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Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Old Sep 2nd 2010, 1:34 pm
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Smile Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

I thought it was a very good article because one argument I’ve seen used a lot is “There are no atheists in fox holes”. Yet here is a man clearly preparing for death but showing no contrition about the way he has lived his life. Very inspiring:

When I described the tumor in my esophagus as a “blind, emotionless alien,” I suppose that even I couldn’t help awarding it some of the qualities of a living thing. This at least I know to be a mistake: an instance of the “pathetic fallacy” (angry cloud, proud mountain, presumptuous little Beaujolais) by which we ascribe animate qualities to inanimate phenomena. To exist, a cancer needs a living organism, but it cannot ever become a living organism. Its whole malice—there I go again—lies in the fact that the “best” it can do is to die with its host. Either that or its host will find the measures with which to extirpate and outlive it.

But, as I knew before I became ill, there are some people for whom this explanation is unsatisfying. To them, a rodent carcinoma really is a dedicated, conscious agent—a slow-acting suicide-murderer—on a consecrated mission from heaven. You haven’t lived, if I can put it like this, until you have read contributions such as this on the Web sites of the faithful:

Submit a get well message to Christopher Hitchens.

Who else feels Christopher Hitchens getting terminal throat cancer [sic] was God’s revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him? Atheists like to ignore FACTS. They like to act like everything is a “coincidence”. Really? It’s just a “coincidence” [that] out of any part of his body, Christopher Hitchens got cancer in the one part of his body he used for blasphemy? Yea, keep believing that Atheists. He’s going to writhe in agony and pain and wither away to nothing and then die a horrible agonizing death, and THEN comes the real fun, when he’s sent to HELLFIRE forever to be tortured and set afire.

There are numerous passages in holy scripture and religious tradition that for centuries made this kind of gloating into a mainstream belief. Long before it concerned me particularly I had understood the obvious objections. First, which mere primate is so damn sure that he can know the mind of god? Second, would this anonymous author want his views to be read by my unoffending children, who are also being given a hard time in their way, and by the same god? Third, why not a thunderbolt for yours truly, or something similarly awe-inspiring? The vengeful deity has a sadly depleted arsenal if all he can think of is exactly the cancer that my age and former “lifestyle” would suggest that I got. Fourth, why cancer at all? Almost all men get cancer of the prostate if they live long enough: it’s an undignified thing but quite evenly distributed among saints and sinners, believers and unbelievers. If you maintain that god awards the appropriate cancers, you must also account for the numbers of infants who contract leukemia. Devout persons have died young and in pain. Bertrand Russell and Voltaire, by contrast, remained spry until the end, as many psychopathic criminals and tyrants have also done. These visitations, then, seem awfully random. While my so far uncancerous throat, let me rush to assure my Christian correspondent above, is not at all the only organ with which I have blasphemed …And even if my voice goes before I do, I shall continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it’s hello darkness my old friend. In which case, why not cancer of the brain? As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be “me.” (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)

The absorbing fact about being mortally sick is that you spend a good deal of time preparing yourself to die with some modicum of stoicism (and provision for loved ones), while being simultaneously and highly interested in the business of survival. This is a distinctly bizarre way of “living”—lawyers in the morning and doctors in the afternoon—and means that one has to exist even more than usual in a double frame of mind. The same is true, it seems, of those who pray for me. And most of these are just as “religious” as the chap who wants me to be tortured in the here and now—which I will be even if I eventually recover—and then tortured forever into the bargain if I don’t recover or, presumably and ultimately, even if I do.

Of the astonishing and flattering number of people who wrote to me when I fell so ill, very few failed to say one of two things. Either they assured me that they wouldn’t offend me by offering prayers or they tenderly insisted that they would pray anyway. Devotional Web sites consecrated special space to the question. (If you should read this in time, by all means keep in mind that September 20 has already been designated “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day.”) Pat Archbold, at the National Catholic Register, and Deacon Greg Kandra were among the Roman Catholics who thought me a worthy object of prayer. Rabbi David Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters and the leader of a major congregation in Los Angeles, said the same. He has been a debating partner of mine, as have several Protestant evangelical conservatives like Pastor Douglas Wilson of the New St. Andrews College and Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama. Both wrote to say that their assemblies were praying for me. And it was to them that it first occurred to me to write back, asking: Praying for what?

Read Christopher Hitchens’s cancer announcement.

As with many of the Catholics who essentially pray for me to see the light as much as to get better, they were very honest. Salvation was the main point. “We are, to be sure, concerned for your health, too, but that is a very secondary consideration. ‘For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?’ [Matthew 16:26.]” That was Larry Taunton. Pastor Wilson responded that when he heard the news he prayed for three things: that I would fight off the disease, that I would make myself right with eternity, and that the process would bring the two of us back into contact. He couldn’t resist adding rather puckishly that the third prayer had already been answered…

So these are some quite reputable Catholics, Jews, and Protestants who think that I might in some sense of the word be worth saving. The Muslim faction has been quieter. An Iranian friend has asked for prayer to be said for me at the grave of Omar Khayyám, supreme poet of Persian freethinkers. The YouTube video announcing the day of intercession for me is accompanied by the song “I Think I See the Light,” performed by the same Cat Stevens who as “Yusuf Islam” once endorsed the hysterical Iranian theocratic call to murder my friend Salman Rushdie. (The banal lyrics of his pseudo-uplifting song, by the way, appear to be addressed to a chick.) And this apparent ecumenism has other contradictions, too. If I were to announce that I had suddenly converted to Catholicism, I know that Larry Taunton and Douglas Wilson would feel I had fallen into grievous error. On the other hand, if I were to join either of their Protestant evangelical groups, the followers of Rome would not think my soul was much safer than it is now, while a late-in-life decision to adhere to Judaism or Islam would inevitably lose me many prayers from both factions. I sympathize afresh with the mighty Voltaire, who, when badgered on his deathbed and urged to renounce the devil, murmured that this was no time to be making enemies.

The Danish physicist and Nobelist Niels Bohr once hung a horseshoe over his doorway. Appalled friends exclaimed that surely he didn’t put any trust in such pathetic superstition. “No, I don’t,” he replied with composure, “but apparently it works whether you believe in it or not.” That might be the safest conclusion. The most comprehensive investigation of the subject ever conducted—the “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer,” of 2006—could find no correlation at all between the number and regularity of prayers offered and the likelihood that the person being prayed for would have improved chances. But it did find a small but interesting negative correlation, in that some patients suffered slight additional woe when they failed to manifest any improvement. They felt that they had disappointed their devoted supporters. And morale is another unquantifiable factor in survival. I now understand this better than I did when I first read it. An enormous number of secular and atheist friends have told me encouraging and flattering things like: “If anyone can beat this, you can”; “Cancer has no chance against someone like you”; “We know you can vanquish this.” On bad days, and even on better ones, such exhortations can have a vaguely depressing effect. If I check out, I’ll be letting all these comrades down. A different secular problem also occurs to me: what if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating.
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Old Sep 2nd 2010, 10:33 pm
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Originally Posted by Charismatic View Post
I thought it was a very good article because one argument I’ve seen used a lot is “There are no atheists in fox holes”. Yet here is a man clearly preparing for death but showing no contrition about the way he has lived his life. Very inspiring:

I stuck with it a while but....
Anyway, I like small g on God.
I don't believe,the rest of my family do-they are still ma famille and I love them.
Will I be contrite in the face of death? I think not.
Do I love ma famille less becos they believe in hocus pocus- no.
I am still to prepare for death and maybe I might jump into a foxhole.
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Old Sep 3rd 2010, 6:12 am
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

please summarise the article in 100 words or less.

regards

society
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Old Sep 3rd 2010, 6:22 am
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Talking Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Originally Posted by expat.brat View Post
please summarise the article in 100 words or less.

regards

society
Well it isn't written for The Sun .

However I think you'll very much enjoy some Mr. Men books or this: http://www.rinkworks.com/bookaminutee

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Old Sep 3rd 2010, 7:30 am
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Originally Posted by Charismatic View Post
Well it isn't written for The Sun .

However I think you'll very much enjoy some Mr. Men books or this: http://www.rinkworks.com/bookaminutee

I trust you'll find the following useful..

http://www.webmasternow.com/copyandpaste.html
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Old Sep 3rd 2010, 8:41 am
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

The trouble with Christopher Hitchens is that he has been very mobile on his views and opinions.

He is a very gifted essayist and despite sincerity apparently dripping off the page, over his career he has changed his tune more than once. We all have the right to change our minds but Christopher more than abuses that position.

His death may prevent him from changing his mind again. Maybe..
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Old Sep 3rd 2010, 6:49 pm
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

i haven't necessarily seen him as changing his views. he was a very idealistic marxist in his youth but the reality of supposed marxist regimes tempered this somewhat. He has always railed against religion and the concept of god.

He was always against despotic regimes, which is where his support of the war in Iraq came from.

I know his detractors claimed he suddenly became right wing because of his support for the war, but he didn't at all.
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Old Sep 4th 2010, 5:20 am
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Ummmm. He went in for the Neocon view pretty much hook line and sinker.

There is so much intellectual fraud in the Neocon view of liberty. To Neocons Liberty is a rallying call that has so many fooled. You can't be against it because it sounds so nice but they mean it to be the Dick Cheney view of foreign aid. The notion seems to say it is my liberty to do to others what should normally be consensual in a private room.
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Old Sep 6th 2010, 10:27 am
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Hitchins is an interesting man and whether or not you agree with his opinions, the world will be a poorer place without a man of his intellect.

Interesting that these believers feel it is aceptable to be so aggressive and downright nasty. You don't tend to see atheists hurling such comments at them in the same way; nor stoning, beheading or blowing up people for having different views.
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Old Sep 6th 2010, 11:40 am
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Smile Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Originally Posted by Meow View Post
Hitchins is an interesting man and whether or not you agree with his opinions, the world will be a poorer place without a man of his intellect.
I agree, listening to him speak about religion is a real delight:

My main criticism of his work is that he does tend to skirt arguments rather than being direct in his anti-theist stance (Of course not all atheists are anti-theists). That said I can appreciate his view (as with anyone who has a well reasoned point that is logically to set forward, the basis of any good debate ) even if I don't always share it.
Originally Posted by Meow View Post
Interesting that these believers feel it is aceptable to be so aggressive and downright nasty. You don't tend to see atheists hurling such comments at them in the same way; nor stoning, beheading or blowing up people for having different views.
True, we should love our human brothers and sisters because the differences that separate us are much smaller than the similarities that bind us. Some things should just be held above religion. If people could hold their inherent morality above their religious beliefs then much human suffering could be alleviated and most human cruelty.

I’ve never understood this central point of religion (most religions share this) and it’s one that deeply repulses me. Why does it feel the need to inflict further suffering on humans? I’ve never had a satisfactory answer .
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Old Sep 6th 2010, 12:09 pm
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Originally Posted by Meow View Post
You don't tend to see atheists hurling such comments at them in the same way
-
I wouldn't quite entirely say that. I've met more than a few avowed atheists who took delight in mocking people with belief. It's commonplace attitude in certain fashionable London intellectual circles as well as in certain New York/California/Boston circles. Then there's Norm on this bored.

But whilst atheists can cheerfully take some pride in that they haven't started a war in the name of religion, a war against religon - yep. Communist Mao wasn't a friend of the Bhuddist monks in China and the communists in Russia at the onset of the Russian Revolution were pretty nasty to the Orthodox church monks and priests, including tossing more than a few of them into burning pits.
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Old Sep 6th 2010, 12:27 pm
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Which sort of leaves us with the conclusion that there are bad and good religious people, and bad and good non-religious people. Bad people will use their religion--or refutation of it--for ill, good people will use their religion--or refutation of it--for good.

And then there are Arsenal supporters.

There: less than 100 words, and all in simple language.
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Old Sep 6th 2010, 2:41 pm
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Old Sep 6th 2010, 2:51 pm
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Originally Posted by Bahtatboy View Post
Which sort of leaves us with the conclusion that there are bad and good religious people, and bad and good non-religious people. Bad people will use their religion--or refutation of it--for ill, good people will use their religion--or refutation of it--for good.

And then there are Arsenal supporters.

There: less than 100 words, and all in simple language.
you....deserve karma.
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Old Sep 6th 2010, 3:50 pm
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Default Re: Unanswerable Prayers - Christopher Hitchens

Originally Posted by Ethos83 View Post
I wouldn't quite entirely say that. I've met more than a few avowed atheists who took delight in mocking people with belief. It's commonplace attitude in certain fashionable London intellectual circles as well as in certain New York/California/Boston circles. Then there's Norm on this bored.

But whilst atheists can cheerfully take some pride in that they haven't started a war in the name of religion, a war against religon - yep. Communist Mao wasn't a friend of the Bhuddist monks in China and the communists in Russia at the onset of the Russian Revolution were pretty nasty to the Orthodox church monks and priests, including tossing more than a few of them into burning pits.
But Norm on this "board" has only given what has been dished out to nonbelievers for 2000 years and more...it's funny how religion has had millenia of freedom to insult, persecute and murder people of other beliefs and non-belief but when modern people engage in polemics and digging against the total irrationality of faith they are lumped in with communist dictators (as if they were inspired by atheism rather than the lust for power coupled with their corrupt ideology).

As a vehement anti-communist I take offense at the prospect of being lumped with such morally bankrupt scum. My "attacks" are limited to words...people like me are hardly the Taliban. Seems some religious people are just so sensitive because they adhere to systems which cannot stand up to free equiry - that's their problem not mine.

N.
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