Atheism and Humanism in a Pluralist Democracy

Christopher Hitchens faced off against Edd Doerr in a debate on Interfaith Voices recently.

Hitchens is the atheist author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Doerr is the past president of the American Humanist Association.

I haven’t heard the whole show yet, but here is the synopsis:

Christopher Hitchens believes that religion is a poison because it asks humans to surrender the precious faculty of reason in favor of faith where the message of God is accepted without evidence (he believes faith and reason are incompatible), it misrepresents the origins of humanity and the cosmos, it attacks human integrity with an immoral approach to reward and punishment, it fosters servility and solipsism, and it is sexually repressive.

Edd Doerr first explains that he does not favor use of terms like “non-believer” or “atheist” because they suggest what a person is against, but not what he/she is for. He prefers “humanist,” which conveys a belief in reason, science and human equality. He believes that Christopher Hitchens is too broad in his critique of religion. Doerr differentiates between the Religious Right and fundamentalists (of any faith tradition) and more progressive people of faith with whom he joins often in coalitions around certain issues.

Christopher Hitchens puts forward some of the basic creedal teachings of Christianity, and says he cannot find anyone claiming to be Christian who says they actually believe them. Doerr says that most Christians he knows don’t think often about elements of the creed; they are more like the Founding Fathers who say they follow the ethical teachings of Jesus.

Hitchens says that the Scriptures or holy texts of various religions do not teach equality, but rather slavery and repression, evidence of their primitive origins. He fears that those with such apocalyptic visions who think God is on their side might some day acquire apocalyptic weapons and destroy the world.

Doerr says that many holy texts are, for example, repressive of women, but some religious people like Bp. John Shelby Spong leave aside what does not make sense. But he says the Bible may be well sold, but not well read. Polls show that a lot of people can’t name the four gospels, and other basics.

Hitchens says that evolution is central in understanding the world today, but people of faith say that God created it all, without evidence. Doerr suggested that that was Jefferson’s view. Disageement ensued.

It became clear that Hitchens and Doerr have a fundamental difference about what “being religious” means. Hitchens says that Jefferson was a Deist; he did not believe that God intervened in human history. Religious people, he says, believe that God does intervene, and has a message for them. Doerr said that that is one view of what it means to be “religious.” Many Unitarians, he said, do not believe in the supernatural, but still call themselves “religious.”

When it comes to the sexual act, both agree that religion has been repressive, but Doerr thinks religion is evolving, especially with the increasing numbers of women in the clergy.

When asked if he would make common cause with people of faith on public issues, Hitchens said that depends on the political views of those involved. But he finds religious people largely useless on the issues important to him. He cites the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, and the fact that most religious people condemned the cartoons as the cause of the violence that ensued after their publication, rather than simply condemning the violence.

Doerr says he has just finished Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason, and although Gore is a Christian believer, Doerr agrees with a lot of what he says, and asserts, “I can work with a guy like Al Gore.”

Both men share a strong belief in religious freedom and tolerance. Hitchens, who recently became an American citizen, said he has a new slogan based on Jefferson’s phrase, the “wall of separation between church and state.” That slogan is: “Mr. Jefferson, build up that wall!” Doerr agrees on separation, and finds that the actions of the Religious Right are a danger to that wall today.

(via Newton’s Enigma)


[tags]atheist, atheism, humanist, Christopher Hitchens, Edd Doerr, Interfaith Voices, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, American Humanist Association, Religious Right, fundamentalist, Christian, Jesus, John Shelby Spong[/tags]

  • Daniel

    It sounded as though Doerr’s main objection to religion is the “religious right” and that is something that I hear a lot from other so-called atheists. I’m wondering how much of the new atheist movement is far more political than it is an honest rejection of god and religion. I would be very disappointed to see the movement fade away if a left wing president were elected in the US, but I’m beginning to believe that it may.

  • Mriana

    Christopher Hitchens believes that religion is a poison because it asks humans to surrender the precious faculty of reason in favor of faith where the message of God is accepted without evidence (he believes faith and reason are incompatible), it misrepresents the origins of humanity and the cosmos, it attacks human integrity with an immoral approach to reward and punishment, it fosters servility and solipsism, and it is sexually repressive.

    I agree with Hitchens on these things. If you were to listen to my mother and aunt you would also find it is very much anti-intellectual too. To repress human sexuality unfortunately cause it to be express in such a way that it’s explosive and harmful to others. It is not possible to suppress anything that is natural and normal about being human without it causing the individual serious problems in the ends- thus why we hear things about homosexual priests and ministers having sex with young boys or men or the religious having affairs and alike. It is not natural to suppress something that is natural and normal.

    I could go on and on concerning religion, but I won’t. I really want to get his book by Hitchens. It sounds very interesting.


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