Friday, May 26, 2006

Hitchens conflates matters

Yesterday Christopher Hitchens gave a lecture, which I would have gone to had I not had tickets for Embers with Jeremy Irons (which was brilliant, by the way). Hitchens is a very interesting writer, of socialist extraction, with whom I often agree (notably on the war in Iraq), but who sometimes says some odd things, to put it mildly. Here is part of his speech, referring to the three monotheistic religions (emphasis mine):
The beginning of wisdom is to say that all these three sides need to be condemned to death and to hell. These people seriously want us all to die, if we won't adopt their faith. They look--they think of us, they think of you, all of us, as dispensable, as mere extras, as digits in their cosmic horror show. They look forward to the day when Armageddon comes. They look forward to the day when all the achievements of human civilization are cast into a pit and they have all that in common with one another and this is the perfect demonstration case and it's right before our eyes and you can read about it every day and that's how far we've got from the Age of Reason as well as The Rights of Man, because when reason dies, the rights of man are so obviously and so clearly and so utterly negated.
If this were true I would probably agree with his sentiments. Unfortunately it is emphatically untrue, at least in regard to Judaism, which is the only religion I can claim to have a throrough knowledge of. The idea that a religious Jew would want anyone to die if they did not accept Judaism is simply laughable. Even a superficial knowledge of Judaism, of its most ancient teachings and of how it has been practiced for millenia, would be sufficient for anyone to realize this. According to Jewish law, not only must a non-Jew who wants to convert to Judaism be discouraged from doing so on three separate occasions, but it is forbidden for Jews to even mildly and verbally encourage people to convert (let alone coerce someone by force). The reason for this is simple: Jews do not believe (and never have) that it is necessary to be Jewish to be a good person and go to heaven. If I understand correctly, this is not the case with some (or maybe most) believers of the other monotheistic religions, in which case Hitchens' comments would seem to be somewhat more justified. But I find it unfortunate (and frankly insulting) that in his quasi-religious atheistic zeal he should conflate the matters, and call for the death of all religious people.

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