Christopher Hitchens’ Acceptance Speech

At last year’s Freedom From Religion Foundation conference, Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great, received the “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” — an award “for public figures who engage in public dissent of religion.”

The transcript of his acceptance speech is now available on FFRF’s website.

Here are some excerpts:

I do feel I might give you a brief report on my swing through the areas of piety. I guess it was lucky that in the first week, as I was in North Carolina, the carcass of Jerry Falwell was found unraptured, slumped on the floor of his mediocre-degree mill of an office in Virginia. And I was able to say–though they tried to bleep it on Hannity & Colmes–that had Falwell been given an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox. So good are things these days with YouTube, and other things my children can do and I cannot, that apparently I was lipread saying that, even though they bleeped it out. So it got said on the air anyway. So let’s not say that all the victories are on the wicked side.

Compulsory love is a pretty horrible idea. The fear that goes with it is of little more than the negation of that. Let me give you an instance of what I mean. I’ve been to all three of the “Axis of Evil” countries now; I’m the only writer who has. When I was a child and I was told about heaven and hell, I couldn’t form a picture of heaven, because I was told it would be a place of eternal praise, everlasting praise, and thanks all the time. Thanks and praise and thank you and I praise you again, forever, for doing what appears to come to you naturally, for having made me out of a clot of blood? Sounded like hell to me. Of hell, of course, a child can be given an awful picture and many, many children never get over it. But I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live like that, forever praising.

Well, now I’ve been to North Korea and I do know. The only duty or right of the half-starved citizen is to thank, for his or her handful of dirty rice every day, the dear leader who makes it possible. There is no other culture or films or plays or classes in school or programs on TV and the radio. They’re all about the same thing: you have to thank the dear leader. Would that that were enough. The dear leader is only the head of the party in the army in North Korea. He’s not the president. The president is his father, who’s been dead for 15 years. Did you know that? North Korea has a dead president. It’s a necrocracy. A thanatocracy. A mausolocracy. It’s a death cult, and you may have noticed it’s only one short of a trinity. And the son is the reincarnation of his father. Now I know what it would be like. And I wasn’t able, in the article I wrote, to begin to describe the horrific pointlessness and misery of what it was like to be in North Korea even for half a day. None of you can imagine it, but it’s what theocracy wants you to imagine and be grateful for. And I’ll add this: at least you can fucking die and get out of North Korea. It is the only way you can leave that hermetic nightmare. Not so in mortuism — when you die is when the totalitarianism really begins.

Now Iran, here’s another case where religion doesn’t always lead to moral results. In Iran you’re not allowed to execute a female virgin, whatever crime she’s committed. She might have been a member of an opposition group, she might have blasphemed in some way, she might have uncovered her hair in public, who knows what she might have done? But you’re not allowed, even if the death penalty applies, to put her to death if she’s a virgin. So she’s raped by the revolutionary guards in prison, and then she can be executed.

Hitchens also offers a set of interesting challenges for theists:

… If you say that morality can only be derived from a supernatural authority/dictatorship, then you must be able to name for me an ethical statement made or ethical action performed by a believer that could not have been performed by a nonbeliever, by an infidel, that would be forbidden to them, unavailable, unaccessible. Can you do it? They haven’t yet. The challenge has been out for quite a long time.

Whereas if I can just mention my corollary, if I ask any audience member, not just this one, any audience — I did it in Georgetown University, one of the headquarters of the Catholic faith in this country, night before last — can they think of a wicked action performed that could only have been performed in the name of God or other divine instruction? No one has any hesitation in recognizing or identifying an example. Now as long as this remains the case, it is they who have to do the explaining, they who owe the accounting, they who owe the apology and not us, and we must be plain on it.

… Any church that is tax-exempt, therefore any religious group that gets a break from the IRS, any church that is in receipt of any monies at all from the so-called faith-based initiative, must give 50% of its time to the teaching of evolution by natural selection…

Read the full piece, imagine Hitchens’ voice saying it as you do, and you’ll have a nice little ten minute distraction.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Daniel Hoffman

    If you say that morality can only be derived from a supernatural authority/dictatorship, then you must be able to name for me an ethical statement made or ethical action performed by a believer that could not have been performed by a nonbeliever, by an infidel, that would be forbidden to them, unavailable, unaccessible. Can you do it? They haven’t yet. The challenge has been out for quite a long time.

    One problem here is that Christians and atheists will not agree on what constitutes morality.

    A very simple answer is that an unbeliever cannot, by definition, do the moral act of believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

    But this whole issue seems, in my experience, to be chronically misunderstood by atheists. The point is not that Christians and Atheists can’t perform the same acts – the point is not about what can and can’t be done, the point is the significance behind these acts. “Moral”, in an atheist universe, has no higher significance than atoms and energy.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    Wow, Daniel, what a crock of BS. I’m assuming you’re Christian.

    Atheist morality can be about way more than atoms and energy. And even if it is based on atoms and energy, it’s a hell of a lot more real, more important, and more meaningful than Christian morality if there is no heaven, no hell, and no God. Imagine for a second that Christian dogma is wrong and atheist thought is right: if so, our morality is the best the human race has got, the best it’s ever had. And it’s way more ethical than yours is, if your dogma is wrong. Think about it. Your morality is based on serving a dictator who demands you love him. It’s based on eradicating sin. But what if Christianity is wrong, and not all of your “sins” are actually immoral? What if it’s not immoral to use stem cells to fight diseases? In fact, what if it’s extremely immoral to fight the use of stem cells and scientific progress, because those doing so are allowing millions of people to slowly die of diseases that could be curable? What if Catholics are immoral for banning condoms in Africa, because they’re helping HIV to slowly incinerate all hope on that content? What if it’s not immoral to have sex outside of marriage, but positively unethical to prevent others from engaging in acts of pleasure in their own home (just to please a fictional character)? Etc. etc. And on top of it all, the supposed punishment for not asking forgiveness for those dubious sins is to be roasted for all eternity. I’m sorry, but in general, atheists are much more ethical than any religious group I’ve ever seen. We don’t have to look at the world through the blinding light of dogmatic certainty.

    BTW, I love Christopher Hitchens. Not the kind of love you’d give to a god, I might add, because a)the god would make you love them, and b)the god wouldn’t deserve the love. Hitchens doesn’t require you to adore him; he is open to criticism like any rationalist. And he deserves praise more than any tyrannical a-hole in the sky that I’ve come across.

  • LordLeckie

    Here here John.

    Hitchens deserves this award without a shadow of a doubt as his acceptance speech shows, he tells it as it is.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Atheist morality can be about way more than atoms and energy. And even if it is based on atoms and energy, it’s a hell of a lot more real, more important, and more meaningful than Christian morality if there is no heaven, no hell, and no God.

    It really can’t be, because there is no more to the universe than matter and energy. Your morals, however god they may be, amount to personal opinion, or at best common opinion. The common opinion of masses of atoms and energy that will soon die, and for all they know be judged by the future as evil (like how we today judge the slaveholders of two hunderd years ago who thought they were doing right).

    Imagine for a second that Christian dogma is wrong and atheist thought is right: if so, our morality is the best the human race has got, the best it’s ever had.

    Your morals might be decent, but there is no such thing as an atheist ‘our’ morality. There can’t be. Atheists might have morals, but no morals – be they good or bad ones – can rationally flow from atheistic premises. Any morality that atheism comes up with will be borrowing from Christianity, because it will take for granted that humans have some inherent value, and such a belief has no rational or necessary connection to naturalistic atheism. Let me ask you – Joseph Stalin was an atheist, and he did some things you and I both condemn as reprehensible. But how were his actions or ‘morals’ inconsistent with atheism while yours are in accord with it? My point is not that atheism leads to Stalinish evil, the point is that Stalin has as much right to say what’s moral as you do.

    Think about it. Your morality is based on serving a dictator who demands you love him.

    Anyone can caricature. But if that honestly is how you see it, you’re the one that hasn’t ‘thought about it’. Or else are completely ignorant of Christianity.

    But what if Christianity is wrong, and not all of your “sins” are actually immoral? What if it’s not immoral to use stem cells to fight diseases? In fact, what if it’s extremely immoral to fight the use of stem cells and scientific progress, because those doing so are allowing millions of people to slowly die of diseases that could be curable?

    What’s wrong with allowing millions of people to slowly die, beyond that fact that you don’t like it? Is it just your opinion, or do you have an objective reason to assume that fighting disease is ‘moral’?

    I’m sorry

    Don’t say it if you aren’t.

  • Danielle

    What’s wrong with allowing millions of people to slowly die, beyond that fact that you don’t like it? Is it just your opinion, or do you have an objective reason to assume that fighting disease is ‘moral’?

    Well here’s the problem with religous people … because they believe the fairytale that death is not the end, they have zero respect for life. Truly disgusting.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Danielle, that’s another example of what I said a couple of posts earlier:

    But this whole issue seems, in my experience, to be chronically misunderstood by atheists.

    Let me quote Doug Wilson from his debate with Christopher Hitchens in an attempt to make the point more clearly. Not because I can’t think for myself but because if someone says something well, we might as well use it:

    “Now we really need to address the point you continue to miss. I am not talking about whether atheists must do evil, or if they can do evil. I have denied the former, and you have now granted the latter. But that is not the point. We are not talking about whether your atheism compels you to run downtown this evening to shoot out the street lights. I grant that it does not. And we are not talking about whether atheists can do vile things. You grant that they can. We are talking about (or, more accurately, I am trying to talk about) whether or not atheism provides any rational basis for rational condemnation when others decide to misbehave this way. You keep saying, “I have come to my ethical position.” I keep asking, “Yes, quite. But why did you do so?”…..
    “Take the vilest atheist you ever heard of. Imagine yourself sitting at his bedside shortly before he passes away. He says, following Sinatra, “I did it my way.” And then he adds, chuckling, “Got away with it too.” In our thought experiment, the one rule is that you must say something to him, and whatever you say, it must flow directly from your shared atheism—and it must challenge the morality of his choices. What can you possibly say? He did get away with it. There is a great deal of injustice behind him, which he perpetrated, and no justice in front of him. You have no basis for saying anything to him other than to point to your own set of personal prejudices and preferences. You mention this to him, and he shrugs. “Tomayto, tomahto.”

    Danielle, Christians have plenty of respect for life. We believe human beings have inherent value because they are created by God in His image. But our belief that humans have value is based in reality and is consistent with our worldview and basic assumptions. People actually are created in the image of God. Atheistic value of human life is pure sentiment with no rational basis in an atheistic worldview. You might not like murder and certainly don’t perform it or advocate performing it, but in the big scheme of things, according to YOUR naturalistic atheistic principles, this cannot be because man has any more inherent value than a rock, it is simply because murder makes most people queasy and they don’t think it’s helpful.

  • Aj

    Daniel Hoffman,

    One problem here is that Christians and atheists will not agree on what constitutes morality.

    It’s a bit more complicated than that. What atheists call morality is something natural to humans. What some Christians call morality uses tortured logic and is absurd.

    A very simple answer is that an unbeliever cannot, by definition, do the moral act of believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

    According to other religious views, the immoral act of believing Jesus Christ as the son of God. Can you choose to believe in something? I think not, so it’s not something I would consider to be in the realm of morality. Yet even if you could, what is it that makes believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God moral? It certainly isn’t because it’s well supported evidence, or it’s more likely to be right than the millions of other stories you could choose.

    “Moral”, in an atheist universe, has no higher significance than atoms and energy.

    I can’t disagree with that statement, it doesn’t have the context necessary for it to have meaning.

    It really can’t be, because there is no more to the universe than matter and energy. Your morals, however god they may be, amount to personal opinion, or at best common opinion. The common opinion of masses of atoms and energy that will soon die, and for all they know be judged by the future as evil (like how we today judge the slaveholders of two hunderd years ago who thought they were doing right).

    The morality of religion amounts to personal opinion, or at best common opinion. It doesn’t appeal to a uniform source, it appeals to various different accounts of communication from various different sources of authority recorded in a vague and contradictory fashion. Christianity was the source for and against slavery, both before and after its outlaw.

    Your morals might be decent, but there is no such thing as an atheist ‘our’ morality. There can’t be. Atheists might have morals, but no morals – be they good or bad ones – can rationally flow from atheistic premises.

    The person you are responding to is obviously refering to humanity not atheism.

    No morals can rationally flow from theistic premises if you exclude God as a source of morals. You have excluded anything but God as a source of morals, because when you talk about morality that’s what you’re refering to, the authority of God has a moral giver, whether as an agent or by its very nature.

    Any morality that atheism comes up with will be borrowing from Christianity, because it will take for granted that humans have some inherent value, and such a belief has no rational or necessary connection to naturalistic atheism.

    It’s not a logical requirement for atheists to place inherent value in humans. It does not follow from not believing in gods.

    Let me ask you – Joseph Stalin was an atheist, and he did some things you and I both condemn as reprehensible. But how were his actions or ‘morals’ inconsistent with atheism while yours are in accord with it? My point is not that atheism leads to Stalinish evil, the point is that Stalin has as much right to say what’s moral as you do.

    Atheism is not a religion, it is not a philosophy. It does not claim authority, list rules, or advocate particular practices.

    What’s wrong with allowing millions of people to slowly die, beyond that fact that you don’t like it? Is it just your opinion, or do you have an objective reason to assume that fighting disease is ‘moral’?

    Please tell us your objective reason, because you will have surpassed all your theist kin.

    Atheistic value of human life is pure sentiment with no rational basis in an atheistic worldview. You might not like murder and certainly don’t perform it or advocate performing it, but in the big scheme of things, according to YOUR naturalistic atheistic principles, this cannot be because man has any more inherent value than a rock, it is simply because murder makes most people queasy and they don’t think it’s helpful.

    What atheistic worldviews have you read or heard about?

  • Daniel Hoffman

    It’s a bit more complicated than that. What atheists call morality is something natural to humans. What some Christians call morality uses tortured logic and is absurd.

    Natural to which humans? Psychopaths? Communist dictators? Little kids who can’t see past their own wants and perceived needs? What is natural to humans is to be self-centered and get away with anything they can get away with.

    According to other religious views, the immoral act of believing Jesus Christ as the son of God. Can you choose to believe in something? I think not, so it’s not something I would consider to be in the realm of morality. Yet even if you could, what is it that makes believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God moral? It certainly isn’t because it’s well supported evidence, or it’s more likely to be right than the millions of other stories you could choose.

    What makes believing in Jesus as the Son of God moral is that it is what God requires of us.

    PS: Danielle, you really did not say enough in your post for me to accuse you of not understanding what I was saying. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t, but in any case it wasn’t enough for me to assume on. So, I apologize for that.

  • Aj

    Daniel Hoffman,

    Natural to which humans? Psychopaths? Communist dictators? Little kids who can’t see past their own wants and perceived needs? What is natural to humans is to be self-centered and get away with anything they can get away with.

    You think psychopaths and communist dictators are representative of the majority of humans?

  • cipher

    What is natural to humans is to be self-centered and get away with anything they can get away with.

    And there you have it. That is why you people rely so heavily on the doctrine of hell. You take your own failings, your abject self-loathing and project it onto the rest of humanity. You may not be able to behave morally without the threat of eternal damnation, but to make a blanket statement like this is presumptuous at best.

    And, of course, your response will be to challenge me with something like, “Well, then, how do you explain…[insert straw-man of choice]?” Don’t even bother.

    What makes believing in Jesus as the Son of God moral is that it is what God requires of us.

    Right. I believe it because it’s true. It’s true because I believe it. Any exit ramp off that cloverleaf?

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Daniel, please, by all means continue to insinuate that atheism somehow “needs” religion to keep it from being morally nihilistic, and refuse to pay attention to the people who respond to you.

    But you will find that most people here have no problem with the idea that “morality” is intrinsically human; in essence, it’s an evolved social trait that benefits the human species as a whole. To insist that humans would go nuts and kill each other without a God to tell them what to do and what not to do is, well… it’s just stupid.

    That is not to say that humans are perfect. Indeed, perfection is probably an artificial standard that is at best unattainable and at worst nonexistent. Yet you continue pointing at atheist criminals and insisting that they are the rule rather than the exception. And then when all the atrocities committed by religious folks are pointed out in response, you insist that they are the exception and not the rule, thereby setting up a clever little double standard.

    Daniel, if atheists claim that they can be moral without religion, and then they behave at least no less morally than most religious people, then who the hell are you to say otherwise?

  • Daniel Hoffman

    And there you have it. That is why you people rely so heavily on the doctrine of hell. You take your own failings, your abject self-loathing and project it onto the rest of humanity. You may not be able to behave morally without the threat of eternal damnation, but to make a blanket statement like this is presumptuous at best.

    Miss the point, again.

    And, of course, your response will be to challenge me with something like, “Well, then, how do you explain…[insert straw-man of choice]?” Don’t even bother.

    No, my response is that you again missed the point.

    Right. I believe it because it’s true. It’s true because I believe it. Any exit ramp off that cloverleaf?

    What I believe or don’t believe has nothing to do with what’s true and what isn’t. What God says and requires is true, whether you or I believe it or not.

    But you will find that most people here have no problem with the idea that “morality” is intrinsically human; in essence, it’s an evolved social trait that benefits the human species as a whole.

    What parts of morality are intrinsically human? Are these intrinsic morals binding on those who don’t share them (like Stalin?) By whose authority are they imposed on people who might disagree? Or is it all up to opinion? Or a majority opinion? How much of a majority? Does this majority have the right to enforce its morals on the minority? Was slavery ok in the 1700′s because society didn’t have a problem with it? Was barbarous slaughter ok in the BC’s because is was run-of-the-mill life? Will theft perhaps be ok 100 years from now?

    To insist that humans would go nuts and kill each other without a God to tell them what to do and what not to do is, well… it’s just stupid.

    I agree, which is why I never suggested, much less insisted this. Again, missing the point entirely.

    That is not to say that humans are perfect. Indeed, perfection is probably an artificial standard that is at best unattainable and at worst nonexistent.

    Well, for you it would have to be an artificial standard.

    Yet you continue pointing at atheist criminals and insisting that they are the rule rather than the exception. And then when all the atrocities committed by religious folks are pointed out in response, you insist that they are the exception and not the rule, thereby setting up a clever little double standard.

    I can only assume you didn’t read what I wrote, because this reply has nothing to do with what I said or the point I was making.

  • A

    Daniel Hoffman, please believe in your little fairytale which makes you feel better and keep it to yourself.


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