Thursday, June 7, 2007

Chris Hedges: The new face of anti-atheism?

One can only hope, because with enemies like Chris Hedges you don't need friends.

Not that Chris Hedges is doing himself a disservice; he'll sell books because of what he's doing. One good way for a writer to get attention is to get themselves onto the coat-tails of other writers who are getting attention. And getting attention is something that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have done. The God Delusion is #1 on the Sunday Times non-fiction paperback bestseller list. Christopher Hitchens' book, "God is not Great," is the #5 bestseller on Amazon and #1 in the New York Times Bestseller list where The God Delusion is #18 in its 35th week on the list. Sam Harris was a little-known graduate student in neuroscience until he wrote “The End of Faith” and then “Letter to a Christian Nation” which are still selling well but slipping as more writers jump on the atheist bandwagon and out atheist him.

Chris Hedges, a man with a new book to sell, is making that smart move and he has now debated both Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and I expect he'll get around to Richard Dawkins eventually. It would be smart for both men to debate. Debating Chris Hedges, no matter how vicious Hedges gets, he is ultimately playing good cop in another good-cop/bad-cop tactic where the real loser is fundamentalist religion.

Chris Hedges is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America” which is a book that is even more stridently opposed to James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell than Harris' or Hitchens' books have been. According to Chris Hedges' book, Christian dominionists (also called "Christianists" and "Reconstructionists") want absolute power over a Christian state and their political movement is similar to Hitler's early fascist movement in Germany.

If you thought Sam Harris was over the top, you need to read Chris Hedges “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America.”

Chris Hedges debated Christopher Hitchens at the King Middle School auditorium in Berkeley, California, not long ago. The topic of the debate was "Is God...Great?" It plays on the title of Hitchens' book, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

Christopher Hitchens' and Chris Hedges' very existence exposes the lies told on the far right about the radical left's rejection of religion. Hitchens is a "semi-neocon" pundit who is loathed by the far left because he does not toe the party line over the Iraq War. And Hedges is a far-left progressive journalist with a kind of hippy-dippy neo-Socialist, radical outlook.

To anyone on the far right, like say Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly or Future Toddler Chopper Vox Day, walking into the debate would have seemed like stepping into some topsy-turvy bizarro world where the defender of religion and the existence of God was a far left Democrat and the atheist was a pro-war neo-con. (Not to say that Hitchens is a neo-con, just that he came off like one this time.)

It would have been interesting to throw Ann Coulter into the middle of that debate and watch her brain melt while everything she thought she knew about the world was proven wrong. This is not a recent re-alignment, it has always been this way. Many atheists have been pro-Iraq war and a lot of Christians have opposed the war for religious reasons.

Chris Hedges has more experience with the Middle East than Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins combined. He was a New York Times Middle East bureau chief, a foreign correspondent and winner of a Pulitzer Prize. He has reported from more than 50 countries over the last 20 years. He speaks Arabic, French and Spanish and knows Latin and ancient Greek. He has a Master's degree in theology from Harvard and is the son of a Presbyterian minister. He is also author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" where he described war as "the most potent narcotic invented by humankind." He was an early and vocal critic of the Iraq war and he questioned the rationale for war put forth by the Bush administration and was critical of the early press coverage, calling it "shameful cheerleading."

And I agree with a lot of what Hedges has written. But still, both Hitchens and Harris ripped Hedges' arguments to shreds and left him exposed and bleeding on the floor after their debates. No, no… it's not so much that Hitchens and Harris whipped Hedges in their debates as it is the fact that Hedges arguments self-destructed, crumbling under the weight of their own contradictions as soon as he made his openning statements, long before Hitchens and Harris could say anything and then all they had to do was point this out.

Consider this simple claim made by Hedges during his debate with Hitchens: "biblical literalists do not exist." Doesn't that contradict the premise of Hedges own book, “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America”? Isn't the Christian Right that Hedges reports on, with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, made up of literal creationists? Does he not report that the very name for the Dominist movement comes from Genesis and God telling Adam you shall have dominion over the Earth?

Hedges also said things like “to argue whether or not God exists is futile,” but that was why Hedges was supposedly there to debate these guys. He had to change the rules because he knew he couldn't win that debate.

And Hedges also said “Jesus never talks about starting a church”, as if churches were just an invention of Constantine. Most atheists know the Bible better than Hedges. Didn't Jesus tell Peter, "and on this rock I shall build my church..." in Matthew 16:18? Aren't the later books of the New Testament Paul's letters to the churches?

Maybe in some context Hedges' claims are not a self-destructing pile of mistakes and contradictions, but I have no idea what that context is and neither do most people I know. It looks to me like a guy who keeps shooting himself in the foot until he hasn't got a leg to stand on.

So, how can a smart guy like Chris Hedges get ripped to shreds by these simple minded atheists? It's because reason and debate work. Hedges' problem is that he essentially agrees that the Christian Right is poisoning everything very much like Hitchens and Harris claim and he has to defend the religion that the Christian Fascist movement sprang out of. It's an untenable position. Hedges' religious stance is rather Orwellian. He cherry-picks his beliefs and thinks that not taking the Bible at face value makes him a smarter person. But if you read Hitchens’ book, you know he thinks that people who do what Hedges does aren’t really thinking that deeply about the Bible and that it is mere egoism to think that your take on “God’s Word” is the one and only take. And as Sam Harris would add, Hedges take isn't necessarily better than the literalists.

When Hedges debated Harris he shot himself in the foot with his opening statement saying:
Sam Harris has conflated faith with tribalism. His book is an attack not on faith but on a system of being and believing that is dangerous and incompatible with the open society.

Both the words faith and tribalism, when coming out of Hedges mouth, are nothing but Orwellian euphemisms, they're a kind of Doublespeak that attempts to confuse and conceal the truth. The very source of the tribalism that Hedges objects to is the holy books themselves, the Bible and the Koran, the core documents of two major religions. The tribalism and the religion cannot really be separated. Moses and Jesus were tribal leaders.

Hedges isn't wrong to say that Harris' book "is an attack not on faith but on a system of being and believing that is dangerous and incompatible with the open society," but he is very misleading because both Hedges and Harris are also continually using Faith as a euphemism for some kind of religious belief. If we think of having faith in non-religious things, like a friend or an institution, like government, then Harris has no attack on that. Harris means by Faith; a faith in the dogmas of some ancient religion. But Hedges later, in the same opening remarks, redefines Faith to mean "... not faith in magic, not faith in church doctrine or church hierarchy, but faith in simple human kindness."

What an Orwellian redefinition of faith! That's certainly not what Sam meant, it's not what the word faith actually means, it's not any kind of common usage for faith, it's some euphemism Hedges either invented on the spot or picked up in his reading. But it's Sam Harris' own fault for adopting Christian euphemisms, and even using one for the title of his book, and expecting them to have any kind of consistent meaning, especially the word "faith." Religious language is designed for emotional manipulation and evasion, not communication. The word faith actually means a lot of different things to different people. It's not supposed to communicate anything, it's suppose to hide your meaning. In my post, Brownback Mountain, I showed how Sam Brownback turned faith into a synonym for logical preposterism. Christians like faith, but would they like logical preposterism?

One person can make faith mean different things in the same paragraph and it can get comic, such as when a Christian claims that it takes more faith to be an atheist and then goes on to praise faith rapturously. Hedges himself uses the word faith a lot, and he obviously doesn't always mean the same thing every time he uses it.

Hedges next says:
He [Sam Harris] attacks superstition, a belief in magic and the childish notion of an anthropomorphic God that is characteristic of the tribe, of the closed society. He calls this religion. I do not.

But a belief in magic and the childish notion of an anthropomorphic God is a characteristic of the Religious Right Hedges himself railed against. Again, the Bible is about superstitious people who sacrifice animals, it's about magic and miracles and an anthropomorphic God who talks to Moses, gets angry, orders people to kill other people, drowns the world in a great flood, and smashes towers that get too close to heaven because he feels threatened apparently.

If religion isn't that then what is it -- atheism and humanism? Has Hedges redefined religion as atheistic humanism?

I really don't know. I can't make much sense of it. So, here are Chris Hedges opening remarks and you tell me if you can make any sense of it, and if you can explain it in the comments section of this post.

But before I leave you with that task, here's another bit of Hedges openning I want to tell you something about:
the supreme importance of the monotheistic traditions in creating the concept of the individual. This individualism—the belief that we can exist as distinct beings from the tribe, or the crowd, and that we are called on as individuals to make moral decisions that at times defy the clamor of the tribe or the nation—is a gift of the Abrahamic faiths.

Now, if individualism—the belief that we can exist as distinct beings from the tribe, is a gift of the Abrahamic faiths, then why does the Bible have passages like this, Acts.4.32: "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common." Is that individualism? Is Islam's (an Abrahamic faith) call for submission individualism? Is any of it it more individualistic than what we see in Roman writers before Christ? Say Titus Lucretius Carus?

Is Chris Hedges dressing up atheistic humanism in religious language and selling it to people who can't stomache blatant atheism?

I wish I had an enemy like Chris Hedges to debate. Even if you lose, you win. If Chris Hedges didn't exist, Christopher Hitchens would have had to invent him -- and one day he'll probably be accused of doing just that.


Anonymous said...

Didn't Jesus tell Peter, "and on this rock I shall build my church..." in Matthew 16:18?

No one knows. The Book of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, was a treatise written around A.D. 50 to 70 by a Jewish tax collector after his conversion to the Lord to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah mentioned in the Old Testament. He was selling Jesus to the Jews.

[from wikipedia: "Herod the Great was alive when Jesus was born, and ordered the Massacre of the Innocents in response to his birth. Blackburn & Holford-Strevens fix Herod's death shortly before Passover in 4 BC"]

So let's split the baby. Let's say that A.D. 1 is half of Jesus' life: 16.5 or 17, rounded off.

At the very minimum, Matthew wrote his book 33 years after Jesus died, and possibly 53 years.

This is 2007. Thirty-three years ago is 1974. Fifty-three years ago is 1954. So this Book of Matthew claims to report verbatim on conversations heard 33 or 53 years prior to the time of writing. We dont accord ordinary bloggers the right to make that claim, but straight out of Mother Goose, we accept "Jesus' words" written by biographers decades after his death. Please.

The first Bible was written in ancient Greek, not Latin. One of the few extant copies is at the University of Leipzig. Ancient Greek is a language that Chris Hedges reads. Not so Sam Harris, or Hitchens, or the other guy.

We have no idea if Jesus said "church." Churches hadn't been invented in A.D. 50. Religious edifices were called temples. Read history.

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