support, may help explain his newly aggressive atheism. By applauding Bush’s war, a quasi-Trotskyite venture in “global democratic revolution,” Hitch, as his friends call him, has lost a lot of face among his old comrades on the left. Attacking “religion” was the perfect way to recoup. So Michael Kinsley was probably right to praise his book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything as a shrewd career move.
However, as Dr. Johnson said of Rous-seau, “A man who talks nonsense so well must know he is talking nonsense.” Is Hitch (or should we, by analogy with “god,” call him “hitch”?) pulling the public’s leg just a bit? When he speaks of religion as belief in a “celestial dictatorship,” he betrays the Trotskyite reduction of all relations to raw power; surely, he is aware that Christians regard God—or “god,” if you like—as a loving Father, not a gigantic bully. But when he says (on page 114) that Jesus’ very historical existence is “highly questionable,” you have to wonder if he is lying, insane, or just full of hitch.
Can he be serious? The most famous and influential man who ever lived . . . never lived? Can anyone really suppose such a marvelous character was invented? That a few unschooled and inartistic writers could have thought up immortal words suitable to Him? That countless martyrs would endure agonizing death to bear witness to One whose reality was in doubt? Tell us another one, hitch. Better yet, say one thing even your fellow unbelievers will find worthy of Jesus, one thing men will quote a year—or two thousand—from now.
The hitchbook is open to many objections, but one of its oddities is its startling profusion of anachronistic indignations. Why should a materialist get so sore about the supposed evils of war, racism, sexism, bigotry, Nazism, “the” Inquisition (was there only one?), caste systems, and Mel Gibson? Did “religion” cause all of these things, and if so, so what? Why shouldn’t they exist in hitch’s universe? Couldn’t they have evolved on other planets anyway? Isn’t hitch guilty of humanism? If we discovered a Mel Gibson on Mars, why should we care? And why does hitch single out Martin Luther King, Jr., as the only praiseworthy Christian? And why, after renouncing communism, is he so forgiving toward communists, including King’s pals?
And why don’t these obvious questions occur to hitch himself?
One reason I’m a Christian is that Jesus predicted books such as this: He warned us that, just as the world hated Him, it would always hate us, too, and so it does, after 2,000 years.
Another reason is more personal. Life has been so kind to me. It has warped me with blessings. I’ve had a few minor complaints lately, but, as a child, I was so showered with love that I can’t disbelieve in God or believe that He is cruel.
Nor can I take hitch seriously, except as a man who appears to be pitifully indisposed to gratitude. He can imagine “religion” only in what a believer recognizes as its most deformed versions, which prove nothing at all about its normal, lovely, and perfect form: the Catholic Faith. He’s looking for reasons to hate it, while never acknowledging even one of the things that make millions of men love it. If I were an atheist, I might write a book in praise of such a gorgeous illusion.
One of hitch’s sneakiest moves is his attempt to pin the label “totalitarian” on religion. Surely, he knows that the essence of the totalitarian is the utterly arbitrary authority of the ruler, who can switch all the rules at any moment.
No Muslim, Jewish, or Catholic ruler has ever claimed the right to do anything so absurd—to be “above” morality. (The U.S. Supreme Court may do so.) It would defeat the whole purpose of having an unchanging Scripture. At one point, hitch himself even seems to admit this, but he plunges on like a fast-talking salesman who hopes you won’t notice the self-contradiction. Safely “audacious,” he treats communism not as a vicious crime (like those of Mel Gibson) but as an amiable, if slightly regrettable, weakness. After all, it’s one he shared until late in his life, something more than a youthful flirtation. But any sense of guilt he may feel doesn’t make him swerve from his mission, which is not to confess but to accuse.
Hitch accuses Christians of “wish-thinking,” but fails to see how the same charge may apply to atheists who think they may ignore and violate the Ten Commandments with utter impunity. The man who fears he is in danger of damnation, on the other hand, would seem to deserve exemption from any such imputation. Me, I’d rather not spend eternity in Hell.