The Quotable Hitchens – 2

Hitchens 595

“I have tried for much of my life to write as if I was composing my sentences to be read posthumously.”

“I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness.”

“I’ve proved to be as difficult to convert as I am to hypnotize.”

“My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can’t prove it, but you can’t disprove it either.”

“Religion is not going to come up with any new arguments.”

“The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy – the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes.”

“The suicide-bombing community is not absolutely 100 percent religious, but it is pretty nearly 100 percent religious.”

“There are all kinds of stupid people that annoy me but what annoys me most is a lazy argument.”

“To terrify children with the image of hell… to consider women an inferior creation. Is that good for the world?”

“To the dumb question, ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply, ‘Why not?'”

“Trust is not the same as faith. A friend is someone you trust. Putting faith in anyone is a mistake.”

“Well, to the people who pray for me to not only have an agonising death, but then be reborn to have an agonising and horrible eternal life of torture, I say, ‘Well, good on you. See you there.'”

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Arguing with an Irrational Creationist

creationism

This is an account of a debate that I accidentally and unintentionally got into with a friend’s Christian friend a few years back.

I had come across Richard Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Show on Earth in a book store and my curiosity got the better of me. Till that point, I didn’t know much about Dawkins and never thought too deeply about evolution, but I started reading the book after being sure that he was a legitimate and accomplished biologist. It turned out to be quite a discovery for me and I really liked the way the concepts were explained by him.

I came across a few references to Noah’s flood but had no idea what the story was (after all, I was not a Christian) and speaking to a friend that evening, I expressed my curiosity. She told me she had another friend who had converted to Christianity sometime back and, without warning me, called him up and put him into conference. She told him what I wanted to know and the friend started explaining.

Let me point out here that till that time, I had no idea that Christians did not believe in evolution and it was a big bone of contention for most of them.

So, when he was done explaining, he asked me why I was so interested. I explained that I was reading a book which referred to Noah a couple of times but I had no idea about it. He asked me further and I told him I was reading Richard Dawkins but didn’t think he would be aware of the biologist. That is when the whole conversation turned on its head.

He immediately started slamming Dawkins in a manner that I will not expand on. I was a little concerned because I was reading the man’s book and really learned some good scientific explanations in it. I made the mistake of asking him if he didn’t believe in evolution. His answer was such a resounding No that I was mostly left stunned. After all, we had both been from India’s most prestigious school and I could never imagine someone openly declare a known scientific concept as a hoax.

He went on needlessly and without provocation to say that evolution was just a theory, there was no proof for it at all and people like Dawkins are taking a dig at religion by suggesting such baseless ideas. That Dawkins would end up in hell. Now, I am no expert at biology, but I do have some scientific education (I am an engineer). I told him that I have, and so has he, read about evolution in our science text books at school and we have seen exhibits of fossils in museums so we can’t blatantly dismiss evolution like he was doing. To this, he replied by making a point that we can’t simply believe in something just because it is written in a book. I had no idea where he was coming from and why he was seeming so outraged (afterall it was the first time I’d spoken to a Christian apologist) so I asked him how he knew evolution to be false when he himself had no scientific education while I had at least studied physics, chemistry and biology in school and then engineering. To this, his utterly foolish reply was, “because the Bible says so.”

Of course, I’d never read the bible, but I was sure the Bible couldn’t have been discussing evolution since the concept itself came with Darwin. So, when I asked him how he was any better quoting from the Bible while not allowing me to quote from my science textbook, he replied that my text book was written by a human while the Bible was written by God so anything that contradicts the Bible has to be wrong. I told him this was an unfair argument.

“What is the probability,” he went on to ask me, “that an explosion rips through a junkyard and results in an assembled Boeing aircraft?”

Even an inexperience debater like me could easily answer this.

“I know you are referring to the Big Bang (the explosion) and the end result of evolution: Man (the Boeing aircraft) but I don’t think your comparison is correct at all. The problem with your argument is that you mention explosion and end result in the same sentence but completely ignore the most important part, which is what has been happening in between the two stages. It is not as if the Big Bang happened and we fast forward to Humans walking. The billions of years of time in between saw action from Physics, Chemistry, Biology and other environmental factors that invariably led to Humans..”

“Billions of years?” he cut my argument in between.

“Of course, why?”

“Dude, the Universe and the Earth were formed only recently, maybe three or four thousand years ago and that is too little for any evolution to take place.”

“You think the age of the universe is only a few thousand years?”

“Of course, the bible says so.”

“But geologists, archaeologists, paleontologists etc. have all dated the age of the Earth to be some billions of years.”

“They are wrong,” he insisted. “But they use scientific dating methods like carbon dating and others..”

“Those methods are wrong!” he cut in again.

“Oh, those methods are also wrong?”

“Yes, that has been proven. Moreover, anything that contradicts the Bible has to be wrong.”

At this point, I was beginning to see the futility of arguing with a man who has his mind made up and who is not willing to have a reasonable discussion even though he is himself the one who started it. I, at that time, didn’t even know whose side I was on, religion or science, but I could easily figure out the hypocrisy on his part.

I asked him, “What about the fossils that we have found? Won’t you even believe the fossils exist?”

“Fossils have been placed by God himself to test our faith in him.”

“What? God placed them to test your faith? Now, did you read that also in the bible?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know?”

“Because I have faith in God, who sent his only begotten son Jesus to Earth to save us all and he gave up his own life to forgive our sins. He has made the ultimate sacrifice for us and the least we can do is love him back and have faith in him even if the other side brings any evidence to us. We know they are just wrong.”

“But what about the other religions? They have different claims on how and when the earth was created and their idea of God(s) is also extremely different from yours.” I discovered this to be true right then when I said this for the first time in my life. “All religions say the same thing.”

“They do?”

“Ya.”

“No they don’t.”

“Oh yes they do..” and then he started saying something about the Quran admitting Noah’s flood that I had no idea about.

“Ok,” I conceded.

After that, he started saying emotional stuff about how he talks to Jesus frequently and how he was into listening to Rock music in his previous life and when he found out that everytime he lied or did something bad, Jesus got a painful slash on his behalf. This made him feel extremely ashamed and he promptly converted and accepted Jesus as his personal savior.

I could feel that the discussion, even though so soft and civilized on my part and so rude and irrational on his, had somehow caused him some pain, so we changed the topic and hung up shortly afterwards and I realized this is how all debates with creationists go:

creationism

Indi-Ban-ization

Only 4 days back, I wrote a post on the growing religious intolerance in our country. I mentioned how we are banning books, writers (because, you know, Pen is mightier than sword and so the writer might hurt some sensitive people.. sob sob), art and movies, etc.

In just 4 days, so much more has happened that it is with great reluctance that I am writing this post. After all, you need a break from one single topic but India is undergoing its own version of Talibanization at such a rapid pace that would put Schumacher and Usain Bolt to shame. Before we know it, the Talibani leaders might start applying for Indian citizenships.

Pardon me if I miss some more incidents, but fresh in my memory are the following from the last 4 days:

— The Grand Mufti (head of Muslim clergy) in Kashmir has declared a “Fatwa” against singing (Yes, SINGING!) saying it is un-islamic and a shameful act. Yes, you heard (or rather read) me right. Following this Fatwa and a series of online abuses by its supporters against them, Kashmir’s first and only All-Girl-Rock-Band, Pragaash, has called it quits and given up on singing and performing out of fear for their lives. But, the ruling national political party has promptly, after a delay of 3 days, acted by – wait for it – CRITICISING the Fatwa. See? We support our women. Nevertheless, the Band is still banned (no pun intended).

pragaash

— Well, how could the Hindus be left behind? In yet another shocking (the magnitude of shocks now coming down with each case) incident, members of a regional (and religious) political outfit, desperate to maintain their fading (if not already extinct) relevance in Indian politics, have started protesting “democratically” in front of an art gallery in the capital warning of consequences (how democratic) if the exhibition is not shut down and some paintings not removed. Their problem? They think that depiction of bare human forms in art is derogatory to “our cultural values” and portrays women in an obscene manner. (Must be those devillish Westerners affecting our Art, I worry). How stupendous – political party, religious faction, art critics, all-in-one? I wonder where their concern for women vanishes when they and their affiliates beat up women for wearing jeans and going to parties.

— Further, BJP, a national political party, has also revealed their well known fascist and religious nature by invoking the Ram temple issue yet again just a year ahead of the upcoming national elections in 2014. To the unknowing, a piece of land in a town (or village?) called Ayodhaya has been the source of extremely dangerous tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities since decades over a conflict regarding whether a temple or a mosque should be built at that place. The BJP has, as expected, again raised the pitch in favour of temple instead of the mosque.

As I was about to sign off on this post, I have just seen in the national news channels that the same outfit that is protesting against art (above) has contributed to the Ram temple issue by saying they will agitate in favour of building of the temple and, if required, are even ready to display the Hindu might. Okay, so now they won’t even wait for me to finish my blog?

In our country, a huge section of our population is living below poverty line, are uneducated and illiterate and therefore find solace in anything religious. We don’t have enough food, clean drinking water, schools, hospitals, electricity, and jobs and our economy is in tatters, but we worry more about where a temple is being built, which art can be exhibited and which not, which book should be read and which not, whether muslim girls should sing or not, and to top it all, we are even willing to slaughter people for such trivial issues. And this is not going to fade away. The talibanization of our country is afoot.

Why? Because we are a nation of fools and those who are negligent of this rising foolery. We will curtail every form of freedom of expression, speech, etc. etc… Oh, did you say freedom? We will ban the word itself one day.No use invoking the constitution – it does not forbid us from being fools and idiots.

And, did I mention we are also secular? Ya, but our definition of secularism is not the same as that of the “morally deprived west” in that we do not consider secularism to be freedom of and from religion. We think it is the freedom of forcing a religion’s outdated and illogical decrees on to everybody else, and we welcome with open arms, the venomous and regressive ideals that the fundamentalists bring with them.

I wonder why atheists and secularists and scientists do not make similar speeches to say that we will “unleash science education upon those who dare to act stupid,” or “the Earth is suspended in the Solar System due to gravity and we will slaughter any artist that depicts it being otherwise,” or “if you show a ghost in a movie, we will get it banned because as per science, ghosts do not exist.”

I think that would be quite funny. What do you think?

Religious Intolerance?

tolerance

If you ask religious people why religion is good, the first thing they tell you is that religion teaches tolerance.

What a shame! The reality is quite opposite.

Religious people think that it is their birthright to be offended. If Salman Rushdie writes a novel, they get offended.  When MF Hussain makes paintings or some newspaper publishes cartoons, they get hurt. Kamal Haasan makes a movie in which a terrorist is reading a holy book and people get hurt without even watching it. Did any of those protesting people really read the book or try and understanding Hussain’s art or made sense of the cartoons or Haasan’s movie with tolerance? The answer is a resounding No. Then where does the hurt come from? Is it genuine or assumed?

To come back to the point of tolerance, I am convinced that religion does not teach any tolerance at all. At least, we do not see any real examples of tolerance being practiced by any religious groups. What it really teaches is to burn, ban, threaten, torture, and exterminate anything and anyone they do not like. If their feelings are really hurt by some book, they can simply choose to not read it. For instance, what is written in some portions of some scriptures really offends my intelligence and feeling of secularism, and some of the things the religious leaders say and do really bothers me a lot and I do not agree with most of what they say. Most of the movies make fun of non-believers and none of them touches the possibility of atheism being one more point of view. But I and other non-believers (or liberals as some might call us) do not get offended and threaten religious people in return. We do not burn scriptures or threaten godmen to be silent. We do not desecrate temples and mosques or call for the beheading of secularists who convert to some religion. We simply choose to ignore such texts and people and mind our own business.

We never force others away from following whatever books or people they want to. Why? Because we acknowledge that everybody has the choice. That is the most logical and tolerant view. But for the religious fraternity, even if someone else reads a book by someone they dislike, it offends them. How unbelievable! My reading a novel somehow magically hurts someone else? Incredible!

Tolerance means giving others the space and the right to say, read or write whatever they want to regardless of one’s own opinion on the matter. One doesn’t have to accept or even respect the beliefs of others in order to be tolerant. One just has to accept that everybody has rights and we should agree to disagree.

Upon being offended, the first thing believers do is threaten havoc and violent clashes if what they demand is not fulfilled. Is that tolerance or intolerance? I think the believer’s version of tolerance ultimately means this: We will do the nice thing of tolerating you and your freedom of expression only as long as you say what we approve of, but the moment you say something we do not like, we would be forced to get appallingly violent.

So, as long as someone is saying and doing what only the religious fraternity likes, where is the question of tolerance in that?

The Quotable Hitchens

hitchens4

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

“The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.”

“If god really wanted people to be free of [wicked thoughts], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.”
―God Is Not Great

“Is it too modern to notice that there is nothing [in the ten commandments] about the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide? Or is it too exactingly “in context” to notice that some of these very offenses are about to be positively recommended?”
―God Is Not Great

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”
―God Is Not Great

“I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.”
―Hitch-22

“Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life — except religion.”

“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.”

“Bombing Afghanistan back into the Stone Age’ was quite a favourite headline for some wobbly liberals. The slogan does all the work. But an instant’s thought shows that Afghanistan is being, if anything, bombed out of the Stone Age.”

“For the people who ostensibly wish me well or are worried about my immortal soul, I say I take it kindly.”

Popular Indian Athiests

In a country battered by religious dogma for most of its existence, where riots on religious grounds have been commonplace, and where religion is as much a tool of suppression as of political advantage, it is important to highlight Atheism as a credible philosophy.

Where people take it for granted that belief in God is a virtue and that disbelief implies immorality, lack of character and integrity and attracts only scorn, ridicule and social boycotting from the masses, it is important to point out examples of popular people who were atheists and still known for their high moral and ethical standards as well as their unquestionable patriotic credentials (as patriotism can invariably be attached with belief in God by politically motivated forces).

So, here goes a list of some of the popular Indians who are also atheists:

Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru

1. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. He quoted on religion:

“The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled me with horror and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seemed to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition, exploitation and the preservation of vested interests.”

 

Bhagat Singh

Bhagat Singh

2. Bhagat Singh, one of the most popular figure in the Indian independence movement, whose popularity matched that of Mahatma Gandhi.

He wrote a book, Why I Am An Atheist, when he was in jail.

Amol Palekar

Amol Palekar

3. Amol Palekar, famous Bollywood and Marathi film actor and fimmaker. Regards himself as an agnostic.

4. Javed Akhtar, famous poet, lyricist and scriptwriter. He was born into a Muslim family, but later stated he was an atheist in his speech “Spirituality, Halo or Hoax”

Baba Amte

Baba Amte

5. Baba Amte, A notable social activist.

6. Khushwant Singh, famous Journalist and Author of books such as Train to Pakistan

Kamal Haasan

Kamal Haasan

7. Kamal Haasan, filmmaker and actor, known for making films having themes of both Atheism and Brahminical Hinduism

Baichung Bhutia

Baichung Bhutia

8. Baichung Bhutia, torchbearer of Indian football in the international arena

9. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Indian-American astrophysicist who also won the 1983 Nodel Prize for physics

10. Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Indian diplomat turned politician

11. Rajeev Khandelwal, Indian film and television actor

12. Arundhati Roy, Indian author and political activist

13. Salman Rushdie, author of Bestsellers like Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verse

14. Ram Gopal Varma, film director

15. Shriram Lagoo, notable actor and rationalist activist

16. Beechi, the Kannada humourist-philosopher, whose ‘positive atheism’ is similar to that of Douglas Adams.

17. Gopinath Muthukad, A notable magician.

18. P. L. Deshpande, A notable Marathi writer and artist.

For further readings on this topic, visit the sources for this blog:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism_in_India
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Indian_atheists

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