Clorox 2 Stain Fighter and Demon Expeller

Regular readers of this blog know that it’s very important to me that people are aware that there are no such things as demons. They don’t exist. They are mythical creatures that are used to explain bad behavior and, historically, mental illness.

That’s why I get upset when people ask stupid questions on the presumption of demonic existence and, instead of being gently corrected away from it, are given re-enforcement.

I buy a lot of clothes and other items at Goodwill and other secondhand shops. Recently my mom told me that I need to pray over the items, bind familiar spirits, and bless the items before I bring them into the house.

Is my mother correct? Can demons attach themselves to material items?

So asked a caller into Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club. Now, questions like this are fairly common in that venue, but then again, so are answers like the one Robertson gives.

Can demonic spirits attach themselves to inanimate objects? The answer is yes. But I don’t think every sweater you get from Goodwill has demons in it. [Laughs] [KN: Because that would just be ridiculous! How many demons do you think there are?]

… It isn’t going to hurt you to rebuke any spirits that happen to have attached themselves to those clothes.

No, it isn’t going to hurt to rebuke any spirits that happen to have attached themselves to those particular clothes in much the same way that it doesn’t hurt to warn your dog not to buzz air traffic control towers while flying (“…and he never has. Good dog!”), but what happens when she starts trying to “rebuke” the “demons” in the store (I mean, what’s wrong with showing up every few days to proclaim to the store that you cast out any demons in Jesus’s name?), or “rebukes” the demons in other people’s clothes, or starts to see that cute pair of jeans possessing a friend or classmate? Let’s ask Daphne Spurlock or Bradie Simpson what that feels like, shall we?

No, I’m not saying that everybody who believes in demons is likely to slit their child’s throat. I am saying, however, that encouraging people to live in paranoid fear of their second hand clothing does start to re-enforce the “demon around every corner” attitude that so many of the most extreme elements have.

You want to believe in demons, fine, but stop telling ordinary people that they could be hiding in cookie jars and capri pants, your friends, your neighbors, your sex toys, and, of course, your government. If, and this may be the biggest “if” I have ever ifed, demons do exist, they have managed to leave nothing but second and third hand accounts of their existence as evidence, usually in unreliable books, with known frauds, or with people who have other serious mental issues. They are clearly not very effective. So it makes just as much sense to pretend that we live in a world where they do not exist, since this one looks a whole lot like that.

(via Friendly Atheist)

Advertisements

Deep Rifts

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. – Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham City Jail, 1963

I like to think of myself of at least a little bit of a polemicist. I wouldn’t say I enjoy controversy, per se, but I receive a dual joy first from studying a subject then from defending it. Perhaps more importantly, I believe there to be nobility in defending the defenseless and promoting critical thinking. One can argue over who qualifies as defenseless or how to approach critical thinking (and neither subject precludes both legitimate arguments and people who are simply wrong), but ultimately once I recognized that there are sides to be taken, it became an issue of unbearable urgency that I must take a side, and take the right side at that, or I would feel like I was abrogating a moral responsibility that I had been raised to prize highly.

I explain this, because it’s important to understand that when I write, I am not specifically attempting to sew dissent. However, there comes a time when one must recognize that dissent is the only path worthy of pursuit, one that veers from the road we’ve been walking because continuing to walk the same path is unbearable.

Very recently blogger Jen McCreight proposed that a “third wave” of atheism was needed. I should note my bias here: Jen was the first atheist blogger I read several years ago, and her writing has greatly influenced my own journey into godlessness. So when she posts about how she thinks it’s time for a change, I start listening.

Before we go any further, let’s get some history (I know most of my readers are not part of the atheist movement). This is by no means comprehensive. Atheism has been around for a long time, but for various reasons throughout the years, atheists have kept quiet. Whether it was social pressure or fear of being jailed, atheists haven’t had an easy time of things.

The first wave of atheism was about philosophy and covers most of the atheist movement through time. Famous atheists like H.L. Menchen, Bertrand Russell (Russell’s Teapot is still one of my favorite arguments for burden of proof), and Mark Twain articulated an outspoken and unapologetic lack of belief in a deity. This was quiet revolutionary in their day, a time when it was barely permissible to be so brazen about rejecting something so much a part of so many lives at the time. However, as a movement new ideas largely stalled for years after the height of the first wave.

In the 1980s we saw the beginnings of what would be called New Atheism. This second wave of the atheist movement really got its start in the popularization of science, lead by atheists like Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov who often suggested that the existence of a god should be treated with the same rigor as any scientific question. Moreover, they were able to explain science in such a way as to stress the wonder inherent in the universe, making “mystery” arguments for god superfluous.

However, it wasn’t until Sam Harris’s 2004 book The End of Faith that the second wave really hit. This was followed shortly after by Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell in 2006, Victor Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis and (my favorite) Hitchens’s God is Not Great in 2007, and a number of other books that integrated two new ideas into the pure godlessness of the first wave: science is the best way of us to know how the universe works and religion causes active harm by promoting irrationality.

So, here we are, a movement that is no longer quiet, a movement that loves science and empiricism, and movement that…well even that may be going too far.

The other bit of information that should be brought up here is that there has been a problem in the atheist movement when it comes to minorities, especially women. After Rebecca Watson of Skepchick was propositioned in an elevator and made a passing comment about how it can make women uncomfortable to hit on them alone in an enclosed space that they can’t escape from, a flood of misogyny started being thrown against her and anyone who agreed with her. Morons, righteously waving the banner “free speech” like children holding a ten dollar bill and wondering why it isn’t enough to buy everything, basically have made death and rape threats against outspoken women or queers or racial minories a thing. Don’t believe me? Check out the #mencallmethings hashtag, or listen to Watson talk about what she goes through regularly, or what Surly Amy went through at TAM this year just for being associated with Watson, or, or, or…I could go on.

So, history aside, we now have McCreight calling for a third wave of atheism thought. In the same way that the second wave introduced science as an important aspect of the movement, McCreight feels that if we are to be atheists and skeptics, we should apply those principles to social justice movements as well. While there are many atheists and skeptics who argue that social justice isn’t within the purview of the movement, the point of this third wave is that applying skeptical principles to social issues, one must conclude that justice is better than injustice, and that the reasons that many of the unjust situations exist are based in superstition, religious faith, or simple tradition rather than in any reasonable measure of good vs harm.

After all of that (are you still reading?), we now get to the point. Among the many criticisms of this new movement (being called Atheism+ or “A+”), there is the criticism that this will split an already minority movement, decreasing its effectiveness. And you know what? I’m ok with that.

No, seriously, I don’t mind there being division. I don’t mind Deep Rifts. And here’s why.

While I would prefer there to be a form of unity, unity is simply not worth it at the cost of justice. People in power have, for centuries, used the fear of division and calls for unity as a way to maintain established power structures. They don’t want things to be better for those they’re oppressing, they want the oppressed to just shut the hell up about it, thank you very much. While this creates a form of peace, it’s a peace based on people accepting that they will always be taken advantage of.

It’s similar to the excuse used by every public school district that is told that they aren’t allowed to have mandated prayer: “But we’ve always done it this way and nobody has ever complained before.” This tries to take advantage of the slowness of the changing of cultural norms by suggesting that because people are not now cowed into saying nothing or have access to more ideas than just yours, that means that people hadn’t been intimidated or given no real choice between thoughts previously. Even today, speaking out against this sort of stuff gets you death threats. Ask Jessica Ahlquist.

The thing is, division is necessary in any power struggle. The only way to avoid it is to accept the status quo. However, when the status quo is intolerable, then division is the only may to live with integrity. You can maintain a sense of unity through common beliefs and values, but it seems in today’s world that is also being sacrificed to fuel the engines of politics.

A friend of mine was lamenting the loss of unity in this country the other day. To some extent, I can agree with him that it’s sad. However, he’s also a conservative, and much of the things that he wishes we would pull together on are to agree with conservative ideology or to maintain a status quo that pleases conservatives. And, quite frankly, that’s not something I’m willing to do.

No, it’s not enough that states can pass marriage equality nor would domestic partnerships be enough. No, it’s not good enough that women make most of what men do and having 20 weeks to get an abortion is not acceptable. I will not be silent when people call me a pedophile. I will not stay quiet when scumbags like Pat Robertson suggest that I have no morality. And I will not sit quietly while MRAs and other sexist assholes resist any attempts to take away their ability to intimidate women into silence, especially the ones within the atheist and skeptical communities who don’t think we should be talking about it at all.

The thing is, I don’t want to have anything to do with those people. I don’t want to be allies with somebody who still thinks “make me a sandwich” is a joke instead of the shibboleth of the Douchenozzle Tribe. I have no desire to associate with somebody who thinks I’m an abomination, or even somebody who thinks I’m cool, but we still can’t allow same-sex marriage because they read it in a book.

There comes a point where unity can only be achieved by the silent acceptance of inequality and the only moral choice can be to leave. Division is inevitable when somebody takes a stand and is a side effect of pointing out that the powerless are powerless. So if my choice is to accept inequality or risk splitting the group, I will always split the group. I cannot justify the cost of not doing so.

Guest Post: Weird, and Proud of It

Guest post from Lisa. I had wanted to respond to this particular Robertson quote since it’s outside of his normal homophobic, misogynistic, racist, anti-intellectual, abilist bullshit. I mean, it’s so generically xenophobic as to be kind of shocking since he’s generally pretty good at specifically identifying all the groups of people who he dislikes rather than just outright saying, “anyone who isn’t just like me.”

Regardless, I’ll let Lisa take it from here.

————

You, sir, Mr. Robertson, are an asshole.

I’m a few days behind on this, mostly because I try to avoid the poison spewing forth from Pat Robertson’s general direction. If I paid attention to him on a regular basis, I’d probably need to be on medication to control my blood pressure. He has a tendency to hit far too many of my triggers during any single conversation than most of the other people on the planet. However, this is a particular message to which I feel the need to respond. On Thursday, Mr. Robertson made outrageous and egregiously malicious claims against adoption and, specifically adoption of abused children.

I’ve spoken before about my history as an abuse victim, specifically as the type of abuse victim that he has insulting things to say about, and I can tell you that I AM weird. Of course, weird is the new normal. This is not the 1950’s where we all have a homogenous way of living or risk being forever outcast and unable to function in society by dint of our weirdness. Being weird does not, in any way, make me less deserving of a loving family. I have the great fortune to HAVE a loving family, but how dare you, sir, imply that I am any less deserving of one, or that any child is less deserving of one, especially a child who has been traumatized? Children need loving homes where their needs are met. Plain and Simple.

Now, I know that I fit many of the criteria by which Mr. Robertson thinks me unfit as a human being to be on the planet. Apparently, he believes that as an abuse victim, I must be mentally ill in some way, which is reinforced by my sexual orientation (for those of you not “in the know”, I’m proudly bisexual, though married happily to a wonderful man), but you would never know these things if you met me on the street. Likely, I would tell you, if it happened to come up in conversation, because I do not feel these are things to be ashamed of, as he does. They do not hinder me or my ability to function and add value to the society, just as they would not with any person having gone through what I have. If anything, having been traumatized has given me one greatly positive outcome: EMPATHY. Unlike Mr. Robertson, It pains me to see people suffering unnecessarily no matter their orientation, gender identity, wealth (or lack thereof), or personal history. Suffering is the evil that must be uprooted in our world, and by advocating against loving anyone, especially a child, you are more likely creating the monster you fear them becoming than by taking them in and providing them with love and services that can turn that tide toward a functioning life.

Children need love. They need homes, and food, and clothing. They need education. Children who have been abused also need social services such as therapy, to learn to cope with the tragedy that has befallen them. By avoiding them, you are putting them at greater risk for things like suicide, continuing the cycle of abuse, and other dangers. I know in his perfect world, abuse victims would stay under the radar in some hole somewhere, but eventually we grow up. Without access to vital services and a loving home to nurture us, we won’t grow up to be productive members of society.

I was fortunate to grow up with a family who was incredibly supportive of me. My journey to the other side of the trauma has been long and arduous, and will never be completely finished. I would not have been able to make the progress that I have without them. I spent many years in therapies, from the initial victim’s counseling to depression therapy. Abuse leaves its scars and its un-healing wounds. Every now and again, they creep up. Without the support of loved ones, this would happen more often and be far more dangerous. I would not have learned how to deal with anger, or be able to have a healthy view of sex, and possibly not be able to maintain a relationship with a partner, or be a loving parent to my two healthy, beautiful children.

By advising people to not bring these traumatized children into their loving homes, you are doing irreparable harm to their futures. These are the children who arguably need the most love and support (though it is absolutely needed by all children). These are children who are already in deficit of love and understanding. They need more help, not less, sir. If I had the ability to adopt (the time, funds and care required are currently outside my economic ability), I would not hesitate to take in a child to rescue them from abuse of any kind. Adoption is an incredibly expensive and labor-intensive process. If you are adopting, you WANT a child. Are there not enough children born unwanted in this world every day? I think so. We should be encouraging people to provide for them.

Many people feel unequipped to love a child that has been traumatized, but instead of encouraging them to take a chance to save a child from a harsh system and possibly turn the tide of anger, pain, and fear, you have done the opposite and told them that these children will basically be a poison in their homes.

Shame, sir. Shame on you for encouraging divisiveness where you should be encouraging unity.

Bigotry Can Be Really Expensive

So, the highest ranking of the Catholic clergy in Scotland, Keith Cardinal O’Brien, has put his foot down. He’s going to stand for marriage before it disappears off the face of the planet. And he’s going to do it the way the Catholic Church has traditionally fought: by asking for your money. He told the Sunday Times (emphasis mine):

“Marriage is under threat and politicians need to know the Catholic Church will bear any burden and meeting any cost in its defense. . . We will use this opportunity to remind Catholics of the importance of marriage as a union of a man and a woman and to urge them to be generous in contributing to a special collection which will be used to support initiatives in defense of marriage.

Apparently, this declaration was accompanied with threats of “unprecedented backlash” if his demands were not met. I presume he’s talking about a Crusade or something.

Seriously, what does Cardinal O’Brien think he’s going to do? Threaten to “disestablish” the church from the state like the Church of England did last month? Is the Church going to take its toys and go home? What, exactly, do they think they’re threatening?

Actually, no, I like this plan. Both the Church of England and the Catholic Church of Scotland can turn their back on government, stop meddling in the affairs of state, and leave the secular authorities to make policy that has nothing to do with myths or the desires of the invisible sky pixie.

Seriously, I don’t know how this can be seen as anything but a blatant plea for money at a time when the Church is trying to make up for the corruption and money laundering they just got caught at. I’m not suggesting that the Red Cap Mafia and the Pope aren’t actually, really, and truly squigged out by queers. They are. But if they can parlay that general sense of unease into financial gain through creative interpretations of reality, why pass up the chance?

It’s time that the Church gives up on this. I know I keep saying this about a lot of institutions that oppose gay marriage, but it remains true. They’re fighting a losing battle. While Cardinal O’Brien is calling for people to open their wallets to God, mock gay weddings are happening outside of the Scottish Parliament.

The thing is, they won’t give up on this. They think this is the perfect, unchangable (see how many opinions haven’t altered), and most of all loving word of the Lord. They’re convinced that in order to show any sort of love, they must by nature discriminate, because it’s the will of their probably-fictional ultimate patriarch.

And I find that a little sad. That says quite a bit about the speaker that they see no difference between “love” and “tough love”, that they cannot see the ultimate being as being capable of not discriminating. As per usual, Fred Clark puts it better. He’s speaking to evangelicals, but it applies here to cardinals and the CoE as well:

“Conservative evangelicals reading this are now convinced that what I’m saying here is that we need to reinvent God according to our own preferences. They think I’m saying we need tochange what God is really like and who God really is in order to make the idea of God more popular — more palatable and more acceptable…

What they’re really saying — what they’re really confessing — is that they believe that the actual truth about God is, in fact, unpalatable and unacceptable. They believe that God’s actual character is, in fact, distasteful — that God is exclusive, condemning and oppressive. And that any attempt to portray God as otherwise is a liberal lie.”

The thing is, it’s very easy to believe that. I consider the god he’s referring to here to be a genocidal megalomaniac with all of the maturity of the Squire of Gothos and all the loving kindness of Anthony Freemont. But I also don’t worship such a creature. For a thing to be worthy of worship, it needs to demonstrate that through actions, not just the endless Biblical refrain reminding us of god’s goodness.

Clark, John Shore, a number of my friends, and a whole lot of other people have decided that if love and goodness are essential characteristics of god, then anything that contradicts that must, by its nature, be false. That one cannot be both loving and discriminatory, cannot claim to respect people while pleading for money to prevent their equality, cannot simultaneously obey a doctrine that calls for treating people well and publicly call their relationships “grotesque.” Cardinal O’Brien wants to have it both ways, express his love and disgust at once, and is pathetically pleading that you give money to his organization so that he can impose that sort of twisted logic on others.

Pat Robertson recently said that we can ignore certain things in the Bible. No, really, he did. He was referring to slavery, but it puts him in the awkward position of having to now explain why we can ignore the slavery stuff and not the much more spurious gay stuff. The Catholic Church and the Church of England are not going to put themselves in that position by claiming that you can ignore parts of the Bible, but they are now left in the even more awkward position of having to explain how their loving god demands oppression and inequality.

The best and easiest solution is to stop pretending to know what a creature that is highly unlikely to actually exist wants, but baring that, applying our minds to the task of alleviating human suffering rather than perpetuating it is the only moral option. And for the FSM’s sake (pasta be upon him) stop with these sad, sad calls for money and empty threats. You’re not fooling anyone.

The Demons Are In Their Heads

Let me start by making a very bold statement: There is no such thing as a demon.

Yes, I said it. They don’t exist. They are fictional, products of the imaginations of people who were trying to explain things they weren’t equipped to explain at the time. But as to real beings that can cause havoc, desire suffering, or possess unwilling human beings and subvert their free will, there is no such thing.

Why am I stating this? What makes my above bolded statement a bold statement?

There are people who still don’t understand that.

Here we have televangelist and certifiable loon Pat Robertson. Yes, I know it’s easy to dismiss the guy as the crank he is, but nearly 1,000,000 people watch The 700 Club daily. They watched when he claimed that the earthquake in Haiti was a good thing and that the Haitian people had made a pact with the devil. They watched when he claimed that the tornadoes that killed 39 people could have been staved off if they had just prayed hard enough. And now they’re watching him claim that being gay is a sign of demonic possession.

Why am I bringing up this mostly harmless old kook? Because he’s not the only one who believes this absolutely ridiculous thing. And often the results are worse.

Magnolia, TX resident, 5-year-old Michael Spurlock, is in critical condition after his mother, convinced her son was possessed by demons, slit his throat. Actually, first she stomped on his chest, which is usually enough to cast out any demons that might have been masquerading as breath in his lungs, then she slit his throat when that didn’t seem to work.

While this whole situation is horrendous, one of the quotes sticks out to me:

“Even if you believe in that sort of thing, how can a 5-year-old be possessed or have something like that? It’s inconceivable in my mind,” said Greg Riley, a Magnolia resident.

I think Magnoila resident Greg Riley is missing the point. If somebody believes a person can be possessed at all, what stops them from also believing that a five year old could? Is there something about 5 year olds that any reasonable person can point to and say, “Yep, no way a demon is getting into this kid”? Why shouldn’t somebody who already believes in demons also believe that a 5 year old, her own child, has one inside of them and the method by which to expel that demon involves slitting the child’s throat?

I can already hear the claims of “isolated incident.” Thing is, this isn’t. Child deaths related to claims of possession and witchcraft are on the rise in the UK. Less than two weeks ago a teenaged girl in Umlazi, South Africa was killed after being tortured for three days on suspicion of being possessed.

When it’s not deaths, it’s theater, like the recent recruitment of exorcists in Wales to deal with haunted houses and people or the plan to exorcise an Ohio abortion clinic.

The problem with the theater is that it’s not just theater. I can watch Max Von Sydow do battle with the creature inside Linda Blair and know that it’s fiction. There are no “principalities and powers” that are waging war on me for the fate of my soul. They simply aren’t there. But encouraging these beliefs is no different than assuring a paranoid schizophrenic that yes, there are people out to get them, but it’s safe right now. It’s a delaying tactic, one that might or might not calm the person for the moment, but ultimately re-enforces their delusions that they are in danger from unseen powers.

Often people say that it must be frightening to be an atheist, the idea of living in a huge universe that is ultimately unfeeling, uncaring, and not concerned with me. Personally, I find it comforting living in a world with neither demon nor divine patriarch to worry about offending, a world where if I don’t know what something is, I can find it out. I world where should I one day have a 5 year old son, I will never, ever have to worry that I might be forced to cut his throat because I, in the throws of delusional paranoia, am absolutely convinced that a mythological being is real and inside my precious boy.

And that’s the sticking point. I have no doubt in my mind that Daphne Spurlock loved her son. You don’t do that sort of thing, take on the power of the supernatural, for somebody you don’t love, and in her mind that’s what she was doing. But she was told by members of her church that she could cast out demons and in Chekovian fashion, she eventually tried to use this power. She believed in something that wasn’t there, and she almost killed her son because of it.

There are monsters in this world. I’ve talked about them many times. But they aren’t supernatural and often aren’t particularly subtle. The monsters in this story were not to be found within Daphne and Michael Spurlock, but rather in those who convinced them that demons exist. The monsters in this world are the ones who encourage fear and ignorance, who promote superstition as a virtue and condemn critical thinking as a vice. It is the witch hunters, the Helen Ukpabios of the world, that are the most ironic of monsters.

But we, as rational people, can fight ignorance with knowledge, superstition with fact, and extremism with reason. There is no reason why any child anywhere should be killed for being possessed by nothing, but I am positive that now that Pat Robertson has said something, queer kids all over the country will find themselves tied to beds, starved, and anointed with holy water until the gay exits their body with the demons their parents are sure lurk there.

Hitch

Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it. – Christopher Hitchens

That’s the quote I was thinking about when I started this blog. I almost named it “Human Decency,” but thought that may have been needlessly optimistic. Not that I’m not an optimist, but rather that my blog would contribute in a way that anybody can’t simply do for themselves. While I admit that the final catalyst to impel me to write here, after already exhausting my friends with invective and ire, was JT Eberhard seeking me out on Twitter after enjoying a comment I made on one of his blog posts, but thoughts of Hitch animated many of my ideas and always impel me to try just to be a touch wittier.

While I could contribute to the growing and unsurprisingly mixed things being said about Chris Hitchens, there seems little point in adding to a pile that I am, despite enjoying his work, woefully unqualified to add to. This is not false modesty, as I believe myself to be quite allergic to the stuff, but rather a recognition that when I attempt to discuss who the man was from nothing but reading his books and watching lectures, I can do little more than summarize his work, which seems like a lousy way to commemorate anybody.

Rather, this being my blog and I being a remarkably self-indulgent individual, I will discuss why this caustic, angry, tactless man has left an impression on me.

To begin with, as much as I would cringe inwardly when he would say something insulting that could just as easily be said in a way I felt to be more constructive, I could never fault him his point. Even when I disagreed, I could at least say that I respected the process by which he reached his conclusions. One such insulting conversation comes to mind. I agree with his point, but damned if it doesn’t make me uncomfortable the way he put it.

“…I’m perfectly happy for people to have these toys and to play with them at home and hug them to themselves and share them with other people who come around to play with their toys. So that’s absolutely fine. They are not to make me play with these toys. I will not play with the toys. Don’t bring the toys to my house, don’t say my children must play with these toys, don’t say my toys…are not allowed by their toys.”

That’s my current opinion on religion, said in possibly one of the best and worst ways possible. Perhaps it’s that he was unafraid to put things that way that I wish I could do so, not because I would, but rather because I want the ability.

He also shares my opinion on deathbed proselytizing. I covered it in my first post, meaning that at this point a full two thirds of my blog is dedicated to Hitch. Need to change that…

I also cannot help but admire some of the things he said about life in general, my favorite being…

“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

Hitch was a fierce advocate for LGBT rights, often more on behalf of his friend, Stephen Fry, than on his own behalf. He didn’t talk often about his bisexuality, and I admit it surprised me and possibly engendered a disproportionate affection as I saw myself in him in that respect. This is not to say that his sexuality was a vital part of his life or that that’s a reason to like somebody’s work which was more than sufficient on its own. It’s rather like finding that a brand new friend has also read your favorite obscure book. The friendship doesn’t hinge on it, but isn’t it so cool that this novel that you thought nobody had even heard of had somehow made it to both of you? I thought of myself in a future old age considering his words, “My looks by then had in any case declined to the point where only women would go to bed with me.” A distinct possibility.

However, when he spoke on issues of sexuality, it never seemed to be about him, such as this quote from a dinner honoring Stephen Fry with at least one Cardinal in the audience.

“He’s not being condemned for what he does, he’s being condemned for what he is…This is disgraceful! It’s inhuman, it’s obscene. It comes from a clutch of hysterical, sinister virgins who have already betrayed their charge in the children of their own church.”

Let it never be said that he didn’t stand up for his friends.

Nor that he didn’t stand up to his enemies, the nature of whom he made quite clear.

“There’s another immoral injunction. Go love your own enemies, don’t go loving mine. My enemies are the theocratic fascists. I don’t love them, I want to destroy them.”

I can think of nobody I know who wouldn’t consider “theocratic fascists” to be bad people, but Hitchens took it one step further. He was open about his disdain, free and pointed in his ridicule, and made no compromises regarding what he considered to be abject evil. Again, I am unable to disagree. I do hate theocratic fascists. I hate people who arbitrarily choose what makes them comfortable out of their holy books and then tell me I have to live by their capricious whims. I hate those who use God as a universal excuse for the most retched, abhorrent, vile behavior and the masses of uneducated vipers that lick the scent from the trail of those leaders, hissing at and biting everybody they pass. I have no room or time to love those people who love no others, and my tolerance isn’t inexhaustible either. I have no need to ever be in a room with the Liar Tony Perkins, Maggie Gallagher, Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck, Tom Coburn, or any number of despicable human beings who try to enslave people to their idiot philosophies and very specific yet entirely self-configured ideas of what their religion says. I have no reason to love these people, or forgive them while they continue to lie to people for the sake of their own comfort, or to ignore their often inhuman behavior, so I choose not to. It was by reading Hitchens that I learned how to do that and not feel guilty about it.

There are plenty of other reasons to respect Hitchens. I stress again, he was not a perfect man. He was deeply flawed, unwilling to engage in social politeness, and refused to soften his rhetoric regardless of circumstance. We can debate whether these are positive or negative qualities all, but I can’t say that I could engage in the indiscriminate way in which he applied them. That being said, it takes courage to live in such a manner, and I am sure beyond doubt that that is a positive quality.

As many others have noted, saying “rest in peace” is not quite appropriate. He is not resting and peace is a meaningless thing to the inert molecules that compose what was once an active and brilliant brain. Rather, I should leave this off with words that will remain with me now that he is no longer able to utter or write them.

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

 

“You’re expelled from your mother’s uterus as if shot from a canon toward a barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks. It’s a matter of how you use up the intervening time in an intelligent and ironic way. And try not to do anything as ghastly as your fellow creatures.”

 

“We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and — since there is no other metaphor — also the soul.”

 

“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.”

And finally, since I can think of no songs that discuss death without also talking about an afterlife that Hitchens didn’t believe in, and “rest in peace” is so inappropriate, I will instead leave it with the words of another critic of religion, done in song form.