Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: Another Over-Rated Boomer?

Some moves that one might not have predicted: The same year he becomes a U.S. citizen, he also writes a book explaining or defending his atheism. It's kind of remarkable for a U.S. citizen to write such a book, while residing in the U.S. It may even be an example of Hitchens' famous courage in defying convention. I think Michael Newdow made some good points in arguing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that his daughter had a right not to say (or even be present at the saying of) the Pledge of Allegiance, specifically the recently added phrase "under God."
Again, the Pledge of Allegiance did absolutely fine and with -- got us through two world wars, got us through the Depression, got us through everything without God, and Congress stuck God in there for that particular reason, and the idea that it's not divisive I think is somewhat, you know, shown to be questionable at least by what happened in the result of the Ninth Circuit's opinion. The country went berserk because people were so upset that God was going to be taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance. QUESTION: Do we know -- do we know what the vote was in Congress apropos of divisiveness to adopt the under God phrase? MR. NEWDOW: In 1954? QUESTION: Yes. MR. NEWDOW: It was apparently unanimous. There was no objection. There's no count of the vote. QUESTION: Well, that doesn't sound divisive.(Laughter.) MR. NEWDOW: It doesn't sound divisive if --that's only because no atheist can get elected to public office. The studies show that 48 percent of the population cannot get elected.(Applause.) QUESTION: The courtroom will be cleared if there's any more clapping. Proceed, Mr. Newdow. MR. NEWDOW: The -- there are right now in eight states in their constitutions provisions that say things like South Carolina's constitution, no person who denies the existence of a supreme being shall hold any office under this constitution. Among those eight states there's 1328, I believe the number of legislators, not one of which has tried to get that -- those phrases out of their state constitutions, because they know, should they do that, they'll never get re-elected, because nobody likes somebody to stand up for atheists, and that's one of the key problems, and we perpetuate that every day when we say, okay class, including Newdow's daughter, stand up,put your hand on your heart and pledge, affirm that we are a nation under God. QUESTION: You have a clear free exercise right to get at those laws, wouldn't you, that you recited that said atheists can't run for office, atheists can't do this or that? That -- that would be plainly unconstitutional,would it not? MR. NEWDOW: That would be, yes. Those clauses are clearly nullities at this time in view of Torcaso v. Watkins. QUESTION: And is -- MR. NEWDOW: However, they still exist. And the fact that those clauses, I mean, we saw what happened to the -- to -- when the Confederate flag was over the statehouse in South Carolina, they had a big, you know, everyone got, you know, very upset and said, let's get that out. That was a flag that can mean anything to anyone. Could we imagine a clause in the South Carolina constitution that said no African-American shall hold any office under this constitution, no Jew shall hold any office under this constitution? That would be there for two seconds maybe. But no atheists? around, it's been there, in eight states right now today in 2004.
Still, it takes less courage to be an atheist in the U.S. today than it has for many years. What else on Hitchens' behalf? Distancing himself from liberals and the left--over Clinton, over Salman Rushdie, and finally over Iraq? There was quite a bit of money and media play at least in the first and third items on that list. Defending Rushdie on grounds of free speech seems a great thing, but wasn't Hitchens always some kind of Trotskyist or Trotskyite? ( I forget the difference). Doesn't that require wishful thinking (the bringing about of socialist man, here on earth), to the point of insanity? Wouldn't any kind of communist regard all human rights as a bourgeois affectation--an obstacle to progress before the revolution, and unnecessary afterward? Hatred of Kissinger: presumably this goes back to the fact that Kissinger opposed Communist or Communist-leaning regimes, such as in Chile or Vietnam. Worse, I suppose, is that Kissinger was a bit cynical or unprincipled about all this. He didn't want to live under Communism, but he could work with Communist governments if he had to--almost as if the battle between Communism and liberal democracy was not of metaphysical importance, which Hitchens probably thought it was. Another Orwell? Well, maybe. He can have that distinction if he wants it. A brilliant debater and conversationalist, I guess; but what did he actually accomplish? What did he actually know. My son picked up on some of the tributes indicating that Hitchens was a true and fast friend. Maybe like Philip Larkin writing regularly to his mother: an unusual virtue, maybe especially for an intellectual.

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