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Matt Browner Hamlin

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Christopher Hitchens Is Absurd

Posted: 10/21/09 02:40 PM ET

My friend Josh Schrei wrote a stinging response to a post by Christopher Hitchens writing on Huffington Post. Josh is a full time marketing director and a part time writer, activist, critical thinker, and student of Indo-Tibetan history and philosophy. His work focuses on the dissection of all-too-common memes in China-Tibet propaganda and American political and religious thought. Josh's response to Hitchens is below:

Christopher Hitchens is Absurd

by Josh Schrei

Christopher Hitchens’ hack scholarship on the subject of religion is utterly inexcusable, and his latest absurdity on Huffington Post firmly cements him as having no place in serious theological debate.

Hitchens’ first and most egregious gaffe is his statement that all religions view the history of humankind as starting several thousand years ago.

“Alas, no religion of which we are now aware has…made any allowance for the tens and probably hundreds of thousands of years of the human story.”

Any two-bit religious scholar knows that Buddhists and Hindus count time in kalpas, or segments of millions of years, and that they firmly believe the earth was created billions of years ago. There are many prominent Hindu scholars, in fact, who posit that some of the best loved Hindu legends from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are in fact tales from Neanderthal times. The religious cosmology of the Ancient Mayans included a mathematically accurate calendar spanning hundreds of thousands of years. Vast areas of history and religious experience are completely overlooked because — like most atheists — Hitchens is incapable of understanding that for most of human history and in most cultures, science and religion were actually one pursuit.

Hitchens classic argument — that science brings us good things like reason and light and objectivity and human rights and newborn puppies while religion keeps us shackled like slaves in the dark – is an obtuse track that does no justice to the vast and varied history of global theology. Human rights, for example, which Hitchens assumes to be a result of western science and reason, first took root in recorded history in the Mauryan Buddhist monarchy of King Ashoka, in which torture was outlawed. The adherents of Jainism, a religion which Hitchens is probably woefully unaware of, practice non-violence and non-harming to an extreme measure. Ethical practices have always been intertwined with religious faith. Conversely, atheistic power structures — from barbarian hordes to Stalinist Russia and Maoist China — have been responsible for nearly as many atrocities as the religious structures Hitchens condemns.

But the fundamental problem with Hitchens argument is not in his vilification of the power structures of world religions — for god knows (sic) that these structures could use an overhaul — but in the classic and perennially obtuse atheist’s argument that they have science on their side and religion doesn’t.

Only in the western mind does the existence of deity contradict science, and truth be told, not even there. There is nothing in western scientific thought that denies deity. Most scientists, from Newton to Darwin to Planck to Oppenheimer, believed in deity. And there are clear — and ever more defined — places in quantum physics where religious thought and scientific thought overlap. Modern-day atheists, however, have come to assume that if one is “rational” or “scientific” it means that one does not believe in god. Victims of the western Church-Science split, these atheist casualties are so spooked by the atrocities of religious power structure that they are unable to do any serious study of the history of human thought on God.

In many traditions, religion and science have always been and do remain inextricably linked. Indian history, for example, contains a vast body of incredibly sophisticated scientific/academic literature on god, concepts of god, consciousness at it relates to god, the human body and human thoughts and emotions in relation to god… and, in the case of Kashmiri Shaivism for example, quantum physics as it relates to god. The concept of spanda in Kashmiri cosmology is one of the most intellectually complex and sophisticated views on divinity ever put forth. Abhinavagupta — the brilliant architect of much of Indian thought– penned theistic texts over 1,000 years ago that contain scientific truths that physicists are just now confirming.

Most atheists I’ve encountered, Hitchens included, have an extremely limited concept of what God might even be, as they exist in reaction specifically to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god as revealed by through current religious power structures.

I am all for reforming religious structures. But the logical leap from reform of religion to abolishment of all belief in deity is a fool’s leap. Sadly, in many of his writings, this is a leap that Hitchens takes all too often. I do believe that somewhere lurking beneath the gas and bile is a genuinely smart person — would that he would take the time to afford his subject matter the care, attention, and multiplicity of voice that it deserves.

Read Josh's writing at The Schrei Wire.

 
 
 

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