Friday, August 6, 2010

AC360 goes in circles with Hitchens

Woke up this morning to the news on PZ Myers blog that Christopher Hitchens had appeared on Anderson Cooper last night. After watching the interview, I can easily say I am even more impressed with Hitchens than after his Vanity Fair article (see here for my thoughts) and even less impressed with AC than I typically find myself.

After an interview consisting mostly of surprised blurts to Hitchens well thought out answers (such as Cooper's evident surprise at hearing Hitchens take responsibillity for the state of his health, unlike the typical "I have an excuse" CNN guest.) Cooper can barely stop squirming in his chair at the development of an excitement stiffie from asking Hitchens if he might, kinda, sorta, possibly ever make nice with god and the journalistic kudos it would bring if Hitchens took the bait.

Cooper-In a moment of doubt, isn't there... I dunno, I just find it fascinating that even when you're alone and you know no one else is watching that there might be a moment where you, you know, want to hedge your bets.

Hitchens replies:
Hitchens-If that comes it'll be when I'm very ill. When I'm half-demented, either by drugs or by pain, or I won't have control over what I say. I mention this in case you ever hear a rumor later on. Because these things happen and the faithful love to spread these rumors, you know on his death bed he finally well... I can't say that the entity that by then wouldn't be me wouldn't do such a pathetic thing, but I can tell you that not while I'm lucid. No, I can be quite sure of that.

So no prize for Cooper and an honest revelation by Hitchens that it could happen. He makes it clear that he doesn't want it to happen, but he demonstrates clearly that he understands the reality of dying with cancer. Pain, sickness, drugs can all make a person do something he or she swore they would never do.

At this point I must make a confession. I am not proud of this fact any more, although at one time I was extremely proud of it.

I helped both of my parents make deathbed acts of faith. My father, who had violated some moral standards that went clearly beyond religious polity saw the week before his death as a time to be cleansed and to make amends for those actions. The experience of "coming to Jesus" was very powerful for him and brought him peace, a greater sense of being loved and an impetus to clear up old unfinished business with friend and foe (I now recognize that he could experience these same feeling and drives without god being involved at all, and I only wish I had known that then to help himas I did, but without Jesus tagging along)

Likewise, my mother, who did come back to her childhood religion as she saw the end approaching, wanted to be "sure" that she was right with god (her siblings never knew of this as the idea that she found their faith lacking enough that she "topped up" would be a painful emotional blow to them).

She didn't experience the profound emotional changes of my father (she had less to make amends for) but did become much more peaceful and able to cope with her last painful hours as a result (I also realize now that she could have experienced this without god, but what's done is done)

I am glad that since then I have been able to bring support and comfort to three of my aunts and uncles who have since died (yes folks, I am a genetic time bomb-if someone suggests you bet on my becoming an octogenarian, I'd advise against it)without the invocation of any sort of deity.

So yes, in the heat of the moment, people do turn to religion. Christopher Hitchens may even do so, given enough drugs and enough pain. If that should happen to him or anyone, we can recognze it for what it is: a coping mechanism with generations of use ingrained in our thinking, a mechanism that has no ultimate meaning or reality, but rather simply a grown up version of a child's blanky for someone who's in need of some rest and comfort.

If we want people to move beyond that blanky we as nontheists need to show them ways to find peace, support and comfort based on the here and now, to make their own meaning of their experience and to be an example to others that it can be done, just as Hitchens is doing for us.

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