Christopher Hitchens is scheduled to speak at the annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF, http://ffrf.org/events/2007/ ) in October. The journalist and author of the bestselling "God is Not Great" is appearing all by himself to talk at a general session. This has generated a series of heated emails back and forth between members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, its leadership and other interested parties.
I should state up front that I am not an atheist. However, as someone who is vigorously in favor of the separation of church and state, I view atheist organizations like FFRF as important allies in the struggle to keep religion out of politics and thus I am an interested party.
The objections many of us have against Hitchens appearing alone are several:
1. His seeming unqualified support for the current US administration, an administration that has gone farther than any other previously in the US to integrate religion and state with policies like the Faith Based Charity Initiatives, support of Prayer in School, etc.
2. His attacks on the Anti-War movement that marry red-baiting and Islam-bashing in a nasty cocktail of prejudice.
3. His journalistic style which in general appears to eschew the rationalist and scientific bent of atheist movements and embraces emotionalism and rhetoric over reason, rationalism and the scientific method.
Those participating in the email debate run the political spectrum from conservatives/republicans to Democrats and Liberals all the way to Marxists. The questions go to the heart of the Atheistic and separation of church and state movements. What does it really mean to be an atheist? To be against church and state? Does Hitchens fit in well with either of these movements? Should he be given such an important platform all to himself by one of the more respected organizations in those movements without a counterweight?
I have copied a few of the emails below ordered chronologically from bottom to top. As always, I welcome the vigorous debate and comments from those in the OpEdNews community.
Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2007 11:40:24 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Steven Leser" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Christopher Hitchens -- Shill, Flack, Mouthpiece, and Hack for the Worst ...
To: "Vic Stenger" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, RBZannelli@aol.com
I think you may have read some of the emails a bit too quickly. I did not see anyone advocating that Hitchens be banned from speaking. If anyone did let me say that I disagree with that. What I saw Allan suggest and I agree with wholeheartedly is that he not be given a platform all to himself. A speaker who can articulate an opposing viewpoint should be present.
I gave two reasons why and I will give another. Hitchens is amazingly narrow in his criticisms of the marriage of church and state. I've never heard him criticize the likes of Ann Coulter, who has said things in her column like that we should "invade them (Islamic countries) kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" and who wrote the book "Godless: The Church of Liberalism" a pointed criticism of the Democratic Left in this country for in her mind not being pious enough. This lack of criticism of Coulter is despite the fact that the two of them make the rounds on many of the same talk shows. Their paths have crossed countless times in the last 10 years yet he is silent on her. In fact, I dont recall any criticisms by Hitchens of the Christian Coalition, Jerry Falwell, or any other similar character.
When he has addressed the last two elections in this country (the US for any non Americans on the recipient list) why hasnt he mentioned his atheism? George W. Bush has made the fact that he is a Christian an important part of his campaign. Shouldn't Hitchens have said something even if he liked everything else about Bush? In fact, Hitchens did publish an article right before the 2004 election. Do you think he mentioned anything about his atheistic views? http://www.thenation.com/doc/20041108/hitchens No, not at all.
In fact, in the article subsequent to the one above, he is an apologist for Bush's attempt to marry church and state because he fights the marriage of church and state in the Middle East http://www.slate.com/id/2109377/ . In fact, he refers to the re-election of the architect of faith based initiatives and proponent of prayer in schools and other gems of the religious right as "Bush's Secular Triumph". Forgetting any other disagreements by those on the political left and right in this country, I do not see how any atheist can view the election of someone who is for the intertwining of church and state like Bush as anything other than a setback.
Do you see why one might believe that Hitchens' atheism is a bit strange and slanted? Do you see why we think that a counterbalance might be needed?
Vic Stenger <email@example.com> wrote:
I met Hitchens in New York in June (I love New York in June) when we were on a panel together at the Book Expo. I found him to be a charming man. He complemented me on my book, said he had read it twice and had given four copies to friends. Since then he has plugged the book on several occasions.
Now, of course you will say, so what? But I have more to say. I have discovered that he is an intensely moral person. He has praised Free Inquiry for publishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons and denounced the rest of the US media and churches for cowardly sympathizing with the Muslims because it is so politically incorrect to criticize religion, especially if it is a religion of people of color. When Borders removed Free Inquiry from its shelves, Hitchens refused to speak in any of their books stores on his recent tour.
I disagree with him on Iraq. But he is the most eloquent atheist out there and the most knowledgeable. What is it with liberals that one has to agree with the party line or be treated as a pariah? They are as bad as right wing ideologues. Can't a person have a mind of his own?