If Hitchens means his mission is to disassociate people’s submission of will in faith to a transcendent God and the earthly authority of the church, and faith without reason…then the argument clearly has merit. There’s no shortage of ignorance, zeal, willful denial of reason, a violent certitude and moral absolutism with which men can occupy their minds in the throes of belief (though some very good poetry and literature has come of it). It is one of the greatest threats to liberty.
Hitchens has brought such a standard to bear against Islam (as well as Christianity) in his role as a war correspondent, highlighting the West’s engagement with Islam with a vigorous and heated defense of free speech. Perhaps one of the greatest evils for Hitchens is the abuse and exploitation of ignorance by those who claim divine providence; or simply those who bend to the many political, institutional and personal incentives for maintaining such a lack of reason (the Grand Inquisitor scene from the Brothers Karamazov comes to mind, rallying cry for many a secularist).
Here’s a quote from John Locke:
“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”
Yet, there are some serious questions surrounding a positive doctrine of reason for Hitchens (it was probably shrewd of him to join the new atheists). He’s renounced Marxism, but there is likely a continual influence of the same thinking upon him…around which social, civic and political life was organized upon Enlightenment ideals as well and a certain metaphysics of reason these past few centuries. This thinking, of course, also motivates Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Humanists, Universalists, etc.
In its worst incarnations, there was, and is, no shortage of similar human behavior on display in its wake. It involved the submission of will by force for the common good, overseen by those would enforce that good against the will of individuals, faith having been banished…power and the incentives for rule over others increasingly attached to the baser desires as the system slowly collapsed.
As for our current engagement with Islam, one threat would be merely copying the universalist dilemma that faces Europe regarding Muslim immigration (guided by relativist logic and under the banners of equality and tolerance which can simply not handle the problems immigration creates; the poverty, economic opportunity and its lack, stresses on the labor market, social tensions, etc). On the other hand, less likely,but still plausible: Pitting Christianity against Islam (and vice versa) for all the gains involved for some, the likes of which are much more prevalent in the Muslim world at the moment (think Bin Laden’s violent, thuggish mission) in a new round of religious wars.
Is Hitchens deeper than that? Is the analysis sound?
Related On This Site: From Michael Totten: ‘An Interview With Christopher Hitchens’…From Beautiful Horizons: ‘Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan at the 92nd Street Y’…Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’…
Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Enlightenment project?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant…A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …
Hilary Putnam On The Philosophy Of Science: Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On YouTube…How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?…From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’…From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism…Repost: A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?