Thursday, 8 July 2010

Unlikely comparison of the day: Christopher Hitchens and Malcom X

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I particularly liked this as I'm in the middle of reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X at the moment – Jewish cultural magazine Tikkun have a nice piece that looks at "What Christopher Hitchens and the New Atheists can learn from Malcom X". At first it seems like an odd comparison – what could the legendary black Muslim firebrand possibly have in common with an old-Trotskyite English-turned-American atheist polemicist? But as Be Scofield points out in the Tikkun piece, the similarities are fairly clear:

Like X, Hitchens systematically deconstructs the logic of that which he is resisting by pointing out the inconsistencies and hypocrisies within many religious institutions and their texts. He also does a brilliant job of describing the inevitable and disturbing conclusions that must be reached if many of the religious doctrines are taken to be as literally true.

Both men are also known for their fiery rhetoric. Malcolm’s most infamous public statement came when he said “Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad,” in response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Just two days after the death of Ronald Reagan Hitchens called him a “cruel and stupid lizard.” He refers to Mother Theresa as “The Ghoul of Calcutta,” and wishes “there was a hell for the bitch to go to.” And in reference to her beatification he said, “The old bitch got it anyway.” Al Sharpton is a “vulgar clown,” and Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright is a “racist thug.” These sorts of remarks and both of their tendencies toward absolutism appeal to the emotional, knee jerk instincts within many of us.
So what can Hitchens and co learn, as the piece asks, from the life of Malcolm X? Well, it's considered in some detail by Scofield, so I'll let you take in the piece for yourselves, but you won't be surprised to hear that it relates to the ideological evolution Malcolm X experienced towards the end of his life, when he shifted from hatred of the "white devil" to occupy a less divisive position.

Could atheists learn from this, and move from hostility towards religion to take a more accomodating approach? I'll let you debate that one...

4 comments:

Eiskrystal said...

Not so much hostility as exasperation.

Should we also be so accomodating of fairies and unicorns?

PaulJ said...

The article seems to me like just another example of "not my religion".

So what if Hitchens hasn't strictly defined the religion he's attacking? It's pretty obvious from what he wrote in God is Not Great that various different kinds of religion are in his gun-sights, for different reasons.

Moderate religion might not come in for quite such vehement attack, but it should be discouraged none-the-less, for the very reasons outlined in the article: that it's the gateway drug to something more destructive, as well as providing unearned legitimacy for the religious way of thinking as a whole.

TimBloedow said...

The best hope for all people is Christian government - www.christiangovernance.ca

Anonymous said...

Religion is not accommodating of atheists. Instead of mellowing with age I am less accommodating.

martha