The Keane Edge by Brendan Patrick Keane
Christopher Hitchens, "God is not Great" author, is not really an atheist
Posted on Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 08:01 PM
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In an interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, Christopher Hitchens objectively describes his terminal illness, and the prospect of a painful death.
This moving conversation is conducted as though under strict orders against sentimentality. It is a mark of his integrity, perhaps, that Hitchens would flay his own circumstance with the coldness he employed to disembowel Mother Theresa.
Christopher Hitchens is known for his war with those amongst us who purport to have special knowledge, unreasonably revealed to them by God. (I am not such a person.)
Hitchens is not an atheist, however. His agnosticism often seems to undo God, but he is admittedly incapable of doing so, merely limited as he is to undoing the legitimacy of divine spokespersons. He reveals his limits in this interview.
As he deals with the awful burden of esophagal cancer spreading through his lymph nodes, he is concerned about rumors of a death bed confession. He is trying to make clear to us what he believes before he is incapable of doing so later-on.
Despite that over-arching political concern, Hitchens' first real philosophical assumption is that the universe exceeds in complexity, full human understanding. And so, uncertainty is inescapable. He did not discover the principle, he must concede to it. He also concedes the possibility of a prime mover.
Atheism is too certain a position for Hitchens, author of the badly titled book God is Not Great. Badly, because it is too declarative, and certain. Where God is a wide-open term used to short-hand the ineffably complex universe, calling it "not great" is the equivalent of saying life is a half-empty glass. He just does not have access to enough information to make that determination.
Just because it's ineffable, doesn't mean people don't try to talk about it. God is the short-hand many use to describe
a) the anthropomorphized tribal father that made "all"
b) or simply, that terribly complex "all."
Either way, "all" is too big for any human head, even one like Hitchens' to wrap around it. So how could he know if it is great or not? If Hitchens can not know all, he cannot know that nature's symmetry prohibits underlying intelligence or even overall "personality."
In the interview it's clear, he's unclear. He is with the uncertain.
Hitchens is determined above-all-else to expose the religious who claim to be representatives of God, as charlatans. He sees these men and women in their stupefying costumes as really "absolutely nude," full of certainty when there is none.
He recognizes no one that has discovered God themselves; nor anyone that has ever received revelation where he has not. To do so would create a class of mammals bearing warrants from God to control less evolved homo sapiens. It is this unsubstantiated nightmare that he holds-out against, nobly on behalf of all he will leave behind.
Hitchens mission against these taxing shepherds subverts his acceptance of new possibilities, however. He cannot know beforehand, what his death will or will not teach him.
I hope Hitchens recovers by whatever miracle or medicine. And I hope for Hitchens that he knows he is loved by the universe, as is my hunch.