Debating deity: D'Sousza v. Hitchens.
I recently sat in on bits of a debate between the lunatic Right-wing Dinesh D’Sousa and Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great. D’Sousa, you may remember, was the Christianist who wanted an alliance with “moderate” Muslims to install a moralistic government that would bash gays, cover up women, ban porn and generally impose the fundamentalist version of Sharia law on the country.
D’Sousa’s argument was that such moralistic campaigns by the state would end the fanatical Islamist movement. He seems to think that the whole terrorist campaign is the result of Muslims being offended by homosexuals and Western “immorality”.
Prior commitments kept me relatively busy during the debate but I could hear bits and pieces. So I will report on what I heard and about something interesting that happened afterwards.
It was my unfortunate experience to mainly hear the D’Sousa arguments. All I can say is that he is a smarmy debater who falsifies facts and uses bad logic to try to make his case for a deity.
D’Sousa finds it necessary to defend religion because some religious folks are engaged in nefarious, vicious actions, from flying planes into buildings to bombing abortion clinics or shooting staff who work there. These folk act based on the religious beliefs they hold. It is my contention that all actions come out of positive beliefs not out of negative beliefs.
As I noted once before atheism is a negation of a belief not a positive statement of belief. The atheist says he has no reason to believe in a god, he denies a belief but the atheist qua atheist asserts no belief. Individual atheists do, of course, assert positive beliefs but they do not do so as atheists but in entirely different intellectual categories. For instance, the atheist may be a conservative, socialist, libertarian, fascist, etc. It would be his positive beliefs that inspire action not his negative ones. As I put it previously “you can not get positive principles out o a negative concept. Not believing in a god doesn’t tell you how to live, what to value, what sort of society to yearn for, etc. By itself it gives no directions, values or beliefs. How could it? It is the lack of a belief”
The Islamists or Christianists who act in evil ways do so precisely because of their faith. A positive belief (in the sense of one that is asserted as factual and no in the sense of being beneficial) causes the individual to take positive action (in the sense of acting as opposing to not acting). The lack of a belief inspires no particular action. When an atheist acts in a particular way it is because of other positive beliefs he may hold not because he is an atheist.
This is important because D’Sousa was making the point that since religious folk are burdened by the vile actions of other religious folks then atheism must be blamed for the actions of all atheists. He entirely neglects the fact that the religious act because they are religious while the atheist can not act merely because he is an atheist. It is not atheism that causes the atheism to act but other beliefs he may hold.
D’Sousa wanted to blame atheists for the atrocities of Pol Pot and other Marxist dictators. Ostensibly atheistic these regimes didn’t kill because they were atheistic but killed because they were Communistic and were creating the utopia for which they yearned. It was their positive beliefs that lead to positive action not their non-beliefs.
D’Sousa seems incapable of understanding the difference. Or perhaps he does and is simply dishonest. In his case I suspect the later is often the case.
Two remarks I heard him make were so clearly false that I can not fathom any reason for making them except dishonesty. It was, again, related to the example of dictatorial regimes.
One was that D’Sousa kept referring to the Nazi regime of Hitler as atheistic. That is just absurd. One German attending the debate told me he was baffled by the remark as Germany, under Hitler, was highly religious. Hitler himself was a member of the Catholic Church and never renounced his faith, nor did his church ever find him worthy of excommunication. Hitler died a Catholic in good standing.
The second dishonest remark was D’Sousa’s claim that Cambodia, under Pol Pot, was the quintessential example of a “secular” society. He seemed to be saying that these evil regimes were the best examples of secular government.
Again the German attendee was confused. He remarked to me that he couldn’t think of a single German that he knew who actually attended church. He always thought of today’s Germany as an example of secularism. And he is correct. This is also true o virtually every successful, Western nation around. The United States is pretty much alone when it comes to religiosity among the Western, modern nations.
And, I should point out, that among the Western nations the religious US is pretty much alone in its tendency to execute people with a regularity that is frightening -- with the most religious backwater states, such as Texas, taking pride in how many people they can kill in any one year. The US is again pretty much alone in an aggressive, interventionist foreign policy that is responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. To the degree that other Western nations have been involved it has been under duress from the United States and in a very limited capacity.
The reality is that most the West today is secular and relatively peaceful. D’Sousa must know this. I sincerely doubt he is that ignorant and thus conclude his comments about secular societies being dictatorial is based on dishonesty and not ignorance.
After the debate Christopher Hitchens remarked to me that he was surprised that “so many libertarians” had sided with the religious side of the debate in a post-debate poll that was done.
Actually Mr. Hitchens was in error. He assumed the audience to be predominantly libertarian. In reality it was predominantly conservative with libertarians making up no more than 20% of the audience.
I was not present for the poll so I asked him what the breakdown was. He said it looked to be about a 50/50 split. He was disappointed at that but I was pleased. Yes, if the audience was predominantly libertarian I’d be unhappy -- libertarians tends to be more intelligent and less likely to be theistists. But when I realized that a predominantly conservative audience had split 50/50 on the god question I took that as an encouraging sign.
This audience, for the most part, should have been D’Sousa’s core group of supporters. That he could only muster half the audience in support of his position is just another sign that the United States is finally joining the West in the post-Christian era.
Photo: From a different debate. D'Sousa is on the far left and Hitchens on the right.