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.