(from the archives - April 2004)
I suspect that Hitchens is on a roll with his anti-religious rants in preparing himself to ramp up his rhetoric against the scourge of jihadism. It's almost enough to get me to put down Neal Stephenson in favor of Salman Rushdie. Not.
Last night he had a fair salvo of invective against Christianity's nut of forgiveness, but like most anti-theists his focus centers on the hole instead of the donut. All men are afraid of the dark, so what does it matter that one creates God and another creates Science if the purpose is obliterate fear? Well the conduct of those systems of belief does matter, and anyone is right to criticize a means that creates more fear than it settles. There is plenty of evidence that religion bears a great responsibility for that. Amis said that the purpose of philosophy is to show the proper way to prepare for death, and admirable goal. And so it works equally in that the age of Maoism and Stalinism and other like political philosophies a great deal of preparation was made of an ungodly amount of death.
It is only being well read that diffuses the conceit of any monotheism or single political ideology. But being well-read is a conceit as well, especially in that it arms one with a kind of grip which allows one to swing a more or less straight path through any jungle of diverse trees without getting bogged down in the fruits of just one. Such swingers as Hitchens, and Amis to a lesser extent, can quickly find the nut of contradiction in any single system given the broad understanding a life of sampling gives one. And yet it is only conceit that could justify ignoring the fruits of systems of belief entirely.
Goedel famously suggested, (and if your belief in math is total, you could say he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt) that it is impossible for any single system of proofs to be both complete and consistent. I generally take the example of Judaism to be exemplary of this. There are a huge number of rules which must be scrupulously followed by the faithful, and yet in the holy of holies, in the temple where G*d, who must not be named, there is only one human who can go to the single place. And yet what he sees must be nothing at all. Judaism, like every other monotheism is a faith around a void, and that non-existence is the article of faith which legitimize everything around it in perfect harmony with Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem.
That such religions have a singular provable flaw make them more consistent than the forest of trees the well-read swing through on their random paths toward enlightenment. For all such swingers must examine & abandon, revise & review their world view. This is called being progressive, and although it should be incredibly tiresome, men such as Hitchens remain faithful to its discipline. They cannot stop reading. They cannot stop writing. Their task is never complete for there are few settled truths.
Those that are, must then be observed religiously, and one is apparently the rejection of theism. This principle may often be practically correct, although I've yet to hear any anti-theist reject the principles of Buddhism. It is a conceit nonetheless, so let's not forget that.
I am not here to suggest that all things are relative. It is only that I am convinced all things are not which makes me conservative. I know of what it is I conserve and so I am not so likely to be swinging through forests of logic. I honestly believe I can be honest without knowing who Leni Reifenstahl was. (Although Google helps)
And that's all I have to say about that.