The recently deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell probably was nice to his dog. But there isn't much else good that can be said about him. So yesterday I hugely enjoyed listening to an Air America replay of Anderson Cooper's interview of Hitchens on CNN.
Hitchens starts off snarky and sarcastic. Then warms up from there. Exactly what a fundamentalist hate-monger like Falwell deserves. Alive or dead.
The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend.
Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God's punishment if they hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification
People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup.
Sometimes I think I'm too hard on religion and that some commenters on this blog give true believers too hard a time. But when I hear Hitchens speak the ungodly truth, echoing the sentiments in his "God is Not Great" book, I'm struck by the power and the glory of faithless passion.
Like Hitchens says, society pretty much gives a free pass to the religious, no matter what sort of ridiculous crap they spout.
If you are a Christian who believes that someone unseen to you or anyone else is putting thoughts in your head, you're praiseworthy. If you're an atheist, you're considered to be loony.
I used to believe there was something called a "private faith" that should be immune to criticism so long as you didn't try to impose it on others. But now I side more with Sam Harris, who views religious moderation as the wellspring of the deep waters of crazed fundamentalism.
Like they say, draining the swamp is the way to get rid of alligators. Jerry Falwell wannabes probably always will be with us, sadly. However, we don't need to encourage them with "everyone is entitled to their own beliefs" apologetics.
No, everyone isn't.
Not when those beliefs threaten the life and limb of innocents. Falwell and his fundamentalist ilk are responsible for many thousands, if not millions, of deaths. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, or whatever, true believers have done far more harm to the world than the faithless.
We've got lots of problems to deal with. AIDS, other diseases, regional conflicts, looming environmental disaster, social breakdown. The subtitle of Hitchens' book is How Religion Poisons Everything. Absolutely true.
Can't distribute condoms in AIDS-ravenged Africa because that would encourage sinful unwed sex. Can't fund stem cell research because that would destroy a (hypothetical) soul. Can't broker a truce between Israel and the Palestinians because each believes God is on their side. Can't deal with global warming because the Second Coming makes it irrelevant. Can't find common ground on cultural issues because religious folks are right and everybody else is wrong—debate over.
Hitchens is marvelously erudite. He's got the sort of biting British wit that is lovable when you agree with him, and horribly annoying when you don't. Watching him defend the Iraq war on Bill Maher's HBO show, sarcastically shredding the arguments of Bush critics, I wanted to strangle the guy.
But when I finished reading page 18 of "God is Not Great" Hitchens had become my churchless buddy.
A week before the events of September 11, 2001, I was on a panel with Dennis Prager, who is one of America's better-known religious broadcasters. He challenged me in public to answer what he called a "straight yes/no question" and I happily agreed.
Very well, he said, I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching.
Now—would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting? As the reader will see, this is not a question to which a yes/no answer can be given. But I was able to answer it as if it were not hypothetical.
"Just to stay within the letter 'B,' I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance."
Hitchens then proceeds to describe how religion has poisoned the atmosphere in each of those cities, exacerbating tensions that would either be much minimized or non-existent if it weren't for religious fundamentalism.
Yes, religion poisons everything. And Falwell was a leading Christian poisoner. Hitchens said, "I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go to." Amen to that.