Christopher Hitchens On Mother Theresa
by Matt Cherry
The following article is from Free
Inquiry magazine, Volume 16, Number 4.
Below, Matt Cherry, executive director of the Council for
Secular Humanism, interviews Christopher Hitchens about his book The Missionary
Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Verso, 1995) and his television
program, which strongly criticized Mother Teresa. The interview recapitulates the most
devastating critiques of Mother Teresa ever made. It also gives a very telling account by
a leading journalist into the U.S. media's great reluctance to criticize religion and
As Free Inquiry was going to press, we heard that Mother Teresa was
suffering from heart trouble and malaria and there was concern about her chances of
survival. It was, therefore, suggested to the editors that it would be inappropriate to
print an interview that contains criticism of Mother Teresa's work and influence. However,
in view of the media's general failure to investigate the work of Mother Teresa or to
publish critical comments about her, the editors felt it important to proceed with the
publication of this revealing interview.
Christopher Hitchens is "Critic at Large" for Vanity Fair,
writes the Minority Report column for The Nation, and is a frequent guest on
current affairs and commentary television programs. He has written numerous books on
international current affairs, including Blood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American
Free Inquiry: According to polls, Mother Teresa is the most respected
woman in the world. Her name is a by-word for selfless dedication in the service of
humanity. So why are you picking on this sainted old woman?
Christopher Hitchens: Partly because that impression is so widespread.
But also because the sheer fact that this is considered unquestionable is a sign of what
we are up against, namely the problem of credulity. One of the most salient examples of
people's willingness to believe anything if it is garbed in the appearance of holiness is
the uncritical acceptance of the idea of Mother Teresa as a saint by people who would
normally be thinking - however lazily - in a secular or rational manner. In other words,
in every sense it is an unexamined claim.
It's unexamined journalistically - no one really takes a look at what she does. And it
is unexamined as to why it should be she who is spotlighted as opposed to many very
selfless people who devote their lives to the relief of suffering in what we used to call
the "Third World." Why is it never mentioned that her stated motive for the work
is that of proselytization for religious fundamentalism, for the most extreme
interpretation of Catholic doctrine? If you ask most people if they agree with the pope's
views on population, for example, they say they think they are rather extreme. Well here's
someone whose life's work is the propagation of the most extreme version of that.
That's the first motive. The second was a sort of journalistic curiosity as to why it
was that no one had asked any serious questions about Mother Teresa's theory or practice.
Regarding her practice, I couldn't help but notice that she had rallied to the side of the
Duvalier family in Haiti, for instance, that she had taken money - over a million dollars
- from Charles Keating, the Lincoln Savings and Loans swindler, even though it had been
shown to her that the money was stolen; that she has been an ally of the most reactionary
forces in India and in many other countries; that she has campaigned recently to prevent
Ireland from ceasing to be the only country in Europe with a constitutional ban on
divorce, that her interventions are always timed to assist the most conservative and
FI: Do you think this is because she is a shrewd political operator or
that she is just na´ve and used as a tool by others?
HITCHENS: I've often been asked that. And I couldn't say from real
acquaintance with her which view is correct, because I've only met her once. But from
observing her I don't think that she's na´ve. I don't think she is particularly
intelligent or that she has a complex mind, but I think she has a certain cunning.
Her instincts are very good: she seems to know when and where she might be needed and
to turn up, still looking very simple. But it's a long way from Calcutta to Port au Prince
airport in Haiti, and it's a long way from the airport to the presidential palace. And one
can't just, in your humble way and dressed in a simple sari, turn up there. Quite a lot of
things have to be arranged and thought about and allowed for in advance. You don't end up
suddenly out of sheer simple na´vetÚ giving a speech saying that the Duvalier family
love the poor. All of that involves quite a high level of planning and calculation. But I
think the genius of it is to make it look simple.
One of Mother Teresa's biographers - almost all the books written about her are by
completely uncritical devotees - says, with a sense of absolute wonderment, that when
Mother Teresa first met the pope in the Vatican, she arrived by bus dressed only in a sari
that cost one rupee. Now that would be my definition of behaving ostentatiously. A normal
person would put on at least her best scarf and take a taxi. To do it in the way that she
did is the reverse of the simple path. It's obviously theatrical and calculated. And yet
it is immediately written down as a sign of her utter holiness and devotion. Well, one
doesn't have to be too cynical to see through that.
FI: You point out that, although she is very open about promoting
Catholicism, Mother Teresa has this reputation of holiness amongst many non-Catholics and
even secular people. And her reputation is based upon her charitable work for the sick and
dying in Calcutta. What does she actually do there? What are her care facilities like?
HITCHENS: The care facilities are grotesquely simple: rudimentary,
unscientific, miles behind any modern conception of what medical science is supposed to
do. There have been a number of articles - I've collected some more since my book came out
- about the failure and primitivism of her treatment of lepers and the dying, of her
attitude towards medication and prophylaxis. Very rightly is it said that she tends to the
dying, because if you were doing anything but dying she hasn't really got much to offer.
This is interesting because, first, she only proclaims to be providing people with a
Catholic death, and, second, because of the enormous amounts of money mainly donated to
rather than raised by her Order. We've been unable to audit this - no one has ever
demanded an accounting of how much money has flowed in her direction. With that money she
could have built at least one absolutely spanking new, modern teaching hospital in
Calcutta without noticing the cost.
The facilities she runs are as primitive now as when she first became a celebrity. So
that's obviously not where the money goes.
FI: How much money do you reckon she receives?
HITCHENS: Well, I have the testimony of a former very active member of
her Order who worked for her for many years and ended up in the office Mother Teresa
maintains in New York City. She was in charge of taking the money to the bank. She
estimates that there must be $50 million in that bank account alone. She said that one of
the things that began to raise doubts in her mind was that the Sisters always had to go
around pretending that they were very poor and they couldn't use the money for anything in
the neighborhood that required alleviation. Under the cloak of avowed poverty they were
still soliciting donations, labor, food, and so on from local merchants. This she found as
a matter of conscience to be offensive.
Now if that is the case for one place in New York, and since we know what huge sums she
has been given by institutions like the Nobel Peace committee, other religious
institutions, secular prize-giving organizations, and so on, we can speculate that if this
money was being used for the relief of suffering we would be able to see the effect.
FI: So the $50 million is a very small portion of her wealth?
HITCHENS: I think it's a very small portion, and we should call for an
audit of her organization. She carefully doesn't keep the money in India because the
Indian government requires disclosure of foreign missionary organizations funds.
I think the answer to questions about her wealth was given by her in an interview where
she said she had opened convents and nunneries in 120 countries. The money has simply been
used for the greater glory of her order and the building of dogmatic, religious
FI: So she is spending the money on her own order of nuns? And that
order will be named after her?
HITCHENS: Both of those suggestions are speculation, but they are good
speculation. I think the order will be named after her when she becomes a saint, which is
also a certainty: she is on the fast track to canonization and would be even if we didn't
have a pope who was manufacturing saints by the bushel. He has canonized and beatified
more people than eight of his predecessors combined.
FI: Hence the title of your book: The Missionary Position.
HITCHENS: That has got some people worked up. Of the very, very few
people who have reviewed this book in the United States, one or two have objected to that
title on the grounds that it's "sophomoric." Well, I think that a triple entendre
requires a bit of sophistication.
FI: And your television program in the United Kingdom was called
HITCHENS: Yes, very much over my objection, because I thought that
that name had not even a single entendre to it. I wanted to call it "Sacred
Cow." The book is the television program expanded by about a third. The program was
limited by what we could find of Mother Teresa's activities recorded on film. In fact, I
was delighted by how much of her activity was available on film: for example, her praising
the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. There is also film of her groveling to the Duvaliers:
licking the feet of the rich instead of washing the feet of the poor. But "60
Minutes" demanded a price that was greater than the whole cost of the rest of the
production. So we had to use stills.
FI: How did Mother Teresa become such a great symbol of charity and
HITCHENS: Her break into stardom came when Malcolm Muggeridge - a very
pious British political and social pundit - adopted her for his pet cause. In 1969, he
made a very famous film about her life - and later a book called Something Beautiful
for God. Both the book and the film deserve the label hagiography.
Muggeridge was so credulous that he actually claimed that a miracle had occurred on
camera while he was making the film. He claimed that a mysterious "kindly light"
had appeared around Mother Teresa. This claim could easily be exploded by the testimony of
the cameraman himself: he had some new film stock produced by Kodak for dark or difficult
light conditions. The new stock was used for the interview with Mother Teresa. The light
in the film looked rather odd, and the cameraman was just about to say so when Muggeridge
broke in and said, "It's a miracle, it's divine light."
FI: Are we all victims of the Catholic public relations machine? Or
has the West seized upon Mother Teresa as salve for its conscience?
HITCHENS: Well, you are giving me my answer in your question. For a
long time the church was not quite sure what to do about her. For example, when there was
the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s, there was an equivalent meeting for the
Catholics of the Indian subcontinent in Bombay. Mother Teresa turned up and said she was
absolutely against any reconsideration of doctrine. She said we don't need any new
thinking or reflection, what we need is more work and more faith. So she has been
recognized as a difficult and dogmatic woman by the Catholics in India for a long time.
I think there were others in the church who suspected she was too ambitious, that she
wouldn't accept discipline, that she wanted an order of her own. She was always
petitioning to be able to go off and start her own show. Traditionally, the church has
tended to suspect that kind of excessive zeal. I think it was an entirely secular
breakthrough sponsored by Muggeridge, who wasn't then a Catholic.
So it wasn't the result of the propaganda of the Holy Office. But when the Catholic
church realized it had a winner on its hands, it was quick to adopt her. She is a very
great favorite of the faithful and a very good advertisement to attract non-believers or
non-Catholics. And she's very useful for the current pope as a weapon against reformists
and challengers within the church.
As to why those who would normally consider themselves rationalists or skeptics have
fallen for the Mother Teresa myth, I think there is an element of post-colonial
condescension involved, in that most people have a slightly bad conscience about "the
wretched of the Earth" and they are glad to feel that there are those who will take
action. Then also there is the general problem of credulity, of people being willing -
once a reputation has been established - to judge people's actions by that reputation
instead of the reputation by that action.
FI: Why do you think no other major media before you had exposed
HITCHENS: I'm really surprised by it. And also I'm surprised that no
one in our community - that of humanists, rationalists, and atheists - had ever thought of
doing it either.
There's a laziness in my profession, of tending to make the mistake I just identified
of judging people by their reputation. In other words, if you call Saudi Arabia a
"moderate Arab state" that's what it becomes for reportorial purposes. It
doesn't matter what it does, it's a "moderate state." Similarly for Mother
Teresa: she became a symbol for virtue, so even in cartoons, jokes, movies, and television
shows, if you want a synonym for selflessness and holiness she is always mentioned.
It's inconvenient if someone robs you of a handy metaphor. If you finally printed the
truth it would mean admitting that you missed it the first, second, and third time around.
I've noticed a strong tendency in my profession for journalists not to like to admit that
they ever missed anything or got anything wrong.
I think this is partly the reason, although in England my book got quite well reviewed
because of the film, in the United States there seems to be the view that this book isn't
worth reviewing. And it can't be for the usual reasons that the subject is too arcane and
only of minority interest, or that there's not enough name recognition.
I believe there's also a version of multi-culturalism involved in this. That is to say,
to be a Catholic in America is to be a member of two kinds of community: the communion of
believers and the Catholic community, which is understood in a different sense, in other
words, large numbers of Irish, Italian, Croatian, and other ethnic groups, who claim to be
offended if any of the tenets of their religion are publicly questioned. Thus you are in a
row with a community if you choose to question the religion. Under one interpretation of
the rules of multi-culturalism that is not kosher: you can't do that because you can't
offend people in their dearest identity. There are some secular people who are vulnerable
to that very mistake.
I'll give you an interesting example, Walter Goodman, the New York Times
television critic, saw my film and then wrote that he could not understand why it was not
being shown on American television. He laid down a challenge to television to show this
film. There was then a long silence until I got a call from Connie Chung's people in New
York. They flew me up and said they would like to do a long item about the program, using
excerpts from it, interviewing me and talking about the row that had resulted. They
obviously wanted to put responsibility for the criticism of Mother Teresa onto me rather
than adopt it themselves - they were already planning the damage control.
But they didn't make any program. And the reason they gave me was that they thought
that if they did they would be accused of being Jewish and attacked in the same way as the
distributors of The Last Temptation of Christ had been. And that this would
stir up Catholic-Jewish hostility in New York. It was very honest of them to put it that
way. They had already imagined what might be said and the form it might take and they had
persuaded themselves that it wasn't worth it.
FI: So your film has never been shown in the United States?
HITCHENS: No, and it certainly never will be. You can make that
prediction with absolute certainty; and then you can brood on what that might suggest.
FI: What was the response in Britain to your exposÚ of Mother Teresa?
Did you get a lot of criticism for it?
HITCHENS: When the film was shown, it prompted the largest number of
phone calls that the channel had ever logged. That was expected. It was also expected that
there would be a certain amount of similarity in the calls. I've read the log, and many of
the people rang to say exactly the same thing, often in the same words. I think there was
an element of organization to it.
But what was more surprising was that it was also the largest number of calls in favor
that the station had ever had. That's rare because it's usually the people who want to
complain who lift the phone; people who liked the program don't ring up. That's a
phenomenon well known in the trade, and it's a reason why people aren't actually all that
impressed when the switchboard is jammed with protest calls. They know it won't be people
calling in to praise and they know it's quite easy to organize.
A really remarkable number of people rung in to say it's high time there was a program
like this. The logs scrupulously record the calls verbatim, and I noticed that the
standard of English and of reasoning in the pro calls was just so much higher as to make
one feel that perhaps all was not lost.
In addition to the initial viewer response, there was also a row in the press. But on
the whole both sides of the case were put. Nonetheless, it was depressing to see how many
people objected not to what was said but to its being said at all. Even among secular
people there was an astonishment, as if I really had done something iconoclastic. People
would say "Christopher Hitchens alleges that Mother Teresa keeps company with
dictators" and so on, as though it hadn't been proven. But none of the critics have
ever said, even the most hostile ones, that anything I say about her is untrue. No one has
ever disproved any of that.
Probably the most intelligent review appeared in the Tablet, a English monthly Catholic
paper. There was a long, serious and quite sympathetic review by someone who had obviously
worked with the church in India and knew Mother Teresa. The reviewer said Mother Teresa's
work and ideology do present some problems for the faith.
FI: But in America the idea that Mother Teresa is a sacred cow who
must not be criticized won out and your book and your critique of Mother Teresa never got
HITCHENS: Yes, pretty much. Everything in American reviews depends on
the New York Times Book Review. My book was only mentioned in the batch of short notices
at the end. Considering that Mother Teresa had a book out at the same time, I thought this
was very strange. Any book review editor with any red corpuscles at all would put both
books together, look up a reviewer with an interest in religion and ask him or her to
write an essay comparing and contrasting them. I have been a reviewer and worked in a
newspaper office, and that is what I would have expected to happen. That it didn't is
suggestive and rather depressing.
FI: The Mother Teresa myth requires the Indians to play the role of
the hapless victims. What do the Indians think of Mother Teresa and of the image she gives
HITCHENS: I've got an enormous pile of coverage from India, where my
book was published. And the reviews seem to be overwhelmingly favorable. Of course it
comes at a time when there is a big crisis in India about fundamentalism and secularism.
There are many Indians who object to the image of their society and its people that is
projected. From Mother Teresa and from her fans you would receive the impression that in
Calcutta there is nothing but torpor, squalor, and misery, and people barely have the
energy to brush the flies from their eyes while extending a begging bowl. Really and truly
that is a slander on a fantastically interesting, brave, highly evolved, and cultured
city, which has universities, film schools, theaters, book shops, literary cafes, and very
vibrant politics. There is indeed a terrible problem of poverty and overcrowding, but
despite that there isn't all that much mendicancy. People do not tug at your sleeve and
beg. They are proud of the fact that they don't.
The sources of Calcutta's woes and miseries are the very overpopulation that the church
says is no problem, and the mass influx of refugees from neighboring regions that have
been devastated by religious and sectarian warfare in the name of God. So those who are
believers owe Calcutta big time, they should indeed be working to alleviate what they are
responsible for. But the pretense that they are doing so is a big fraud.
FI: You mention in your book that Mother Teresa is used by the
Religious Right and fundamentalist Protestants who traditionally are very anti-Catholic as
a symbol of religious holiness with which to beat secular humanists.
HITCHENS: Yes, she's a poster girl for the right-to-life wing in
America. She was used as the example of Christian idealism and family values, of all
things, by Ralph Reed - the front man of the Pat Robertson forces. That's a symptom of a
wider problem that I call "reverse ecumenicism," an opportunist alliance between
extreme Catholics and extreme Protestants who used to exclude and anathematize one
In private Pat Robertson has nothing but contempt for other Christian denominations,
including many other extreme Protestant ones. But in public the Christian Coalition
stresses that it is very, very keen to make an alliance with Catholics. There is a
shallow, opportunist ecumenicism among religious extremists, and Mother Teresa is quite
willingly and happily in its service. She knows exactly who she is working for and with.
But I think she is happiest when doing things like going to Ireland and intervening in the
Divorce Referendum, as she did recently.
By the way, there is an interesting angle to that which has not yet appeared in print.
During the Divorce Referendum the Irish Catholic church threatened to deny the sacrament
to women who wanted to be remarried. There were no exceptions to be allowed: it didn't
matter if you had been married to an alcoholic who beat you and sexually assaulted your
children, you were not going to get a second chance in this world or the next. And that is
the position that Mother Teresa intervened in Ireland to support.
Now shift the scene: Mother Teresa is a sort of confessor to Princess Diana. They have
met many times. You can see the mutual interest; I'm not sure which of them needs the
other the most. But Mother Teresa was interviewed by Ladies Home Journal, a magazine read
by millions of American women, and in the course of it she says that she heard that
Princess Diana was getting divorced and she really hopes so because she will be so much
happier that way.
So there is forgiveness after all, but guess for whom. You couldn't have it more plain
than that. I was slightly stunned myself because, although I think there are many
fraudulent things about Mother Teresa, I also think there are many authentic things about
her. Anyway, she was forced to issue a statement saying that marriage is God's work and
can't be undone and all the usual tripe. But when she was speaking from the heart, she was
more forgiving of divorce.
FI: A footnote in your book criticizes Mother Teresa for forgiving you
for your film about her.
HITCHENS: I said that I didn't ask for forgiveness and I wasn't aware
that she could bestow it in any case. Of all the things in the book, that is the one that
has attracted most hostile comment - even from friends and people who agree with me. They
ask why I object to that, what's wrong with forgiveness? My explanation is that it would
be O.K. if she was going to forgive everyone. When she went to Bhopal after the Union
Carbide industrial accident killed thousands, she kept saying "Forgive, forgive,
forgive." It's O.K. to forgive Union Carbide for its negligence, but for a woman
married to an alcoholic child abuser in Ireland who has ten children and no one to look
after her, there is no forgiveness in this life or the next one. But there is forgiveness
for Princess Diana.
FI: There is a Roman Catholic doctrine about the redemption of the
soul through suffering. This can be seen in Mother Teresa's work: she thinks suffering is
good, and she doesn't use pain relievers in her clinics and so forth. Does she take the
same attitude towards her own health? Does she live in accordance with what she preaches?
HITCHENS: I hesitated to cover this in my book, but I decided I had to
publish that she has said that the suffering of the poor is something very beautiful and
the world is being very much helped by the nobility of this example of misery and
FI: A horrible thing to say.
HITCHENS: Yes, evil in fact. To say it was unChristian unfortunately
would not be true, although many people don't realize that is what Christians believe. It
is a positively immoral remark in my opinion, and it should be more widely known than it
She is old, she has had various episodes with her own health, and she checks into some
of the costliest and finest clinics in the West herself. I hesitated to put that in the
book because it seemed as though it would be ad hominem (or ad feminam) and I try never to
do that. I think that the doctrine of hating the sin and loving the sinner is obviously a
stupid one, because its a false antithesis, but a version of it is morally defensible.
Certainly in arguments one is only supposed to attack the arguments and not the person
presenting them. But the contrast seemed so huge in this case.
It wasn't so much that it showed that her facilities weren't any good, but it showed
that they weren't medical facilities at all. There wasn't any place she runs that she
could go; as far as I know, their point isn't treatment. And in fairness to her, she has
never really claimed that treatment is the point. Although she does accept donations from
people who have fooled themselves into thinking so, I haven't found any occasion where she
has given a false impression of her work. The only way she could be said to be responsible
for spreading it is that she knowingly accepts what comes due to that false impression.
FI: But if people go to her clinics for the dying and they need
medical care, does she send them on to the proper places?
HITCHENS: Not according to the testimony of a number of witnesses. I
printed the accounts of several witnesses whose testimony I could verify and I've had many
other communications from former volunteers in Calcutta and in other missions. All of them
were very shocked to find when they got there that they had missed some very crucial point
and that very often people who come under the false impression that they would receive
medical care are either neglected or given no advice. In other words, anyone going in the
hope of alleviation of a serious medical condition has made a huge mistake.
I've got so much testimony from former workers who contacted me after I wrote the book,
that I almost have enough material to do a sequel.
FI: I have a question as one Englishman in America to another. You are
a secular humanist Englishman who is a leading commentator on American culture and
politics. Tell me, what is it about Americans and religion? Why is it that religion, often
very primitive forms of religion, is so powerful in perhaps the richest, most advanced,
most consumerist nation on Earth?
HITCHENS: I'm an atheist. I'm not neutral about religion, I'm hostile
to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one. And I mean not just
organized religion, but religious belief itself.
Why is the United States so prone to any kind of superstition, not just organized
religion, but cultism, astrology, millennial beliefs, UFOs, any form of superstition? I've
thought a lot about it. I read Harold Bloom's book The American Religion: The
Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (1992) about the evolution of what he thinks
of as a specifically American form of religion. There was a book by Will Herberg in the
1950s called Protestant, Catholic, Jew where he speculated that what was really evolving
was the American way of life as a religion. And that this was a way of life that wasn't at
all spiritual or intellectual but in a sense believed that all religion was valid as long
as it underpinned this way of life. Somehow religion was a necessary ingredient. In other
words, religion was functional. I think that's true but it's not the whole story.
Maybe - and this is a conclusion that I am reluctant to come to - it is because there
is no established church here. A claim that is made for established churches is that in a
way they domesticate and canalize and give a form and order to superstitious impulses.
That's why they usually succeed in annexing all local cults and making them their own,
etc. Part of their job is to soak up all the savagery around the place. I think from an
anthropological point of view, that's partly true.
In a country that very honorably and uniquely founded itself on repudiating that idea
and saying the church and the government would always be separate, and also a country that
many people came to in the hope of practicing their own religion, you have both free
competition and a sense of manifest destiny. I think it's out of that sort of stew that
you have all these bubbles.
Chesterton used to say that, if people didn't have a belief in God, they wouldn't
believe in nothing, they would believe in anything. The objection to that of course is
that belief in God is believing in anything. But there's still a ghost of a point in
there: if people are licensed to believe anything and call it spirituality, then they
FI: I think maybe it's not so much not having an established church as
not having a dominant church. In France you have strict separation, but the Catholic
church is dominant. Yet France has very high levels of nonbelief, like countries with an
established church. But in America you have free competition of churches, and lots of
competing cults, and much more energy as a result.
HITCHENS: I'm not sure that people in the United States are as devout
as the statistics suggest. The statistics are extraordinary if you believe them: something
like 88 percent of Americans regularly attend church, and 90 percent of them believe in
the devil. I would like to have a look at how the questions are formulated in these polls.
FI: We have done our own polls - scientifically selected samples - in
which we framed the questions ourselves, and we got very similar results to the other
polls we had read. It may be that the question is not, Why do people believe this? -
because perhaps they don't - but, Why do people say they believe this? There's obviously a
HITCHENS: Yes, that's right. People obviously feel they owe the
pollsters that kind of answer.
I wonder whether the onset of the millennium is going to be as awful as I sometimes
fear. There will be uneasiness among the feeble-minded and the emotionally insecure.
FI: Especially in America.
HITCHENS: American fundamentalism has one huge problem which is that
the United States is nowhere pre-figured in the Bible. It worries them a lot, they keep
trying to find it there, they try to interpret prophecies to refer to the United States,
but they can't succeed - even to their own satisfaction - in getting it to come out right.
FI: You have to go to the Book of Mormon?
HITCHENS: Yes, and the Seventh-Day Adventists, who descended from the
Millerites. I can see that Scientology now enjoys charitable status as a religion, which I
think is a real triumph. I can't get over that. You can set some idea of what it would
have been like to live in third-century Nicea when Christianity was being hammered
together - an experience I am very glad I did not have. Religious diversity is confused
with pluralism. Because of multi-culturalism and what is called "political
correctness," religion has a certain protection that it couldn't expect to have if it
was a state-sponsored racket like the Church of England.
FI: A lot of people who aren't religious think religion should still
be beyond criticism.
HITCHENS: Certainly, because it's people's deepest and dearest
beliefs, and because they are communities as well as congregations. And I suppose that in
the minds of some people the feeling is "Well, you never know, it may be true and
then I will go to Hell." A lot of people every now and then are visited by fear. It
seems that as animals we are so constituted. At least we can know that about ourselves,
but it is such a waste of the knowledge to interpret in any other way. On the other hand,
I'm also impressed by the number of people who manage to get by - often without any help
or support - not believing.
FI: The great thing about humanism is that so many people reach the
position independently, because it is not about teachers and doctrines. You just end up a
humanist by following your own questions.
HITCHENS: That's true. And it doesn't have any element of
wishful-thinking in it, which is another advantage. Though it's the reason why I think it
will always be hated but never eradicated.
FI: Look at the situation in Western Europe: in Holland about 55
percent say they are humanist or non-religious; and in Britain it's up to about 30 percent
and among teenagers it's 50 percent. So there's an enormous movement in Western Europe
towards secularism and humanism. Yet in America it seems to be getting just more and more
religious. Which, considering the convergence of culture in other areas, seems quite
anomalous. Sociologists are just beginning to address this issue but haven't done so