Read this exchange and tell me who you think the speaker is:
Question: “Immanuel Kant said that without the afterlife morality couldn’t survive. What’s your response to that idea?”
“God is blackmailer. God is warden of the prison. He created us all in his image — probably a mistake — and then allows us to run wild and punishes us or rewards us with his beaming vision of himself. This is no god I really want to have any traffic with at all. I mean, the idea that good behavior only depends upon your fear of what will happen to you after you die, that you will be punished excludes all of philosophy. It excludes Plato, it excludes the mystery cults of Greece, it excludes the Roman idea of what is a good man. There goes Marcus Aurelius, there goes Epictetus, there go the stoics. These are all better thinkers than anything that the Christian church has come up with in 2,000 years.”
You might guess Christopher Hitchens after his first glass of scotch. You might also guess Richard Dawkins. But no, it’s Gore Vidal (video set to start at 2:30):
Why was I looking up videos of Vidal? Because he just accepted the title of Honorary President of my organization, the American Humanist Association.
We certainly haven’t shied away from controversial figures recently, featuring Hitchens as the keynote speaker at our last annual conference and picking PZ Myers as our 2009 Humanist of the Year. I’m glad that Gore Vidal is joining our movement.
Here’s another exchange I particular liked between Vidal and Rev. Keith Ward:
Vidal: How do you explain the goodness of Marcus Aurelius several thousand years before Christianity?
Ward: I would say what Justin Martin said… The way he put it was that there have always been Christians but they have not always been called such.
Vidal: That’s one way of getting around it, isn’t it? (Audience laughs)
But what made clear that Gore Vidal is a humanist in his heart came at the very end of the clip, as he said quietly: “She is not being a good Christian, Mr. Ward. She is being a good human being.”
An important distinction. Welcome to the American Humanist Association, Mr. Vidal.