I’m not going to write about the mystical transformation of Hitchens‘ political views after a metaphorical airplane hit his – equally metaphorical – brain. I’m not going to write about how it’s no longer cool to trash Hitchens because everyone has done it already. I haven’t, at least not in a full text. I’m not even going to write about his past admiration for Saddam Hussein, although I laughed heartily after first reading about it and I encourage you to read the linked article just for fun. One could dismiss this as an error of the past and I would if he hadn’t harped on forever about George Galloway’s alleged connection to Hussein in their debate about Iraq . He who sits in the grasshouse shouldn’t throw swines.
Instead, I will write about his ‚analysis‘ of religion. I haven’t read his book „God is not great – How religion poisons everything“, although such an original title with such a never-before-used pun would certainly encourage everyone to do so. I watched the interview on the Daily Show though (the one in 2007, not the one about Iraq) and I was quite surprised by what I heard.
H: Why do all religions hate the birth canal? What is a penis without a birth canal? What god can you name that was not born of a virgin? And I have the whole list in my book, it’s all there, every god [incomprehensible, ?as a matter of time?] was either like Buddha born out of a slit out of the side because you don’t wanna be born in the other way…
S: And our scripture is revelation [incomprehensible]
H: Aztek… Egyptian, they’re all born of virgins, why is this? It’s some ghastly hatred of that wonderful canal which is supposed to be a one-way street for religious purpose. Loathing of menstrual blood, dislike of foreskins, do I have to draw you a picture?
S: So your problem with religion is not so much the wars, it’s just not enough *beep*
S: It’s the lack of fucking (aka *beep*)
H: *nods* Now my picture sharpens up. If you could reduce it to any one thing, it would be fear of the dark, fear of death and hatred of sex. This is not a good beginning for morality. It’s not a good beginning for ethics. It’s not a good beginning for intelligent discussion. We’d be better off without it.
First of all, who uses as mechanical a term as „that… er, wonderful canal“ and even then slides around in his chair as if it’s something embarrassing? Certainly that isn’t a sign of a healthy relationship with *his* anima. But let’s get to his statement. He states that all gods are born by virgins or otherwise not conceived and born in the normal way, that religions hate sex and are essentially born out of that and of fear of death and the dark. Which leads me to one simple question to which I think I already know the answer: How many religions does this man know? And the answer is probably 4 (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism – in that order).
Hitchens was interviewed by FOX on the same topic and they even had a list of gods supposedly born by virgins. The list was completely incorrect, of course (It even had Horus in it!). There are gods who are supposedly born by virgins, there are gods who aren’t. There are religions that hate sexuality, there are religions that don’t. There are religions that encourage fear of death, there are religions that strive to take away that fear. Hitchen’s generalisations only show that he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.
So when I listen to him talking about the supposed hatred of sexuality all religions have, I think of the Greek goddess Baubo and her talking vagina, I think of Pan and Cernunnos, I think of the Celtic Beltain celebrations, symbolising the fertility of the reborn nature, and of the contemporary version of this ritual, the „Great Marriage“ in the Wicca religion, I think of Tantric Yoga, I think of Odins frequent affairs with giantesses and Freya having sex with dwarves, I think of sexual magic.
Even if you have never heard of these things, you probably have heard of Greek god Zeus who slept with – or rather, raped – every woman he could get his hands on. Although rape certainly does not represent an affirmative view of sexuality – the opposite, really – this well-known example alone contradicts the statement that „all gods are born by virgins“.
When I listen to him stating that all religions hate vaginas and birth canals, my first thought is of the Venus figurines. These prehistoric representations of naked women – some of the earliest known religious symbols humans created – alone should shatter the notion that religions have always been as male-centered as today’s world religions undoubtedly are. But this kind of spirituality didn’t stop in the paleolithic as an increasing amount of literature on matriarcal cultures shows. And the contemporary revival of neo-pagan religions and goddess-worship goes on to prove the same thing.
When he says that all religions feed upon the fear of death, many things come to mind as well, such as reports of people in ancient Greece who participated in the Rites of Eleusis and afterwards proclaimed they would never fear death again. Such as the goddess Nuit saying in the Liber AL vel Legis, the prophetic text of the religion of Thelema: „I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice“. The invention of hell is one of the Abrahamic religions: it is not universal.
So what does this short overview show? Nothing new, really: Hitchens once again poses as an expert on something he has no idea about. He makes broad generalisations about ‚religion‘ when he obviously knows very few religions and even those only in a superficial manner. This is of course something he can only go public with because he can expect his audience not to know more than he does and not to have the intention to find out either.