Thursday, May 03, 2007

Godlessness Is Not Great: How The Lack of Religion Poisons Everything

[Christopher Hitchens – journalist and atheist spokesperson]

One thing which occurred to me lately: Can anyone find an example of a single prominent atheistic leader who was kind, honest, and sober and had a stable family life?

Not Karl Marx – he preached revolution and was an anti-Semite.
Not Friedrich Nietzsche – he never married and apparently died of syphilis.
Not Sigmund Freud – he was an academic fraud.
Not Bertrand Russell – he was married four times and sexually promiscuous.
Not Stalin or Mao – the most ruthless killers who ever lived.
Not Ayn Rand, who preached the "virtue" of selfishness and who was extremely arrogant in her personal life.
Not Madalyn Murray O'Hair – she embezzled outrageously.
Not John Lennon, who was a hard drug user and very cruel to his first wife and their child.
Even Carl Sagan, who was never really openly an atheist, seems to have had a very abrasive personality and was divorced twice.

My own father, an outspoken atheist, was a promiscuous drunk.

It's really remarkable when one thinks of it. Not only has there apparently never been an atheist saint. There has never been a prominent atheist whom the average person would want to have as a friend and neighbor.

Why is that?

Admittedly, many theists have been evil as well. However some have been truly great – for example the Vilna Gaon, the Chofetz Chaim, the Chazon Ish and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. But atheism never has leaders like that.

Personally, I would compare theism to health care. In health care, there are plenty of quacks, bogus fitness equipment and dangerous diets. On the other hand, there are some excellent programs as well. So someone who says, “Forget about a healthy lifestyle; all that stuff is nonsense” is not a shrewd skeptic; he’s a self-indulgent fool.

So perhaps, as Mr. Hitchens writes, God is not great – if you want to be a selfish creep and not feel guilty about it.


avrum68 said...

Mr. a non-Orthodox Jew, and practicing psychotherapist and mental health worker, I feel very confident in stating that Orthodox Jews* have everything secular folks pine for, but have difficulty obtaining. Everything!

Keebo said...

The implication of the question is that someone who has divorced is not as good a person as someone only married once.
And where do single people fall, on your good/bad spectrum of judgement? Are you giving them the benefit of the doubt, for now? What if they choose to stay single all their lives? There's got to be something morally wrong with them, right?
Is whether, or not, someone chooses to marry, or chooses to stay married, really a good barometer of their value as a human being?

Baal Habos said...

JP, you keep on proving my point. By touting how great life is for the religious, and I do indeed recognize that, it would not be in my own self-interest to remain a heretic.

Yet despite that, I remain a heretic. The fact that atheists may not live a life as fulfilling as religious people doesn't prove anything about belief in God except that humans seem to thrive in it. Some people are happiest as workaholics, does that mean that work is the truth?
If it would be the reverse, that Atheists were happier than religious people, you would call it a test of God.

jewish philosopher said...

Keebo, promiscuity I think demonstrates a lack of concern for the welfare of children who will be conceived. Multiple divorces may indicate that one is difficult to live with.

Bos, it's really impossible for me to know what your self interests are since I have no way of verifying who or what you are. However you may find that heresy frees you from the stress of many mental obligations Judaism imposes, for example praying sincerely. Also, heresy may make you feel secretly superior to the "naive" believers among who you live. You may find that at this point in your life, these considerations outweigh the benefits of belief.

avrum68 said...

"The implication of the question is that someone who has divorced is not as good a person as someone only married once."

According to Judaism, this is true. But forget Judaism for a sec, Toronto Life (funky urban chic mag) ran an article about the "New Single". The author concluded her piece by stating that people, in 2007, are as lonely as ever, hoping for marriage, kids, etc.

matt said...

I love religious arguements that take the form of good things result of my religious practice, thus you should practice my religion too. Mormons, orthos all very happy people who seem to have it all, don't you want to be part of that?

The great thing about these arguments is they alert you to the truth about religion few people profess religious belief because they read that religions holy books and said this is what I believe. Few people make philosophically interesting arguments in favor of god's existance, they just want something comfortable, they want to be part of the group, and have something that gives meaning to thier lives, its truth is completely irrelevant.

People are athiests, at least I am, and notice this of my fellow non-believers, because we are not people oriented we care more about truth than making others happy or being part of a group.

Note: one could argue my group has practices which come from god, thus our success with those practices is proof of religious truth. The counter argument is that lots of groups are happy with low devorce etc... Mormans being another kookie example. Additionally your version of the good is particularly subjective, not all cultures have problems with promiscuity devorce etc...

jewish philosopher said...

I guess we religious cannot win. If religion makes people unhappy, atheists will argue "Why suffer? Be an atheist!" If religion makes people happy, atheists will claim "You see, they are just religious because they want to be happy, in spite of how foolish it is."

matt said...

Because an atheist can make use of the same fallacy doesn't make it any less of a fallacy. The point is no one can win an argument about the truth of a claim without arguing about the truth of that claim. Meta arguments about consequences of belief are fun, and the fact that they can be persausive is interesting as a pyschological matter, but not useful to either side. In short they are lazy!

jewish philosopher said...

I was just trying to make fun a little of Christopher Hitchens’ new book, not prove anything.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

Avrum68 raises an interesting point.

AFAIAC, I've never liked the judgemental way Orthodox Jews look down on the divorced and others. In my experience as a Jew, some of the most objectionable people I have ever met are Orthodox Jews. Some of the best people I've known are Orthodox Jews too.

The "best" Jews practice Tikkun Olam. You don't have to be observant to do that.

jewish philosopher said...

I am not looking down on divorced people. Check my CV and you'll noticed I also divorced my first wife.

But on the other hand, how would you feel if you were a five or ten year old child and your parents got divorced because they "fell in love" with someone else or are bored with each other? Think about it for a few minutes. Also, I think if someone has divorced several times (like Bertrand Russell for example) it may indicate that he is a difficult person to live with.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

You use some truly absurd examples here.

Can anyone find an example of a single prominent atheistic leader who was kind, honest, and sober and had a stable family life?

How are we defining sobriety? Theists drink alcohol and smoke tobacco- even observant Jews, IIRC. What determines a stable family life?

Take your use of Nietzsche.

he never married and apparently died of syphilis.

Why is marriage the primary determinant of the worth of atheism's arguments, an atheist's character, or their "saintliness"? Does the vow of chastity discredit Catholicism? You would have been better off accusing Nietzsche of being "mean". And syphillis? What does him having an STD have to do with anything? This is not a characteristic unique to atheism, any more than hair color or wearing pants.

Regarding Freud- Check your own link.

Q. Well, why doesn't that make Freud a fraud, then?

A. It doesn't make Freud a fraud because Freud sincerely believed that he was arriving at the truth.

Bertrand Russell's marriages and promiscuity- Hasn't there been polygamy for a large section of Jewish history? How about just in the Tanakh? Do concubines like Hagar or Zilpah or Bilhah count?

Stalin and Mao were ruthless killers. I agree. But what were Joshua and David?

And clearly no theists, and certainly no Jews, have ever embezzled any money from anything. Or been cruel to their children. Nope, definitely not.

None of these are exclusively atheist activities or traits. There is no justification for using widespread HUMAN habits as evidence that a particular group of people or their ideology is true or false, any more than saying, "religious people beat their kids, therefore religion is false." The two things have nothing to do with each other.

You might as well argue:

"Judaism is true because its leaders grow beards. Admittedly, many non-Jews have grown beards as well. However some Jewish beards have been truly great- for example the Vilna Gaon, the Chofetz Chaim, the Chazon Ish and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. But non-Jews never have beards like that."

Maybe I missed your argument- but I can't find one here.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Incidentally, I nominate Charles Bradlaugh, Dan Barker, Pierre Gaspard Chaumette, Julian Huxley, Jacques Hébert, John Dewey, Ayaan Hirsen Ali, Charles Chilton Moore, Denis Diderot, and George Carlin for review to see if they qualify as "atheist saints". Initial information can be found on wikipedia. Please let us know if any of them make the cut and if not, why.

jewish philosopher said...

Your nominations are all rejected. To be considered for acceptance as an atheist saint, the candidate must have a full length biography currently in print. How else am I supposed to judge him? No one on your list meets that qualification, except for Charles Bradlaugh whose biography was apparently published during his lifetime for political purposes by one of his supporters, Adolphe S. Headingley.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Wrong again.

-Bradlaugh has five biographies in print at the moment.

-Barker's admittedly limited biography is available via Wikipedia.

-Furbank, P. N. Diderot: A Critical Biography. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1992.

- This book has a whole chapter on Atheism in Revolutionary France, including mentions of Hebert and Cloots.

-Clark, Ronald, W. 1968. "The Huxleys".

- Thomas Paine- available online, no less.

- There are thirteen books on Dewey per Wikipedia.

And feel free to respond to my above comment, as well.

jewish philosopher said...

Can you give me a link to for any title? And Thomas Paine was not an atheist.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Why not read Paine and know for sure? One of the links I sent you was to Amazon. Here are a few others:

Dewey and
Bradlaugh. A bit expensive for a mere Internet challenge, I admit. How about

Shall I buy it for you, while I'm at it?

jewish philosopher said...

The Diderot and Dewey volumes I have just ordered from my library. The Bradlaugh biography I've already mentioned doesn't seem too reliable.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

I'm impressed with your willingness to read them. I look forward to your analysis (though I don't expect I'll agree with it).

jewish philosopher said...

I am reading now "The Education of John Dewey" which you referred me to. Apparently, he wasn't an atheist. He was a liberal and most of his adult life he wasn't a church goer, however he was never explicitly an atheist.

Of the idea of God, Dewey said, "it denotes the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and actions." A Common Faith, p. 42

Whatever that's supposed to mean. His "philosophy" has been criticized as being total nonsense. See "John Dewey & The Decline Of American Education: How The Patron Saint Of Schools Has Corrupted Teaching & Learning" by Henry T. Edmondson III.

K said...

Andrew Carnegie was a godless philanthropist.

jewish philosopher said...

Carnegie funded eugenics research and apparently exploited poor workers so I’m not sure he can be called “kind”. But it’s a good try.

Anonymous said...

"How else am I supposed to judge him?"

I didn't know we were the judge and the jury in here! Wow, that makes me feel powerful!

Warren Buffett and Friedrich Nietzsche, I would propose, but before the judge & jury check out on this one I would have to ask their credentials first, or you see we might have an unfairly stacked jury.

You wouldn't happen to have a full length biography in print would you...? I would love the amazon link if possible. :)