Christopher Hitchens: Address to American Atheists

Renowned author and steadfast atheist Christopher Hitchens was recently forced to cancel his appearance at the American Atheists convention due to his esophageal cancer. He wrote to them the following letter, as was published on P.Z. Myers’ blog Pharyngula [link]:

Dear fellow-unbelievers,

    Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstitition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency. 

      That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private. 

    Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations. 

       As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.

    Sincerely

Christopher Hitchens

And God Shook Japan!

Last year, a horribly tragic earthquake tore apart Haiti. The people there, who didn’t exactly have the most healthy or comfortable living conditions to start with, are still recovering from the disaster. The Haiti earthquake left over 316,000 people dead and approximately 1,600,000 people without homes. Try to wrap your head around those numbers, if you can. This is a monstrously huge population that was killed, and a nearly unfathomably larger population left to suffer in the wake of it all. Every single 1 of those is (or was) just as much a person as your own self. They take each day just as fully as you do, feel every bit or joy or pain just as severely as you possibly could. Each of these people is more alike with you than different. Take a moment to let this register in you mind.

Last Friday, March 11, a gigantic earthquake hit northern Japan, which was followed by an absolutely devastating tidal wave and at least two explosions at nuclear reactors. Death, destruction and despair are all these people have to look forward to for what will no doubt be a very long time. It pains me to say it, but this is the sad truth of the situation.

Want to see a bit of the extent of this damage? The New York Times has constructed an interactive set of images that illustrate what has happened. [link]

This shit is scary. Imagine what it must be like to live there, where over the course of one night your world is underwater, many of your friends and family are dead, and you are constantly struggling to stay alive yourself. This is reality for a great many people right now.

Here is some footage of the tragedy:

This all, of course, makes me terribly sad for those effected, but today I saw something that absolutely enraged me to no end. I mentioned the Haiti earthquake earlier partly to illustrate the extraordinary tragedy of it all, but partly also to call attention to the fact that immediately after it happened, celebrity televangelist Pat Robertson declared that the earthquake was a result of Haitians making a deal with the devil. ‘True story’, he called it. I have yet to hear of any such asinine remarks made by him in regards to this tragedy, but from other religious leaders I have. However, in today’s internet-driven world, pretty much any moron can post nearly anything they like, and they typically do. Earlier today, a friend of mine stumbled over this little gem:

Is it really fair to use the word ‘gem’ here? Would it be more fair to use the term ‘polished turd’ for this?

In all seriousness, this bitch needs to be slapped. Praying for the atheists to wake up? ‘Japan is a great place to start.’? She actually, honestly seems glad that so many people are dying, citing that it was God responding to prayers.

To the YouTube user who created this video, tamtampamela: Fuck you and the imaginary god you rode in on.

UPDATE: 3/15/2011

This video garnered quite a lot of attention. Too much for this little girl to handle, it seems. Within the past 12 hours she has closed her YouTube account. The video is no longer available.

How serious was she? Was she just trolling? Does it even matter anymore? I say it does not. Bitch is gone along with her hateful message, and as for myself I can be content with that.

UPDATE #2: 3/15/2011

Turns out she really was just a troll after all. I just don’t get how people could take such pleasure and enjoyment in deliberately pissing people off simply for the sake of doing so. Bitch still needs to be smacked.

Here’s another good article on this whole fiasco, which also happens to contain a mirror of the original video: [link]

Intolerance

A while back I posted a link to the following TouTube video on my personal Facebook site:

I accompanied this posting with the text, ‘The sooner we as a species can learn to live peacefully without the modern mythologies we call religions, the better off we will all be.’ An old friend of mine, who happens to be Christian, saw fit to leave a comment stating that I was ‘just intolerant.’ At first, I admit I was a bit taken aback by his remark. This was a person with whom there have never been unkind words of any kind between us. And yet, here was a comment meant to insult me.

I don’t generally like to dwell on thoughts that I feel are ultimately meaningless, such as personal opinions that I find discomforting. This comment, as it happens, seemed like something that I should just let glaze over me and then I would move on, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was only that way on the surface. In contemplating this remark, this declaration of my own lack of tolerance, it was not difficult for me to reach the conclusion that he was correct. I am indeed intolerant. Moreover, although he clearly meant it to be detrimental, I see it as a good thing.

My intolerance is directed not at the people who practice religion so much as it is the dishonesty that lies at the core of every religion’s doctrines. There are many things that I don’t believe are true, such as the existence of gods or the supernatural, but I do very strongly believe in the importance of honesty between people, in any context and at any scale. This is my essential grievance with religions: that it is demonstrably false and yet it insists that it is true.

Dishonesty is, at its core, among the most purely selfish of acts. When a person or organization is dishonest, it is ultimately to serve their own interests and agendas. In this way it is a practice that entirely disregards the well being of others. This is why I am intolerant of it. We as a species will only survive, let alone thrive, under the principles of honesty. The largest religions are based on superstitions constructed thousands of years ago, and newer religions are no different except that their superstitions haven’t lingered for quite as long. Superstitions are, by nature, dishonest. Thus, religions are revolved around lies. This is why I am proud to declare that I am intolerant of religions and the lies that they represent. I am in the right to declare this.

Lots Happening

There has been a LOT going on in recent weeks here in Stumptown. First, the Portland Humanist Film Festival was held from Oct 8-10 and was a big success, and then just last week we were visited by Sam Harris, who gave a talk on his new book The Moral Landscape. The book focuses on how science and secularism promote strong moral values. I was personally involved with the operations of both events, and am proud to say that I had the honor of introducing Mr Harris himself. Good things are happening!

Unfettered Thought

Yesterday, Friday August 27, local Portland radio station KBOO 90.7 aired a pilot episode for an atheist radio program. It is hosted by Maire Cullen and is called Unfettered Thought: The Atheist Show.

A downloadable mp3 archive of the show can be found at this site.

Happy listening!