From Freud, who showed that god is but a dream, a wish for a Daddy, to Jean Paul Sartre, the irrationalist who proved god is a rational and logical contradiction: Being- For- Itself and Being- In-Itself, the non-existence of god has been proven. Buddha's enlightenment included the revelation that there are no supernatural, divine beings. There is no god in Buddhism.
That god is a projection from the self, from the imagination, from the creative depths of the psyche is passionately revealed in the memoirs of Mother Teresa (click for the Wiki overview), a woman as much a saint as any of them. Here is Time Magazine's expose' :
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979
Click for the whole article.
Clearly, god was Teresa's doppelganger.
Especially compassionate and wise is the PBS take on her doubt: Oct. 4, 2007
Faith in Doubt
Essayist Richard Rodriguez reflects on Mother Teresa's struggle with faith.
There is also:
New America Media, , Interview by Mary Ambrose, Posted: Aug 31, 2007
Editor's Note by Sandip Roy: As a schoolboy in a Jesuit missionary school in Calcutta, I remember being taken to the orphanages and homes for the dying run by Mother Teresa’s missionaries of charity. She already seemed impossibly old, tiny and wrinkled and looked nothing like the blissful, radiant saints with perfect halos we saw in pictures at school. To us she was just this remarkable woman who allowed the poverty and disease that swirled around us to actually touch our lives. To the rest of the world she was a living saint. Now comes a new book of her letters, which reveals that for much of her life she was living in a world of spiritual darkness where she could not even feel the presence of God. Essayist and commentary Richard Rodriguez is working on a book on religion and he joined NAM Managing Editor Mary Ambrose to talk about what Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith means for those who still look up to her for spiritual substance.
How will the revelation of these letters effect Mother Teresa’s image?
I think it’s going to help her image - if that’s the right word – or at least it’s going to deepen our sense of her mystery and possibly her sainthood. I think she turned the world’s attention to people normally forgotten in the world. And to that degree she was an example of something that is all too rare: someone who devotes their life to the care of others. She washed the sick. She touched the untouchable. She sat with the dying. This is not what most people do in their lives. That she turns out to be a person who suffered doubt in her experience with God deepens her mystery, rather than lessens it, it seems to me.
That was a dark night of the soul that lasted decades…
It’s a life long struggle. It’s not unusual in the history of saints in the church that there would be this experience of doubt. Christ himself on the cross experiences doubt. "My God, why have you forsaken me?" That is his last cry into the darkness. Why have you left me alone? This is not a consoling cry. And throughout the history of the church there are these voices, monks and nuns who, we find out in their deepest moments of darkness, felt the emptiness of belief.
We think we go to church, temple or the mosque and it’s all very clear to us. Especially people who do not have faith, they think that people who have faith have no questions. But in fact as the church teaches us, doubt is very much an experience that lives along with faith.
What are the political implications for the Catholic church?
The Catholic Church is brilliant to publish these letters, though Teresa asked that they be destroyed. The church realizes these are very helpful to the world. The world of religion is in chaos, not because there is too little faith in the world, but because there is too much faith. People are killing each other in the name of God. In Iraq at the holy shrine of Karbala, Shia were killing Shia. It seems to me the world is afflicted with people who have no doubt.
They have no doubt that they know what God wills, that God is on their side, that they know God. It seems to me very useful in the world that there be someone, a woman of great, great holiness to be presented as someone who lived with doubt as a way to moderate this extremism in the world.
Everything in the world that is most worrisome is this black and white sensibility. It has infected religion, brings scandal to religion, it seems to me, that people in the name of God have erased all doubt from their mind and denied the human experience of doubt.
That’s what the Vatican has done with these documents. I think the real value of these documents is that they teach us that certitude is not what we want in the world.
I’m a Christian. I believe in the same god that the Jew believes in, that the Muslim believes in, he’s a desert god. He revealed himself to us and we have documents in which we remember that revelation. But that god is also hidden from us. Even within the holy texts, there are moments of great mystery, where we don’t know why God does this or did not do that. Job at the end of his persecution asks God, “Why are you doing this to me?” And there is no answer.
It seems to me, when religion is at its deepest, it allows doubt.
America now is very, very religious or very, very secular.
This feeds atheists. They say, "See, even she didn’t believe."
People like Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens -- they are precisely the kind of problem that they present the religious world to be afflicted by. They are people who have no faith. Period. The whole idea of transcendence, a metaphysical reality beyond that which they normally experience, is foreign to them. This is very dangerous. They appeal to the political left when they should have learned its lesson.
For 30 years the political left has ceded religion to the political right in America. It has given all expression of religion to right wing Christianity.
It seems to me what the left needs to do is shy away from this teenage boy irreverence, these "farts in the chapel" that you hear from Hitchens. It’s not persuasive, not intellectually challenging because it does not admit to doubt. Like the fundamentals, they live in a world of such certitude the rest of us are left wondering, "Where do we belong?"
It seems to me what Teresa was looking for in the face of suffering was the face of God. It’s very moving to me that she did not find that face so often but kept on doing it. It’s an example of great heroism. If I were looking for a saint right now, she would be it.
One of the main theses of the left is about morality and helping the poor. So I don’t understand why they have bailed on religion, the basic tenet of which is to help the poor.
The left in America and probably Western Europe have bailed on religion because the church has criticized their lives. I speak as a gay man.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard priests refer to the love I have for another man as a "lifestyle." My own church denies me the central emotion within Christianity; the experience of love is denied me by own church. There is a tendency to retreat, or say that "religion is only a negative force in my life."
I find that the struggle over abortion, gay marriage, the churches have taken the negative stance in their institutional life. But I find them very consoling. There is much in Christianity that I use, steal, learn from, borrow, depend upon. Its inability to teach me about my experience of love is insufficient for me to walk away from it.
In some way the people in the pew teach the priest, the church, what it means to love. The left, like spoiled children, having been accused of being sinful by the church, they decide the church is really sinful. That’s not useful. The more useful is to spend a life of service to a church that is not easily yours.
By publishing these letters do you think the church is beginning to change and not a granite face of certitude?
I think so. The public face of the church is of certitude, unchanging and truths that are unchallengeable. But anyone who has grown up within the Catholic Church as I have realizes that it is an institution of great failure, compromise, moral and otherwise, and disappointment. The Church is not being uncharacteristic publishing these letters. I think the church is realizing its best face is its own humanity. In that way, Mother Teresa becomes one of the great teachers of the church.
Are religious people in America looking for a certitude that takes them down a path that makes life more difficult?
We are influenced by two things. We think our friends and villains are clearly identified. We live in a world where you are saved or unsaved. This is true on the political spectrum from right to left, believers and non-believers.
The other thing is that America is a deeply Protestant country founded by Puritans who believed that financial success was a sign of God’s favor.
That’s right. Americans have always breathed in this value: the best thing to be is middle class. There is something shameful about being poor.
And self-inflicted. We discuss poor white people as "trash."
The preoccupation with the illegal immigration and the price that the middle class is paying for these peasants coming from Latin America – because that’s what they are: peasants. They are a drag on our national identity and a burden to us. Yet we sing our songs on Sunday because we are good pious Americans who believe in the middle class god.
We are presented with an Albanian nun who spends her life – tormented by doubts – nonetheless serving the very poor, the people we will not touch.
What do we do with her? We sit around now thinking whether she was a good woman, or a hypocrite or she lied to herself.
We mock a life like this because we do not understand it. We do not understand the life that is given to poor people, because we are given only to the middle class fascination and we have told ourselves that we – the middle class – are God’s select. So what do we do when we meet a woman of great doubt, great faith, great durability, who spends her life on her knees, wiping the faces of the dying and dead.
Listen to this interview with Richard Rodriguez from 'UpFront'
GOD IS NOT GREAT
The case against religion
307pp. Atlantic. £17.99.
978 1 84354 586 6
US: New York: Twelve. $24.99.
978 0 446 57980 3
There is much fluttering in the dovecots of the deluded, and Christopher Hitchens is one of those responsible. Another is the philosopher A. C. Grayling. I recently shared a platform with both. We were to debate against a trio of, as it turned out, rather half-hearted religious apologists (“Of course I don’t believe in a God with a long white beard, but . . .”). I hadn’t met Hitchens before, but I got an idea of what to expect when Grayling emailed me to discuss tactics. After proposing a couple of lines for himself and me, he concluded, “. . . and Hitch will spray AK47 ammo at the enemy in characteristic style”.
Grayling’s engaging caricature misses Hitchens’s ability to temper his pugnacity with old-fashioned courtesy. And “spray” suggests a scattershot fusillade, which underestimates the deadly accuracy of his marksmanship. If you are a religious apologist invited to debate with Christopher Hitchens, decline. His witty repartee, his ready-access store of historical quotations, his bookish eloquence, his effortless flow of well-formed words, beautifully spoken in that formidable Richard Burton voice (the whole performance not dulled by other equally formidable Richard Burton habits), would threaten your arguments even if you had good ones to deploy. A string of reverends and “theologians” ruefully discovered this during Hitchens’s barnstorming book tour around the United States.
With characteristic effrontery, he took his tour through the Bible Belt states – the reptilian brain of southern and middle America, rather than the easier pickings of the country’s cerebral cortex to the north and down the coasts. The plaudits he received were all the more gratifying. Something is stirring in that great country. America is far from the know-nothing theocracy that two terms of Bush, and various misleading polls, had led us to fear. Does the buckle of the Bible Belt conceal some real guts? Are the ranks of the thoughtful coming out of the closet and standing up to be counted? Yes, and Hitchens’s atheist colleagues on the American bestseller list have equally encouraging tales to tell.
God Is Not Great is a coolly angry book, but there are good laughs too; for example, Hitchens’s hilarious account of how Malcolm Muggeridge launched “the ‘Mother Teresa’ brand upon the world” with his story that, while the BBC struggled to film her under low-light conditions, she spontaneously glowed. The cameraman later told Hitchens the true explanation of the “miracle” – the ultra-sensitivity of a new type of film from Kodak – but Muggeridge fatuously wrote: “I myself am absolutely convinced that the technically unaccountable light is, in fact, the Kindly Light that Cardinal Newman refers to in his well-known exquisite hymn”.
Hitchens also offers an extremely funny brief history of Mormonism: how it was invented from scratch by Joseph Smith, a nineteenth-century charlatan who wrote his book in sixteenth-century English, claiming to have translated the text from plates of gold – which conveniently ascended into heaven before anyone else could see them. Even the amanuenses to whom the illiterate Smith dictated had to sit behind a curtain lest they should catch a glimpse and be struck dead. Do you know anyone so gullible? Yet today, Mormonism is powerful enough to field a presidential candidate, its clean-cut young missionaries patrol the world in pairs, and the Book of Mormon nestles in every Marriott hotel room.
Hitchens’s title alludes, of course, to those famous last words “Allahu Akhbar”. The subtitle has suffered from its Atlantic crossing. The American original, “How religion poisons everything”, is an excellent slogan, which recurs through the book and defines its central theme. The British edition substitutes the bland and pedestrian subtitle “The case against religion”.
I referred earlier to Hitchens’s old-fashioned courtesy, and that was not (entirely) a joke. You can hear it in recordings of his lectures and debates, and you can see it in the first chapter of this book, “Putting It Mildly”.
I leave it to the faithful to burn each other’s churches and mosques and synagogues, which they can always be relied upon to do. When I go to the mosque, I take off my shoes. When I go to the synagogue, I cover my head.
The next chapter, “Religion Kills”, benefits from Hitchens’s experience as a war correspondent. (Others have likened him to Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene, but my own comparison is with Waugh’s intrepid rogue Basil Seal, who couldn’t keep out of trouble or away from the world’s trouble spots.) Publicly challenged by an American preacher to admit that, if approached by a gang of men in a dark alley, he would be reassured to learn that they had emerged from a prayer meeting, Hitchens’s return volley was unplayable:
Just to stay within the letter “B”, I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance.
He does give his reasons too, and in no case are they vulnerable to the objection “But the dispute in B— is tribal / political / economic, not religious”. It is doubtless true that the people of B— are killing each other over something more than a mere liturgical disagreement. They are pursuing hereditary vendettas, paying back economic injustices. It’s all “them and us” stuff, yes, but how do they know who is them and who is us? Through religion, religious education, sectarian apartheid; through decades of faith-based separation, starting in kindergarten, working up through faith school and on to later life and the inculcated horror of “marrying out”; then, most importantly, the dutifully segregated indoctrination of the next generation.
I once had a televised encounter with a leading “moderate” Muslim, of the kind who gets a knighthood or a peerage for not being an “extremist”. I publicly challenged this “moderate” to deny that the Muslim penalty for apostasy was death. Unable to do so (the Koran is word-for-word inerrant), he wriggled and twisted, and finally claimed that it was an “unimportant detail”, because never enforced. Tell that to Salman Rushdie, of whom the knighted “moderate” had earlier said, “Death is perhaps too easy for him”
. . . . the literal mind does not understand the ironic mind, and sees it always as a source of danger. Moreover, Rushdie had been brought up as a Muslim and had an understanding of the Koran, which meant in effect that he was an apostate. And “apostasy”, according to the Koran, is punishable by death. There is no right to change
religion . . . .
Thus Christopher Hitchens on his friend Salman Rushdie, whom he welcomed into his Washington home and was subsequently warned by the State Department
. . . to change my address and my telephone number, which seemed an unlikely way of avoiding reprisal. However, it did put me on notice of what I already knew. It is not possible for me to say, Well, you pursue your Shiite dream of a hidden imam and I pursue my study of Thomas Paine and George Orwell, and the world is big enough for both of us. The true believer cannot rest until the whole world bows the knee. Is it not obvious to all, say the pious, that religious authority is paramount, and that those who decline to recognize it have forfeited their right to exist.
Hitchens invokes the Danish cartoons to discuss complicity and cowardice in the West:
Islamic mobs were violating diplomatic immunity and issuing death threats against civilians, yet the response from His Holiness the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury was to condemn – the cartoons! In my own profession, there was a rush to see who could capitulate the fastest, by reporting on the disputed images without actually showing them. And this at a time when the mass media has become almost exclusively picture-driven. Euphemistic noises were made about the need to show “respect’” but I know quite a number of the editors concerned and can say for a certainty that the chief motive for “restraint” was simple fear. In other words, a handful of religious bullies and bigmouths could, so to speak, outvote the tradition of free expression in its Western heartland.
While I admire Hitchens’s courage, I could not condemn those editors. There are times when “cowardice” amounts to no more than sensible prudence. But Hitchens is surely right to despise leaders of other religions who, while under no threat, go out of their way to volunteer a gratuitous “respect” and “sympathy” for those who incite murder in the name of God.
To return to Hitchens on Rushdie and the fatwa:
One might have thought that such arrogant state-sponsored homicide . . . would have called forth a general condemnation. But such was not the case. In considered statements, the Vatican, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the chief sephardic rabbi of Israel all took a stand in sympathy with – the ayatollah. So did the cardinal archbishop of New York and other lesser religious figures. While they usually managed a few words in which to deplore the resort to violence, all these men stated that the main problem raised by the publication of The Satanic Verses was not murder by mercenaries but blasphemy.
Moving to today’s Iran (and this may go some way towards explaining his otherwise mysterious flirtation with the neocon blackguards of Washington) Hitchens notes, “as I write, a version of the Inquisition is about to lay its hands on a nuclear weapon”. This is an unexpected threat. Theocracy doesn’t obviously nurture the sort of cultural and educational advancement that goes with modern scientific inventiveness. Hitchens develops his point with respect to September 11, 2001, when
from Afghanistan the holy order was given to annex two famous achievements of modernism – the high-rise building and the jet aircraft – and use them for immolation and human sacrifice. The succeeding stage, very plainly announced in hysterical sermons, was to be the moment when apocalyptic nihilists coincided with Armageddon weaponry. Faith-based fanatics could not design anything as useful or beautiful as a skyscraper or a passenger aircraft. But, continuing their long history of plagiarism, they could borrow and steal these things and use them as a negation.
While my own primary concern as a scientist has been with religion’s claims about the cosmos and the sources of life, Hitchens restricts such matters to two short chapters. Where he really comes into his own is with the evils that are done in the name of religion: “religion poisons everything”. His list is pretty comprehensive. There is a good chapter on religion as child abuse; another on religion as a health hazard, which doesn’t fail to mention those Roman Catholic priests, including at least two cardinals and an archbishop, who solemnly told their flocks, in African countries ravaged by AIDS, that condoms transmit the virus.
Reviewers have variously described Hitchens as an equal opportunity atheist, an equal opportunity embarrasser (of all religions), an equal opportunity ranter, and an equal opportunity bigot. He is certainly not a bigot, nor does he rant (any critic of religion, no matter how mild, is automatically assumed to “rant”). But it is true, as another reviewer of God Is Not Great has put it, that it is “ecumenical in its contempt for religion”. Even Buddhism, which is often praised as a cut above the rest, gets both barrels.
It is no surprise that Hitchens’s chapter “The Nightmare of the Old Testament” effortlessly lives up to its name. The next one, despite its promising title (“The New Testament Exceeds the Evil of the Old”) is more about the unreliability of the texts than about any evil to match the admittedly high standards of the Pentateuch. Many Gospel stories were invented to fulfil Old Testament prophecies, and the shameless candour with which their authors admit it is almost endearing: “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet . . .”. The real evil of the New Testament gets a chapter to itself: that is, the divine-scapegoat theory of Jesus’s crucifixion, as vicarious atonement for “original sin” (the past sin of Adam who had never existed, and the future sins of people like us who didn’t yet exist but were presumed to have every intention of sinning when our time came).
Hitchens is quick to note the similarity of Christianity to extinct cults. Jesus slots right into a cosmopolitan catalogue of virgin births along with Horus, Mercury, Krishna, Attis, Perseus, Romulus and, incongruously, Genghis Khan. Is it Jungian atavism, shrewd PR, or sheer accident that leads the inventors of cults, and the religions into which they mature, to conjure their gods out of virgin wombs, like so many rabbits out of hats? Jesus’s case was abetted by a simple mistranslation from the Hebrew for “young woman” into the Greek for “virgin”.
One of Hitchens’s central themes is that gods are made by man, rather than the other way around. A related theme is plagiarism: “monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay, of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents”. A pair of chapters explores “The Tawdriness of the Miraculous” and the widespread fallacy that we derive our morals from religious rules such as the Ten Commandments. As Hitchens witheringly puts it, does anybody seriously think that, before Moses delivered the tablet inscription “Thou shalt not kill”, his people had thought it a good idea to do so?
I said that Hitchens comes into his own on the evils that are done in the name of religion: “in the name of” is important. You can’t just point to evil – or indeed good – individuals who happen to be religious. The case to be made is that people do evil (or good) – because they are religious. Crusaders and jihadis are – by their own lights – good. They do evil things (by our lights) because their faith drives them to it. The nineteen murderers of September 11 scrupulously washed, perfumed and shaved their whole bodies in preparation for the martyrs’ paradise, as they set off on what they sincerely, truly, prayerfully believed was a supremely righteous mission.
If ever a man embodied evil it was Adolf Hitler. He never renounced his Roman Catholicism, and affirmed his Christianity throughout his life, but unlike, say, Torquemada or a typical crusader or conquistador, he did not do his horrible deeds in the name of Christianity. Another deeply evil man, Joseph Stalin, was probably an atheist but, again, he didn’t do evil because he was an atheist, any more than he, or Hitler, or Saddam Hussein, did evil because they had moustaches. Hitchens is especially good on the idiotic challenge “Stalin and Hitler were atheists, what d’you say to that?” – doubtless after plenty of practice. Stalin, Hitler and the others may not have been religious themselves, but they understood the ingrained religiosity of their subjects, and exploited it gratefully. Hitchens makes the point only briefly in the book, but he has enlarged upon it in later speeches and interviews:
For hundreds of years, millions of Russians had been told the head of state should be a man close to God, the Czar, who was head of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as absolute despot. If you’re Stalin, you shouldn’t be in the dictatorship business if you can’t exploit the pool of servility and docility that’s ready-made for you. The task of atheists is to raise people above that level of servility and credulity.
The point applies again to Kim Jong Il (the Dear Leader) and to his late father, Kim Il Sung (the Great Leader), who is still the Eternal President of North Korea, despite having died in 1994. Hitchens has personal experience of North Korea, and his observations on its modern cult of ancestor worship are the sort of thing he does best.
Having failed myself to find anything to complain about, I thought it my duty to examine other reviews in the hope of uncovering something negative to say. Most of them have been favourable, but Matt Buchanan, in the course of an otherwise rave review in the Sydney Morning Herald, hit home with this:
He is also occasionally guilty of crassness. For example: “In the very recent past we have seen the Church of Rome befouled by its complicity in the unpardonable sin of child rape, or as it might be phrased in Latin form, no child's behind left.” Hitchens squanders a lot of trust with that vulgar lapse: readers suddenly catch sight of him chortling at his desk and it’s not pretty, or funny, and it impugns his seriousness elsewhere.
An undeniable lapse but not a characteristic one. The slightly odd habit of downsizing self-important leaders by calling them “mammals” is a lesser error of tone that might be corrected in a future edition.
Peter Hitchens begins his negative review in the Daily Mail quite well (“Am I my brother’s reviewer?”), but the substance of his complaint seems to be that Christopher is as confident in his disbelief as any fundamentalist is confident in his belief. The answer to the familiar accusation of atheist fundamentalism is plain enough. The onus is not on the atheist to demonstrate the non-existence of the invisible unicorn in the room, and we cannot be accused of undue confidence in our disbelief. The devout churchgoer recites the Nicene Creed weekly, enumerating a detailed and precise list of things he positively believes, with no more evidence than supports the unicorn. Now that’s overconfidence. By contrast, the atheist says the humble thing: of all the millions of possible entities that one might imagine, I believe only in those for which there is evidence – trombones, pelicans and electrons, say, but not unicorns or leprechauns, not Thor with his hammer, not Ganesh the elephant god, not the Holy Ghost.
The second commonest complaint from reviewers is that Christopher Hitchens attacks bad religion. Real religion (the religion the reviewer subscribes to) is immune to such criticism. Here is the theologian Stephen Prothero in the Washington Post:
To read this oddly innocent book as gospel is to believe that ordinary Catholics are proud of the Inquisition . . . and that ordinary Jews cheer when a renegade Orthodox rebbe sucks the blood off a freshly circumcised penis.
This complaint, too, is familiar, and the answer (even when the point is not exaggerated, as it is by Prothero) is obvious. If only all religions were as humane and as nuanced as yours, gentle theologian, all would be well, and Hitchens would not have needed to write this book. But come down to earth in the real world: in Islamabad, say, in Jerusalem, or in Hitchens’s home town, Washington DC, where the President of the most powerful nation on earth takes his marching orders directly from God. Channel-hop your television in any American hotel room, look aghast at the huge sums of money subscribed to build megachurches, at museums depicting dinosaurs walking with men, and see what I mean.
Finally, there are those critics who can’t resist the ad hominem blow: “Don’t you know Christopher Hitchens supported the invasion of Iraq?” But so what? I’m not reviewing his politics, I’m reviewing his book. And what a splendid, boisterously virile broadside of a book it is.
Richard Dawkins FRS is Oxford's Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. His latest book, The God Delusion, has sold more than a million copies in its first year, and is being translated into more than 30 languages.