Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Just One Hitch

Ah, it's so nice to see the return of the "old" Christopher Hitchens. By "old", I mean the one whose venom against organized religion was concentrated on the Catholic Church.

It would be a good thing if Hitchens' new pals on the conservative side read this and realize that Hitchens' full-throated support of the so-called "War on Terror" is nothing more than a subset of his general hatred for nearly all things religious.

Attempting to revive his moribund church on a visit to Germany, where the Roman congregations are increasingly sparse, Joseph Ratzinger (as I shall always think of him) has managed to do a moderate amount of harm—and absolutely no good—to the very tense and distraught discussion now in progress between Europe and Islam.

The Muslim protesters are actually being highly ungrateful. When the embassies of Denmark were being torched earlier this year, Rome managed a few words of protest about … the inadvisability of profane cartoons. In almost every confrontation between Islam and the West, or Islam and Israel, the Vatican has either split the difference or helped to ventriloquize Muslim grievances. Most of all, throughout his address to the audience at Regensburg, the man who modestly considers himself the vicar of Christ on Earth maintained a steady attack on the idea that reason and the individual conscience can be preferred to faith. He pretends that the word Logos can mean either "the word" or "reason," which it can in Greek but never does in the Bible, where it is presented as heavenly truth. He mentions Kant and Descartes in passing, leaves out Spinoza and Hume entirely, and dishonestly tries to make it seem as if religion and the Enlightenment and science are ultimately compatible, when the whole effort of free inquiry always had to be asserted, at great risk, against the fantastic illusion of "revealed" truth and its all-too-earthly human potentates. It is often said—and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate—that Islam is not capable of a Reformation. We would not even have this word in our language if the Roman Catholic Church had been able to have its own way. Now its new reactionary leader has really "offended" the Muslim world, while simultaneously asking us to distrust the only reliable weapon—reason—that we possess in these dark times. A fine day's work, and one that we could well have done without.
So, the leader of 1 billion Catholics isn't even given the courtesy of being given his official title and name. What, Chris, by saying "Joseph Ratzinger", does that make Holy Father sound that much more nefarious? Spitting out an obviously German name, of course, is meant to conjure up, what, Nazi imagery perhaps (in much the same way that the anti-Semite emphasizes a Jewish person's last name)? Ironically, Hitchens has previously charged that critics of former DOD Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz were guilty of "demonization" for -- intentionally mispronouncing his name.

What is so fascinating in this rant is that Hitchens acts as if the Catholic Church has done nothing over many centuries and many popes (John Paul II most significantly) to address its own past excesses. Hitchens acts as if the Catholic Church is frozen in time -- as if it hasn't recognized the ills it may have perpetrated on Muslim and Jew. The question for all of us to consider now is which religion -- Catholicism or Islam is violently struggling with modernity. Which religion's has decided to embark on holy war?

Should Pope Benedict have more of a respect for reason? Sure. However, when Hitchens casually to reason as "the only reliable weapon...that we possess in these dark times," he manages to ignore the fact that reason -- in the form of totalitarian ideology -- was responsibe for more horrifying acts of genocide in the 20th century than anything ever perpetrated by organized religion.

But it is so much easier for the man who saw such a great evil in Mother Theresa that he had to devote an entire book denouncing her as everything but the whore of Babylon to cavalierly demonstrate a moral equivalence between today's Islam and Catholicism.

Before he became the neo-conservativism's favorite lefty, Hitchens had the reveled in the title of "contrarian."

It should be clear for all to see that Hitchens is now what he has always been -- not an intellectual "holy crusader", but an equal-opportunity wholly anti-religious bigot.

Those who make tactical alliances with him should be careful. As the saying goes, when you lay down with dogs...

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