Yes, they are all nice faces, but beyond that, they are all trustees of Project Reason, an organization dedicated to spreading science and secular values, founded by Sam and Annaka Harris. Christopher was a trustee.
Project Reason is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. We seek to encourage critical thinking and wise public policy through a variety of interrelated projects. The foundation can convene conferences, produce films, sponsor scientific studies and opinion polls, hold contests, publish original research, award grants to other charitable organizations, and offer material support to religious dissidents and public intellectuals — all with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world. While Project Reason is devoted to fostering critical thinking generally, we believe that religious ideas require a special focus. Both science and the arts are built upon cultures of vigorous self-criticism; religious discourse is not. As a result, religious dogmatism still reigns unchallenged in almost every society on earth—dividing humanity from itself, inflaming conflict, preventing wise public policy, and diverting scarce resources. One of the primary goals of Project Reason is to change this increasingly unhealthy status quo.
Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson is no stranger to nutty comments but this one from 2012 takes the cake. Dr. Carson believes that evolution was encouraged by none other than Satan (poor Satan, always getting the blame). He also said the big bang theory was part of “fairy tales” published by “high-faluting scientists”.
Thanks Dr. Carson, for clearing up some of the puzzles of evolution.
Progress of a kind, to use a Hitchens expression. While atheists are still the worse performing group in this Gallup poll of groups that are suitable to be elected President, 58% percent isn’t bad, and it is the best it’s been since the poll started in 1958. The trend line is encouraging, as are the demographics, which show younger people more willing to vote for an atheist.
Hitchens and Rushdie shared a sense of humor, as Rushdie explains in this NYT interview. In Hitch-22, Christopher told about a game they played, [Book] Titles That Don’t Quite Make It, which is how the Hitch-22 title originated. Rushdie explains in this 2012 piece for Vanity Fair:
Hitch-22 was a title born of the silly word games we played, one of which was Titles That Don’t Quite Make It, among which were A Farewell to Weapons, For Whom the Bell Rings, To Kill a Hummingbird, The Catcher in the Wheat, Mr. Zhivago, and Toby-Dick, a.k.a. Moby-Cock. And, as the not-quite version of Joseph Heller’s comic masterpiece, Hitch-22. Christopher rescued this last title from the slush pile of our catechism of failures and redeemed it by giving it to the text which now stands as his best memorial.
While President Obama thinks it is unfruitful to address Islamic extremism by its name, PM David Cameron has now taken a different approach. In this speech, he lays out his understanding of the problem, and presents a plan for a solution. One core principle is to combat non-violent extremism, as well as violent extremism. This makes sense as non-violent extremists eventually get radicalized and then become violent. If we wait for the violence, it is too late. I commend Cameron, and think Hitchens might have as well.
Back in June I had the chance to meet Peter Hitchens, Christopher’s brother, in London (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him “the other Hitch”). It is said that the brothers didn’t get along well, and they did differ on many issues, but he graciously agreed to meet me to talk about his brother. While the two couldn’t be more different in many ways, he reminded me of Christopher in that he is sharp, outspoken and witty.
One point of interest from our converstation had to do with Christopher’s support for the Iraq War. I asked him why he thought his brother supported the effort. He thinks it goes back to Christopher’s Marxist roots, which embraced a certain idealism (at least in theory). Something along the lines of “if we topple the government, the whole middle east may change for the better”. Of course Christopher abandoned Marxism/socialism early in his career when he realized the actual practice had very little to do with the theory. Peter, who was also at some point a Marxist, gave it up as well, because, as he told me, “I grew up”.
My own thoughts, after learning about Christopher is that his support had to do with two factors – his life mission of fighting totalitarianism, and his affinity with the Kurds, who were being abused by Saddam Hussein.
It was a great pleasure to meet Peter, especially as I heard he could be a bit harsh and/or imtimidating (He was neither. He was nothing but pleasant and accomdating). Upon parting I said “Peter, you’re not as grouchy as they make you out to be”, to which he replied “Oh yes I am.”
If you are interested in Peter, see his blog at The Daily Mail, and also watch this 2008 debate with Christopher. The topics were God and war (not small subjects). Also posted is the pre-debate discussion, which is in some ways (the relationship between the brothers) more interesting.
The fact that divorced and married three and four times, with children out of wedlock, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis violated the law by refusing marriage licenses to gay couples, is a good thing. It brings to light an issue that needs clarification: the difference between being free to practice one’s religion, and what the conservatives are calling ‘religious freedom’. While the distinction is obvious to many of us, there are large groups of people who don’t seem to understand that the US is not a theocracy.
The crux of the issue is that we are free to practice our religions in ways that don’t violate the rights of others. God’s law does not supersede our secular law as U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning, who jailed Ms. Davis, correctly pointed out. There is an excellent discussion of the topic in this Washington Post article:
I’ve had this blog only a short while, and while much of the feedback has been positive (thank you!), and has kept me going, there has also been a strong, negative wing making comments in the vein of:
He attacked Mother Theresa, and this is who you’re honoring?
He supported the Iraq War! What’s wrong with you!?
He liked Bush. How could you like him?
He’s disrespectful toward religion [Really??? I hadn’t noticed]. He’s the radical one, not the religious people. He’s a fundamentalist atheist. He’s as bad as the people he attacks.
And this guy is your idol?
Some of these statements are true, and some are not, but this misses the point. My personal interest in Hitchens has to do with him having been a brilliant writer with a superb mind, who advocated reason and logic over faith, was skeptical of self-appointed gurus, had no tolerance for totalitarianism in any form, including and especially, religion, and made his opinions known with eloquence, style and wit. (At least I have not yet been condemned for producing run-on sentences).
I don’t need to, nor do I, agree with everything he said, or have him as an idol (Have respect and great admiration for him, yes). None of us need to necessarily idolize those we admire. That’s precisely the point of thinking independently and using reason over faith.
Hitchens himself opined on idolatry on several occasions. In this clip, he argues that idols get elevated to unrealistically high statuses, where they are expected to be perfect, which, of course, is impossible. He uses the good example of Martin Luther King Jr., who like every human, had flaws, but accomplished great things.