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nice to see you quoting a guy in 1775 quoting a Jewish prophet in support of the struggle for US independence.

But enjoyed it as always. Hitchens has his point 7 times out of 10 by the look of it. Unsure whether or not that'll be enough for him. But then, as he says, religious people are commonly worse in that direction, and he's right and brave to oppose caving in to religious intolerance.


Good thing the most religious person on the list is also the most broad-minded . . . Actually, funnily enough, I'm only guessing - have to guess - about Barney's level of religiosity. Because he does the opposite of shoving it down your throat; he's reticent, nearly completely silent, on the topic. (In this scenario, I'm the spittle-flecked preacher.) But we can at least say that a guy doing a doctorate in philosophy of religion at Oxford is the most *knowledgeable* on religion of anyone on the list.

Unsurprisingly, I personally think Hitch scores about 9.6 times out of 10. That's partly down to the accolades being from the choir. It's also somewhat down to the excerpts, which I like a bit less everytime I look at them: 1) I pulled out the very hot-blooded, polemical conclusions and pronouncements; when, in almost all cases, he lays a fair bit of convincing groundwork - adducing facts and examples - before getting there. 2) All the excerpts are anti-something, when in fact he does quite a bit of heaping of praise on folks such as Spinoza, Einstein, Dr Martin Luther King Jr., the American Enlightenment Crowd (Jefferson, Franklin, Madison), and others. This makes the whole tone a lot less negative. 3) Erudite as ever, has a lot of parenthetical (usually literally parenthetical) asides which are enormously amusing, even light-hearted.

But, of course, I couldn't (or could I?) excerpt the whole book.

As a final note: yes, when I was going through Jefferson and and Paine - and particularly Patrick Henry - quotes, I had to discard quite a lot of them for mentioning God, or even (in the case of Henry) being openly religious in tone. But Hitchens addresses that, as well: in the 18th century, pre-Darwin and pre- modern physics and geology and cosmology... a reasonable position, and in fact the sort of default position, for enlightened guys was 'deism' - that is, the notion that this uncannily complex and well-ordered cosmos of ours probably had to be designed by *someone*, albeit not a personal God who took interest in human affairs and made rules and dealt out salvation and damnation.

f you'd lived in the 1700s and saw a Lady Amherst's pheasant, or a Golden Pheasant (as I was lucky enough to over the weekend), you'd believe in some kind of cosmic designer, too.

But if you were as smart as Mr. Jefferson, you'd know enough reject the bad creation myths and fairy stories and divine decrees and whatnot:

"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology." - Th. Jefferson


Anonymous Bastard

i should of course read the book. Perhaps Hitchens on religion and Dawkins on science. not sure I'm knowledgeable on anything, butit is kind of you to say so. I guess deism was kind of default atheism, popular among some 18th century anglicans I understand - tho' personally find a Nietzschian or a Freudian atheism more compelling (and more true).

America seems among the more religiously-conceived polities, for good and ill.

I do wonder where the ideas are going to come from in an aggressively secular culture. Modern England has been suspicious of ideas, which has in many ways helped us: though we had a few ideas that we were very pleased with ourselves about, guarded from the margins of the barbarian public school elite. Not sure we have ideas now, or know how to mediate them, and this of course feeds not only a dull consumerism but also spasms of enthusiasm for undifferentiated religiosities. The US is different, I'm sure, but seems gets there first often, too. Not sure that what I understand of Leo Strauss and the cynical re-mythologization of civil society behind the neo-cons is much consolation or a palatable replacement for anything.

Yeah, religion bothers me too. But so does the stagnation of social mobility in this country (born poor, stay poor) that has been the successor to often-Methodist-inspired social democracy; and the US seems to be splitting into the simply rich and the simply poor. These are things that religious thought tends to keep on its radar, however imperfectly.

barnes the anonymous bastard


oops, was caught out by the cunningly already-filled-in field at the top of the form. (so excited was I by the chance to write a rude word in the last field)
it was me


Apologies for the unintended anonymization. Don't know whether that was a bug, or perhaps you using different computers . . . ?

In any case: You wrote, 'America seems among the more religiously-conceived polities, for good and ill.' Ahh. Sigh. You've tripped, understandably enough, on one of the Great American Paradoxes. Or, at any rate, contradictions. I find the longer I live outside of the U.S. the more I come to understand it. And it is truly a place of very many contradictions. Perhaps the biggest is that the country with one of the most religious populations in the world also has the government with the strongest bulwark between church and state. And, let's face it, the genesis of liberalism, and still its core, is the separation of the public sphere and the private sphere - the guarantee that government will let people run their own lives.

In any case, back to the paradox. Many in the UK look at the US and see a nation of bible-thumpers. And that's where they're right. But look a little closer, and you'll also see a nation so steeped in an iron-clad commitment to a secular government, that it dragged a federal circuit court judge - in the deep south no less - kicking and screaming out of his own courtroom because he refused to comply with a judgement that he mustn't display the Ten Commandments in his courthouse.

Just a *display* of the Ten Commandments. But it was in a government building. So they took a judge out of his own courtroom, and took the court away from him. Word.

Many Brits think the U.S. is run by crazed Christian fundamentalists. But the fact is the U.S. has the separation of church and state, and the absolute right of confession, enshrined in its founding document. The first amendment to the Constitution (the first ten amendments being known as the Bill of Rights) states, straight out of the gate: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof'. That's the very first thing. In the UK, the head of government, the monarch - and am I out of date here? I may be - is also the head of the state church.

It's easy to forget the Jefferson, with Madison, essentially invented the concept of the separation of church and state (in the Virginia Statute of Religious Tolerance, the first document of its kind in the world).

Finally, and moreover, I actually had to wait until I got home to write this, because I needed to reference the Hitchens, which also nailed this issue: '[Thomas Paine's] American friends and contemporaries, partly inspired by him to declare independence from the Hanoverian usurpers and their private Anglican Church, meanwhile achieved an extraordinary and unprecedented thing: the writing of a democratic and republican constitution that made no mention of god and that mentioned religion only when guaranteeing that it would always be separated from the state.' (He adds, 'Almost all of the American founders died without any priest by their bedside'.)


Oh, and this is worth adding - both because it expresses the deism thing better than I did, and addresses the above issue:

"Before Charles Darwin revolutionized our entire concept of our origins, and Albert Einstein did the same for the beginnings of our cosmos, many scientists and philosophers and mathematicians took what might be called the default position and professed one or another version of 'deism', which held that the order and predictability of the universe seemed indeed to imply a designer, if not necessarily a designer who took any active part in human affairs. This compromise was a logical and rational one for its time, and was especially influential among the Philadelphia and Virginia intellectuals, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who managed to seize a moment of crisis and use it to enshrine Enlightenment values in the founding documents of the United States of America.'



don't worry not a bug, just incompetent barney using more than one computer.

thanks for the good quotes. The contradiction is an interesting one. I suppose for me it is not so much that many individual Americans are devout, or that some are crazed in their religion (while others are as good as religious types get, too).

It is more that America appears to have itself as a religion in a way that the British no longer have Britain, even if the queen gets to be an anglican in England and a presbyterian in Scotland. America is a chosen nation with sacred founding stories, documents and heroes: and a mission. This is all given it by its history in one way, and yet a product of deliberate cult as well - and not only in McCarthyite moments of adding 'in God we trust' to banknotes (banknotes!!!!). Try getting a roomful of brits to swear allegiance to the flag every day. Yes, some will wave the Jack at the last night of the proms and other the national flags for their sports teams. My point is not to sneer, I hasten to add - it is just that America looks in part like a kind of religion, albeit a fairly modern and interrogable religion. I imagine this might be one reason why Tony Blair went down so well there, being the messiah and all. And America is both good and bad, refreshing and maddening, in its odd role and self-regard. But that's enough on this, I guess.


Balanced and wise as always. Thanks for contributing these. m

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