The Final HitchSlap

Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Featured, Thoughts | 16 comments

Yesterday, one of the world’s greatest contemporary public intellectuals left us after a long and painful battle with throat cancer. Christopher Hitchens died at age 62, but this is not an eulogy for the great man, who fearlessly fought against the all-too-human traits of stupidity and ignorance. There are plenty of those around the web already. Nor is this a diatribe about the “way Hitchens changed my life”, although it is true that he did give me the courage to come forward as an “active atheist”.

No this is something else, something more important than the death of the great man, (yes it is possible) and something I hope nobody will ever forget.

On announcement of his passing, outpourings of anguish at his death flooded Twitter. I literally had upwards of fifteen tweets in a row about Hitchens at any one time, and as is the nature of such things, the hashtags started such as #RIPHitch, #RIPChristopherHitchens, and the one that caused a stir, from the title of his best-selling book, #GodIsNOTGreat.

At first I was awestruck that the hashtag #GodIsNOTGreat was the TOP Trending Topic on Twitter, then I dug a little deeper. The tweets were about 80% from Christians who were indignant that this was the top trending topic, the rest were people commenting on the death itself. Most of these tweets are now long gone, but most were people professing how great God is, and, unsurprisingly, many threats against those who were using the tag to commiserate Hitchens’ death were dealt. Most were unaware of Hitchens’ existence in the first place, and even less were aware that “God Is Not Great” was the title of a book. What is astounding is the disproportionate level of anger being spouted by people who saw this as an attack on their god, as if the creator of the universe is not powerful enough to stand up for itself. One could almost see it as a reaction against a personal attack on these people, which is very interesting. Is faith so fragile that if even a small suggestion that the person who believes might be wrong, that the immediate reaction is “Death to the infidel”? History has shown this to be the case, and the present shows that this trend is not waning.

Here are some of the reactions to the #GodIsNotGreat hashtag courtesy of twitter user @jes3ica:

I’ll leave it to you to work out the irony of the situation, but to see so many people up in arms over a simple hashtag on Twitter was quite a sight indeed! But the icing on the cake is the amount of people, including “friends” of Christopher Hitchens’, like Rick Warren, who are claiming that either Hitch now “knows the truth”, or worse making claims that Hitch “converted on his deathbed”. The stupidity abounds, and the presumptuousness of these people, claiming to know makes me feel ill to the stomach. Like vultures to a carcass, the cretins homed in on the news, and like a disturbed ant’s nest the god-botherers have crawled out of the ground to spout their inanities.

If Hitch were alive today to see this furor he would probably point and say “See what religion does to people?” It’s sad to see him go, but the inevitability of his death was known to all of us, especially to Hitch himself. The final “HitchSlap” was dealt posthumously, and in such a way that those who felt the impact were unaware that they had even been slapped. The indignation of those offended was proof that in fact religion is a propagator of ignorance which feeds on the apathy of the masses, as those who were offended couldn’t be bothered to find out why the topic was trending before spouting their anger. I received several threats for my use of the tag, and many saw the death threats that resulted from it.

To the memory of Christopher Hitchens. He was a great example of unflinching reasoning, of rationality and logic, unafraid of the tyranny of the world including religious, political and social. The world is better for having known him, and he leaves a hole in society that will be difficult, if not impossible to fill.

“The search for nirvana, like the search for utopia or the end of history or the classless society, is ultimately a futile and dangerous one. It involves, if it does not necessitate, the sleep of reason. There is no escape from anxiety and struggle.” – Christopher Hitchens Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays, 2004

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16 Comments

  1. Thank you for an incisive look into the “mind” of the religious. It definitely is something that Hitchens himself would have approved, offering evidence to support his view of religion and the religious.

    I hope it won’t be taken amiss here if I post 10 passages from “God is Not Great,” a book ranking high in my esteem. I actually copied out closer to 30 or 40 passages, but these 10 are my favorites (the page numbers are from the hardcover edition):

    There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that is wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.  p. 4

    Thus the mildest criticism of religion is also the most radical and the most devastating one. Religion is man-made.  p. 10

    Religion is—because it claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs—not just amoral but immoral.  p. 52

    Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.  p. 56

    As in all cases, the findings of science are far more awe-inspiring than the rantings of the godly.  p. 57

    One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody—not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms—had the smallest idea what was going on.  p. 64

    What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.  p. 150

    They consist, like most professions of faith, in merely assuming what has to be proved.  p. 202

    Contempt for the intellect has a strange way of not being passive.  p. 204

    Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important. Where once it used to be able, by its total command of a worldview, to prevent the emergence of rivals, it can now only impede and retard—or try to turn back—the measurable advances that we have made.  p. 282

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  2. “The final “HitchSlap” was dealt posthumously” awesome Martin! The reaction to the #GodIsNotGreat hashtag reminds me of the night Discovery Channel aired the first episode of Curiosity: Did god create the universe? They promoted the hashtag #GodUniverse. One tweet that I recall was, “What does Stephen Hawking know? He’s just a f*cking cripple!” The upside of all this is people who had no clue about Atheist ideas are exposed to them, even if in small doses. Long live social media!

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    • ‘The upside of all this is people who had no clue about Atheist ideas are exposed to them, even if in small doses’

      Is this not the same kind of tribalism Hitchens denounced?

      Why should it matter if someone else buys into your system of belief?

      All systems of belief are, by their very nature, based on belief and not fact. The existence or non-existence of a god/creator/brahman/whatever is not a provable fact either way.

      If one believes in the evolutionary concept of natural selection, ‘survival of the fittest’, it seems foolish to dismiss the idea of deity outright given the prevalence and persistence of the concept.

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      • I started to read your reply, but it actually makes no sense at all. I agree with the “belief system” stuff but the rest is incoherent.

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  3. This is an incredible straw man argument. Of course there are tons of examples of people claiming to be Christian who make ludacris statements about Hitchins or atheists in general, but they don’t speak for those educated believers, many of whom have written fondly of Hitchins after his death. Please be fair and quite those Christians not just the ones who have a twitter account, (apparently) making them knowledgable on the subject of philosophy. while it makes for a zinger of a blog, it’s bad writing.

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    • I do not judge based on the actions of the few, I judge on the actions of the herd. The herd has spoken. And of course there are those educated theists, those with enough social intelligence and knowledge of philosophical topics to have enough tact and foresight to look into things before spouting off in indignation, but these are NOT who I am talking about here. Read it again. This is not a strawman. I play it how I see it, and this was what I saw.

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  4. Excellent post, Martin!

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  5. I just told a “religious” person -someone I know very well and as a kind person- about the death of Hitchens. As soon as they realized who he was, they immediately started laughing and gloating “He’s going to hell, I bet he’s sorry now!”
    All I could respond was: “How christian of you.”

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  6. These reactions were commented on by Hitch well before his death. They represent the reflexive lashing out by a movement (religion) that is in its death throes. The world has moved on; the worldviews espoused by religionists are laughed at by most intelligent, educated people. They themselves are becoming living anachronisms. What’s worse, they know it. They can smell their own extinction and they’re terrified.

    The repression of this fear leads to the reaction fromation of rage; hence the nasty tweets.

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  7. Christopher Hitchens urinated on Jerry Falwells grave. I danced on my front lawn.
    I guess we can expect a little of disrespect from the ‘other side’. The chimp part of our human nature?
    Not from those who had no idea who he was, heard him speak, or read his books though. With any luck, maybe those people will find out now. And if any change their views from listening and reading, then Hitch will have done something good even in death.

    Joe Unseen, there was a letter to the editor in my local paper personally attacking Hawking stating his physical condition renders him as not an authority intellectually. Writtten by a fundie who regularly spouts off about homosexuality and family values. It seems to be part of the mantra.

    If a hashtag gets someone curious perhaps it’s worth the idiocy.
    May the enlightenment continue!

    Martin, you are doing a great job with Jake Farr Wharton. Don’t do speed! It’s bad for you. Nice ending. Thumbs up.

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    • What a scurrilous lie you have posted here! Hitchens did no such thing to Falwell’s grave, not that Falwell didn’t merit it.

      Christopher Hitchens called Falwell out, and rightfully so. The man was a liar and a fraud, not to mention hated anyone unlike him AND found a way to become rich being such a disgusting person. If ever one needed the christian character summed up in one person, Falwell was it.

      But to suggest Hitchens would resort to such common thuggery as to urinate on grave – even if you are suggesting this only metaphorically – is beyond comprehension.

      You do realise that the hordes of uneducated, uninformed trolls that have no clue there is a book called God is Not Great are also trolling these sites looking for any rotten scrap they can clamp their un-evolved jaws around.

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  8. Insulting, or creating a situation where people believe you are insulting, someone’s belief in a god or God is like walking up to someone and telling them their spouse is abruptly unattractive. If you did it to a million people you’d upset all of them but for a handful who had fallen out of love with their partner. Of the majority, some would use profanity to rebut you, some would use words to the effect that you should be killed or that they should kill you, most would be doing so as puffery out of their frustration and dismay and a handful of others would mean it.

    What I find most telling, is that in the wake of this there’s been a heap of commentary about this phenomenon like it’s new or surprising, and most of that commentary has cast aspersions on people who practice a private faith characterising them as ignorant and foolish based on that aspect of their personality. It’s pretty sad to see and stands as another barrowload of evidence against the commonly staked atheistic ownership of concepts like logic and even-handedness.

    It’s a pity people like those on Twitter reacted with their gut and not their brain when a relationship important to them was challenged, but it’s similarly disappointing that this is only the second description of that phenomenon I’ve read that treated the matter fairly – even if neither of them could escape meanness in the comments underneath.

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    • You raise a good point. I mean, how exactly are religious people supposed to react to this sort of thing? Are they supposed to agree and say that God isn’t great after all? Are they supposed to be all polite and say that we’re entitled to our opinions?

      But I think religion tends to be a bit more of a touchy and volatile subject than the appearance of someone’s wife.

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  9. Good post, Marty. I’m not surprised at all by the reactions of the faithful in all this, ironically fueling their own and each others’ rage by unwittingly promoting its cause.

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  10. Although I have disagreed completely with many of Hitchens’s political positions, particularly with respect to the justification for the Iraq War and what i thought amounted to Islamophobic thought, I respected him tremendously for his impact on the atheist community and for having contributed to its visibility, and, I’m sure, the “deconversion” of many. Although I find the violent ignorance of the threats that “good”, “moral” Christians have unleashed on a hashtag they could not even begin to understand, we couldn’t ask for a better way to prove Hitchens’s point, that religion indeed poisons everything.

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  11. Hitchens himself preemptively dismissed the claim that he converted on his deathbed. There are a variety of sources. Here’s one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztsLB4GlZFU

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