Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more. – Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
26. The Lost Gospel of Judas – Bart Ehrman
This book is very similar to most of Ehrman’s other books, but it focuses a bit on the Gospel of Judas. It’s an interesting subject, if only because seriously, Judas had to do what he did for Jesus to save humanity, so why is it that he isn’t praised rather than condemned? I didn’t love the book, but it was pretty good. B
27. Forged – Bart Ehrman
I loved this book, it felt more focused than some of his other work. I cannot over recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of the Bible. A
28. Monarchy – Christopher Hitchens
This barely qualifies as a book, but I’m counting it because it took me over a month to get my hands on it. I had to have it shipped from an out-of-state library. It wasn’t that great, if only because anti-monarchy arguments are fairly, you know, obvious. It was interesting to see how Hitch wrote 20 years ago, though. B-
29. Griftopia – Matt Taibbi
Read this. Right now. Not even kidding. The most fascinating read about the financial crisis and melt down and who is to blame for it. I learned a lot about Alan Greenspan who I now despise. Also, he makes fun of Ayn Rand, which really always makes me happy. I feel obligated to find and read a lot more Taibbi. A+
We live in an economy that is immensely complex and we are completely at the mercy of the small group of people who understand it — who incidentally often happen to be the same people who built these wildly complex economic systems. We have to trust these people to do the right thing, but we can’t, because, well, they’re scum. Which is kind of a big problem, when you think about it.
30. The King’s Speech – Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
Pretty good, interesting to see the actual history and how it got changed and consolidated for the film. Very very good.
As the year winds down, I’m posting the last brief reviews of books that I’ve read this year. My initial challenge of 50 books in a year seemed daunting at first (a book a week? Who has time?) yet I somehow did it, and I don’t even feel like I spent that much time reading this year. I think everyone should do the 50 book challenge, because A) why not and B) it doesn’t actually require that much time or effort.
61. God is Not Great – Christopher Hitchens, read by Christopher Hitchens
I love this book. Once I hit 60 and knew I’d probably get to 65 for the year, I decided that I could just go ahead and do some guilty pleasure re-reads if I wanted to. I admit I simply love to listen to Christopher Hitchens speak, and I would probably listen to him read a cookbook, so long as he was allowed to make snarky remarks, but this book is truly remarkable if for no other reason than it offers opinions on things that are much different than what you hear from day to day. Mother Teresa and Gandhi are sold, compellingly, as villains, as is all religion, including Eastern Religion. There’s also an interesting chapter on why religions don’t like pigs and another on whether religion is child abuse.
Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody — not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms — had the smallest idea of what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge. Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion.
62. QI Second Book of General Ignorance
I started with the second book because it was more recent (logic!) and I did enjoy it. QI, for those not in the know, is a British Trivia show (Quite Interesting) where comics answer tricky trivia questions and are awarded points for being interesting and lose points for being obvious and wrong. It’s awesome. The book repeats the show a bit, but it was interesting.
63. Book of General Ignorance
I liked the second book more.
64. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
This is an amazing book. You need to read it. It’s about a poor black woman in the 50s who died of cervical cancer, but whose cancer cells were the first immortal human cells and have been used in millions of experiments since then and contributed to almost all human biological knowledge discovered since they were cultured. But no one asked her for permission to take the cells, and no one told her or her family that they were being used. Here’s an excerpt.
65. The Nuremberg Trial – John and Ann Tusa
I didn’t know anything about the Nuremberg Trials, really, just that they existed. This was a really human and fascinating account of the first trial. It was a slow read, but it was a lot like reading a courtroom drama, especially because the Nazis were portrayed as three dimensional. If you like courtroom stories, this is a good, if disturbing, one.
Let’s say that the consensus is that our species, being the higher primates, Homo Sapiens, has been on the planet for at least 100,000 years, maybe more. Francis Collins says maybe 100,000. Richard Dawkins thinks maybe a quarter-of-a-million. I’ll take 100,000. In order to be a Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years, our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth, most other people having a life expectancy of about 25 years, dying of their teeth.
Famine, struggle, bitterness, war, suffering, misery, all of that for 98,000 years. Heaven watches this with complete indifference. And then 2,000 years ago, thinks “That’s enough of that. It’s time to intervene,” and the best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate parts of the Middle East.
Don’t let’s appeal to the Chinese, for example, where people can read and study evidence and have a civilization. Let’s go to the desert and have another revelation there. This is nonsense. It can’t be believed by a thinking person.
Why am I glad this is the case? To get to the point of the wrongness of Christianity, because I think the teachings of Christianity are immoral. The central one is the most immoral of all, and that is the one of vicarious redemption. You can throw your sins onto somebody else, vulgarly known as scapegoating. In fact, originating as scapegoating in the same area, the same desert.
I can pay your debt if I love you. I can serve your term in prison if I love you very much. I can volunteer to do that. I can’t take your sins away, because I can’t abolish your responsibility, and I shouldn’t offer to do so. Your responsibility has to stay with you. There’s no vicarious redemption.
There very probably, in fact, is no redemption at all. It’s just a part of wish-thinking, and I don’t think wish-thinking is good for people either. It even manages to pollute the central question, the word I just employed, the most important word of all: the word love, by making love compulsory, by saying you must love. You must love your neighbor as yourself, something you can’t actually do. You’ll always fall short, so you can always be found guilty.
By saying you must love someone who you also must fear. That’s to say a supreme being, an eternal father, someone of whom you must be afraid, but you must love him, too. If you fail in this duty, you’re again a wretched sinner. This is not mentally or morally or intellectually healthy.
And that brings me to the final objection – I’ll condense it, Dr. Olafsky – which is, this is a totalitarian system. If there was a God who could do these things and demand these things of us, and he was eternal and unchanging, we’d be living under a dictatorship from which there is no appeal, and one that can never change and one that knows our thoughts and can convict us of thought crime, and condemn us to eternal punishment for actions that we are condemned in advance to be taking.
All this in the round, and I could say more, it’s an excellent thing that we have absolutely no reason to believe any of it to be true.
I confess I cried watching it. I have a somewhat irrational emotional attachment to Christopher Hitchens, he has such an eloquent and engaging approach to writing and speaking. I don’t always agree with him politically, but I think everyone has to admire the honest way he’s approaching his own death.
AC: In a moment of doubt, isn’t there… I dunno, I just find it fascinating that even when you’re alone and you know no one else is watching that there might be a moment where you, you know, want to hedge your bets.
CH: If that comes it’ll be when I’m very ill. When I’m half-demented, either by drugs or by pain, or I won’t have control over what I say. I mention this in case you ever hear a rumor later on. Because these things happen and the faithful love to spread these rumors, you know on his death bed he finally well… I can’t say that the entity that by then wouldn’t be me wouldn’t do such a pathetic thing, but I can tell you that not while I’m lucid. No, I can be quite sure of that.
OK, so, Mr. Plait, who I am told is normally super super awesome and does genuinely seem like a nice guy, really irritated the shit out of me during TAM. And I say this with as much respect as possible and I acknowledge that this is my first exposure to him, and that people who know him and his work took what he was saying a bit differently than did I. He was basically saying that skeptics have a tone problem and more flies with honey and stop being assholes.
My level of being incredibly irritated with him for trying to be the Skeptic Tone Police has subsided a bit, partially because I think he didn’t mean it the way he said it. I think he was using general language because his argument was a little sloppy, not because he genuinely thinks no one should ever raise their voice in angry disagreement. To me, however, it sounded like he was saying “Christopher Hitchens, PZed and Dawkins have all got to stop being so strident and angry and dickish. Why can’t we all just get along?” But, apparently he was saying “The JREF forums are fucking hellish”. But I don’t read the JREF forums, so I wouldn’t know.
I agree that, generally speaking, you should be nice to someone you’re trying to convince if you’re having an argument with them to convince them. But, and this is important, that’s not the only reason you have arguments. Sometimes it’s to convince everyone else that you’re right, regardless of what the other person thinks. The internet is an amazing place where your arguments are all public. Sometimes humiliating someone who has a stupid point of view has the effect of convincing everyone else that you are right. Particularly if you can do it in a hilarious way. Hitchens made me OK with self-identifying atheist simply because he was such a hilariously snobby jerkface.
The entire speech was somewhat patronizing — here’s daddy figure Phil Plait telling us all to mind our Ps and Qs and not be so abrasive because daddy doesn’t like that. Pissed me off something hardcore having to sit through him lecturing me about being too mean to people. I felt the same way in a thread over on Pharyngula where people were saying women didn’t like how abrasive the skeptics/atheists are. It’s not true, I love it, it’s entertaining, it’s informative, it’s fun. I’m not a weak little girl, daddy doesn’t get to tell me to play nice with others.
And the fact is most of the people he’s talking about are people who are incredibly nice, polite and respectful in person. He’s got a problem with their online behavior. And frankly, it’s the fucking internet, that’s how people are and to fucking yell at a bunch of people who are really into the same thing you are because you don’t like the tone they take is a bit much.
AND I take issue with him treating skepticism as something we should be in charge of proselytizing. If I want to have an angry discussion about people hacking off little girls privates and be a complete dick to anyone who disagrees with me, I get to do that. Will that change people’s minds, I dunno, but it’s my way of dealing with the information and skepticism isn’t some fucking religion that has rules. His speech, more than anything, makes me a bit reticent to call myself a skeptic rather than an atheist because it makes me think he wants it to be treated as a religion, and that makes me very squeamish.
I know that this wasn’t the first skeptic event for most of the people in the crowd, but it basically was for me… and now I’m quite skeptical of this whole “Skeptic Movement”. I’m an uppity ginger, and I’m not joining any “movement” that tells me that who I am is not OK.
And, as I said, I don’t think that that was what he intended, I suspect it was at least partially him venting about behavior he witnesses online, and, as he doesn’t know me, I’m 80% sure it was not intended as a personal affront. Which is good, because then he’d be guilty of the behavior he’s denouncing. And probably he didn’t mean it was never OK to raise your voice in a crowded room, but that’s sure what it sounded like to me.
Should we pray for Hitch? I will, in part to piss him off.
That’s what’s fucked up about it. You’re not praying because you think it’s going to legitimately do him some good, you’re praying because you see his illness as a chance to be a complete jerk? Tell me how that’s not fucked up.
And I agree with the rest of what Sully says
I don’t believe in treating the sick as suddenly tender souls who cannot enjoy humor and debate – and that would apply in truckloads for my dear friend. I’m delighted that no one ever pulls a punch with me on the grounds of chronic disease and I’m sure Hitch would feel the same way.
Absolutely, don’t pull punches, don’t be afraid of debating, and if you want to be a dick fine, but we’re gonna call you on it. And I would think that religious people would have a problem with their religion being used specifically to be a dick — oh wait, nevermind on that one. And if you feel the need to pray, fine, but what you said was
May the God he believes poisons everything be with him
DICK. And oh so guilty of being the kind of Christianist that he claims he hates.
Today he posted about Hitch’s Cancer and said the following:
I’m devastated by the news. We need Christopher around for a long, long time. I do not know the details and understand his need for privacy. But he seems in good spirits if this classically British understatement is symptomatic of his mood:
“I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me.”
May the God he believes poisons everything be with him. And a simple word of encouragement: surviving a potentially fatal disease can be a form of liberation. I look forward to an even more liberated Hitch.
I’m glad that he cares, and I feel much the same way towards Sully as I do towards Hitch, they’re both interesting to read even when I totally disagree with them which isn’t infrequent. But what a dickhead thing to say. He doesn’t believe God does anything because he doesn’t believe in God, he thinks that religions poisons everything because it’s false. It’s in the damn title of the book he wrote, it’s not difficult.
And then, using the opportunity of someone’s major, potentially fatal illness to insist on pushing your religious bullshit is… well it’s fucking rude bullshit.
I was really excited, I was supposed to go to a book signing in LA with Christopher Hitchens. He was going to give a talk this week. It was going to be awesome. A couple weeks ago, there was a thing in Seattle that a friend of mine was trying to go to, he cancelled for “personal reasons”. Not long after that, he cancelled the one in LA, also for “personal reasons”.
I threw myself into full internet research mode, but there just wasn’t any info out there. I even tried to get the Pharyngulite Horde onto it, but no one really responded.
He’s got cancer. Esophageal cancer for which he’s getting chemo, which means it’s probably advanced. The average five year survival rate, according to Wikipedia, is 5%. According to the following site, 14,250 are diagnosed each year, and 14,000 die.
While no surefire way to prevent cancer of the esophagus exists certain risk factors can be minimized to reduce the risk of cancer. Smoking and excessive alcohol multiply the risk of esophageal cancer up to 44 times, so avoiding these two factors decreases the risk and improves your overall health.
Well, that’s Christopher Hitchens in a nutshell, he smokes and drinks, it’s who he is. It’s a shame if that means he’s going to die at 61. He’ll probably laugh and say at least he got his memoir done before he died. 😦