Christopher Hitchens: The Elmer Gantry of Modern Atheism
Please circle one:
Is Christopher Hitchens: (a) a Charlatan (b) an Unpardonably Sloppy Researcher (c) an Atheist Huckster or (d) All of the above?
New York Times Book Review Section, Feb. 22, 2011
Earlier this month, Rabbi Moshe Averick, an ordained orthodox rabbi and a distinguished Jewish educator for over three decades released his long awaited response to modern “militant atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. The book is confrontationally entitled Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. Unfortunately for Averick, he entirely blows his credibility as an authoritative voice on this subject very early in the book. How can we take him seriously when he actually writes the following absurdities?
- “It is well known that nearly all child molesters are raised with atheistic beliefs” (pg. 32)
- “Charles Darwin first published Origin of the Species just after the turn of the century in 1901” (pg. 15)
- “It is an established fact that atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell advocated the re-enslavement of black people and pejoratively referred to them as “darkies.”(pg. 67)
It really doesn’t help Averick’s case very much that when informed at one of his lectures, that the notion that almost all child molesters are raised as atheists is utter nonsense, that Bertrand Russell never advocated re-enslavement of black people, and that Origin of the Species was published in 1859, he responded by saying, “Oh gee, I’m sorry, I really should not have written those things. I’ll make sure and correct them for the second edition.” The obvious question of course, is how does any kind of serious author write such ridiculous – and so easily verifiable as such – assertions in the first place? Does he not possess the slightest amount of journalistic integrity? This is an unforgivable display of sloppiness, negligence, and irresponsibility, especially when approaching such a serious and weighty subject. We can therefore conclude that reading this book is a waste of time…….
Thank God (yes, he does exist), the book review above is entirely imaginary. However, all one need do to effect a magical transformation is to change the title of the book in question. If the book under review would have been Christopher Hitchens’ atheistic magnum opus, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, abracadabra, the imaginary would have become stark, unforgiving reality. Consider the following (non-comprehensive) samplings from Mr. Hitchens book….
Orthodox Jewish Congress
In Chapter Four Hitchens tells us that:
- “Orthodox Jews conduct congress by means of a hole in the sheet.”
Hitchens off-handedly states this astonishing falsehood in the middle of a rant about religious sexual repression. Did Hitchens arrive at this conclusion after hours, days, weeks, or months of painstaking research? Did he call or contact one of literally hundreds of orthodox rabbis and scholars who would have gladly responded to his inquiries? There is no footnote or reference. Wouldn’t even a minimal level of integrity demand the verification of such a claim? Is it possible that a professional editor would not raise the issue? The answer of course is that he simply made it up. He didn’t care if it was true or not, he knew that his editor didn’t care if it was true or not, and most important of all, he knew that his audience didn’t really care if it was true or not. What difference would it make? After all, religion poisons everything! When called out on this bald-faced lie, he mustered all the phony humility at his disposal and wrote the following:
- “May 17. Coral Gables, Florida: I owe an apology. It is absolutely not true, as urban legend has it, that Orthodox Jews conduct sexual congress through a hole in the sheet. I should never have mentioned this slander, even in passing, in my book. It won’t appear in the reprint (Afterword, Vanity Fair, Sep. 2007)
It seems that Hitchens is not averse to presenting urban legend as fact. If this was the only such error in the book, perhaps we could judge Mr. Hitchens less harshly. We could concede that although it was a glaring error, it was not a malicious one, and we would accept his apology and move on. Unfortunately that is not the case; this flagrant distortion is not atypical, it is, in fact, emblematic of Hitchens’ approach to the subject.
A neurotic obsession with religion
In chapter four, Hitchens also presents the reader with an obscene depiction of a Jewish circumcision ceremony. Although, ironically enough, Hitchens is Jewish, the disgusting passages under discussion could have been plagiarized from the pages of Der Sturmer, the rabidly anti-Jewish, quasi-pornographic tabloid published by Julius Streicher, a Nazi war criminal executed by the Allies in 1946. The way in which Hitchens portrays the ceremony is so vulgar and divorced from reality, at the very least it indicates some sort of pathology, be it emotional, spiritual, or intellectual.
As if that wasn’t enough of a display of his neurotic obsession with religion, he then outrageously equates Jewish circumcision (which takes literally about 15 seconds and, if judging by the amount of crying, hurts about as much as a vaccination) with the revolting practice of genital mutilation which young girls are subjected to “across a wide swath of animist and Muslim Africa.” A mutilation which includes the “slicing off of the labia and clitoris, often with a sharp stone, and then stitching up of the vaginal opening with strong twine, not to be removed until it is broken by male force on the bridal night.”
When it comes to these fabrications, Hitchens’ motto seems to be “in for a penny, in for a pound.” Not only does he obliquely inform us that Jewish circumcision has sexual overtones and is comparable to female genital mutilation, (if you have ever attended a Jewish circumcision and are shaking your head in disbelief, it is for the simple reason that what Hitchens writes on this subject has very little connection to reality), but he accuses Jews of having heartlessly and ruthlessly killed and disfigured many a young boy because of this barbaric practice. From chapter sixteen:
- “And who can bear to read the medical textbooks and histories which calmly record the number of boy babies who died from infection after their eighth day, or who suffered gross and unbearable dysfunction and disfigurement? The record of syphilitic and other infection, from rotting rabbinical teeth or other rabbinical indiscretions…is simply dreadful.”
After reading this shocking claim, I looked in vain for the footnote or reference to see where he found this frightening piece of information. There is no footnote or reference because it is an outright lie. My grandfather was, and my son is, a highly trained mohel, (a person trained to perform Jewish ritual circumcision), and my sons are circumcised as are all the males in my immediate family. I am familiar with the precautions that a mohel takes to ensure the health of the baby. It is not unusual for a mohel to postpone a circumcision because of a condition that wouldn’t otherwise cause alarm, such as a slightly elevated bilirubin count. If, after consulting with medical professionals, it is determined that there is a possibility of a health hazard, the circumcision is put off indefinitely. Hitchens cites an incident which either involved clear negligence on the part of the particular mohel, or was simply a tragic mishap. While negligence unfortunately occurs at all levels of human endeavor (among physicians, accountants, atheist authors) it is not a regular component of circumcision. Risk attends even the simplest of surgical procedures – even blood transfusions – frequently at levels higher than we may think. None of this justifies Hitchens’ wild, hysterical, and slanderous rantings about Jewish circumcision.
In all fairness, there are some serious side effects to the performance of the brit milah (covenant of circumcision). For instance, scientific studies have shown that in the United States, a circumcised Jewish male runs a much higher risk of becoming the CEO of a major Hollywood studio than an uncircumcised gentile. (O.K., I’m fudging a bit, even a higher risk than circumcised gentiles) A circumcised Jewish male also runs a much higher risk of winning a Nobel Prize in medicine (although Jews are roughly 0.2% of the world’s population, nearly 50% of all Nobel Prize winners in medicine have been Jewish). In fact, there is a barbaric side to a Jewish circumcision. However, as I have explained, it has nothing to do with the ceremony itself. It’s after the ceremony, when the room full of Jews head towards the trays of bagels and lox, now that is positively brutal….
Our favorite Oxford-educated (Jewish!) atheist also can’t resist the chance to play “blame the victim”:
- “The orthodox Jews are not blameless here. By claiming to be “chosen” in a special exclusive covenant with the Almighty, they invited hatred and suspicion and evinced their own form of racism.”
Hitchens is really on to something here. What other things do orthodox Jews do to inspire “hatred and suspicion?” If we are not “blameless” then we should own up to it, fair and square. The Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus writes in The Histories that one of “the sinister and revolting” practices of the Jews is that they consider it “a deadly sin to kill a born or unborn child.” (not only is it “sinister and revolting” but it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!) It now becomes so clear that we have brought all this hatred on ourselves; claiming to have a covenant with God, and even worse, we don’t believe in killing babies.
Hitchens screws up on Science also
Hitchens’ sloppy research is not confined to matters of religion; he manages to mangle even scientific facts and history. From chapter six:
- “There are many disputes between [scientists]…as to how it began [i.e. how life began]. Francis Crick even allowed himself to flirt with the theory that life was “inseminated” on earth by bacteria spread from a passing comet.”
Francis Crick did not flirt with the idea of Panspermia (life on earth being “seeded” from outer space). In 1973, together with renowned chemist Leslie Orgel, he published a paper in the journal Icarus, proposing that an advanced alien civilization sent life to Earth. Crick also discussed this idea, called Directed Panspermia, in his book Life Itself and in the foreword to a seminal scientific text entitled The RNA World. Crick and Orgel proposed such an outlandish theory, because at the time (and it is still true today), scientists were completely baffled how life could have emerged from non-life on Earth. Perhaps Hitchens was embarrassed that such a brilliant atheistic scientist actually proposed such a wacky idea, (although Crick himself did admit it was “far-fetched”) and was covering for him. Hitchens’ scientific hatchet job continues in chapter six:
- “This is what makes piffle out of the ignorant creationist sneer, which compares evolution to a whirlwind blowing through a junkyard of parts and coming up with a jumbo jet…”
Here Hitchens manages to not only to falsify a source, but to distort and corrupt the context of the cited metaphor. The oft quoted “tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747” is not “creationist sneer.” It was proffered by one of the world’s most distinguished and respected scientists, the late Sir Fred Hoyle, a world class astronomer, mathematician, and physicist. In the latter part of his life, Hoyle embarked on a quest to investigate the enigma of Origin of Life. Here is the exact quote from his book, The Intelligent Universe:
- “A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole universe.”
Not only is this not “creationist sneer”, but contrary to Hitchens claim, Hoyle was not even talking about Darwinian Evolution at all! He was talking about the origin of the first living bacterium; in other words, the Origin of Life. “Although some people confuse the origin of life with evolution, the two are conceptually separate.” (Dr. Eugenie Scott, Director of the NCSE)
Hitchens seems to be unaware of what Dr. Ken Nealson of the National Academy of Sciences takes for granted, “Nobody understands the origin of life, if they say they do, they are probably trying to fool you.” If the profundity of the problem is still not clear, here is world renowned biologist, Dr. Lynn Margulis, “To go from bacterium to people is less of a step than to go from a mixture of amino acids to a bacterium.” This, of course, is the reason why many of the well known scientific advocates of atheism, including Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers, and Richard Dawkins, have assiduously avoided participating in a debate on the specific topic of Origin of Life. The enormous, yawning chasm between non-living chemicals and the simplest bacterium is enough to send the most zealous and outspoken atheist running for cover. Hitchens is either blissfully ignorant of this fact or, per Dr. Nealson, he is simply trying to fool you.
- “”We have only recently established that a cow is closer in family to a whale than to a horse: other wonders certainly await us.” (Chapter Six) Please, no more wonders, I don’t think I could take the excitement!
Middle-East history is abused by Hitchens
Hitchens’ zealously anti-religious attitude poisons just about everything, including his understanding of history. From Chapter two:
- “I once heard the late Abba Eban, one of Israel’s more polished and thoughtful diplomats [state that the solution to] the Israeli-Palestinian dispute…was a simple one….The solution was, obviously, to create two states side by side. Surely something so self-evident was within the wit of man to encompass? And so it would have been, decades ago, if the messianic rabbis and the mullahs and priests could have been kept out of it…hysterical clerics on both sides…have made the situation insufferable.
Fact: The modern Zionist movement was founded by a completely secularized and assimilated Austrian Jew named Theodore Herzl. Originally Herzl felt that the solution to the “Jewish Problem” would be solved by mass conversions of Jews to Christianity. As a journalist covering the Dreyfus trial in France he became convinced that as long as Jews did not have their own country, they would always be hated as “outsiders.” Herzl had little more to do with religion than Hitchens. Almost all the important leaders of Modern Zionism were secular, socialist, and vehemently anti-religious.
Fact: The most strident opponents of modern Zionism were Orthodox Jews, although some were active supporters. Their essential opposition was because they believed, contrary to Hitchens’ assertions, that Zionism would delay the ushering in of the messianic age. In fact, Rabbi Yosef Haim Zonnenfeld, the saintly leader of the Orthodox community in Jerusalem, appointed Dr. Yakov DeHahn, to represent his community to the British. They advocated, not an independent state, but an autonomous community under the rule of the British/Arabs. Dr. DeHahn was condemned as a “traitor” by the secular Zionists and was assassinated by the Haganah in June, 1924.
Fact: On November 29, 1947, the U.N. voted to partition Palestine into two states, side by side. A Jewish Palestinian state and an Arab Palestinian state (just like Abba Eban suggested). The Arab Palestinian state contained every square inch of, what is now called, the West Bank and Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Immediately, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon declared war on the Jewish State. “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the massacres of the crusades.” (Azzam Pasha, General Secretary of the Arab League, 1948) Ironically, the only country in the region that formally recognized the Arab Palestinian state was Israel! The Arab Palestinian state never even recognized itself! For the next 20 years the entire West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem were under Arab control. At no time during those two decades, did they ever attempt to establish an Arab Palestinian state. Instead, in 1967, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, launched another war whose aim was to eradicate the State of Israel:
- “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel” (Gamel Abdul Nasser, President of Egypt, May 27, 1967)
- “The time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation” (Hafez Assad, Syrian Defense Minister, May 20, 1967)
- “Kill Jews wherever you find them, kill them with your hands, with your nails, with your teeth.” (King Hussein of Jordan, June, 1967)
Fact: Every single major leader of Orthodox Judaism (including what is called the Ultra-Orthodox), has stated that, if it would actually bring peace, Israel should make territorial concessions. There is only one major leader in mainstream Orthodox Judaism who declared that after the defensive war in 1967 (i.e. The Six Day War), Jews are not allowed to return those parts of Israel which God victoriously placed in our hands. While this segment of the population is vocal, they are statistically insignificant.
Had the Arabs been prepared to make peace after 1967, there would have been peace. After the 1967 war, Abba Eban anounced that “everything is negotiable.” In 1970, the leaders of 13 Arab countries met in Khartoum and issued the famous “3 No’s” resolution: No Recognition of Israel, No Negotiations with Israel, and No Peace with Israel. Despite the protestations of Jewish opponents to territorial concessions, Israel withdrew from Sinai after signing a peace treaty with Egypt, unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon, and most recently, withdrew from Gaza.
In short, the entire burden of the Middle East Conflict lies on the shoulders of “hysterical clerics” of one side only: the Arabs. Jews, both religious and non-religious have always been prepared, from the U.N. Partition vote in 1947 onward, to live in peace with their Arab cousins. It is religious Jews who gave the world the concept of world peace as an abstract ideal. It is written on the Isaiah wall at the United Nations, “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; they shall study war no more.”
This creates a horrible and irresolvable dilemma for Christopher Hitchens. He has foolishly boxed himself into a corner by declaring that religion poisons everything. He must blame religious leaders on both sides for the continuation of the conflict, whether it is true or not. Were he to acknowledge the obvious truth, that religious Jews have always striven for peace, his entire thesis would implode. At that point, anything is possible; he might even have to consider the possibility of believing in God. (Oh my God!)
- “But the conscription of the unprotected child for these purposes [sexual exploitation] is something that even the most dedicated secularist can safely describe as a sin.” (Chapter Four)
Wrong again, Mr. Hitchens:
“I have given up morality altogether. I have been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely that there is such a thing as right or wrong…I experienced my shocking epiphany that religious fundamentalists are correct; without God there is no morality…the long and short of it is that atheism implies amorality, and since I am an atheist I must embrace amorality…even though words like “sinful” and “evil” come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God.” (Dr. Joel Marks, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of New Haven)
Upon being asked in an interview by journalist William Crawley if he thought that pedophilia was “just wrong,” atheist Peter Singer (Professor of Bio-Ethics, Princeton University), replied: “I don’t have intrinsic moral taboos. My view is not that anything is just wrong…” It is a dark day for non-believers everywhere, when an orthodox rabbi has to school Christopher Hitchens in the finer points of atheistic moral philosophy.
- “We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion…we atheists do not require any priests, or any hierarchy obove them, to police our doctrine.” (Chapter One) Hitchens is correct. Atheists don’t need God, religion, priests, or any other hierarchy to police their doctrine. They only need the police to police their doctrines.
- “My challenge: Name an ethical statement or action, made or performed by a person of faith, that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer. I have asked this question at every stop and haven’t had a reply yet. (Vanity Fair, Sep. 2007)
Try this ethical statement on for size: We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and have been endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, and among these are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nobody heard of the Declaration of Independence? Perhaps he posed the question on a speaking tour through Lithuania.
If the Declaration of Independence had been written by an atheist it would have gone something like this: We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men, women, animals, fish, birds, reptiles, bacteria, etc. emerged out of the slime (or if you prefer, pre-biotic soup) about 3.7 billion years ago by means of a purposeless, directionless evolutionary process. We’re only here because we caught a bunch of lucky, flukey breaks along the way. Of course, this means that in a cosmic sense, life has no significance at all, which sort of makes it hard to get too excited about that George Washington fellow and his revolutionary talk…
Check your facts please
- “But it still persists among the sort of Hasidic fundamentalists who hope for the Second Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem (Chapter Four)
The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians some 500-600 years before the Common Era. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the first century of the Common Era. Nowadays, Jews anxiously await the building of the Third Temple, when the Messianic Age predicted by the Jewish prophets is ushered in.
- The holy book in the longest continual use – the Talmud – commands….(Chapter Four)
I’m not sure if Hitchens is referring to the Babylonian Talmud or the Jerusalem Talmud, but the Five Books of Moses (also a holy book in use by the Jews) pre-dates both by many centuries. Mr. Hitchens, if you find genuine research overly taxing, may I recommend Answers.com. Oh, and by the way, the correct answer is (d) All of the above.
Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website at http://rabbimaverick.com/