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Why Hitchens is Great (Part 2): Catholic Bigots

In Jeffrey T. Kuhner’s article, Why God is Great, he makes the ridiculous claim that, “Mr. Hitchens is unable to restrain his anti-Catholic bigotry.” This is not a new claim that Catholic apologists make and I have probably even written about it before. But it is worth addressing again.

You can’t be a bigot against an idea. I know that people are indoctrinated into religious ideas to the point that many people seem to think that religion and race are the same, but they are not. Race is something you are born into and cannot change (Michael Jackson not withstanding). Religion is an idea which can be abandoned in light of better ideas.

In a resent article on The Daily Beast, Sam Harris wrote the following:

“It is not a form of bigotry or racism to observe that the specific tenets of the faith pose a special threat to civil society. Nor is it a sign of intolerance to notice when people are simply not being honest about what they and their co-religionists believe.”

Harris was actually talking about Islam here, but it just as easily applicable to any religion including Catholicism. Just as Islam is not a race, Catholicism is also not a race. So one cannot be racist against a religion nor can someone be bigoted toward a religion. Hitchens is very good at criticizing the Catholic belief system and he has no problem criticizing the behavior of particular members of the Catholic Church (i.e. pedophile priests, Vatican officials, and the Pope).

Criticizing an idea, belief, or belief system is not the same as hating people who hold those beliefs. In no instance that I am aware of has Christopher Hitchens stated or implied that he hates ALL Catholics. All Mr. Hitchens is guilty of is criticizing the beliefs that Catholics are supposed to hold (note that not all Catholics actually hold all those beliefs).

On the charge that Hitchens is a “Catholic Bigot,” Jeffrey T. Kuhner fails to prove his case. The idea is that the term “bigot” has a negative connotation and so Kuhner thinks that he can win points by labeling his opponent with such a term.

A good way to cement this point is to use the old Nazi analogy. It is important to note that whenever Nazis are used in an example people want to make the leap that a comparison is being made with the Nazis. This is not the case and I want that to be very clear. The Nazis are used in an example because they are universally despised (rightly so).  Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, here is the analogy:

If someone were to make a statement that the Nazis did lots of immoral things, few if anyone would consider this a bigoted statement against all Nazis. Surely, one isn’t suggesting that every single Nazi was immoral. But rather that the Nazi leadership did immoral things and/or that Nazis ideology is immoral. Like Catholicism, people aren’t born Nazis. It is an ideology. So when someone like Hitchens claims that Catholicism is immoral, he is not claiming that every individual Catholic is immoral, but rather the leadership and the doctrine are immoral. That is not a form a bigotry.

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  • http://shadowboxingz.wordpress.com Shadow Boxer

    I’m going to have to call you on this one. At least on your definition of the word “bigotry”. From Dictionary.com:

    big·ot·ry
    –noun, plural -ries.
    1. stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.
    2. the actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., of a bigot.

    You assert that “You can’t be a bigot against an idea.” Well, actually, one can, according to this reference.

    I agree with the Sam Harris quote, that it is not bigotry to point out injustice and intolerance in another belief set. But your argument that Hitchens only attacks Catholic beliefs actually supports the accusations of bigotry against him.

    I agree that Kuchner’s argument is specious and he’s using “bigot” for shock value rather than using it properly. Kuchner is trying to paint Hitchens as irrationally and unreasonably prejudiced, and that Hitchens’s intolerance is based on hate rather than on reason. But just because the opposition can’t use a dictionary doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. There has to be another way to refute that point.

    Or, on the other hand, we could say, “Yes, Hitchens is an anti-Catholic bigot. And here’s why. And here’s why we support him in his bigotry.” Because there comes a point where most atheists/agnostics just get fed up with religion and become stubbornly intolerant of a creed or belief that is different from their own. Textbook bigotry.

    Just saying.

  • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

    Dictionaries are a reference, not an authority. Wittgenstein put it best when he said that we define words by their use. When people use the term “bigot” they are not referring to simply a disagreement with an idea. They are talking about a hate for a person. If you stick strictly with your definition, then we could rightfully call everyone a bigot. Shadow Boxer is a Nazi Bigot, Democrats are Republican Bigots, Republicans are Democratic Bigots, those who oppose bigotry are Bigot Bigots.

    Sorry Shadow Boxer, but the use of the term clearly is aimed toward hate against a class of people for a trait they cannot change and not a hate of ideas or beliefs.

  • http://shadowboxingz.wordpress.com Shadow Boxer

    I must both agree and disagree respectfully. You make a good point that usage helps define the word – look at the evolution of “gay”, for example. In this respect, your analysis does address the most egregious insults.

    But my main point still stands,even aside from this point. Language use is key in a debate like this. If someone gets sloppy, point it out.

    And, frankly, reading Kuhner’s argument, I could see his point that Hitchens is a bigot. Hitchens can be downright vicious, and that comes across as blatant hatred. And it is hard, if not impossible, to take a vicious attack like Hitchens is capable of as a reasoned argument. Frankly, if I were on the receiving end of a lot of these attacks (from both sides) I’d consider them to be bigoted.

    Besides not seeing his children getting married, he is stricken by the prospect that he will never read or write the obituary of “elderly villains,” such as the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

    Were I Catholic, I’d take that amiss. On the other hand, a later sentence: “Typical of many bigots, he clings to his burning hate unto the final hour – it is all that is left to warm his dark, desiccated soul,” is about as vicious as it comes.

    Look, nobody’s playing nice. And the vitriol in these attacks READS as hate. I guess I’ve been hoping that you’d be a voice of reason in this.

    This gets back to my original point: Hitchens IS, in fact, an anti-Catholic bigot. Kuhner even points it out for us. But do we disagree?

    The one institution Mr. Hitchens despises above all, however, is the Catholic Church. In his view, it is a primitive, medieval institution founded upon lies, anti-Semitism and sexual oppression – the means by which a clerical theocracy controls human beings by dictating their sexual behavior.

    Forgive me my attachment to definitions, but if we don’t understand the words we use how can we understand each other?

  • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

    While one can say that Hitchens may hate the Pope, that is a far cry from saying that he hates ALL Catholics. This Kuhner has not supported. To say that one hates the institution of Catholicism is also not a hatred of ALL Catholics.

    When one uses the term bigot, they are making a claim that someone hates people because of some birth trait. Even if I granted you that one can be bigoted with respect to religion, it is still a claim about a hatred of all people of said religion. Hitchen’s has not done that (to my knowledge) and Kuhner has not shown that Hitchens has done it.

    I don’t think Hitchen’s hate of Catholicism or even his hate of the Pope can or has risen to the level of bigotry and I have shown why.

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