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Author and athiest Christopher Hitchens (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Author and athiest Christopher Hitchens (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)


Interview: Christopher Hitchens, on not believing Add to ...

Geiger: Does a moral hierarchy exist on religions today? Are some a greater force for good in the world than others or are they essentially moral equivalents? As your book subtitle read, 'God poisions everything.'

Hitchens: Well, should I start with the 'poisons everything?' Perhaps I should. Ok, I'll ask for trouble if I put on a provocative subtitle, but I mean by it, not of course it poisons Chinese food or tantric sex or Niagara falls or something but it does attack us in our deepest integrity. It says we wouldn't know right from wrong if it wasn't for divine permission. It immediately makes us, essentially, slaves. And it has to be opposed for that reason. And such a radical frontal attack on human dignity, it seems to me, that it does leach into everything. And it has the effect of making good people say and do wicked things. For example, a morally normal person when presented with a new baby would not set about its genitals with a sharp stone or a knife. He would have to think God needed that. No, it wouldn't occur to him otherwise. It make intelligent people say stupid things, commits them to saying stupid things such as they are objects of a divine design. As well as being stupid, very conceited by the way. They claim believers to be so modest. That's what I mean by the poison. And because of that, I do tend to think it applies in general. My younger daughter goes to a Quaker school in Washington, the same one as the president's children. ... There was a time when the Quakers ran the most sadistic prisons in North America and were fond of excommunicating people for the smallest things such as supporting the American Revolution, for example. If they'd been more powerful, they might have been worse. ... any surrender of reason in favour of faith contains the same danger it seems to me. Fluctuates over time. Before, I've been asked in the 1930s what I thought was the most dangerous religion I almost certainly would have said Roman Catholicism because of its then pretty much undisguised alliance with the Fascist parties in Europe, for which it has not yet succeeded in apologizing enough, in my opinion. But has, least admitted it was true. It was very dangerous then. I now think obviously, or rather self-evidently, Wahabbi fundamentalist Islam and its equivalents in messianic Shiism , the Shia equivalent of that Sunni theory, practice, are as dangerous especially because they could get a hold of weapons, or a weapon of mass destruction. So we would find out, with a little speculation, we used to have after lights out when we were young, what would really happen if a really wicked person got a hold of a nuclear bomb and now we're going to find out. When the messianic meets the apocalyptic, watch out.

Geiger: So, in a highly globalized world, religious systems are very much in the mix. Can religion at least provide common values and ethical foundation. Obviously, there's differences but is there some sort of root?

Hitchens: Religion can't provide that. Moral values come from innate human solidarity. They're the values we need, have needed to survive as a species. Knowing we have responsibilities to other people, for example, knowing that certain types of behaviour are worse than antisocial. Religion, to an extent believes that, but it doesn't always. It takes it from us. No, it couldn't provide it. All it could do is lay claim to it, a claim that I would deny. And because it's not in the nature of faith to be really universal -- it's quite extraordinary the number of claims that are made by people of faith to be the holders of the only faith, It's not enough for them to say they believe in God, or get values from it, they have to say God revealed to us. And the wars of religion alone would be enough to negate this claim. .... also to show what we already know, that religion is manmade. So it's one of our artefacts, along with, fortunately with, genuine humanistic morality. And I think it's essential to choose between the two.

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