There’s nothing like a deathbed conversion to warm the saccharine cockles of a Christian heart, and according to a new book by author by Larry X. Taunton, the greatest heretic in recent memory might have come perilously close to recanting his atheistic views.
Taunton has just released The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. Taunton spent a number of hours in cars with Hitchens on their way to debates together, and it was during these marathon rides that Taunton (an evangelical writer) gleaned some sense of a “seeker” behind the writer’s vituperative persona. Christian media has jumped all over the book in praise and worship, hailing it as an encouraging tool for evangelists while disingenuously lamenting the loss of Hitchens’ soul (“fewer things are sadder than the death of a defiant atheist” – Really?).
Granted, it would make a great, albeit hackneyed, yarn. Hitchens, who wrote God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, suffered a terribly ironic blow when, after his skewering work on religious hokum was published in 2009, he was diagnosed with and eventually died of esophageal cancer. During his decline, he continued to write personally revealing columns for Vanity Fair, but never did he express doubt about his atheism in public or, it turns out, in private. After his death, Christians took to social media in a frenzy of Schadenfreude, crowing about the degraded state of his soul and other assorted twaddle.
As with all believers, be they Christian, Muslim or Hindu (more on them below), denying the presence of god is a personal affront to their clay-footed deities. So when one of the wicked insults god and then gets struck down by disease, it’s time for a victory lap! To hell with Christian charity! It’s far better to be right than holy!
Because what would it mean if the faithful flock had been wrong all these years, if a Hitchens or a pervert or an apostate weren’t punished for their blasphemy? How could the believer justify the self-denial that’s been slowly devouring them? If they ever stopped to consider that their entire existence was based on the petty cruelties of a god who sounds a lot like an abusive relative, they’d come to the striking (and, likely, debilitating) conclusion that all the failures and miseries of their life grew not from the mysterious workings of god, but their own cowardice to change their circumstances.
In many ways, atheism is the kinder philosophy. It offers its adherents a terrifying, but ultimately honest lifestyle choice – personal responsibility. Instead of blaming their karma, their god, the ancestors or some new age nonsense, atheists have to put on their adult panties and own up to their own choices, be they wise or foolish, kind or cruel. As the Scourge’s mother-in-law likes to say, “I’ve got bad news, and I’ve got good news. The bad news is you’re the problem. The good news is you’re also the solution.”
Atheists are often questioned about their ability to make ethical decisions without the guidance of a religious tradition, as if the only reason to perform acts of compassion is to win the favor of a bitchy über-parent. In fact, people who act without the lure of karmic brownie points or a paradisiacal salvation are perhaps the only truly good people around. The rest are just hagglers in the marketplace.
The Scourge himself is not an atheist. But nor does he believe in religion. He suspects the gods are real, but also views them as psychological principles. He thinks all myths are “true,” in that they reflect our inner landscapes. He knows that icons are made of wood, plaster or marble, yet are also imbued with the metaphorical, imagistic language so favored by the subconscious depths of the psyche. He has no faith, but (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell) leans on his experience to illumine his understanding.
Perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t think he’s “right,” because right or wrong is completely subjective and therefore devoid of validity. One person’s right is another’s wrong. What one touts as good, another decries as evil. What one cleric hallows, another curses. Therefore, it’s all trash and nonsense. Morality is a figment concocted by sheep lacking the courage to live an unapologetic life.
Tribal cannibalism is a sacred feast whereby the eaters imbibe the power and history of the eaten (Catholicism adopted the same idea). Hindu vegetarians refuse meat because of the sacredness they see in cows and other upper life forms (fuck the plants, though). Sex is the gateway to death for some, while millions throughout time have used it ritually to fertilize the earth in spring. Right/Wrong. Sacred/Profane. Good/Evil. God/Devil. Each an opportunistic label employed for political use by a priest class which, even if not always materially rich, lives in the luxury of power.
Who benefits from keeping people in their place? Why is it that governments from Pakistan to the United States cleave so closely to their churches? How do we ignore the connections between poverty, a debased education system, conservative “values” and religious traditions which tout the sanctity of humility? The meek don’t inherit the earth. They inherit fear. Trepidation. Anxiety. Servitude. Rape. Mutilation. Torture. Slavery. Genocide. And with an abased “yes, sir, may I have another,” they tout scriptural excuses for their own undoing fed to them by the very people doing it.
In the words of Hitchens from God Is Not Great, “…religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic-cleanser raise an eyebrow.”
Until next Sunday…the heretic’s day.
In other news of the faithful:
The Indian subcontinent is on the Scourge’s shit-list this week. Donald Trump has some international fans to be found in the members of the right-wing Hindu Sena group. They recently took to a park in New Dehli along with statues of Shiva and Hanuman underneath a banner that said “Because he is hope for humanity against Islamic terror.” Chanting mantras around a ritual fire, they asked for the gods’ help in delivering the presidency to Trump. Another reason to be an atheist.