I bought The Great Deluge to read on the trip, and think about the submersion of New Orleans, which vies with Austin in my pantheon of Best Places to Live. Vied. While I was at Voltaire books in Key West I stumbled across a yellow covered book with the Satanist's name splashed across it. I have been familiar with Hitchens since the long lost era when he wrote for the Nation magazine. Eventually he fell out with the Nation owing to a perceived slide to the right. I, however, viewed his slide more as an acknowledgement of his new found curmudgeonliness, which allowed him to slide into apostasy ( support for the invasion of Iraq was his downfall).
One can only empathize with a man, born and raised in Britain who comes to the US and takes on the plain spoken, boring orthodoxy of a multi-cultural melting pot where humor is, at its mildest, risque, and at its best, "enraging." Hitchens values thinking for oneself and thus it is inevitable that he should end up plowing a path all on his lonesome. But not, apparently as lonesome as he must have first thought.
Indeed in the article he notes that at least half the audience in his book tour's varied stops seemed to think they alone were atheists in their communities. And Hitchens' sense of wonderment at his book's success implies the same about himself in America at large. I suppose he might be Satan but he writes like a man possessed not of the desire to talk down to his audience but of a man convinced that erudition is at large in America. Good for him, and in this picture by William Anthony in this month's Vanity Fair, he seems like your average, common-or-garden, rumpled English intellectual, now proudly waving the banner of US citizenship. Not at all satanic.
Upon diving into God Is Not Great I found a text that articulated for me, more precisely, more eruditely and more completely my own reasons for loss of faith.
I work with a two women who fit into this debate almost perfectly. One, the Mother, is a young mother of four married to a man of Christian puritanism that would it seems puts him high in the Boer orthodoxy of 19th century South Africa. He it is who lays down the law in the family and she it is who is subservient. I have endeavored to keep my feelings on the subject quiet, going so far as to remove the cover from my hardback when it has accompanied me to the workplace. I don't know the Mother that well as she only works with me occasionally, on her overtime shifts.
My other female co-worker is my regular companion on Bravo night shift. She grew up in a harsh uncompromising, but surprisingly variable series of religious edicts from her mother. She fled home and sought refuge in a world of disorder and unconventional living. From that she followed her older, and more passive sister, to Key West and fell into the lap of a good, hidebound job. This daughter repudiates religion in all its forms and coercions.
The daughter worships at the altar of modern living, television, and lives a restrained life such as monastic orders would approve, moderation in all things, faithfulness in matters intimate, and a work ethic that would gain the approval of the slacker Benjamin Franklin. Yet the mention of religion and all its ethical codes gets her out of her chair.
One night we stumbled across a magazine carried to work by the Mother, for her edification. It contained the Christian rendition of one of those banal magazine quizzes, which usually ask something ridiculous like how hard do you please men, and in this case qualified "men" as the Son of Man. With predictable results when the daughter got ahold of the quiz.
The Christian mother took it well, as I spluttered and tried to shut the Atheist up. On the other hand the mother says "fuck" more freely at work than I would expect her to be able to do at home. Perhaps working gives her not only money (to take the children to that den of homoeroticism, Disneyland) but also an outlet from the strictures of the Church.
Its odd to me to find confirmation of Hitchen's intellectual stance in my own workplace, the stark confrontation of abused religious victim and abused religious codependant. Even in my own family, my formerly staunchly anti-clerical brother-in-law, now a grandfather, takes his family meekly to Mass each Sunday, finding time to marvel at the preaching power of the parish's new African priest. Such is the shortage of priests that even in the seat of Catholicism, the former Papal States, they import priests from Africa.
When I was a child I believed God was an old white man with a long white beard and he peered at us through pinholes in a cardboard box, and in that box the earth and the sky were suspended. It seems odd to me that people, as educated as me, still hold this fundamental belief, and worse yet spend time and treasure seeking to prove the unprovable. I think its true that no matter how little we believe, those among us that do express a belief in a god, any god, are expressing a fear of death.
I have often imagined my own death, my departure on that journey to a borne from which no traveler returns, as the saying goes. It seems more satisfactory and productive to spend less time imagining and more time enjoying. Is this what they mean by God's Bounty?