The Real Hitch-22

Atheists, like Christians, are not all the same. Atheists who dislike religion do not even dislike it for all the same reasons. Some hate the doctrines of eternal punishment, some hate the illogical arguments, some hate the stunting of free inquiry. Christopher Hitchens was an atheist who had, I thought, a somewhat novel reason for hating religion. Amidst a throng of scientifically-motivated hatred for supernatural explanations and superstition, Hitchens gave remarkably human reasons for his loathing of Christianity: he found it a totalitarian notion.

For Hitchens, the thought of an all-knowing, all-judging God was the thought of ¬†“living in a divine North Korea.” Our individual freedom squelched under a cosmic, rubber-glove-clad thumb. Our thoughts convicting us and sentencing us to death at the moment they stray from Big Brother’s demands. Our souls made sick by the one who commands us to be well, on pain of eternal torment.

Hitchens had a good point, and he did a good job of identifying a problem. But there is also a good counterpoint, and he didn’t do a good job of handling that. Herein lies the Hitch’s real Catch-22–he can either live in a divine North Korea, where an almighty God dictates every aspect of our lives, or he can live in a universe where the laws of nature dictate every aspect of our lives. There is no freedom to choose where one is born, to choose what one believes (apart from what one’s brains spits out upon being fed the input), to escape the arrangement of pleasures and pains that have been laid out for us. Is it a consolation to live in a divine North Korea where the throne is empty, but the soldiers nonetheless enforce the law, for nobody’s sake?

The problem here seems to be determinism. It is not immediately obvious which flavour is more difficult to swallow. I find it terrible to think that there is nobody to help us, to put a cushion at the bottom of (some of) our deterministic paths. Hitchens finds it terrible to think that someone might have done this to us, on purpose, in the first place. Perhaps, as the philosophers say, there is no space between the horns.

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