christopher hitchens

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Sam Harris is a well known atheist, a hater of religion along with the other “horsemen”, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Dan Dennett, but he has this mystical side. That word, mystical, must be defined very carefully, however, or the wrath of Sam will be upon you.

Here is a good tract by Sam Harris in which he goes into this. He argues that secularism has no content other than its negativity:

To be secular, one need do nothing more than live in perpetual opposition to the unsubstantiated claims of religious dogmatists.

The “mysticism” he espouses has to do with meditation and the mystery of consciousness. Here is the last sentence of his third note in his article:

Still, consciousness remains a genuine mystery, and anyone who attempts to study it is confronted by serious conceptual and empirical problems

Antonio Damasio, a well known neuroscientist, has a new book out in which he attempts to explain consciousness scientifically. However, John Searle, a well known American philosopher takes issue with Damasio’s claim in his New York Review of Books article, The Mystery of Consciousness Continues.

All very interesting.

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Here’s a fascinating TED talk by Alain de Botton which he calls Atheism 2.0. The 2.0 comes from Alain’s rejecting the well known atheism, which one could call Atheism 1.0, of Richard Dawkins and his so-called four horsemen made up of himself, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. Atheism 1.0 believes that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.” (See The Rise of the New Atheists by Simon Hooper). Alain de Botton begs to differ.

So, what does he believe? What is Atheism 2.0? I’m not sure myself after listening to the talk. Incidentally, on the link to the talk there are lots of comments. I started perusing these but gave up because it would be endless. Here, perhaps, is an example from my experience illustrating Atheism 2.0 in a special case (Alain de Botton might agree): I do not take the bible literally, don’t believe in the virgin birth, Mary, Jesus, the whole trinity thing, but I am greatly moved by religious music.

Here for example is the Stabat mater op.53, Part 6, by the Polish composure Karol Szymanowski. It’s slow, almost painful, but to me it has an excruciating beauty and power which even gives me a feeling of satisfaction in the face of my own finiteness and inevitable death. Lots of other religious music has pretty much the same effect on me.

Psybertron has an interesting checklist of headings for Alain de Botton’s TED talk. Well worth checking these.

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I really enjoyed Bill Moyers interview with John Sexton, the president of NYU, last evening. He’s a fascinating and likable guy. Of course he believes in God, being raised a catholic in Brooklyn, NY, and apparently never straying from that belief. But I think I grasp what he’s trying to say, this thing about cognitive limitations, and different dimensions.

Here’s a portion of his conversation with Bill Moyers, taken from the transcript on the Moyers website:


BILL MOYERS: By ineffable, you mean?

JOHN SEXTON: I mean that what we’re discussing now is something that’s approached through music and poetry and mythos in the best sense of that word. You know, Americans talk about myth as falsehood. It’s become a synonym for falsehood, whereas myth speaks– I mean, Lisa had never reasoned to me to the fact that she loved me. I never reasoned her to the fact that I loved her.

It was something that was an experience truth, the deepest truths in life, including what we’re talking about here, including what I tried to get at in that course. Baseball is a Road to God, with its kind of, you know, a frolicky title is there’s something very serious. But it’s not something that you get to through cognitive processes.

This is why the war between science and religion seems to me is a false war. There’s no tension between science and religion. They’re different dimensions. So everything I’ve just said to you I know is a matter of faith. There are people out there on the NYU faculty that are embarrassed to have their president say this and I delight in that, you know. I mean, but it is something that’s real in my life and affects me day-in and day-out. It– it’s self-evident that there are important things that are not reducible to the cognitive. You know, now, the neuroscientists would like to map, you know, even the poetic parts of the brain. And so on. We’ll see where that goes. But the fact of the matter is that when I listened to Rachmaninoff’s second at the Philharmonic a couple of days ago, there was an ineffable transportation to another plane that undeniably became part of my experience.

I mean, I think Keats would say, at this point, that there’s a coalescence of what we’re talking about here, about transcendence and beauty and truth and faith.

Again, whether all this about different dimensions and knowledge beyond the cognitive, is true, or just a happy illusion, just more chemical effects on our endocrine system making us feel “transported” and into a false reality, I’m still undecided upon, terribly mixed up about. The new atheists, the Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, etc., have put religion in its place, the opiate of the people, the awful hypocrisy of it, the source of much of the world’s evil. But still, there are cognitive mysteries, like the “turtles all the way down” paradox. Of course, it appears that Rebecca Goldstein thinks Spinoza has explained all this rationally. Or perhaps not.

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Just finished this fascinating book. I had trouble putting it down. It was written by a Swedish journalist, Stieg Larsson, just before he died of a heart attack at the age of 50 in 2004. He had started a series of books and this was the first of three he completed before he died.

The book is translated from the Swedish and something may have been lost in translation in terms of style. Parts of the writing have a “police blotter” flow but this doesn’t detract from the excitement and suspense, it only makes me wonder how even more powerful the story must be in Swedish.

You can tell by the author’s bio that the main character, Mikhail Blomkvist, (try pronouncing that) is modeled after the author. Blomkvist is an idealistic and intense journalist, 42 years of age, divorced, and the editor in chief of the magazine he works for is his best girlfriend. The story opens with Blomkvist getting sued for libel and facing a three month prison term. Before he serves his term, though, he’s approached by a rich industrialist, who knew him as a small child, trusts him, and wants him to solve a mystery, that of the disappearance 36 years ago of his beloved 16 year old grand niece . The action takes place in 2002.

The rich industrialist had requested that a security agency do a background check on Blomkvist just to make sure he’s OK, and this was done by the 24 year old Lisabeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. Larsson said he modeled Salander after an adult version of Pippi Longstocking. Salander can hack into computers and read by just flipping pages because of her photographic memory, but she is totally repressed socially and resentful of all authority.

Blomkvist and Salander eventually do team up and solve the riddle of the disappearance of the grand niece, but Salander has some dangerous adventures of her own first in which she triumphs. There are some grizzly murders, exciting detective work, and wild adventures, but all ends well. I’m ordering the second book in this series.

UPDATE: Just found a great review of the series by the oh-so-clever Christopher Hitchens. He doesn’t give away the plot details but paints an altogether enticing and amusing picture of Larsson’s magisterial work which he obviously loves.

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Here I am back to Terry Eagleton again with his first Yale lecture series talk, “Christianity Fair and Foul”, in the middle of which he invokes the “mind-blowing contingency” of the cosmos, the fact it might just as well never have happened, and captures for me again my one feeling of mystery, namely, the Why is there something rather than nothing? feeling. He’s totally brilliant and amusing throughout this talk and sums up Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as Ditchkins. I was led here this morning from another old flame of mine, James P. Carse, to whom I was led by the remarkable Rebecca Parker, UU “theologian” of the Starr King school in Berkeley, Calif., after having heard her beautiful North Conway Friday evening talk about earth being our only paradise, as proclaimed by among others, Jesus H Christ, and the early Christians. How I found James P. Carse from this comes from a UU World interview of Parker and co-author Rita Nakashima Brock, under Recent Articles in the sidebar. Parker’s latest book, again with Brock, is titled, “Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire”. OK, there’s enough material here in these links to last a lifetime, certainly my lifetime.
;-)
ps. I forgot what really set me off on this track this morning, Stanley Fish’s recent article in the NYT, God Talk. It’s a review of Terry Eagleton’s latest book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.
Happy reading! :lol:

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