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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: Your mother was Jewish.

Hitchens: So is my wife. So was my grandmother. So is my daughter. Anyone who didn't like or wanted to defame or threaten the Jewish people would be insulting my wife, my mother, my mother my late and much beloved mother in law, my granny. I don't need to say anything for myself, surely.

Geiger: Can you name a theological work, a religious text or philosophical work that has had a profound influence on you? I guess, either way.

Hitchens: Well, Ronald Newman's Apologia is a very interesting, very absorbing book, I'd have to say. As is Augustine's City of God. And there's something else I thinking of what I can't quite reach at the moment. Of course, in order to appreciate them one has to get through an enormous amount of self-obsession, self-importance. So much in fact, it gets in the way because you think what kind of humility is this? That they feel that every episode in their own lives is somehow a world-historical moment. Not to say cosmic. So I've tried, and it may as well be a failure of imagination on my part. Oh, of course, I should have mentioned Pensées, thoughts of Pascal, which are very ingenious. Written by a man of science, a great mathematician. A theorist .... And interestingly enough addressed, as he puts it, to the man who is so made that he cannot believe. Pascal knew that it's not really true, that all people are naturally believers. It may be true of a large group of people in a lot of times and places but it's equally true to say what some of us are constituted the other way. We can't take this seriously, it's gibberish to us. Or, worse. And Pascal understands this and is trying to speak directly and, well, that's a nice change.

Geiger: Is there contemporary work?

Hitchens: Not that I know of. I've read because my little, our little, movement the 'new atheists' are called, have generated a whole shelf of rebuttals and I feel obliged to read those.

Geiger: Including your brother.

Hitchens: Including, indeed, my baby brother. And I feel under some sense of obligation anyone nice enough to [inaudible] And look, how could it be otherwise. Religion is not going to come up with any new arguments. If you know the old ones, you know them. And I would presume to say I know them reasonably well. You don't come up with anything... how could you? The most you could get now is what I would call a sort of parasitism. Those who used to be very dubious about the theory of evolution, if not hostile, now say, alright, alright! In fact, now we think about it, it is true. It's so true and it's so beautiful and it's so intricate, so fascinating, it must have taken God to do it. Well, that's not thinking at all. That's just saying include us in. Same with the Big Man. Didn't like it, now they love because they say it's so awe-inspiring, it must be divine. Well, that's not a new argument because it isn't an argument.

Geiger: The concept of redemption is at the essence of Christianity. And even as an atheist, is there anything in that? Is there anything that you would seek redemption?

Hitchens: The desire for a second chance let's say, or the desire perhaps to undo or make up for one's shortcomings or let's say sentence or crimes is or should be so strong. It is for that reason that, you see, that I think religion is so dangerous because it offers a full solution to a real problem. And it comes out in Christianity in the most deplorable way, which is the idea of vicarious atonement, You can indeed be redeemed as long as you're willing to have someone else take responsibility for your own sins. That's not responsible, that's actually scapegoating. It's loading the guilt of the tribe onto a sacrificial figure. I think that's actually immoral. But it certainly answers a deeply-filled need.

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