23rd August 2009

“I no more believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary than I believe that Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka, Horus was born of the virgin Isis, Mercury was born of the virgin Maia or Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia. As the preceding examples help to demonstrate, parthenogenesis would in any case not be proof either of divine paternity or of the truth of any subsequent preachings. The authors of St Matthew whose account cannot be squared with the one offered by Luke in any case seem to have mistranslated the Hebrew word almah, meaning 'young woman', from the original legend in the book of Isaiah.”

Christopher Hitchens

12 Responses to “23rd August 2009”

  1. Oxymoronic Christhinker Says:

    Hitchens has a firm grasp of the obvious while at the same time having no idea what he is talking about. Amazing that he is considered by some to be one of our “bright”est intellectuals. For someone who explicitly claims to know something about religion in general and Christianity in particular he is stunningly (and willfully) ignorant of religious/Christian history, philosophy, theology, and criticism. There are far, far more intelligent atheists than Hitchens. Even Dawkins in his ignorance is better. Barely.

  2. Hypatia Says:

    he is stunningly (and willfully) ignorant of religious/Christian history

    Give us an example of this alleged ignorance.

    It’s easy to cast unsubstantiated slurs but all it does is reveal how much you fear the recipient.

    Dawkins and Hitchens scare the life out of most Christians because they’re informed, articulate and not afraid of calling a spade a spade.

  3. Oxymoronic Christhinker Says:

    Why is it that whenever someone challenges the knowledge of religion/Christianity/the Bible that Hitchens, Dawkins, etc… allegedly possess they are said to be casting unsubstantiated slurs, or having the life scared out of them, or just plain afraid, while the actual slurs cast at religionists by Hitchens, Dawkins, etc… are considered the height of civilized debate?

    An example? Only one? Here’s three:

    1. “The authors of St. Matthew . . .”
    There is only one author of the Gospel of Matthew. To be sure, later copyists added to and subtracted from the original – both for accidental and, yes, fraudulent reasons – and now unrecoverable autograph. This is true of any ancient piece of literature one cares to mention, religious or otherwise. Thus, the modern scholarly practice of textual criticism, designed to recover as far as possible the wording of the originals of any and all ancient literature, from Tacitus to Matthew. Were Hitchens not so willfully ignorant he would know this and his analysis would at the very least hold more intellectual weight.

    2. ” . . . St Matthew whose account cannot be squared with the one offered by Luke . . .” All I can really say to this is . . . duh! Christians have known this since the gospels were written. Hitchens appears to present this as “new” information unfathomable to us “stupid” religionists (“stupid” being a slur, BTW). He seems entirely ignorant of historiography as understood by the ancients (largely unconcerned with what we would call facts); not to mention historiography as understood by modern historians.

    3. “. . . St. Matthew . . . seem[s] to have mistranslated the Hebrew word almah, meaning ‘young woman’, from the original legend in the book of Isaiah.” There is so much factually wrong with this statement that one hardly knows where to begin. One point: St. Matthew did not mistranslate the Hebrew word almah. The author of that gospel took his quote from the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Bible”/Old Testament known as the Septuagint; specifically from a prophecy (not “legends” as Hitchens would have it) contained in the book of Isaiah. This translation of the Hebrew Bible was translated c.300-100 BC by Hebrew/Greek speaking Jews from the Hebrew into Greek. It was created by Jews for Jews (and interested Gentiles) since there was as of yet no such thing as a Christian. Therefore, Hitchens claim is actually that bi-lingual Jews in the first centuries BC did not know their own language! But Hitchens appears unaware – and thus ignorant – of his entirely preventable blunder.

    Of course, there is much more to the question of who wrote the Gospel of Matthew or Luke or whomever (and when, and their interpretations, and any number of historical issues) than can be profitably discussed in this forum, but biblical scholars and critics continue to discuss these issues in more appropriate venues. In any case, the issues involved are not as simple as Hitchens wishes them to be. I suggest reading up on biblical scholarship and criticism – Hitchens obviously hasn’t. Or has and simply ignores anything his pre-determined mind-set won’t allow. Or he depends on the ignorance of his audience (much like the religious fundies and literalists). If you can not bring yourself to trust anyone who is in the slightest sense religious, well then there are plently of atheist and agnostic biblical scholars; as I’ve written before try Bart Ehrman, or the notorious Jesus Seminar, many of whose members are non-believers.

    As always, none of the above requires or proves the existence of God or the gods or even the existense of the rather nebulous concept of spirituality (or non-existence). But an historically accurate and knowledgeable understanding of the origins of the Bible is for some reason “feared” (in my opinion) by both the “New Atheists” and assorted religious fundamentalists, literalists, creationists, and ID “theorists.” Both groups depend on a willful and inexcusable ignorance of history, philosophy, theology, etc… Both groups refuse to even attempt to understand the viewpoint of the other. Both focus their attention only on their own highly caricatured versions of the other, and further claim that these are the only others that matter. And both are absolutely certain that the facts are on their side, and that if those facts are followed human beings will “miraculously” find peace, love, and happiness.

    No where in my comments can I see any indication of fear. Nor is the accusation of ignorance necessarily and always a slur. I do not think that Hitchens et. al. are stupid, just ignorant concerning the subject of religion. They could correct that if they wished, but they don’t (just like the fundies, etc…). Thus willful ignorance it is.

    Hypatia, where is your proof that “Dawkins and Hitchens scare the life out of most Christians because they’re informed, articulate and not afraid of calling a spade a spade?” I dare say “most” Christians have never heard of the “New Atheists.” Though of course that is just my opinion and not at all “substantiated.

    We should fear those who claim for themselves the illusion of certainty, whether atheist, theist, or what-have-you. Hell, even the certainty of uncertainty is a b***h!

    I’ll shut up now . . .

  4. The Heretic Says:

    Since the bible has been redacted, translated, retranslated, reredacted, and interpreted numerous times, scholars can only guess what the original writings might have said to begin with. Hitchens is correct in saying that there are disagreements and mistranslations. Scholars disagree on many parts – so there is no really consensus on ‘religious history’. Genesis contains two creation versions within pages of one another. The ‘gospels’ each contain different versions of Jesus – and none of the writers were even present. All gospels were written many years later and neither of them completely agree with one another. In light of the fact that so much contradicts itself, I agree with Hitchens logic completely. What is there to believe? Which version? How do you know? Who told you? How do they know? Likely – it is just a jumble of parables and fantastic stories with a little history woven in.

  5. Oxymoronic Christhinker Says:

    Heretic,

    There is actually three or four (maybe more) differing “versions” of the creation within the pages of the Bible, not to mention a couple of dozen “versions” of Jesus of Nazareth. Add in the Apocrypha and everything that’s been written about Jesus since his death and, hell, you’ve probably got at least a few thousand versions of him. Each of these versions of creation and/or Jesus are quite coherent on their own (even if “fantastic”), far from being “jumbled”; no doubt trying to read them all at once boggles the mind. Every attempt to harmonize them has been a failure and has never been accepted by the Church (with the possible exception of certain groups of “literalists”). Considering these facts then it seems to me that the redactors and translators of the various books of what we now call the Bible were quite aware that they were not dealing with straight-up science and/or history, that is, “mere” facts. That is a modern conceit that Hitchens and the fundies both engage in. Illogically. Does that mean, logically, that we should ignore them all and assert the attempt to understand the messy complexity of it all pointless? On the other hand, one can say the same thing about any long dead historical person. So what? There have been quite a few books written lately about Darwin and Lincoln. By people who were not present. Which of them are “right?” All? None? Should they be read together? Harmonized? How do you know? Sure, modern historians have sources; but so did the ancients. How could it be otherwise? And hey, how about the living? How many versions of, say, Barak Obama are there? Many, I say, and not a few of them seem to have little to do with the “real” man (but how do I know?). How about George Bush? You? Nobody can know anything about anyone for certain, even when talking to them face to face. How do you know? How does Hitchens? He can’t even get relatively minor things accurate, like genre. By what you call his “logic” then, we might as well go ahead and chalk every story about everyone up to “a jumble of parables and fantastic stories with a little history woven in.” Perhaps its the other way around : a jumble of historical facts with a few parables and fantastic stories woven in. The problem with Hitchens is his need for certainty, the same need required by the fundies, etc… And so, like the fundies, he sets up a simplistic strawman of his own design to do battle with, easily vanquished, thus assuring himself before the fact of “certain” victory. Just like the fundies. And the constant refrain from both sides that the other is all about “fear” is just another simplistic assertion to assure one self of ones righteous victory. All of which is illogical, irrational, and historically worthless.

    And still and even so, I can not prove/disprove the existence of God, logically, through any of this. Nor do I claim or even want to.

    In his attempt to claim that he is as certain of the non-existence of god as the fundies are certain of God’s existence, Hitchens paints all believers with the same brush in the same color and appropriating a very limited set of wrong “facts”, thus placing himself confidently (and falsely) on the winners podium (where his opponents have already staked an equally false win), and looking just as willfully ignorant as his appointed opponents.

  6. Hypatia Says:

    I dare say “most” Christians have never heard of the “New Atheists.”

    Most US Christians can’t even name the four gospels – but that doesn’t stop them from being fervent believers! If you’re looking for the willfully ignorant just go to church.

    Your points 1. and 2. confirm Hitchens to be correct. I wouldn’t know about 3.

    where is your proof that “Dawkins and Hitchens scare the life out of most Christians

    Just look at how much you’ve written on this thread and there’s your answer!

  7. Oxymoronic Christhinker Says:

    Hypatia,

    So to show I’m not afraid I have to write less (presumably agreeing with you/Hitchens)? Hitchens writes one hell of a lot more than I do concerning religion, almost entirely in thoughtless polemic – he must be wallowing in fear!

    Hitchens ignorance of religious history, etc… doesn’t stop him from being a fervent non-believer – a non-belief he supports with facts that aren’t!. Is it the fervent part that is the problem?

    And pointing out Hitchens’ easily corrected and simplistic mistakes proves him correct? That fact that he is wrong proves him right? About what exactly?

    And you dismiss point 3. by claiming ignorance? Wow! And this is all supposed to show what? Logic?

    It is the so-called New Atheists (not all atheists) and their followers who eschew rational thought and celebrate anti-intellectualism, just as the fundies do – and they can’t even see it . . .

  8. Hypatia Says:

    Hitchens writes one hell of a lot more than I do concerning religion

    That’s because he’s a professional writer! Are you?

    Yes, he writes about religion, but he doesn’t write unwarranted slurs about other individuals.

    You, on the other hand, are one of a long line of pundits who attack Hitchens personally.

    By all means attack his arguments but to accuse him of

    having no idea what he is talking about

    , to put “brightest” in quotation marks, and to accuse him of wilful ignorance is just childish and pathetic.

  9. Oxymoronic Christhinker Says:

    Sigh . . .

    No, I am not a professional writer. So? In what way does being a professional writer excuse one from getting ones facts wrong? Hazard of the trade? Are you suggesting I must become a “professional” writer before I have the “right” to challenge Hitchens’ (or anyone else’s) opinions? What credentials would accept as allowing me to participate in this conversation? Do you require those same credentials for Hitchens?

    Hitchens “doesn’t write unwarranted slurs about other individuals?” You’re kidding! Have you read/seen/heard him?

    How have I attacked him personally? I have acknowledged his intelligence. How does pointing out that his conclusions are based on at the very least debatable facts a personal attack? The presence of intelligence does automatically banish ignorance, mine or anyone else’s. “Willful ignorance” seems to me a warranted conclusion. Or perhaps I’m wrong and his ignorance is, uh, non-willful?

    Perhaps you are right about the “brightest” in quotation marks thing. Although I placed only “bright” in quotation marks, which was a crack at Dennett’s suggestion that atheists be called “brights.” Which I suppose has nothing to do with Hitchens. Thanks for pointing that out. I take it back . . . Sorry!

    Taking the whole of this particular debate, however, and concluding that my challenges are “just childish and pathetic” does feel like a personal attack. A useful tactic when attempting to avoid the actual issues.

    One of the most interesting things about the New Atheists/Religious Fundamentalists is their inability and/or unwillingness to argue the actual issues/facts, relying instead on accusations of slurs and personal attacks. They are both opposed to any real debate with their own positions since they see their own positions as the absolute Truth with a capital T, thus rendering any other position not merely wrong but evil, not even worth contemplating.

    There is a weird sort of symbiosis between these two groups. They rely on each others (yes, willful) ignorance (and fear?) of what they choose to misunderstand. They could correct their misunderstanding at anytime – neither side is inherently stupid or unintellegent – but choose obstinate, willful ignorance of history, theology, philosophy, etc…, because they are better able to sustain the incoherency of their positions and the certainty of their righteousness through phony facts. I will say this: the Fightin’ Fundy side of the “debate” goes Hitchens and the New Atheists one better (or is that worse?) by being willfully ignorant of science too!

    For the record, I am a 47 year old former drug addict and high school drop out which in many people’s minds disqualifies me from just about everything . . . I should also note that the people most responsible for getting me off the street and drugs are life-long atheists (Christian friends helped too) . . . so trust me, I have no fear of atheists or atheism . . .

  10. Oxymoronic Christhinker Says:

    Uh, I meant “. . . itelligence does not automatically banish ignorance . . .”

    What I wrote was “. . . intelligence does automatically banish ignorance . . .”

    Oops! Sorry . . . there oughta be a “preview” feature for our posts.

  11. Oxymoronic Christhinker Says:

    Uh, I meant “. . . intelligence . . .” Oh, never mind . . .

  12. Hypatia Says:

    How have I attacked him personally?

    Never mind…