Abortion, Mother Teresa and El Salvador

‘Mother Teresa is a perfect example of the way in which a good person, moved to help others, can have her moral intuitions deranged by religious faith. Christopher Hitchens put it with characteristic bluntness:

[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.

While I am in substantial agreement with Hitchens on this point, there is no denying that Mother Teresa was a great force for compassion. Clearly, she was moved by the suffering of her fellow human beings, and she did much to awaken others to the reality of that suffering. The problem, however, was that her compassion was channeled within the rather steep walls of her religious dogmatism. In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, she said:

The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion…. Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child—what is left for me to kill you and you kill me—there is nothing between.

As a diagnosis of the world’s problems, these remarks are astonishingly misguided. As a statement of morality they are no better. Mother Teresa’s compassion was very badly calibrated if the killing of first-trimester fetuses disturbed her more than all the other suffering she witnessed on this earth. While abortion is an ugly reality, and we should all hope for breakthroughs in contraception that reduce the need for it, one can reasonably wonder whether most aborted fetuses suffer their destruction on any level. One cannot reasonably wonder this about the millions of men, women, and children who must endure the torments of war, famine, political torture, or mental illness. At this very moment, millions of sentient people are suffering unimaginable physical and mental afflictions, in circumstances where the compassion of God is nowhere to be seen, and the compassion of human beings is often hobbled by preposterous ideas about sin and salvation. If you are worried about human suffering, abortion should rank very low on your list of concerns. While abortion remains a ludicrously divisive issue in the United States, the “moral” position of the Church on this matter is now fully and horribly incarnated in the country of El Salvador. In El Salvador, abortion is now illegal under all circumstances.

There are no exceptions for rape or incest. The moment a woman shows up at a hospital with a perforated uterus, indicating that she has had a back-alley abortion, she is shackled to her hospital bed and her body is treated as a crime scene. Forensic doctors soon arrive to examine her womb and cervix. There are women now serving prison sentences thirty years long for terminating their pregnancies. Imagine this, in a country that also stigmatizes the use of contraception as a sin against God. And yet this is precisely the sort of policy one would adopt if one agreed with Mother Teresa’s assessment of world suffering. Indeed, the Archbishop of San Salvador actively campaigned for it. His efforts were assisted by Pope John Paul II, who declared, on a visit to Mexico City in 1999, that “the church must proclaim the Gospel of life and speak out with prophetic force against the culture of death. May the continent of hope also be the continent of life!”

Of course, the Church’s position on abortion takes no more notice of the details of biology than it does of the reality of human suffering. It has been estimated that 50 percent of all human conceptions end in spontaneous abortion, usually without a woman even realizing that she was pregnant. In fact, 20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgement: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 13-14

On Overrated Things

“The four most overrated things in the world are lobsters, champagne, anal sex and picnics.”

– Christopher Hitchens

On “Why Can’t You Keep Your Atheism To Yourself?”

“Because the religious won’t allow me to. Because every time I open up the paper there’s another instance of theocratic encroachment on free society which I won’t put up with – up with which, I will not put!”

Christopher Hitchens

Intelligence, Liberalism and Atheism

A higher intelligence has a definite correlation with a liberal political ideology and atheism, or so new statistical research informs us. According to psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, human beings with an above average intelligence are more likely to adapt themselves to evolutionary innovations and act according to superior values.

“General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions,” argues Kanazawa. “As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”

Religion is a by-product of man’s tendency to constantly try to see patterns in the world around him, and to try to explain – however feebly – everything that world. “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in [a] god because they are paranoid,” states Kanazawa.

Now, this paranoid behaviour was fine for our ancient ancestors. In fact, it probably helped them to remain vigilant and alert to dangers that could pose a threat to themselves, their family and their tribe. – Hardly behaviour that one likes to associate with modern mankind.

“What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition. […] The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” ― Christopher Hitchens

Kanazawa concludes “so, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in god, and they become atheists.”

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (2010) supports Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as ‘very liberal’ have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as ‘very conservative’ have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.

Similarly, young adults who identify themselves as ‘not at all religious’ have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as ‘very religious’ have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.

On A Humanist State

“You find me a state or a society that threw off theocracy, and threw off religion. And said: ‘we adopt the teachings of Lucretius, and Democritus, and Galileo, and Spinoza, and Darwin, and Russell, and Jefferson, and Thomas Paine; and we make those what we teach our children. And we make that, scientific and rational humanism, our teaching.’ And you find me that state that did that and fell into tyranny, and slavery, and famine, and torture, and then we’ll be on a level playing field.”

– Christopher Hitchens

30/vii mmxiv

The scientific name for an ice cream headache is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. This basically just means ‘nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion’.

Tolstoy said Anna Karenina was the first novel he ever published, even though he wrote War and Peace first.

The most expensive coffee is coffee in which the berries go through the digestive tract of the Kopi Luwak, a small cat-sized Indonesian animal.  The “beans” are then harvested from the animal’s waste, cleaned, roasted, and sold.  This coffee costs $100 to $600 per pound.

In Latin, the numeral “one” has 15 plural forms.

Even though North Korea is ruled by a totalitarian leader who is both chairman of the Worker’s Party and leader of the armed forces, Kim Il-sung (1912-1994) is designated in the North Korean constitution as the country’s Eternal President. The author and journalist Christopher Hitchens therefore dubbed the country a necrocracy.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Moral Argument For God

This argument states that a higher entity must exist for the following reasons:

1. Morality exists; 2. God is a better explanation for morality than any alternative; 3. the existence of God is therefore more likely than the opposite.

Unfortunately for theists, scientifically speaking, the moral argument is completely and utterly invalid. First of all, the argument that morality flows from faith is easily countered. Organised religions – as a cultural phenomenon – are responsible for quite a lot of harm and terror in the world. For instance, the suicide-bombing community is entirely faith-based, the genital mutilation community is entirely faith-based, et cetera.

“Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer [theist, deist, etc.] that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer [atheist].” – Christopher Hitchens

Not only that, the moral argument is degrading to humanity and human decency. It suggests that we humans would only murder, rape and pillage if we did not believe in an omniscient being who watches our every move – Christopher Hitchens jokingly referred to this hypothetical situation as a celestial North Korea. (Interestingly, one might well argue that present-day North Korea is organized exactly like a faith based cult, centred on the worship of Kim Jong-il).

In short, the degrading and childish suggestion that morality can only exist when humans think they are being spied on is simply invalid. For whatever motive (a question which is still heavily debated), human beings are very much concerned with the well-being of other living things for a very simple reason:

“And if we are more concerned about our fellow primates than we are about insects, as indeed we are, it’s because we think they [like ourselves] are exposed to a greater range of potential happiness and suffering [as opposed to say, rocks].” – Sam Harris

Human beings feel a basic empathy. This behaviour is rooted in the consciousness of being. It is not a character flaw, but an evolutionary strength. The assumption that any theistic religion grants or improves morality in human beings is not rooted in reality:

“The safest, happiest, healthiest, most peaceful, most equal, most developed, most emancipated, most educated, most socially and economically prosperous countries in the world are secular sovereign nations.” – Willem Etsenmaker

See other: Arguments Concerning God

Views on Agnosticism‏

“Isn’t [an agnostic] just an atheist without balls?” asked Stephen Colbert.

In short, agnosticism is the scepticism regarding the existence of a god. However, as with many theological terms, such short descriptions are rather crude and too general. Indeed, there are many interesting interpretations of this existential -ism.

“As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.” ― Bertrand Russell

In Hitchensian atheism, attitudes towards agnosticism are generally supportive. What’s more, in Hitchens’ book God Is Not Great, he did something increasingly rare among atheists and critics of religion: whenever possible, Hitchens grouped agnostics with atheists and freethinkers together, as allies with shared arguments against monotheism, zealotry and fundamentalism. Also, like Russell, Hitchens argues that, strictly speaking, all atheists should be agnostics, but that all agnostics should have in fact the default position of atheism. After all, on what basis would one allow a reasonable amount of doubt any theistic notion?

Uniting agnostics and atheists not only made good political sense – given the size of their combined populations – it also underscored Hitchens’ firm grasp of history. As Susan Budd put it in her excellent study Varieties of Unbelief: Atheists and Agnostics in English Society, 1850-1960, ‘the conversion to atheism’ in those years ‘usually followed two distinct phases: the conversion from Christianity to unbelief or uncertainty […] and the move from unbelief to positive commitment to secularism.’ Arguably, a similar two-step exists today.

“I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

In Dawkinsian atheism, thoughts on agnostics are almost uniformly negative. While both Hitchens and Dawkins are noted for their scorn, even withering contempt, Hitchens’ was directed mainly at zealots and hypocrites. Dawkins, by contrast, targets ‘faith-heads’ and agnostics.

‘There is nothing wrong with being agnostic in cases where we lack evidence one way or the other,’ Dawkins at one point tries to comfort with a pat on the head, shortly before invoking the acronym PAP for what he says is Permanent Agnosticism in Principle in his book The God Delusion. But far from working with agnostics’ already manifold criticisms of religion or looking to shore up their common ground with ‘freethinkers and atheists,’ as Hitchens took pains to do, Dawkins can find only fault with this position, the scepticism of men such as Thomas Huxley: ‘In matters of the intellect follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration.’ At the same time, ‘do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.’

According to Dawkins, Huxley ‘seems to have been ignoring the shading of probability‘ for whether God exists, even though the essay in question, Agnosticism (1889), invokes probability as a term and concept no fewer than three times. Still, Dawkins feels sufficiently confident about Huxley’s missteps to insist, ‘The existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other.’ ‘Either he exists or he doesn’t,’ he writes a fraction earlier. ‘It’s a scientific question.’

For Dawkins, all the same, agnosticism’s embrace of a similar unknown points not to its stringency or capaciousness, but to its ‘poverty.’ ‘I am agnostic,’ he later quips, ‘to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.’ At such moments, the vast, considered history of agnosticism slips into caricature.

“The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any book ever written.”
― Alan Alexander Milne