Saturday, September 18, 2010

Another debate with Christopher Hitchens

Even years and years ago when I disagreed with him, I liked Christopher Hitchens. And now he is very ill, and people keep making him argue with fools. I always have liked his friend Martin Amis, too, and I still do, and I cannot understand animus towards Martin Amis (though I'm not specially fond of his father's work and never was).
When I think of the waste and cruelty of putting him to School Debates (as today on BookTV, at a place called Fixed Point Foundation), after initial irritation I must think that perhaps he prefers such activity rather than none. And then, you can't do whole hours with Charlie Rose all the time. I would prefer debating to doing nothing but thinking of my next doctor's appointment.
Anyway, today on BookTV he had to debate with the inane platitudes against atheism (from a man who would not discuss what Hitchens means by the word) from the superficially clever and very mean-minded David Berlinski, whom I hadn't been exposed to before. I had to think of what someone on NPR had said about Pope Benedict XVI, that he speaks courteously and softly and nicely but does not relax his position. Mr. Berlinski, however, is not a pope, nor is he as sharp as the late William Buckley. Mr. Berlinski made me sick. He deliberately mixed all kinds of categories (of the Aristotelian kind) and evaded difficult questions shamelessly. Hitchens deserves better.
Well, I am a shameless admirer of Hitchens. He loves Lucretius, my favorite ancient author. I am sure that he really understands Epicurean doctrine. He said more than once that uncertainty is the only comfort. That atheism is not an -ism in the sense of being a Faith. That is just where I am, and he is a great comfort to me. I see that Hitchens does not confuse reverence with belief. At least, I think he doesn't. I think that only freedom from certainties is compatible with real reverence and true awe.