Another wussy atheist in need of Insensitivity Training writes…

Another wussy atheist in need of Insensitivity Training writes… December 19, 2011

me out of the blue to gripe:

In his last line on Hitchins’ passing, I paraphrase, “now that he is dead, Hitchins knows.” It was an insult to Hitchin’s memory. I like Ross, but he is not close to equal in intellect and most certainly knows no more about post mortum consciousness than Hitchins, or The Pope.

And the reason you are complaining to me is…?

Dude. Hitchens made a career out of insulting people’s memories in the hour of their family’s keenest grief–on national and international television. It was one of his most revolting traits and a living illustration of how courage, unhinged from the other virtues, can be deployed to do great evil–since it takes “courage” (of a sort) to defy healthy social convention and revile somebody’s loved one in the hour of their death.

In contrast, all Douthat did was offer some kind words. So: Cry me a river, wimpy self-absorbed atheist wuss, if a Christian states a) that he believes Hitchens now knows how wrong he was about God and b) does so in a generally kindly piece that tries to say something generous about a man who reviled his most cherished beliefs. Letters like yours just demonstrate that, yes, lots of atheists seem to suffer from some sort of personality disorder that renders them incapable of picking up the normal social and affective cues that normal people normally perceive. Lots of them are also, like you, full of self-pity and boasting that would embarrass a high school sophomore.

That you exhibit this adolescent cluelessness, O Future of Human Evolution, while simultaneously boasting of superior intelligence simply demonstrates yet again that those who worship the intellect seem particularly hampered in using it. Get over yourself.

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  • A Philosopher

    Well, you can count me as one atheist who thought Douthat’s piece was well-done. I didn’t even read him as saying at the end that “Hitchens now knows how wrong he was about God” so much as he was saying “Hitchens now sees the deeper reason behind the denial of nihilism”. (I think he’s doubly wrong about that, but I think it’s a perfectly reasonable and charitable thing for him to say, given his beliefs.)

    If I were going to quibble with anything in Douthat’s piece (which, apparently, I am), it would be the tired repetition of tacit moral anti-realism in:

    When stripped of Marxist fairy tales and techno-utopian happy talk, rigorous atheism casts a wasting shadow over every human hope and endeavor, and leads ineluctably to the terrible conclusion of Philip Larkin’s poem “Aubade” — that “death is no different whined at than withstood.”

    Once again, denial of the existence of God (indeed, even full-on metaphysical materialism) doesn’t entail value nihilism. The background thought here that nothing can be meaningful that comes to an end must be grounded in some sort of value anti-realism – a view that thinks that values are not ultimately real, and hence must be sustained in some other source, rather than simply existing in their own immediate right.

    • denial of the existence of God (indeed, even full-on metaphysical materialism) doesn’t entail value nihilism.

      I’m totally with you, except for two things:

      a) I think that the word “atheism” actually does mean “moral anti-realism” to many people. Since they maintain a proper agnosticism about the nature of God, they understand the term “God” to mean, solely and in effect, “that which has an absolute moral claim upon us”. Therefore, the denial of the existence of God means to them the denial of that which has an absolute moral claim upon us.

      b) Doesn’t it seem that the existence of an absolute moral claim, besides which the existence of the whole universe is relative, points to something that is greater than the existence of the universe? That is to say, it would be better to die than to murder an innocent. It would be better to let the whole Solar System collapse in fire than to rape one woman. It would be better to let the whole universe implode than to commit one mortal sin (or whatever your philosophical equivalent), and that fact seems to imply that there is something more important than the existence of the universe itself. And whatever that is, is what we call “God”.

      • A Philosopher

        Jon, regarding your (b): if, indeed, it is better to let the universe cease to exist than it is to murder an innocent, then it looks like it’s the life of the innocent that’s more important than the existence of the universe (roughly: there’s some act/event/object worries there). That might indeed be the right value scale, but it doesn’t seem to require calling the innocent “God”.

        • Hmm. The problem with that, so far as I can see, is that it isn’t the life of the innocent, per se, that’s more important, but the fact of behaving morally. If the entire universe ceases to exist then the innocent will necessarily cease to exist as well. The call not to murder the innocent has somehow so much authority behind it that it doesn’t seem to matter (all else being equal) whether the innocent (or you or anyone else) survives or not. That’s the value judgment that seems somehow greater than the object, which would indicate a greater thing beyond the object, whatever that “thing” is.

    • nate

      Hi Philosopher,
      You might want to qualify your assertion through the passive voice: yes, *it has been argued* that atheism and materialism do not entail moral nihilism (‘value’ is an ontologically vague term). I wouldn’t state that as a settled claim, though.
      At the very least, we need to realize that the nihilist debate is an intramural one between fellow atheists, and it is alive and well. The presumption of realism is certainly false–in the atheist community.
      (Of course, we are distinguishing between the reality of moral norms and belief in them…right?)
      For *it has also been argued*, by atheists and materialists, that a merely material world *does* entail anti-realism. Some of the more well-known names who go this route include, as you know: Mackie, Blackburn (assuming we don’t take his ‘quasi’ realist approach seriously), Joyce, Street, Dennett, and Harman. My favorite of recent note is Rosenberg’s ‘Guide’ for the atheist. His nihilist manifesto is refreshingly consistent.
      Of course, all of these illustrious thinkers want to ‘place’ the ‘source’ of our normativity (not to steal the title of Korsgaard’s work on purpose) in some place other than the natural world (usually in our sentiments or our autonomy or some such thing). Even Rosenberg wants us to be nice and play along. But insofar as something merely psychological is grounding our norms, we seem to be conveniently adopting both an internalism and a dualism, and both of these doctrines rub up against materialism.

      Of those atheists, like Foot, who ground norms in nature ‘out there’–well, that’s a great start! Though it is telling that the option to see biology pregnant with normativity is not the preferred route by most materialists, as it is really not a materialism at all.
      After all, ‘teleological’ naturalist moral realism has another name. We Catholics call it ‘Natural Law’.
      So, at the very least, it seems as if the atheist must accept a conception of nature that is oddly in step with Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. We theists will take that as a nice first step. 🙂

      Of course, I don’t mean to settle the matter with these comments. But the theist, given these ongoing debates, is quite justified in holding to his own argument concerning the bi-conditional relationship between God and morality.

  • ” a view that thinks that values are not ultimately real, and hence must be sustained in some other source, rather than simply existing in their own immediate right.”

    Actually it is more fundamental than that I think. It is a question of the nature of such “values.” Either they are aspects of God (and we have them via our made in the image of God) in the classical theism sense or are they their own entity.

    The question is not so much do such things exist independently of a Creator but why would one pursue the otherwise arbitrary distinctions between “good” and “evil.” The answers to these questions absent of God seem arbitrary and relativistic to humans, undermining such an objective quality.

    • A Philosopher

      Colin, I’m not sure why adding God to the system gives any new reason to pursue the good and shun the evil (assuming I’m understanding your point correctly). My impression is that standard theology offers two kinds of answers to this question. The “impersonalist” is that, roughly, the good is worth pursuing for its own right. But it looks like theist and atheist alike are equally welcome to that answer. The “personalist” is that the good is the essence of God, and that it is through the love of God that we are motivated to pursue the nature of God, and hence the good. But it looks like a version of the personalist answer is equally open to the atheist – one is motivated to pursue the good of an individual through love of that individual.

      (Of course, there’s the further question of why one ought to love that individual. But there is equally the further question of why one ought to love God. I suspect that the best “personalist” answer to both of those questions is that conceiving of the loving of an individual as something that requires reasons is already to assume an objectionably impersonalist stance.)

      • “The “impersonalist” is that, roughly, the good is worth pursuing for its own right.”

        Not quite to my knowledge. The pursuit of good leads to God by virtue of the fact that God IS good. Thus the intrinsic worth of good is based on the notion that good leads to God. Without that the atheist is left with the question, “What intrinsic value does good have? And why should I pursue it?”

        As to why the theist would pursue good, that is the point of free will. One can reject good (and thus God). Classical theism holds that evil is a privation, a loss of potential. A human can turn to evil but essentially is destroying himself.

        “one is motivated to pursue the good of an individual through love of that individual.”

        But this implies a nature of human that is found in good. And then the question, whence does such come from?

      • The good is worth pursuing for its own sake. But these goods exist in a hierarchy that gives them their proper relative values, and that central value, that central thing, that central “authority” that grounds and establishes all the goods is what we call “God”.

        • And, I should say, that central good which you are pursuing for its own sake is what we call “God”.

  • Sophia

    I don’t think a loving God would want us speaking ill of the dead or condemming people to hell like the fundamentalists do.

    • Mark Shea

      Douthat wasn’t condemning Hitchens to hell. Indeed, what has been remarkable is the outpouring of affection and prayers for Hitchens from Christians who disagreed profoundly with him.

  • Babs

    This is much like taking offense to a Jewish person wishing you a happy Chanukah. It’s a well meant sentiment, and a kind thing to say. Why complain?

    • Thomas R

      I could see how it could be annoying. People are sometimes annoyed with the Mormons “posthumous baptism” because they don’t like the idea of being told “when you die you’ll realize we’re right” and that’s how they take it.

      I have to admit though, and I’m not sure if this is religiously right of me, I don’t care too much if my Mormon cousins actually do posthumously baptize me. I don’t see how it would really matter unless I think it’s real. So from an atheist perspective I’d think it should/would be a bit either “that’s nice for you” or “I don’t really care what you think happened.”

  • Kevin

    As far as I have seen there is really no such thing as an atheist, only an atheist proselytizer. Atheists aren’t happy to “allow” you “your beliefs.” They demand you renounce them on their say-so.

    • Thomas R

      I’m pretty sure I’ve seen non-proselytizing atheists. They just usually have less to say.

    • A Philosopher

      Kevin, I’m an atheist, and you are welcome to your beliefs. I guess – I admit I’m not really sure what it means to allow or not allow someone to believe something. Looks kind of out of my control.

    • Will

      We are not likely to “see” non-proselytizing atheists because they don’t spend their time ranting and raving at us or infesting comboxes for the sole purpose of telling us how stupid we are.

      The Philosopher is a refreshing example of one who does not engage in that kind of behavior.

  • Ed the Roman

    Those who run people’s intellects down and complain about what is said post mortem ought to spell ‘post mortem’ right.

    • Will

      They should also spell “Hitchens” right.

  • An insult to Hitchens’ memory? I’m curious–why, exactly, would an atheist care about that?

    If one is an atheist, then one believes that Hitchens is no more. Gone. Eternal oblivion. Wiped out. Nothing but decaying post-organic material.

    Sure, some people (or sentient organic pain-collectors racing to oblivion) who are presently still the proud possessors of pulses and brainwaves might remember Hitchens, at least until the next news cycle. So? Assuming that existence is not an illusion–a huge and unprovable assumption–then why should not those who remember Hitchens remember him any darned way they please, regardless of how such memories might have made Hitchens feel? He’s gone, right? If someone says of him that he now knows the truth about God, it can’t mean anything more to Hitchens than if someone says that Hitchens now knows whether time travel is possible, or whether Hitchens now knows just how thorough a jerk he was to Blessed Teresa. Isn’t the point of anyone’s memories of a deceased person simply to make the one remembering feel good? The deceased person is, if one is an atheist, so far past caring as for any suggestion that his memory ought to be respected is like saying that we shouldn’t hurt a rock’s feelings.

    And if someone who is an atheist says that we owe it to a human being to remember him respectfully, the question is, “Why?” If we choose to remember dear departed Fido as a good dog who always came when we called when in fact Fido was a holy terror who dug up the neighbor’s garden weekly, isn’t it a nice thing that we remember Fido kindly? Why should human beings be uniquely entitled to remembrances which respect the truth about them–does sentience, itself, demand such respect, given that sentience isn’t an unmixed blessing, etc.?

    As a Catholic I think there ought to be a difference between how we remember someone like Fido and how we remember someone like Hitchens, but I can’t figure out why an atheist would perceive, or care about, any such difference.

    • Martin C

      As a Catholic I think there ought to be a difference between how we remember someone like Fido and how we remember someone like Hitchens, but I can’t figure out why an atheist would perceive, or care about, any such difference.

      That doesn’t seem to scan at all. Surely it’s obvious that the non-belief an atheist has in an afterlife would make them more not less concerned about the legacy of memories they leave behind them in this world? Whether you are atheist or theist, that would seem to me to be a fairly comprehensible and necessary outcome of atheist belief. Atheists, remember, are the ones who can’t say “oh well, I don’t mind how people think of me in the mortal world, I’m off to a better place”.

      • Thomas R

        I think the idea might be that the legacy doesn’t impact the dead if there is no afterlife. In fairness there are many religions that teach legacy doesn’t really affect the dead either. In most Protestantism, as I understand it, you just go to Heaven or Hell. In either case what your “legacy” on Earth was is irrelevant to you.

        Now from an atheist perspective I think the affect on legacy would depend, at least to an extent, on the common or consensus view of the person. An individual opinion on Hitchens, whatever it is, would not necessarily harm or affect the opinions of general society or the memories of Hitchens loved ones.

  • Chad Myers

    For Clarification:

    “he now knows how wrong he was” =/= “he is in hell”

    He could be in heaven and now know how wrong he was. In fact, in Heaven, he would discover, to the fullest extent, just how wrong he was.

    • str

      I disagree: either he found out how wrong he was before his death or he found it out afterwards. In the former case, he might in heaven, in the latter he most certainly is not. But everything we know points to the former latter alternative – why do we have to constantly entertain the former, remote possibility as if were likely?

      • We don’t know whether Hitchens’ ignorance was invincible or not and making a judgement, even a judgement of probability, is the judgement of condemnation, which is forbidden us.

        • Mike Petrik

          Exactly right. The precise contours of invincible ignorance and baptism of desire have not been revealed to us, so it is entirely appropriate to hope and pray for Hitchen’s immortal soul even if we knew to a moral certainty that he died an atheist.

        • Mike Petrik

          Exactly right. Not only can we not know Hitchen’s mind in a true sense, God has not yet shared with us the precise contours of invincible ignorance and baptism of desire. It is entirely appropriate to pray for Hitchen’s immortal soul even if one believes to a moral certainty that he died an atheist.

  • Kolya

    No doubt Hitchens was brave in the straightforward manner he faced his last illness and impending death. And there is no doubt that Hitchens was incredibly talented as a writer. For me, though, the main impression I get from his writings is that the use of sarcasm and hyperbole as favorite rhetorical devices are dishonest and unfair methods of advancing arguments or making points. Fun to read if your particular view or belief is not the target, but the enjoyment is one that appeals to our baser instincts–the ones that enjoy the humiliation of our opponents. Hitchens applied the same methods whether his target was Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, religion, God, Saddam, the Dalai Lama, the Church, opponents of the Iraq War, and so on. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • “not close to equal in intellect ”

    Really? Hitchens? Except for his British accent giving him that edge in America, the the things he said were often no better than things I’ve heard Glenn Beck say. And I’ve not heard too many folks use Beck’s intellect as a thing to be compared.

  • Kevin

    Another thing I’ve noted about proselytizing atheists is they step forward to identify themselves with some measure of indignation (and often sarcasm, insult, veiled accusation, ad-hominem attack — oh, the as hominem attack, it’s like their uniform– etc) as non-proselytizing atheists. And slip in a back handed insult in doing for goid measure. I wonder which kind poor Christopher Hitchens was. Part of atheism is intellectual dishonesty. If objective truth comes from a source they don’t like, it’s back to the ad-hominems. If you point out it isn’t possible to use logic to prove something non-sense perceptible doesn’t exist, it’s back to the ad hominems. If you ask a question they don’t want to answer, it’s argumentation by talking fast, then back to the ad hominems. If you provide a link to Christopher Hitchens telling a bald-faced lie to deflect attention from a question he didn’t want to answer, it’s back to the ad hominems. Leaving the question of God entirely out of the question, all I’ve seen from atheists is their love of ad hominem attack as the invalid premise of choice. Feel free to show me examples of atheists who are kind and gentle when gracing the world with the strictly evidence-based enlightenments and corrections only they can provide to the dopey little people like me who choose beliefs they don’t like, through the universe-sized self-created intellects a dope like me wouldn’t even know how to use if I posessed.

    Atheism translated through law into nationalism killed more people than all human conflicts in history combined over the last century. Don’t trust a dopey believer like me, count the body bags. Talk to the Ukrainian archaeologists. That’s how dangerous to the human race enforcing atheism through law has proven itself to be for over a century. The body bag count tells atheists all they need to perceive to understand the truth. Atheism is the deadliest, most tragically proven, most rigidly dogmatic faith threading it’s way through human history. Atheism is not a matter of armchair pipe-sipping idle intellectual amusement. It only destroys and never creates. It is unrequited worship of NOGOD, and deadly history dragged across the writhing bodies of innocent populations can prove nothing else. Find countries that enshrine atheism in law and you find countries whose streets run red with their own people’s blood.

    How “rational” is that ?