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Twisted: Mark Warren on Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens

Esquire executive editor Mark Warren’s commentary about Christopher Hitchens is all over the map. A masterpiece of post-modernist gobbledygook. A paragon of doublespeak. Warren writes in praise of Christopher Hitchens’ new book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. But he also manages to trash both Dawkins and Harris, argues for the inevitable human need for religion, and mocks Hitchens’ atheism (by making reference to the ‘creation’ of Hitchens by God in the first place)–all in the same review.

That this kind of contradictory and irresponsible mush passes for literary criticism at Esquire documents not only the sorry state of logic, but the evidently diminished value of reasoned discourse in many circles. I’ve done my level best to parse the meaning of his text, but I’m not sure even Warren knows where he stands.

The Hitchens book is good, that much I agree with. I’m about halfway through, and I’ll try to manage my own review in due time. Hitchens makes by far the most colorful arguments of any of the recent tomes. But Hitchens is saying the same things as Dawkins and Harris, nearly chapter and verse. So how does Warren on the one hand praise Hitchens, and yet have this to say about the other two?

And speaking of violence, did anybody read The God Delusion, by that guy Richard Dawkins, who says that all the atheists should designate themselves as “brights” to differentiate them from all the knuckle-dragging morons who believe? What an asshole. Or how about the wishfully thinking The End of Faith, by Sam Harris? Harris is a neuroscientist, you know, and that’s quite a credential.

So which is it, Mark: is being a neuroscientist really a credential? Or are you just being sarcastic and demeaning science? I suspect it’s the latter. Maybe you should learn a little more about human cognition and ev-psych before you imply that it’s got nothing to do with the subject of faith.

As for the ad-hominem attack on Dawkins? You know, I might agree that “The Brights” was not the best political choice for a name for atheists. But to start, the term wasn’t the brainchild of Dawkins, it was coined by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell of the-brights.net. So how does using the term make Dawkins an asshole? Further, there IS a negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence. Or put another way: the world’s top scientists have abysmally low levels of god-belief. But hey, it’s the 21st century, we don’t need no steenkin’ facts.

Warren continues:

One need not say any more about the ridiculous Osama bin Laden and the crazy violent fundamentalists worldwide, but what on earth have we done to deserve the Catholic League, for instance, with its public face, the dashing Bill Donohue, who said the accusers of child-raping priests were guilty of “sexual McCarthyism”? (Bill, if you’re listening, I offer this advice, one obnoxious former altar boy to another: Shut your trap. You’re killing the Church in America. On second thought, carry on.) It is all enough to make one want to banish God. Hence all these books. But do yourself a favor and skip the Dawkins and Harris; they’re smug, turgid, and boring, with all the human feeling of a tax return.

So great, Mark, you condemn fundamentalism, and extremist culture warrior Bill Donohue. (How noble and difficult a political position. What courage it takes to pile on child-rapists, hijackers, and suicide bombers.) So far so good, though. At least we agree. But then, suddenly Dawkins and Harris, who also agree and also condemn “crazy violent fundamentalists” have become smug, turgid, and boring. And of course Warren’s atheist whipping boys have committed the ultimate sin–being mean–disrespecting religious feelings.

It’s exasperating enough to make me want to run out in the street in front of the six synagogues and four churches in my neighborhood and stop traffic: “Hey, did you know atheists are disrespecting your feelings?” “Aren’t you upset that there’s not more respect for religion in this country?”

And that’s really the crux of the issue: People seem less concerned with facts than feelings. Nine out of ten of the reviews whining about Dawkins and Harris have focused on the charge that the authors have been unflinching in their criticism of beliefs. Perhaps one in ten took issue with the actual arguments presented in the books. Warren continues in this grand tradition of bashing the god-bashers:

But yet, there’s something all these utterly rational missalettes miss. The hunger. The need. And for all the bad things it has wrought, the profound and revolutionary social force that religion has been in the life of man. Because we need Him, He persists. No matter how big the book thrown at Him, His book is always bigger. No matter how much closer we get to finding God’s face through a telescope, many more of us will still be baying, or praying, at the moon.

Personally, the only time I want to howl at the moon is after a particularly good orgasm. How many more times do we need to deal with this objection? As Dennett, Alper, Newberg, Pinker and many others have shown, we humans have a part of our brains that invents gods and lives perpetually on the subjective. This is the same part of the brain that governs meditation, dreams, fantasies, and hallucinations. No atheist or scientist I’ve ever met has even hinted we should try to get rid of this deep and rich part of ourselves which is the source for much human meaning. All we are saying is “keep your facts and fantasies straight.” And we are especially saying facts matter in the public square.

Every one of the latest crop of popular books on god-belief say essentially the same thing into the teeth of believers: “You don’t have facts on your side, and you are not helping the cause of reducing human suffering.” That–along with arguing strenuously for admitting the mistakes of the past–in a nutshell is the message of both The God Delusion AND God is not Great. So what’s the beef? Hitchens is sophisticated because he’s a man of letters, while Dawkins is an uncreative rube because he spent his life mired in the muck of biology? This privileging of the metaphorical over the empirical (essentially style over substance) accomplishes nothing but to demean the relevance of the humanities as currently practiced.

And it would have to be the tetchiest of all critics who would stoop to calling one of the most accomplished scientists of our time an “asshole.”


Comments (13 comments)

pboyfloyd / April 25th, 2007, 4:15 pm / #1

Mark Warren is being an unabashed whore, pandering to both sides of the ‘controversy.’

“The hunger. The need.” How narcissistic he shows religionists to be… and that’s one of the religionists favourite things to call atheists. Here I didn’t realise that that was a ‘tu quoque’ argument.

“…the profound and revolutionary social force that religion has been.” Since religion equals control…we ‘learn’, here, that ‘man’ is not a little sado-masochistic. Well some people are and others can simply be forced into it.

I think that being non-sadistic and non-masochistic is a good functional definition of being atheist… maybe it’s just me.

BlackSun / April 26th, 2007, 9:15 am / #2

Pboyfloyd,

I agree. The narcissism of religion is what is behind calls for universal ‘respect.’ We see this more obviously with cults like Scientology or CUT or the Mormons, with obvious and outlandish claims being made. I don’t want to exempt the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Science from the short list. But we only have to think of transubstantiation (a cracker and wine become the body and blood of Christ) to realize this narcissism exists in the bigger religions as well.

It’s basically “respect our fantasies, or else.” And as we can see with Scientology, no fantasy is too strange for this treatment.

With regard to S & M, what could be more of a master-slave situation than the relationship between an all-powerful god and the “miserable sinner”?

The eastern religious model describes this as the guru-chela relationship, which words literally mean “master” and “slave.” To be strong, independent, and free, a person must reject all such relationships until they have the strength and personality development to realize the implications of what they are agreeing to. Few religious people have this level of introspection or “reality check.”

Some people choose to incorporate one-on-one S & M into their lives, which is completely different than the religious model (which has one master with a large congregation of slaves). With strong self-awareness, such a relationship could be used for personal psychodrama and catharsis. The point being that it must be consensual and regardless of who is the “master,” both parties benefit equally. Psychologist Guy Baldwin has done strong work in this area. His books make for interesting reading.

I do think that religions incorporate aspects of S & M, and it’s not a coincidence that a lot of the role-playing involves situations modeled on the Inquisition and other religious atrocities. You won’t find a well-equipped dungeon without a “St. Andrew’s Cross” for example.

And of course the torture scene on Calvary hill is pretty much the quintessential S & M experience, culminating in death. Which is what has made it such a powerful metaphor for thousands of years.

pboyfloyd / April 26th, 2007, 1:50 pm / #3

Yea, wow…
I can see how it would be ‘fun’ for them to control things behind the scenes. The priest is the one who knows all the gossip, you’re even told that you must ‘rat’ on yourself. If you’re a particularly bad boy, since the priest is hobnobbing with the middle/upper class, a word in the right ear and ‘bingo’ you’re unemployed… ‘God’ did it!
If that intrigue becomes unfulfilling, perhaps something kinky like buggering the fresh-faced alterboys… God forgives all anyway, right? The priesthood will cover you for sure.

But what about some world-shaking action? Send your armies to control a foreign nation to break their fighting spirit. If they fight back.. they are terrorists, if they don’t, train local militias to harrass them until … etc. etc. (you watch the news)

It is brilliantly sadistic!! Victory,,, who cares? The Christians are in control… and they are loving it!!
What can the mysterious ‘Victory in Iraq’ plan be?… except maybe Jesus showing up!!!

just say no to christ / April 27th, 2007, 9:17 am / #4

People like Warren frustrate the hell out of me and the sad part is that I have run into many atheists that think like he does. I see no need to give abrahamic religions the respect they viciouly demand. I always try to remind religious folks that it is THEIR personal beliefs and they have no right to define what god is to me. I will define it on my own terms and not by what others who are poorly informed tell me. At least that is what I tell my more religious clients when they come in talking religious smack.

And what an asshole Warren is to talk about Dawkins like that. I went to a Dawkins book signing and he is overwhelmingly charming. I have never heard anyone be able to say fuck off(he really did say that!) with the tack and charm that he does. But that could be his british accent and that I find him absolutely adorable. My husband and daughters joked with me about only going with me if I promised not to throw my panties at him. lol

pboyfloyd

You said:”It is brilliantly sadistic!! Victory,,, who cares? The Christians are in control… and they are loving it!!
What can the mysterious ‘Victory in Iraq’ plan be?… except maybe Jesus showing up!!! ”

I couldn’t agree more and I think a lot of my anger towards christianity has a lot to do with my husband being in the military. It was our decission for him to join the military when he still couldn’t find a job even with a BA and a baby on the way(I am one of those people the pill is not that affective on). We have never been one of those couples who are gun ho military, but we really couldn’t complain until now. Our government has been hijack by war mongering death cultists and they are misusing our military and I am VERY resentful for that. My husband has been to Iraq twice so far and I have no doubt they will send him again before its over and that pisses me off to no end! This war was poorly planned and even my husband who is a major in the marines will tell you that they dont even have an agenda, no statagy, no nothing. It is like they are just sending people to die for no good reason other than ‘god said so’. I think oil is just away to throw us off from the fact that this war was started for religious reasons. Our government has forced oil on us and we all know damn good and well that we have other resouces and it wouldn’t even be that hard to change over. If our government provided affordable alternatives people would gladly choose them over the destructive fuels and energies we use now and our government has the means and know how to do so, but it wont, because then they wouldnt have the power to manipulate the masses and hide their real agendas. Their real agendas are to bring the end of the world and the second coming of christ. I’m not saying that they are not enjoying the mass amounts of money they are raking in from the rising costs of fuel, they most certainly are and their religious beliefs only give them justification to enjoy it at the cost of human lives. Its a vicious death cult cycle! So, I think a lot of harsh crittisism is called for and for those that say we are wrong to crittisize have never had to send a loved one off to an unjust and unwinnable war and they can just fuck off, As Dawkins would say.

Amy

Morgaine / April 27th, 2007, 11:14 am / #5

Amy,

I had no idea your husband has been serving in Iraq! You both must be very vey strong to endure that. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you both, especially in light of this travesty!

As awful as it is that there really is no strategy, it’s what many of us have been saying all along, so to hear it from another soldeir, a marine no less, says a lot. Given this, what does your husband think we should be doing now? Does he support a withdraw? (It sounds like it.).If so, how would he go about it. Given his experince, what would he do if he were in charge?

It is one thing to think the agenda is all about oil, thats bad enough, but when you pile on the fact that our president is truly menatally sick , his insane beliefs may very well include a welcoming of an armeggedon scenario if not consiously then subconsciously..and that is terrifying.

Again…what do you and your husband say should be done with Iraq And how would you guys answer the critique that if we don’t complete the job (whatever that means) its a disservice to all those who have died?

pboyfloyd / April 27th, 2007, 4:09 pm / #6

I have to apologize to you Sean for steering this off the topic. The nut-job christians HAVE hi-jacked the U.S.Govt. and btw gained control of the most powerful army on Earth.

You can see how they would not want to let that power go. It’s Yahweh(the sum of all Christian dreams) against Allah now!!! The fight of the millenium. Will Yahweh win by sending his son as prophesied… or will He win ‘through’ His mortal followers? I’m thinking the latter since the former is, dare I say… batshit crazy!!

It is now set up so that if Yahweh doesn’t win.. then he must have lost and Allah must have won. And that was the whole point!! Sorry, Just Say No To Christ, your husband is a pawn in a trancendental game now.

Morgaine.. how can I.. or any.. mere reality-based person, even begin to figure out a face-saving compromise between Yahweh and Allah?? If the U.S. backs out now, the Christians will be horrified that we(reality-based ‘enemies’) let ‘victory’ slip from their grasp…. and the Muslims will be ecstatic.. emboldening their nut-jobs further.

We are SOOOOO screwed.

Morgaine / April 27th, 2007, 5:30 pm / #7

I hear you Pboy, your analysis of the psychological forces at play are probably right on. It truly is a battle of the gods. And I fear we are screwed. But, if we continue on as we have,without any intelligent, culturally savvy strategy, we will be feeding the frenzy of the jihadists anyway. Either way we are the Demon. But its easier to paint us that way to the kid down the street just big enough to steady a gun, when we are actively killing people he loves. I don’t hear any…excuse the phrase…lesser of evils being offered. And I’d like to think there is one.

pboyfloyd / April 27th, 2007, 7:14 pm / #8

@Morgaine

STEP 1. Indict G.W.Bush as a war criminal.
STEP 2 Indict R. Cheney as a war profiteer.
STEP 3. Indict A. Blair for aiding and abeting.

Have them tried in an international court then dealt with according to Sharia Law.

Simple really.

just say no to chris / April 28th, 2007, 5:39 am / #9

Oh, almost forgot, a link about Barbra Bodine. She is a great person, My husband and I have had drinks and dinner with her since and its hard for me not to be in awe of her. She has a very demanding presents.

http://www.udel.edu/global/agenda/2002/bodinebio….

just say no to christ / April 28th, 2007, 12:30 pm / #10

Morgaine

The first time my husband whent over there was right before and the start. He was with the humanitarian task force OHARA. He has been mentioned and there are pictures of him in a few books written about the war. He was assigned to be Barbara Bodine’s, the American ambassador of Yemen at the time, body gaurd among other things. And because she would not cooperate with the good ole boys of the military (because she knew they had no stategy and really had no business being there) they fired her. My husband is still one of her biggest supporters and knew exactly what was going on and why they fired her.He was also involved in a lot of rebuilding plans for Baghdad( he’s a combat engineer) that never got done! When we invaded, there was NEVER a plan to get out. Shoot, the minute they got in to Iraq they began setting up bases and they have no plans on leaving those bases! As soon as the bases got built they seemed to have just lost interest in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. Another reason for wanting to invade Iraq was… location, location, location! Iraq is dead center in the middle of all our religious enemies, who just so happen to have a lot of oil. If these end time religious nut bags can force the masses to rely on oil, they can get closer to their religious enemies so that all hell can break loose. Then they will be able to say to the masses…’look, its gods judgment and you must obey’….and….’it was fore told and jesus is coming to finish the job’. They are unconsciencly forefilling prophacy. Its a crazy death cult cycle thing and that is what scares Barbra, My husband and myself.

Barbra Bodine, knew the Iraq people, she understood their culture, their environment that they have adapted to and the fact that war and violence are their whole way of life. That is all they know cause that is all the only thing that really works when you have so little resources. The good ole boys of the military didn’t want to hear her out, they couldn’t be bothered and still can’t be bothered with any rational thinking. Nothing is going to stop those people from fighting eccept more resources and even that is iffy. Many times the religious nut jobs there destroy them the minute you produce them. It’s a never ending battle that just isn’t winnable and we can not sacrifice our children to them, so we must leave. Until our government gets their heads out of their asses and starts thinking rationally, we are only causing more problems for those people. If our government would focus on global environmental issues and science we could help those people, but we wont need weapons for that. My husband and I support the military becoming more enviornmenally friendly and aware and reducing weapon spending, but thats a long way away right now. We also are members of military families speakout(MFSO) and want the war defunded. It just needs to stop. The whole reason my husband is working on his masters is because we needed a break from the war and as long as he is here they couldn’t send him there. He was already working on furthering his educationg, but needing a break from the war sure did modivate him to get it faster and there are still a lot of gun ho war supporting marines that havent been sent yet. Thats another thing that irritates me, they keep sending the same people back, over and over and keeping them there, longer and longer. Nothing about our government is logical anymore since Bush took office. Being able to see through all the BS makes it a little harder being a military family, but I keep telling myself we need people like us on the inside.lol

And we were both very skeptical from the very begining of the war, but we didn’t realize how messed up things really were till My husband got over there. Its a very shameful time for America.

Amy

pboyfloyd / April 29th, 2007, 3:42 pm / #11

@ Just Say No To Christ.

All I can do for you is spread the memes, which in this case is the facts!! I plonked this down in response to a ‘gung-ho’ commenter on news bloggers… hope it catches on.

“70% of your ‘one nation,(under God), indivisible..’ seem to be against your, “Don’t eye-ball me, soldier.” attitude.

You seem to be saying that you are fighting for democracy, even though democracy, in fact, disgusts you.

“Well, ‘HOO-fuckin’-RAH!’ you simpleton. Teary-eyed gazing at the flag is NOT, repeat NOT, a good substitute for getting that ‘grunt-sweating-in-the-desert-sun-waiting-to-be-blown-up-real-good’ home alive…. got that soldier… don’t eye-ball me fucktard!!”

Who knows… maybe the truth will ‘hurt’… it can’t ‘help’. LOL

just say no to christ / April 30th, 2007, 5:57 pm / #12

pboyfloyd,

I really had to think about that. I guess you could say that I am fighting for democracy, but in fact does disgust me. I personally don’t think our democratic system works for everyone and most of all, not even us. I think our government is due for an overhaul. If it was up to me I’d do away with our class system. I have a bit of an antarchist streek, but I know change takes time and the best way to change things is to work with the system to some extent. And just like Vietnam, it will take the more rational military members influence to change their minds and when their military personel start speaking out, people stop supporting and when the people stop supporting, the government usually listens, but not Bush and his buddies. MFSO is growing and that is because of a few much needed rational people in the military. That is how we rationalize it to ourselves anyway. There have been many times that we have thought about getting out, but then we think about all the military people we know, very few of them are capable of rational thought and we can’t abandon the so few who are. This is OUR country too and we need to make sure that we(athiests and non christians) have our say within the government.

Also, My husband and I feel very strongly that as long as there are rogue countries out there, that are ruled by threocracy, we need a strong DEFENCE. I capitalize defence, because that is what our military is supposed to be, that is why it is called ‘the department of defence’.

I have so many mixed feelings about the government, I couldn’t possibly staighten them out in one day. I do know, that no matter whose in the house, there is still corruption, but this administration takes the cake, becuase it has become a threocracy and too many people are giving it too much undeserved respect.

Amy

pboyfloyd / April 30th, 2007, 9:30 pm / #13

@ Just Say No To Christ.
This man was giving the usual spiel that he was fighting for american freedoms… and we should thank him.. and we should shut up because he earned the right to a voice and the freedom of speech that everybody has is really a freedom to shut up and listen to ‘your’ betters.
I believe that military men are prone to this argument and it sounds reasonable to them because when one first enlists in the military ‘you’ve’ sold your ‘soul’ to Uncle Sam. You have the right to shut up and do what the Drill Sgt. says, period. You have to ‘earn’ your rights to opinions.
Some of these guys are talking like they would love to smash some ‘pinko’ face, if only, if only they could still brag about preserving freedom of speech for everyone while shutting ‘you’ the hell up.
I’m not sure why you equate democracy with a class system… the word means government by the people. The way most democracies work is that it is supposed to be hidden that the wealthy have an undue influence in the direction that the country takes. I think that the rich, the owners, the powerbrokers having an influence is fine to a certain extent.. but not when they are being absolute pigs about it and polarizing the wealth to the point that most people are feeling like wage-slaves.
BTW, if it makes you feel any better about what I said, it might help you to know that I ain’t no spring chicken and back in them cold-war days.. I did indeed do a little bit of parachuting for the Queen, if you know what I mean.

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