Thursday, January 13, 2011

Notes from "Letters to a Young Contrarian", Letter IX

Letter IX

In this letter we have a synthesized version of Hitchens' arguments against religion. What follows are just a few points worth to be remarked and that I find hard to argue against.

I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually the case.

To obey or to use your brain? I rather use my brain. Obeying is too easy. It is for those who don't want to think for themselves.

I have my answer ready if I turn out to be mistaken about [religion]: at the bar of judgement I shall argue that I deserve credit for an honest conviction of unbelief and must in any case be acquitted of the charge of hypocrisy or sycophancy. If the omnipotent and omniscient one does turn out to be of the loving kind, I would expect this plea to do me more good than any trashy casuistry of the sort popularized by Blaise Pascal.

I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator---that's beyond my conceit.

Even the most humane and compassionate of the monotheisms and polytheisms are complicit in this quiet and irrational authoritarianism: they proclaim us, in Fulke Greville's unforgettable line, "Created sick---Commanded to be well."

About the claim that Jesus died for the sins of humanity, i.e. the vicarious redemption, Hitchens says:

There is no moral value in the vicarious gesture anyway. As Thomas Paine pointed out, you may if you wish take on another man's debt, or even offer to take his place in prison. That would be self-sacrificing. But you may not assume his actual crimes as if they were your own; for one thing you did not commit them and might have died rather than do so; for another this impossible action would rob him of individual responsibility.

[T]he concept of revealed truth degrades the whole concept of the free intelligence by purportedly relieving us of the hard task of working out ethical principles for ourselves.

[Judaism], along with Islam and Christianity it does insist that some turgid and contradictory and sometimes evil and mad texts, obviously written by fairly unexceptional humans, are in fact the word of god. I think that the indispensable condition of any intellectual liberty is the realisation that there is no such thing.
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