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Hedges has snapped
on April 8, 2008
"Those who insist we are morally advancing as a species are deluding themselves. There is little in science or history to support this idea."
Hedges is overstating his case here. Yes, there are plenty of scientific utopians who will overstate the "progress" humanity has made in the past 500 years. But the fact is that the Enlightenment and contemporaneous developments elsewhere in the world have accomplished drastic improvements in the treatment of human beings by other human beings. Slavery, once a universal practice sanctioned by warlords and priests like, is now nearly abolished worldwide. Women, long held in brutal submission by cultural mores backed by religious authority, are accorded more freedom and dignity than at any other time in human history. Racial, cultural and religious minorities are protected by laws allowing them to live their lives without molestation or discrimination in most free societies today, a reality almost unheard of in the history of mankind. To associate the Nazis with the Enlightenment is shockingly ahistorical: Hitler's nationalist movement, like Mussolini's, was grounded in mythological romanticism and involved the complete rejection of legal and scientific authority, instead elevating the god-king and the tribe using language strikingly similar to the directions given by Jawhew in the Bible. Far from being a consequence of the Enlightenment, it was a reactionary movement against it and back toward tribal religious fanaticism.
WIAFTGUM was a beautiful and honest account of what war does to people and societies. "American Fascists" was a brave denunciation of one of the most dangerous political developments in America today, made doubly brave by his self-indentification as a Christian. But this second book seemed to exhibit a strange schizophrenic quality, as Hedges dredged up so much damning evidence against the Christian Right while insisting that their traditions and views had nothing, absolutely nothing, in common with those of "mainstream" Christians. In this final book, the strain of reconciling what he knows to be true of the Christian Dominionist movement with the history of "mainstream" Christianity seems to have driven him off the deep end.
Of course Christopher Hitchens is a racist, imperialistic boor. It's his trademark, and it helps him sell books and collect speaker's fees. He overstates the case against religion, attributing many atrocities to religion that were doubtless motivated by racism, greed, or imperialism but used religion as a pretext. This last criticism is equally true of Dawkins. But none of this invalidates the thesis that religion has historically encouraged, and continues to encourage, anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic, morbid, violent, misogynistic, culturally bigoted sentiments wherever it blooms most fiercely. Hedges' hesitance to examine the historical record in any depth on these points undermines his commitment to the project of redeeming religion from its terrible history, from the Inquisition to the KKK. I suspect that this book is an attempt to salvage his damaged faith after the harrowing it must have been subjected to while writing AF. But Hedges would have been better off keeping it to himself, because it is an unconvincing document.
Hedges' railing against "reason" is particularly troubling, as his arguments rely on reason for their force. This is the ultimate vindication of the Enlightenment: it argued, not that Reason was some unassailable idol whose worship would instantly grant us perfect knowledge and understanding, but rather that reason was the only guide by which one could reliably, albeit imperfectly and always at a remove, approach the truth. Any assault on this thesis using rational argument, as Hedges does, implicitly accepts the truth of the thesis while trying to disprove it, and is therefore doomed from the outset. Hedges' failure to recognize this suggests that he has lost his bearings; he is a rational man who is trying to defend groundless faith -- unreason -- by using reason, which is prima facie a futile endeavor.
The only effective arguments against reason are the gun, the fist, the image, the song, the chant, the battle cry, the burning cross, the noose. Words, laid out as an argument, are already on the side of reason, and pose no threat to it. This is the truth that Hedges and his fellow otherwise-rational religious sentimentalists and apologists refuse to grasp, and it makes them strange and contradictory.