by Zoe Pollock
I was very impressed with but not surprised by the wealth of knowledge and opinion expressed in response to this subject. To clarify, perhaps unnecessarily, I meant no disrespect to Hitchens, someone who is greatly admired by the Dish and whom I personally enjoy and respect very much. It was my first lesson in the passions and precisions of Dish readers and I look forward to more. Here is a sampling of some of those responses:
Once we accept things which aren't true in order to ease the pain of existence, we open the door to accepting other ideas that aren't true simply because they are convenient to our immediate psychological well-being. This often leads to bad consequences, such as when slave-traders justified their exploitation of labor with the comfortable lie that stealing people away from their homes in order to face torture and servitude worked to save souls. Today we see similar self-serving lies in the base subjugation of women by the Taliban, and in the "Christian" labels that are applied by the right to bad treatment of the poor. The erosion of rationality caused by convenient lies of faith has led to the battling irrational ideas that underlie many of our most problematic contemporary conflicts.
Nietzsche did not advocate "life-enhancing illusions", in fact the complacency that such illusions bred was precisely what his work rails against. His argument was simple, as all moral arguments in the existential tradition are. In the end, you are alone in your own head, and while governments and society may demand that you answer for what you do and how you live, the only person you cannot escape giving that answer to is yourself; so choose the values and rules that you can live with, and if you truly respect your life, don't abandon them. Mr. Vallicella, in the greatest traditions of Monotheist sophistry, asks, "What does Hitch lose by believing?" and he answers, showing his own nihilistic disdain for truth and faith, "Nothing." Such is how he sees it. To an existentialist, however, you are your morality and your philosophy; what you think and do IS who you are; in other words, the truth of your existence is everything. To believe now, to run fearfully to a god he has never considered feasible out of some coward's hope that a last minute plea would postpone oblivion, to lie to himself so grandly, would be for Mr. Hitchens to lose everything.
And one more:
"What would Hitch lose by believing?" I don't think that's the question. I think the question is the same one that bears on all deathbed conversions: doesn't sincerity make a difference to God? I think , if there is a God, he looks even less kindly upon faked belief than he does lack thereof. Because faked belief presumes God is a mark to be tricked.
I prefer the old Hindu parable about the atheist who spent his entire life denying Khrishna, and thought about little else till his last breath. When he dies he is instantly united with Mr. K. Why? Because, whether believing or denying, Khrishna was always paramount in his mind. Believed in, even as something to deny. Perhaps the gods really dislike being ignored.