Home » Christopher Hitchens Discusses His Book ‘God Is Not Great’ at Authors@Google Series (Transcript)

Christopher Hitchens Discusses His Book ‘God Is Not Great’ at Authors@Google Series (Transcript)

Now, my question is this — my question is this, who wishes that that were true? Who wants to live the life of a serf in a celestial North Korea? I’ve been to North Korea. I’m one of the very few writers who has. I’m indeed the only writer who’s been to all three axis of evil countries, Iran, Iraq and North Korea. And I can tell you North Korea is the most religious state I’ve ever been to. I used to wonder when I was a kid, what would it be like praising God and thanking him all day and all night? Well, now I know because North Korea is a completely worshipful state. It’s set up only to do that, for adoration and it’s only one short of a trinity. They have a father and the son, as you know, the Dear Leader and the Great Leader. The father is still the president of the country. He’s been dead for 15 years, but Kim Jong-il, the little one, is only the head of the party and the Army. His father is still the president, head of the state. So you have in North Korea what you might call a necrocracy or what I also –I called them mausolocracy, thanatocracy. One –just one short of a trinity; father, son, maybe no holy ghost, but they do say that when the birth of the younger one took place, the birds of Korea sang in Korean to mark the occasion. This I’ve checked. It did not happen. Take my word for it. It didn’t occur and I suppose I should add they don’t threaten to follow you after you’re dead. You can leave North Korea. You can get out of their hell and their paradise by dying.

To the Christian and Muslim one, you cannot. This is the wish to be a slave. And in my point of view, it’s poisonous of human relations. Now, I’ve really babbled for nearly twenty minutes. I’ll be quick. It is argued, well, some religious people have done great things and have been motivated to do so by their faith; the most cited case in point I have found is that of Dr. Martin Luther King, who I know I don’t need to explain to you about.

Two quick things on that: First, he was a minister. He did preach the Book of Exodus, the exile of an enslaved and oppressed people as his metaphor. But if he really meant it, he would have said that the oppressed people, as the Book of Exodus finds them doing, were entitled to kill anyone who stood on their way and take their land and their property, enslave their women or kill their children, and commit genocide, rape, ethnic cleansing and forcible theft of land. That’s what Exodus described as happening — the full destruction of the tribes. It’s very fortunate that Dr. King only the meant the Bible at the most to be used as a metaphor and after all he was using the only book that he could be sure his audience has ever already read. That’s the first thing.

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The second is, during his lifetime, he was attacked all the time for having too many secular and leftist non-believing friends, the people like famous black secularists like Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph. These are the men that did organize the march on Washington; which leads me to my third observation which is this: It’s a challenge I made now in debates with rabbis, with priests of all Christian stripes, with imams. Once –I know this sounds like an opening of a joke about some bar, but once also with a Buddhist nun in Miami.

I asked them all. Here is my — here is my challenge. You have to name me an ethical statement that was made or a moral action that was performed by a religious person in the name of faith that could not have been made as an action or uttered as a statement by non — a person not of faith, a person of no faith. You have to do that. Not so far and I’ve dealt at quite a high level with the religious, no takers. No one has been able to find me that. That being the case, we’re entitled to say, I think, that religious faith serve as the requirements whereas if I was to ask anyone in this room, think of a wicked thing said or an evil thing done by a person of faith in the name of faith, no one would have a second of hesitation in thinking of one, would they? It’s interesting to realize how true that is and how much true it’s getting.

Does anyone ever listen to Dennis Prager’s Show? He’s a slightly loopy Christian broadcaster, religious broadcaster, I should say. He’s more Jewish than Christian — Judaic-Christian broadcaster who quite often rather generously has me on the show. And he asked me a question the other day; he had a challenge of his own. He said, “You are to imagine that you’re in a town late at night where you have never been before, and you have no friends and it’s getting dark. And through the darkness, you see coming towards you a group of men, let’s say ten. Do you feel better or worse if you know that they’re just coming from a prayer meeting?” This is Mr. Prager’s question to me.

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I said, “Well, Mr. Prager, without leaving you, from just without quitting the letter B, I can tell you I’ve had that experience in Belfast, in Beirut, in Baghdad, in Bombay, in Bosnia, and in Bethlehem. And if you see anyone coming from a religious gathering, in any of those places, you know exactly how fast you need to run. And no one has to explain to you why and I haven’t had to waste any time telling you, have I, ladies and gentlemen?

So I submit to you that it is those who are people of faith who have the explaining to do, who have the justifying to do if this is indeed the case. If they can’t account for anything about the origin of our cosmos or our species, if they say that without them, we’d be without morals and make us seem as if we are merely animals without faith, if further, everybody can name an instance where religion has made people actually behave worse to one another and act as a retardant upon the advances of knowledge and science and information, I submit that the case to be made is theirs rather than mine. We have a better tradition. We’re not just arid secularists and materialists, we on the atheist side. We can point, through the Hubble telescope, the fantastic, awe-inspiring majestic pictures that are being taken now of the outer limits of our universe, and who’s going to turn away from those pictures and start gaping again at the burning bush? We have smaller microscopes that can examine for us the miracles of the interior of the double helix and the sheer beauty of that. The natural world is wonderful enough, more wonderful than anything conjured by the fools who believe in astrology or the supernatural.

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