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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

There are quite a lot of good conservatives and free marketeers and so on who think Christianity in particular is servile and irrational

Hitchens enlists the help of world's 'greats' to support argument that God is not Great.
The Associated Press Published: November 19, 2007
NEW YORK: Christopher Hitchens believes it is time to disabuse people of several notions.
Mark Twain did not believe in God, Americans are not uncritically devout and an atheist can be president of the United States.
In fact, the extent of religion's hold on people, the British-born author, journalist and provocateur says, has been vastly exaggerated. Despite polls that suggest differently, people are not as religious as many think, he told The Associated Press in an interview.
"I knew that the zeitgeist of religion was changing — that the parties of God would piss people off in their various forms: Republican or Shiite," Hitchens said.
He was referring, in part, to his book "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," in which he lambasts religion as illogical and dangerous, and blames believers for centuries of war, persecutions and other ills. It has sold briskly since it was published in April, and the letters of support and thanks have poured in, he said.
A new anthology published earlier this month, "The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever," continues to press the case.
The man's success is obvious. Over lunch at hotel in midtown Manhattan last week, Hitchens explained his thinking. He sipped whiskey, comfortable in black tie hours before the reception for the National Book Awards. (He was a finalist in the nonfiction category, but did not win.)
With so many engagements between lunch and dinner he had no time to go back to the hotel and change, and — classic Hitchens — made a big production of a missing button on his shirt as his editor bent over him and struggled mightily to push through a shirt stud.
Fashion emergencies aside, the author will not be distracted from his quest to convince the world that religion just doesn't make sense.
"Just because we are on the winning side of this doesn't mean we can just relax," Hitchens said.
He has enlisted the help of many greats through history in his latest effort.
"The Portable Atheist" presents the writings of philosophers, scientists, writers and thinkers in support of his side of the great God debate. Starting with an introduction he wrote, the anthology includes Lucretius, Benedict de Spinoza, George Eliot, Anatole France, Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell and some never before published pieces by Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
"My dream for it is for it to be the resource book for the embattled person in some case of a small town idiocy, persecution or attempted stultification of children," Hitchens said.
He referred to the federal court ruling in 2005 that banned the Dover, Pennsylvania, public school district from teaching the concept of "intelligent design" as part of a science class. The judge had said that the theory, which argues that an intelligent supernatural force explains the emergence of complex life forms, was creationism in disguise.
"I think we can guarantee now — we can absolutely guarantee — that no American kid is going to be subjected to this anymore," he said.
His statements defy commonly accepted beliefs. Nearly all respondents in U.S. polls on religion consistently say they believe in God and have a poor view of atheists.
But, there's more to the story than polls, the indefatigable Hitchens argued.
His tours through the traditionally religious American South have yielded a few surprises, he claimed. "Many in the South are unbelievers, many more than you think. And many more have doubts." Those teetering on the edge of atheism are not going to tell a pollster they do not believe in God in response to an abrupt question from a stranger, he maintained.
"The Portable Atheist," out since Nov. 5, took a mere few weeks to assemble, though Hitchens notes that "I've been doing this, in a sense ... all my life."
The contributors are many and varied, and part of Hitchens' mission was to break the idea that atheism goes hand-in-hand with liberal politics.
"There are quite a lot of good conservatives and free marketeers and so on who think Christianity in particular is servile and irrational," Hitchens said.
But, Christianity is not his only target.
"We take on Islam head on," he said.
The longest of all the contributions — 61 pages — is an attack against the Quran by Ibn Warraq, a scholarly former Muslims whose true identity is a secret.
"Many people, including humanists and agnostics, in this country are very reluctant to criticize Islam because they think it is the religion of another people, and thus deserves respect on ... cultural terms," Hitchens said. "And this is a sentimentality for which we have no patience."
Hitchens also strives to prove that there is beauty in atheism.
"You often get told that atheism is for arid unbelievers," he said. "And that's really not true."
Mozart, for instance, was almost certainly an atheist, the author noted.
"We may possibly come out with an atheist CD of non-believer musicians," Hitchens said.
He added, as a warning: "I'm only half-joking."

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