April 29, 2007

Hitchens For The Brain

You may not like Christopher Hitchens, if you know who he is or what he writes about. If you're a return Reader, you probably have something of a taste for the ironic, iconoclastic, and insightful (whether I provide the insight or someone commenting does is a different issue). So like him or not, he rarely fails to give his readers something weighty to consider.

And for brain-stimulating power, really good intellectual ideas have more effect than strong coffee, which is something I need on this particular Sunday morning. Two things from a recent interview with Hitchens really strike me in that fashion.

First, on atheism and domestic politics: "Karl Rove is not a believer, and he doesn’t shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, 'I'm not fortunate enough to be a person of faith.'" Karl Rove? The President's right-hand man, an atheist working as hard as he can to support a millenialist Christian whose foreign policy seems driven by a desire to hasten the Apocalypse? Now that's interesting, make no mistake.

Second, on Islam and the future: Islam is "unalterable. You notice how liberals keep saying, 'If only Islam would have a Reformation'—it can't have one. It says it can't. It's extremely dangerous in that way." This rather depressing thought is more interesting to me. Why can't Islam have a Reformation? Both Judaism and Christianity have done so, despite their both possessing texts that are absolutist in content and which derive their ethics from a nomadic or early-urbanized Bronze Age culture of expanding tribal power, or from the desire to endure and eventually seek the overthrow of a Classical-era occupying military dictatorship.

Whatever criticisms I may have of Judeo-Christian religion today, I will certainly concede that Reform Jews and some kinds of Protestants have at least tried to adapt the ancient teachings of their religion to a more contemporary world. I disagree with Hitchens that similar kinds of intellectual updating and editing are impossible for Islam, at least if the reason is that other religions permit the influence of theology -- because they really do not, given a literal reading of their texts, but have done so anyway. Perhaps the real problem is that Muslims do not see their religion as needing reformation; they see their religion in its eleventh-century form as still having application in the contemporary world. Perhaps that is because their contemporary world is really not all that different from the world their ancestors lived in a thousand years ago. That's a real danger, but at least it's something that can be fixed.

Hat tip for the interview to Justin Gardner at Donklephant.


zzi said...

More Hitchens (sp) posts! Audio is great also.

That's twice I put a comment in the wrong post. I missed it by one on your bug post.

Burt Likko said...

Like I said in the post, whether you agree or disagree with him, he usually gives something worthy of serious thought. So how 'bout that Karl Rove?

zzi said...

So how 'bout that Karl Rove?

No one admires more than Bill Clinton.