Saturday, March 15, 2008

Chris Hedges in Salon

There was an interesting interview in Salon yesterday with Chris Hedges, in support of his new book I Don't Believe in Atheists. A sample:
The Enlightenment was both a curse and a blessing, because it was really a reaction to the kind of superstition, intolerance, bigotry, anti-intellectualism of the clerics, of the church. But it also ended up with the Jacobins, [who said] well, if we can't make certain segments of the society "civilized," as we define civilization, then they must be eradicated, in the same way that you eradicate a virus.

I write in the book that not believing in God is not dangerous. Not believing in sin is very dangerous. I think both the Christian right and the New Atheists in essence don't believe in their own sin, because they externalize evil. Evil is always something out there that can be eradicated. For the New Atheists, it's the irrational religious hordes. I mean, Sam Harris, at the end of his first book, asks us to consider a nuclear first strike on the Arab world. Both Hitchens and Harris defend the use of torture. Of course, they're great supporters of preemptive war, and I don't think this is accidental that their political agendas coalesce completely with the Christian right.
And a couple of digs at our man Christopher Hitchens:
Do you think the new atheists are similarly uninterested in their impact? It seems that what the New Atheists write and say is somewhat a performance.

Well, not Harris. Harris is just intellectually shallow. Harris doesn't know anything about religion or the Middle East. For Hitchens, it's about a performance, and that was true when he was on the left. He hasn't changed. It's all about him. It's all about being a contrarian. He reminds me of Ann Coulter, he's that kind of a figure. He's witty, and he's funny and insulting. You know I debated him, and in the middle of the debate he starts shouting, "Shame on you for defending suicide bombers!" Of course, unlike him, I've actually stood at the edge of a suicide bombing attack. That kind of stuff is just ... it's the epistemology of television. They make a lot of money off it, but it's gross and disgusting and anti-intellectual and not at all about real discussion.

Do you think Hitchens really believes what he writes?

I think he's completely amoral. I think he doesn't have a moral core. I think he doesn't believe anything. What's good for Christopher Hitchens is about as moral as he gets.
I like Chris Hedges. His book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning is a worthy read, though I think he's wrong on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s (about which, incidentally, see this excellent recent post at Lenin's Tomb on humanitarian intervention). The interview is worth looking at, though I found the interviewer a little painful. Of course, I agree with much of what Hedges says (his use of the "fundamentalism" trope is more persuasive than I usually see). His point about the Enlightenment is a good one, and he's certainly right to observe that the so-called "New Atheists" argue and behave as if the Enlightenment were an unequivocally positive development. . .

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