“God is not great”: Christopher Hitchens is not a liar

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A new book says the famed atheist thinker's writing on religion is intellectually sloppy. It gets Hitch wrong


Of all the criticisms that could be leveled at Christopher Hitchens – and there are many – a boring style is not one of them. Despite some controversial positions and persuasions, his writing was always exciting, entertaining and engaging. Regrettably, the same cannot be said for Curtis White. In an excerpt from his recent book “The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers” published in Salon last week, White accuses the “notorious” Hitchens of some of journalism’s worst crimes – lying, dishonesty, shamefulness and an all-round lack of “decency.” However, while running through a litany of examples apparently highlighting Hitchens’ intellectual turpitude, White manages something remarkable. Rather than convicting Hitch of “telling less than he knew or ought to have known’,”White shows how it is in fact he who is literarily lazy, inconsistent and mendacious.

White begins with some concessions, curiously feeling the need to acknowledge his own qualified atheism by rejecting the notion of a “CEO God” – whatever that means – he then concedes that religious extremism is “still very much a problem politically” and across the globe. Yet, after admitting that the “religious right is real, and international fundamentalism is dangerous and frightening,” White goes on to admonish Hitchens for reducing religion down “to a series of criminal anecdotes” – presumably ignoring all the good stuff it has done for the world.

In this way, White rehashes a well-worn criticism of the new breed of atheists – that they do not recognize the positive, progressive aspects of organized religion and instead focus only on the negative. This is neither new nor compelling. How many times during a debate, or town-hall-style meeting has some smug reverend or pastor not sat up and said, “Ah! but don’t religious charities in Africa and South America do such fantastic things, Mr. Hitchens?” As if that somehow discredits any analysis or interrogation of institutional religiosity.

Written By: Carlo Dellora
continue to source article at salon.com

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  1. Who is Curtis White?

    Curtis White is an English professor who said of himself “But me, I’m a Marxist-Hegelian-Humanist-Deconstructive-kinda postmodernist. There is no unmediated real. The real is always already constituted and “supplemented” by Derrida’s notion of the “grammatological.” C’est vrai.”

    (Amongst a lot of other pretentious bullshit: http://www.altx.com/int2/curtis.white.html)

    It seems safe to say that in 20 years time people will still be saying ‘who is Curtis White’. Which they will not be saying about Hitch.

    • In reply to #1 by Stevehill:

      Who is Curtis White?

      Curtis White is an English professor who said of himself “But me, I’m a Marxist-Hegelian-Humanist-Deconstructive-kinda postmodernist. There is no unmediated real. The real is always already constituted and “supplemented” by Derrida’s notion of the “grammatological.” C’est vrai….

      Twenty years! I am saying that right now. If I have to Google someone he better NOT be a postmodernist!

  2. This is an excellent article, very well written. It’s sad that Christopher Hitchens couldn’t answer his critics himself. It just seems that as soon as he died, all these people suddenly came out of the woods to insult his memory.

    • In reply to #3 by Fouad Boussetta:

      This is an excellent article, very well written. It’s sad that Christopher Hitchens couldn’t answer his critics himself. It just seems that as soon as he died, all these people suddenly came out of the woods to insult his memory.

      my thoughts exactly although I can see the logic in waiting for him to be incapable of answering before attempting to criticise. have to be an idiot to try it with him alive

    • In reply to #3 by Fouad Boussetta:

      This is an excellent article, very well written. It’s sad that Christopher Hitchens couldn’t answer his critics himself. It just seems that as soon as he died, all these people suddenly came out of the woods to insult his memory.

      This happened mostly because his wit isn’t around anymore to make them swallow their own words :|

    • In reply to #3 by Fouad Boussetta:

      This is an excellent article, very well written. It’s sad that Christopher Hitchens couldn’t answer his critics himself. It just seems that as soon as he died, all these people suddenly came out of the woods to insult his memory.

      I wonder why they waited? :-)

      • In reply to #34 by Roedy:

        In reply to #3 by Fouad Boussetta:

        CH couldn’t answer his critics… as soon as he died, people came out of the woods to insult his memory.

        I wonder why they waited? :-)

        Armchair quarterbacking is a non-contact sport; easy to critique whilst snug and safe.

  3. “White accuses the “notorious” Hitchens of some of journalism’s worst crimes – lying, dishonesty, shamefulness and an all-round lack of “decency.”

    Funnily enough, if this were true, the accusation would amount to Hitchens having been just a regular journalist as this description fits most of them perfectly. He was head and shoulders above the mob that pretend they’re not all taking the same orders and steadfastly refusing to report the truth on anything that would upset the masters.

  4. I admire Hitchens brilliant mind much the same as I admire Carl Sagans brilliant mind. Hitchens had definitely that rogue oppositional streak in him , he was controversial and an egotist. But he probably knew that and didn’t give a fu*k. He did do a service to us all though, and that was in a world of dullness , servitude and banality he brought all his unique gifts to bear and made no apologies. A force of nature and is missed.

  5. When the Danish cartoon controversy erupted in 2005 Hitchens was shocked to see that moderate adherents to Christianity and Islam spent their time decrying the cartoons but not the violence itself, ignoring the murderous mobs who had taken to the streets in reply. This was illustrative of a broader issue, namely, that moderate religiosity provides a plinth upon which a firebrand version of any faith can be constructed, moderation in essence creating the environment necessary for extremism to thrive.

    Here is a Hitchens piece about the controversy in question:

    Stand up for Denmark! Why are we not defending our ally? By Christopher Hitchens. Feb 2006


    He seems a little too fond of juvenile ad hominems for my liking:

    The preposterous person of Karen Hughes… tittered outside the store she was happily giving away;

    …braying Bush-crony ignoramus.

    And he seems to display the same cognitive dissonance one regularly encounters on this website; to wit, all religions are despicable, except when dealing with Islam, in which case the others are to be championed and must by God be allowed to flourish alongside or supersede it:

    Meanwhile, not a dollar of Wahhabi money should be allowed to be spent on opening madrasahs in this country, or in distributing fundamentalist revisions of the Quran in our prison system. Not until, at the very least, churches and synagogues and free-thought libraries are permitted in every country whose ambassador has bullied the Danes. If we have to accept this sickly babble about “respect,” we must at least demand that it is fully reciprocal.

    These would be the same churches and synagogues which, even if they’re super-nice, enable the more illiberal factions of Christianity and Judaism, allowing them to take hold and disseminate their own versions of Abrahamic misogyny and homophobia, one assumes.

    Nor does he seem to be above telling outright and slightly shrill fibs:

    …Instead, all compassion and concern is apparently to be expended upon those who lit the powder trail, and who yell and scream for joy as the embassies of democracies are put to the torch in the capital cities of miserable, fly-blown dictatorships. Let’s be sure we haven’t hurt the vandals’ feelings.

    And sometimes appears not a little nutty, and indeed selective when it comes to quoting from articles:

    A report ($$)† in the New York Times of Feb. 13 was as carefully neutral as could be but nonetheless conveyed the sense of menace. “American Muslim leaders,” we were told, are more canny. They have “managed to build effective organizations and achieve greater integration, acceptance and economic success than their brethren in Europe have. In other words, they are leveraging worldwide Islamic violence to drop a discreet message into the American discourse.

    Really, Christopher? A sense of being menaced was what you got from this article? Damn those canny devils and their efforts to integrate and be accepted into Western society. And curse the melting pot that allows them to. It’s Death to America, you guys, not ”It is important in a crisis like this that moderate voices in the community are heard” in America. Get with the program.

    I guess you can make anything seem sinister if you’re of a mind to. This line from the same link seems innocuous, until you imagine it being said slowly by someone stroking a fluffy white cat:

    “We, too, deal with Islamophobia and discrimination, but we have developed lines of communication for trying to resolve these problems.”


    I’ve Googled $$ and ($$) but still don’t know what it means. Is it this? Was Mr Hitchens implying that the article was paid for; that Laurie Goodstein was in the pocket of those who were the subject of her piece?

    • In reply to #10 by Katy Cordeth:

      …all religions are despicable, except when dealing with Islam, in which case the others are to be championed…

      “Not until, at the very least, churches and synagogues and free-thought libraries are permitted…”

      Christopher Hitchens ‘permitted’ translated to ‘championed’? Perhaps ‘allowed, ‘tolerated’ would be a more accurate interpretation.
      According to: http://dictionnaire.reverso.net/anglais-synonymes/permit:
      ‘admit, agree, allow, authorize, consent, empower, enable, endorse, endure, entitle, give leave or permission, give the green light to, grant, let, license, own, sanction, suffer, tolerate, warrant’, but not ‘champion’.

    • In reply to #10 by Katy Cordeth:

      …all religions are despicable, except when dealing with Islam, in which case the others are to be championed…

      G.O.D is right (see #10). What’s wrong with reciprocity?? How come there are so many Saudi-funded mosques all over the planet but not a single church or synagogue is allowed to exist in the whole of Saudi Arabia? What’s wrong with everyone playing by the same rules??

      Islamophilia indeed…

      • G.O.D is right (see #10). What’s wrong with reciprocity??

        I believe Katy also believes that the Saudi interdictions are wrong. My point was not this. I am not after the fact of the matter, but after technicalities in the use of the English language in order to pass subtle messages to unaware readers. Like well chosen prepositions by someone else (what the US did ‘to Irak and Afghanistan’, as opposed to ‘in Irak and Afghanistan’) or, in this case, a slight, oh so slight, distortion of the author’s carefully chosen term (‘permitted’). Not a native English speaker here, so I need to peek in a dictionary more often than some might like.

      • In reply to #15 by Fouad Boussetta:

        In reply to #10 by Katy Cordeth:

        …all religions are despicable, except when dealing with Islam, in which case the others are to be championed…

        G.O.D is right (see #10). What’s wrong with reciprocity?? How come there are so many Saudi-funded mosques all over the planet but not a single church or synagogue is allowed to exist in the whole of Saudi Arabia? What’s wrong with everyone playing by the same rules??

        There’s that cognitive dissonance I was talking about again:

        Mommy, Peter has more carrots than I do!

        But you don’t even like carrots, darling.

        I know, but he has more!

        Why are there no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia? Because the ruling class over there is as corrupt and wretched as it’s possible to be. Take it up with them.

        Islamophilia indeed…

        Islamophilia…no.

        Inconsistaphobia… yes indeed.

    • In reply to #10 by Katy Cordeth:

      In other words, they are leveraging worldwide Islamic violence to drop a discreet message into the American discourse.


      Really, Christopher? A sense of being menaced was what you got from this article? Damn those canny devils and their efforts to integrate and be accepted into Western society.

      The discreet message is ” You’ve done good, America. And this is why. Less anti religious rhetoric and you’ll do better still.

      Mr. Awad said the Danish Muslims were looking to the American Muslims for advice because they were aware that when anti-Muslim statements were made in the past by American religious leaders or talk show hosts, the American Muslim groups had persuaded the Bush administration to issue denunciations….

      This is the hottest of hot button issues for Hitch and in my view admirable. The threat he sees, I think, is to the (partial) closing down of free speech in the US not fomenting further violence.

      Katy, can you link the Hitch response to this piece? (Just in case I’m wrong.)

    • In reply to #10 by Katy Cordeth:

      Nor does he seem to be above telling outright and slightly shrill fibs:

      …Instead, all compassion and concern is apparently to be expended upon those who lit the powder trail, and who yell and scream for joy as the embassies of democracies are put to the torch in the capital cities of miserable, fly-blown dictatorships. Let’s be sure we haven’t hurt the vandals’ feelings.

      Really? Did moderate Muslims condemn the violence (en-mass) in any way, shape or form? Did the west, in general condemn their actions and not that of those of the cartoonists?

      If you answer No to either of these then it is You that are displaying signs of cognitive dissonance.

  6. Excellent article, and it reminds me of something George Orwell said in an essay about HG Wells: “..and since 1920 he has squandered his talents in slaying paper dragons. But how much it is, after all, to have any talents to squander.

    The difference between White and Hitchens, surely.

  7. In reply to #13 by aroundtown:

    Religion has caused the greatest harm that one might image – Hell, they tied people to stakes and burned them to death, and now were suppose to let bygones be bygones. Sorry, not going to happen for me.

    The church still says their book is the law of man so I say they still haven’t recanted this lie of the ages, they would still kill us in the name of their god IMO. Hitch did not waver for a second and I for one will always look up to him. As for Curtis White I will give him the consideration he deserves – none.

    I agree, completely. Until Christianity entirely re-writes its holy book to reflect the values of modern humanity, then it sits uneasily on my mind that Christians, believing that The Bible is the inerrant and unchanging word of their god will forever visualise witches being put to death, adulterers stoned to death, homosexuals killed, slavery condoned, children beaten for their naughtiness, and a plethora of other totally unacceptable practices. Indeed, the places where Christianity expands its grip on the uneducated populations put into practice many of those outmoded and unacceptable doctrines and practices.

  8. I had heard of this pathetic book a few weeks ago but felt giving it any kind of publicity would make it worse. So much for plan A, Plan B, Who is Curtis White? A coward who feared the Hitchslap.

    Still, to be fair he should be given a chance to face their critics. Messages can be sent to him from :-
    [http://english.illinoisstate.edu/people/facultyListing.aspx?control=facultyProfile&ID=ckwhite]
    (http://english.illinoisstate.edu/people/facultyListing.aspx?control=facultyProfile&ID=ckwhite)

  9. One of my favourite comments by the Hitch was in a radio interview he did, where he replied to the host, “no-one’s going to forget what it was like when people like you were in charge”. It reminds one that although some religious institutions have been “tamed” to an extent it wasn’t very long ago that when they had the power to get away with it they were executing people for blasphemy.

    This is a video of the interview in question, possibly the best 10 minute long “hitchslap” ever recorded: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXC8VldIKEc

  10. He would’ve given them a Hitchslap. “God is not great” is one of the most beautifully written books I had the pleasure to encounter – I am half way through it. It’s intriguing, interesting, based in facts and history, and with the intention to help humanity eradicate the pestilence of religion. Hitch was a bad-ass. This reminds me of the attacks Thomas Paine received after his dead. The church couldn’t refute his rhetoric while alive, so it waited until he could no longer speak.

    • In reply to #31 by Tico:

      “God is not great” is one of the most beautifully written books I had the pleasure to encounter [...]

      It is also a very funny book by someone extremely well read. Christopher Hitchens was the wittiest man alive. Those who didn’t read his book yet should do so as soon as possible. Catch a bit of the essence of the man.

  11. Goods works in Africa is evidence Christianity does not make all people evil. It is not evidence for the existence of god or any statement in the bible. It is irrelevant. That is not what is being debated.

    “Good works in Africa” include the works of con men like Ernest Angley and the like who withhold food from starving people until they perform Christian magic ceremonies or give them bibles instead of beans, or who just keep the money for themselves.

  12. To simply focus on just one aspect of anything is a bad idea. Hitchens in his rebuttals to theists is most often (both in God is Not Great and in debates) not about just the evils of religion, but very often in the ways it attempts to usurp the good qualities of things as their own. How it pretends to have the moral high ground and how such things are not possible without a deity of some sort. And often in doing so he addresses the issues with taking faith seriously over reason and the dire consequences it portends.

    The issue isn’t whether or not people do good in the name of a religious idea. Anyone can do something nice, regardless of their cultural background. But the reasons for such acts can themselves be sinister, and the expansion of ignorance that stems from propagating delusions even for the notion of something good has created tremendous amounts of grief. Convincing cultures to abandon their own traditions in favor of your own simply because you’re nice to them is disingenuous and is in and of itself not particularly kind. If proselytizing is the only goal (or even a single goal) for such goodwill efforts, then it’s little more than political PR done only to get more followers rather than to help a culture grow.

    Even when religion is being seemingly innocuous it too often creates discord through its own adherence to ignorance. And Hitchens was all about exposing that. Curtis White only does himself a disservice for not seeing this.

  13. In reply to #11 by G_O_D:

    In reply to #10 by Katy Cordeth:

    …all religions are despicable, except when dealing with Islam, in which case the others are to be championed…

    “Not until, at the very least, churches and synagogues and free-thought libraries are permitted…”

    Christopher Hitchens ‘permitted’ translated to ‘championed’? Perhaps ‘allowed, ‘tolerated’ would be a more accurate interpretation. According to: http://dictionnaire.reverso.net/anglais-synonymes/permit: ‘admit, agree, allow, authorize, consent, empower, enable, endorse, endure, entitle, give leave or permission, give the green light to, grant, let, license, own, sanction, suffer, tolerate, warrant’, but not ‘champion’.

    Are you there G_O_D.? It’s me, Katy.

    Here is the last line of the paragraph you quoted from, which didn’t make it into your comment:

    If we have to accept this sickly babble about “respect,” we must at least demand that it is fully reciprocal.

    If an avowed atheist is ‘demanding’ churches and synagogues be allowed in Islamic countries, that to me comes very close to what I would call championing. And who exactly is this ‘we’? I guess Hitchens must have been one of those cultural Christians, like our own professor.

    It sometimes seems a little mealy to me: that one can be fiercely opposed to the faith of one’s culture, decrying it at every opportunity; except when it comes to the nice stuff it throws out, like Jerusalem, whose cantillation has been known to bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the trouser of the staunchest individual, be they Christian or atheist; or the quaintness of a church fete, with its slightly dotty vicar, home-made nettle wine, and snacks such as scones, homemade fudge and sushi so fresh it’s still swimming around inside its own little bag of water.

    Or indeed when one wishes to oppose the religion of a bunch of foreign devils; when all the mockery and disdain for the home-grown variety of woo is conveniently put to one side and churches and synagogues are suddenly accorded the same respect as free-thought libraries, whatever they are.

  14. In reply to #3 by Fouad Boussetta:

    This is an excellent article, very well written. It’s sad that Christopher Hitchens couldn’t answer his critics himself. It just seems that as soon as he died, all these people suddenly came out of the woods to insult his memory.

    He was criticised while he was alive as well. You may be right when you say some people waited until he was deceased before publicly taking him to task; but it’s a cheap charge to level, as it’s pretty much unprovable. It also may stifle sincere analysis of what he said and wrote during his lifetime if every time someone wants legitimately to challenge an argument he made or opinion he held, they know they’ll be accused of kicking a man while he’s dead.

    From the little I know about Christopher Hitchens, he doesn’t seem to be the sort who would have wanted his words to come to be regarded as unimpeachable. If his ideas are sound they will stand up to any scrutiny they’re subjected to. If they’re flimsy, or just wrong, they deserve to be discredited.

    If you want to keep Hitchens’s memory alive and wish his books to be read by generations to come then any and all criticism should be encouraged. I’m sure Richard loves it when books such as The Dawkins Delusion hit the shops.

    • In reply to #39 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #3 by Fouad Boussetta:

      This is an excellent article, very well written. It’s sad that Christopher Hitchens couldn’t answer his critics himself. It just seems that as soon as he died, all these people suddenly came out of the woods to insult his memory.

      He was criticised while he was al…

      And you would never, ever, ever see Hitchens attack people when they were on their deathbeds or soon after they had died. No not Hitch. No. Never ever………….oh wait.

      • In reply to #42 by The Grapes of Roth:

        In reply to #39 by Katy Cordeth:

        In reply to #3 by Fouad Boussetta:

        This is an excellent article, very well written. It’s sad that Christopher Hitchens couldn’t answer his critics himself. It just seems that as soon as he died, all these people suddenly came out of the woods to insult his memory….

        Ooh, I’m intrigued. Who did Hitchens… um, Christopherslap… I may of got that wrong… before their corpse had cooled but was definitely still a cadaver and not a living person? I know he didn’t like that wrinkly nun lady who ministered to all them Africans. I’m sure any criticism he directed at her was done while she was alive though and he didn’t wait until she was floating around up in Heaven before he laid into her. Dead people are off limits.

  15. In reply to #25 by veggiemanuk:

    In reply to #10 by Katy Cordeth:

    Nor does he seem to be above telling outright and slightly shrill fibs:

    …Instead, all compassion and concern is apparently to be expended upon those who lit the powder trail, and who yell and scream for joy as the embassies of democracies are put to the torch in the capital cities of miserable, fly-blown dictatorships. Let’s be sure we haven’t hurt the vandals’ feelings.


    Really? Did moderate Muslims condemn the violence (en-mass) in any way, shape or form?

    Yes.

    Did the west, in general condemn their actions and not that of those of the cartoonists?

    Yes.

    If you answer No to either of these then it is You that are displaying signs of cognitive dissonance.

    Phew. Thanks for the clean bill of mental health.

  16. I watched the video of Christopher Hitchens receiving the Dawkins award again last night, and man, it was very much depressing. He was in a terrible state. I’d be willing to knock the crap out of anybody badmouthing him. It’s obvious that this Clit White character never listened to Hitch. Well, actually, It obvious from the title of his book.

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