"Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free." John 8:32

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Hitchens vs. Hedges

As always, Zombie has a great post at Zombietime about a debate he attended on May 24 between Christopher Hitchens and Chris Hedges at King Middle School auditorium in Berkeley, California. The debate was centered around the theme "Is God...Great?"

Zombie said...
Surprising as it might seem in a contemporary political landscape where mocking religion is an established liberal pastime, and where Christianity and spirituality are most often associated with conservatism, it was Hitchens -- now loathed by the left for not toeing the party line over the Iraq War -- who attacked religion, while the neo-Socialist, anti-patriotic, radical Hedges volunteered for the seemingly topsy-turvy position of having to defend spirituality and the existence of God.

How did this strange state of affairs come to pass? In one word: Islam.

The left -- of which Hitchens was a part until recently -- has always been anti-religion. But now, they've become caught in a philosophical bind: how can they promote multiculturalism -- and by extension all non-Western cultures, such as fundamentalist Islam -- if they condemn religion in general? Neocon pundits have since 9/11 frequently accused the left of being in bed with Muslim extremists, a charge which the left has vehemently denied. But with every denial their position was becoming more and more untenable, as the verbiage and narratives of Islamic radicals and "anti-war" progressives have grown to become virtually indistinguishable.

Someone had to take the lead and resolve the dilemma that the left had created for itself. And so it was Hedges who stepped forward in this debate to test the waters for the first time, taking what is for him (and the left) a revolutionary position: that spirituality and religion -- with the noteworthy exception of organized Christianity -- is good.
Now, at no point did Hedges state that he was performing this amazing flipflop specifically due to Islam. He didn't need to say it -- because Hitchens said it for him. In fact, Hitchens repeatedly tore the roof off of Hedges' carefully constructed rhetorical edifice, saying aloud the exact thoughts that Hedges and the left didn't want anyone to hear.
While I find Hitchens to be at times vulgar and and extremely vitriolic towards faith, his grasp of the dangers that confront us is excellent and verbalizes it in a way only he can do.
Hitchens: But, to what I think is the hidden agenda of the question: 'Is George Bush on a Christian crusade in Iraq and Afghanistan?' Obviously not, obviously not. Anyone who's studied what's happening in either of those countries now knows that the whole of American policy -- and by the way a lot of your own future, ladies and gentlemen -- is staked on the hope that federal secular democrats can emerge from this terrible combat. We can protect them and offer them help while they do so. We know that they're there, that we are -- I've met them, I love them, they're our friends. Every member of the 82nd Airborne Division could be a snake-handling congregationalist, for all I know, but these men and women, though you sneer and jeer at them, and snigger when you hear applause and excuses for suicide bombers -- and you have to live with the shame of having done that -- these people are guarding you while you sleep, whether you know it or not. And they're also creating space for secularism to emerge, and you better hope that they are successful.
And this...
Hitchens: It's exact equivalent of the evil nonsense taught by Hedges and friends of his, who say the suicide bombers in Palestine are driven to it by despair. Have you read the manifestos of these suicide bombers? Have you seen the videos they make? Have you seen the manifestos they put out? The propaganda that they generate? These are not people in despair. These are people in a state of religious exultation. Who are promised everything. Who are in a state of hope. Who are in a state of adoration for their evil mullahs. And for their filthy religion. It's this that makes them think they have the right to kill others while taking their own lives. If despair among Palestinians was enough to create psychopathic criminal behavior, there's been enough despair for a long time, and enough misery to go around. It is to excuse the vicious, filthy forces of Islamic jihad to offer any other explanation but that it is their own evil preaching, their own vile religion, their own racism, their own apocalyptic ideology that makes them think they have the right to kill everyone in this room, and go to paradise as a reward. I won't listen, nor should you, to anyone who euphemizes or excuses this evil wicked thing.
Why was Chris Hedges chosen to supposedly somehow defend faith in God when he is very outspoken in his criticism of all religion. Well, ALMOST all religion. All religion except for Islam, of course.

It is curious indeed that one of the sponsors of the event was The Zaytuna Institute, a local Islamic training facility. Zombie noted the actions of those in attendance from the institute.
There were entire rows of seats in the auditorium reserved for Zaytuna Institute staff and students, and many others sat elsewhere in the hall as well (see photo on the right, for example). Throughout the debate, whenever Hedges attacked Christianity, the United States or Israel, and when he praised the Palestinians or defended the Muslim point of view, the Zaytuna crowd cheered and clapped. Whenever Hitchens criticized suicide bombing or praised the goals of the Iraq War, they booed and grumbled.

So, the entire purpose of the debate came into focus: Hedges was there essentially to defend Islam, and the Zaytuna Institute had invited him for this very reason. He was obviously their favorite, and Hitchens was cast as the villain. (Even though, as it turned out, a great number of Hitchens fans showed up as well.)

But Hedges was in a delicate position. He couldn't overtly defend Islam in preference to all other religions, lest he lose his veneer of impartiality. So he hardly mentioned Islam at all. Hence, his strategy became this: to praise spirituality, but then criticize every organized religion except Islam. So he ended up championing Islam in a backhanded way. (Also, after repeatedly proffering excuses and explanations for suicide bombers, Hedges was so pestered by Hitchens that he was compelled to say at one point that he did condemn the practice; but as Hitchens later pointed out, Hedges' words rang hollow because most of his other statements justified suicide bombing.)
Many thanks to Zombie for the post. He gets all the action out there in California.

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