10/16/08

Christopher Hitchens - Suicidal Bombast?

With regards to the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Alister McGrath which Josh posted about, I wanted to quote one statement by Christopher Hitchens and simply open the floor to discussion:

“The suicide bombing community is entirely faith based.”

12 comments:

  1. You are talking about the Tamils, right? I believe they are a cult.

    Still, suicide bombing is a tactic and tactics are not confined to ideologies. You could get atheists to commit suicide bombing if they incentives are high enough.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Should we expect any less from Hitchens?

    The largest group of suicide bombers in the world between 1980-2000 were the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE are a terrorist group in Sri Lanka with no religious motivation. They committed 158 suicide bombings between 1980-2000, three times as many as the closest group with 52. They committed more suicide bombings than all of the rest combined.

    When I bring up this rather unfortunate fact to the "New Atheist" internet fanboys, they usually link me to something trying to show a connection between LTTE and Christianity. These links show the Church using the LTTE for their own gains (which is detestable if true) and the LTTE doing likewise. They show no connection between religious belief and the suicide bombers motivation. Even this connection is very shaky considering the assassination earlier this year, by the LTTE, of the government official and Christian leader, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.

    I found all of this out a while back by spending a few minutes researching suicide bombing online.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Though not suicide bombers in the traditional sense, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were bombers (despite the bombs failing) who committed suicide. They were both atheists.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hitchens is a performance artist, and his lectures should be understood in that context.

    For an interesting serious talk by anthropologist Scott Atran on suicide bombers, look at the short video on my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @samuel skinner

    You might have a more difficult time than you'd think convincing atheists to commit suicide by strapping bombs to themselves. The motivation behind suicide bombing is aesthetic rather than attritional. What that means is that bombers try to paint as horrific an image as possible to get their message across rather than trying to kill as many people as possible. An atheist's ethos is entrenched in the rational, something which does not extend to blowing themselves up for a cause. Furthermore atheists are intrinsically individualistic, making that tendency even less likely. And finally, since many suicide bombers only detonate themselves secure in the 'knowledge' that they will be sent to paradise, maybe with the added boon of 72 virgins thrown in, it's nigh on impossible to imagine why an atheist would want to do that when he or she is fairly certain that total and utter non-existence is the only thing waiting for them.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Derek: you're using outdated statistics. Estimated Tamil suicide bombers lay somewhere between 76 and 168. Eighty-six percent of the suicide bombings over the last 25 years have been since 2001, when the Tamils were more or less quiescent. There have been 1,180 in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, almost 10 times the Tamil's record. The Tamils may have "popularized' the tactic, but the religious have not been slow to embraced it with an unwholesome alacrity since then and now almost claim it as a monopoly franchise.

    That said, its a political tool and isn't strictly a religious phenomenon. The Viet Cong used it in 60s/70s for nationalistic/marxist ends, for instance. Sadly, it seems to be an important tool in so-called asymmetric conflicts where one side has an overwhelming monopoly on the conventional methods of political violence.

    It isn't altogether clear where nationalistic and religious motivations diverge in many of these instances since culture, of which religion is often a major component, and nationalism are tightly bound. The virtual idolatrous worship of the American flag by some sub cultures (most often also Christian, BTW) in the US, for example, has always seemed more than a little religious to me. This "Gott mit uns!" fetish of ours isn't uniquely American by any means, nor is it recent in origin, but I think there's only a thin line separating nationalism and conventional religions. So, while I think Hitchens' statement is an overstatement of the case, I suspect he's more or less correct if "religion" isn't restricted to merely conventional forms of religion. But that's just me. I don't know if Hitchens would agree.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Derek: you're using outdated statistics. Estimated Tamil suicide bombers lay somewhere between 76 and 168. Eighty-six percent of the suicide bombings over the last 25 years have been since 2001, when the Tamils were more or less quiescent. There have been 1,180 in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, almost 10 times the Tamil's record. The Tamils may have "popularized' the tactic, but the religious have not been slow to embraced it with an unwholesome alacrity since then and now almost claim it as a monopoly franchise.

    I made it very clear that the statistics I was using were from 1980-2000.

    I'm not prepared to comment on the bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq since I'm not clear about the motivations.

    That said, its a political tool and isn't strictly a religious phenomenon. The Viet Cong used it in 60s/70s for nationalistic/marxist ends, for instance. Sadly, it seems to be an important tool in so-called asymmetric conflicts where one side has an overwhelming monopoly on the conventional methods of political violence.

    It is a great tool for the underdog in a conflict, no doubt about that.

    So, while I think Hitchens' statement is an overstatement of the case, I suspect he's more or less correct if "religion" isn't restricted to merely conventional forms of religion. But that's just me. I don't know if Hitchens would agree.

    If one stretches the term religion that thin then anything that has a devoted following is a religion. Each sports team has their own religion with their exalted players (gods) and sacred texts (player bios, and stats books).

    ReplyDelete
  8. Full MP3 Audio of the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Frank Turek can be found here at apologetics315.com.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I didn't know suicide bombers had a "community", for one thing.
    Anyway, I don't see why afterlife has more to do with it for a religious person than the irreligious or atheist. In other words, and atheist has no problems with afterlife either. He may not think he's getting "paradise", but he's not getting punishment either, he simply ceases. Because of that belief, he has no fear of his death or afterlife, which can be JUST AS MUCH a part of his desire to suicide bomb as the next guy.

    Also, even if his statement is true, than so what? What's the point? That because suicide bombers have "faith" in something, automatically means that anything which includes faith must be wrong or dangerous? That if we simply conclude that bombers have faith, Christianity is bad? Come on, this is even worse than saying all people with mustaches are Nazis.

    There is an obvious undertone built in to the question that, should we agree something has faith, it is then wrong. Similar to asking something like, "did that molester have a mustache?" It makes you feel like, if you say yes, then it is somehow a victory against all people with mustaches that they are bad or dangerous. But you have to stand back and ask, "so what if he does?" Mustaches are not intrinsically bad, and neither is having faith in something.
    If Hitchen's argument is meant to force us to concede "a bad guy had faith, so therefore faith is bad and whatever you think that requires faith must be bad", then all sorts of good things are at risk. Having faith in your spouse that they aren't cheating on you is bad, far better to hire private detectives to monitor them. Have faith that anybody you talk to will make good their promises. Have faith the doctors and scientists and health professionals are telling us the true story. We have faith in almost everything, in some way or another, all day. So again, just what is Hitchens trying to prove by making people concede that bombers "have faith"?

    Do atheists who shoot up school kids and then shoot themselves "have faith"? Maybe they do, maybe they don't? But then, if atheists don't "have faith", then this example proves that having NO faith is just as bad as having faith. What difference does it make? Can't I just find some suicide bombers that were atheists and ask "suicide bombers don't have faith", and so conceding that makes the argument that having faith is good?

    The point is, having faith is not bad or good, it is REQUIRED to live through life. The point is, we need to have faith in the RIGHT things. The things that are WORTH fighting for, dying for, educating against, teaching about, etc...
    Having no faith in your spouse is much worse than having faith. If you have no faith in your spouse, you will live with them in fear, suspicion and distrust all the time, never quite believing anything they say.
    Hitchens can pretend there is a such a world as one without faith, but he can have it, I wouldn't live in such a place for all the money in the world.

    So do suicide bombers have faith? Sure, I suppose many do (or did). But then, some don't. What's the point? And who cares anyway? If a suicide bomber is stripped of his faith, hasn't he just as much reason to continue his attack just the same? He had something to die for, now he's got nothing to live for. It makes no difference in the end.
    Hitchens brings water balloons to gun fights and pretends his force the stronger.


    Peace

    ReplyDelete
  10. Bravo, Vigilante. Very well put indeed.

    No matter what your world view is, there is a point where all of us have to go beyond the evidence that we have. A theist goes beyond the evidence to believe God exists (although, of course, he could, and should, argue that he's not going against the evidence. An economist goes beyond the evidence when he makes predictions about where interest and inflation rates are heading. A financial auditor, after collecting sufficient audit evidence in compliance with ASA 550 then goes beyond that to report that the assets and liabilities of a company exist and are accurately quantified in the financial report. An atheist, of course, goes beyond the evidence when he asserts there is no God. I'm not sure if thats 'faith' as such, but it is certainly going beyond the evidence. Its an excellent point that an atheist believes, by going beyond the evidence, that there is no afterlife. He wont have anything to worry about nor will he be able to even worry. There is no deterrent at all then, if he has nothing to live for, to kill himself in the name of his cause.

    But as you pointed out - even if he did, it would not then necessarily follow that faith is evil by its essence.

    Hitchens' own statement went beyond the available evidence (in fact, clearly against it) and had an element of great faith in it.

    He may as well have said "The community of people with worldviews, which is everyone, is entirely faith based".

    ReplyDelete
  11. Mr Byrnes,

    I have to say you've got completely the wrong end of the stick. The existence of God is a question of burden of proof, i.e. it is the job of someone attesting that something (probably) exists to provide evidence to support the claim.

    The most common atheist position is not that there unequivocally is no God, but that based on the lack of evidence, there is no reason to conclude there is a God. Only an atheist who said that he was 100% certain there is no God could be said to be using 'faith' in any sense, as he would be extrapolating the lack of evidence to conclude that there was no evidence.

    Turning now to the question of an afterlife, most atheists believe accordingly that there probably is no afterlife. To suggest however that this belief gives an atheist "nothing to live for" is preposterous and entirely backwards. If I don't expect to enjoy life after death, I want to make damn sure that I enjoy life before death. It's my wish to spend as much time on this planet as possible and improve it for the better, for the very reason that I believe this is it. In fact the very use of the word 'deterent' seems naive. It suggests that the natural order of things is for people to blow themselves up, and they need concrete reasons why not to. It's totally absurd.

    ReplyDelete