Hitchens on Hugo

Christopher Hitchens is dead. Love him or hate him, man, did he have a way with words.

His excoriation of Hugo Chávez is something to remember, well worth re-visiting.

The money quote, in an article chock-full of them:

“… there is film of the Americans landing on the moon,” [Chávez] scoffed. “Does that mean the moon shot really happened? In the film, the Yanqui flag is flying straight out. So, is there wind on the moon?” As Chávez beamed with triumph at this logic, an awkwardness descended on my comrades, and on the conversation.

Chávez, in other words, is very close to the climactic moment when he will announce that he is a poached egg and that he requires a very large piece of buttered toast so that he can lie down and take a soothing nap. Even his macabre foraging in the coffin of Simón Bolívar was initially prompted by his theory that an autopsy would prove that The Liberator had been poisoned—most probably by dastardly Colombians. This would perhaps provide a posthumous license for Venezuela’s continuing hospitality to the narco-criminal gang FARC, a cross-border activity that does little to foster regional brotherhood.”


42 thoughts on “Hitchens on Hugo

  1. I said something on my Facebook profile, I’m going to repeat it here:

    If I ever get cancer or any disease long, painful and that might kill me, I hope I can die in peace and dignity like Hitchens, not to give a sad and pathetic show like Chávez, clinging to the Bishops’ robes. The same bishops he insulted and humiliated. Religion and belief are very personal subjects, but, whatever your decision is, hold your head high and assume your fate with dignity.

    Thanks again, Hitchens, for being such an example of lucidity and stoicism in the face of death.


    • Guido, in answer to your 2 points.

      I’m not saying there is evidence of a creator, but I’m not saying there isn’t. I’m actually saying that credible evidence of a creator is probably IMPOSSIBLE. Also, lack of evidence does not mean something cannot or does not exist, in my view.

      The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy (chaos) of a system is irreversible. Citation :) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_thermodynamics

      I am not arguing in favor of religion or against atheism. I am merely trying to reveal the leap of faith required for either.


    • I don’t know if I would call him a free thinker. He was a slave to his own convictions, as most of us are.


      • “The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. 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.”

        Disagree with him as you like, but you can’t accuse a man whose life was based around the concept of “this life is all we get, so you’d better live it” of being a “slave”.


        • Don’t you? What if his life was just about trying to be a contrarian because he felt he needed to be/seem “controversial” to stand out?
          For me the charm seems to lie more on the same Žižek effect.

          His stance on Iraq, for instance, seems to me not really controversial, but idiotic and particularly proof of his ignorance of non-English-speaking views.

          And one thing is to evolve and rethink one’s position and another having continous Paulus-like conversions in completely different directions…
          Slashing all? Fine, but you can slash all while trying to be a little bit more consistent, at least pretend not to be random.


        • I suspect there is a fallacy here. Atheism behaves like a creed, but a cleverly disguised one. Atheism assumes it is true, and therefore has a faith-based tautology hidden in it’s foundation. Agnosticism admits its own ignorance, and can therefore be free of cognitive dissonance.


          • Is not believing in Santa Claus a “faith-based tautology”? Is understanding that the legends and beliefs surrounding Santa Claus can be better explained as simple stories that were created, propagated and enhanced by imaginative people rather than fact-based stories a “faith-based tautology”?

            Are you a Santa Claus “agnostic”?

            Have you noticed that even the most shallow study of mental illnesses (specially senile dementia) pretty much dismantles all the core beliefs regarding the nature of the human mind (and “free will”) necessary to make the belief in a moral god possible let alone reasonable?


            • I am very glad to see the conversation that is going on here, I feel that I am learning from everyone’s ideas. Here is a bit more:

              I have as deep a suspicion of Hitchens, or anyone with strong anti-religious beliefs, as I do of someone who has strong religious beliefs. Maybe my suspicion is deeper, because until recently, I had religious beliefs. My bias is revealed there.

              I think it is very easy to become intellectually blind by the seductive assumption that we are clever, or good; that we never assume anything without basis on fact. But I believe almost all we consider knowledge is in reality only opinions that we have come to attach value to.

              In theory, the scientific method offers an escape from our hubris, to remember that our current understanding of the universe is only a “model”. The assumption here is that as we learn, we can always make a better model, and that our current understanding is by no means the last word. In fact, the tension between conflicting models can help us find other models that explains reality more accurately.

              But in practice, we resist the distasteful thought that we might be wrong; we seek a peaceful equilibrium. Even if we know this, and consciously try to be impartial, we are very limited, even when we use the scientific method.

              The scientific method is limited by what we can see, hear, touch, feel, or by the tools we have invented to do these things for us. It is also limited by our ability to create and disprove hypotheses, and worse, our ability to impartially observe and interpret the results of our experiments.

              But, many atheists debate dogmatic religious people with an equally dogmatic belief in science. That is what I call them out on: they have little scientific proof that there is no God. It is not a experimentally falsifiable claim.

              There can be evidence that the world was, or was not, created in 6 days. Geology and Biology come into play here. Even with these sciences, our best knowledge comes from interpretation and models, rather than from experiments (except for genetics). We would need experiments lasting hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years to prove our current theories about the origins of life. Even if our experiments show that life could evolve by chance out of hydrogen and helium, carbon and nitrogen, it does not prove that it actually did.

              To conduct an experiment to prove or disprove the existence of a creator being is even more difficult. To find that out would require extraordinary evidence, evidence of the invisible, undetectable, unmeasurable possibilities beyond our 4 dimensions.

              I don’t believe mythology; that the sun is Nanahuatzin, or the chariot of Apollo, nor Aton, because I believe what astronomy, chemistry and physics teach: that it is a fiery ball of hydrogen and helium, mostly. But these sciences cannot yet answer beyond a shadow of a doubt where matter came from in the first place, and especially, how that matter came to be ordered after the apparent initial chaos of the universe. Order coming from chaos is in violation of scientific law, how could it occur? We don’t know.

              The explanation that God created the universe is comforting, but I don’t know if it is true. The assertion that God does not exist and that he therefore did not create the universe is equally comforting, because it liberates us from an oppressive religious code of conduct. But how can we truly know?

              We can choose between several types of intellectual cowardice and laziness:
              1. to believe in God dogmatically based on faith
              2. to reject the existence of God based on incomplete evidence
              3. to label ourselves agnostic and stop looking for truth out of convenience (or exhaustion)

              But the best choice, in my opinion, is to keep searching for truth, never assuming that we have come to know anything beyond doubt. Thus we will always have room in our minds for learning, humility and awe.

              This TED talk is very inspiring about this:


            • “2. to reject the existence of God based on incomplete evidence”

              If by God, with capital G, you mean the Christian deity, it can be rejected as simply as any of the old gods that no one believes in these days. If you mean a creator of the Universe, well, there is no evidence about it, we can reject it until evidence comes.


            • That is not what he said. It was rather like “if you are atheist, you believe in something with as much basis as if you were believing in a religion”.

              Simply said: whether you like it or not, you can’t prove either way…and if you firmly believe atheism is proved, you are as fanatical and as unscientific as Sarah Palin, whether you have a PhD in biology or not, just differing from how many levels of unexplained explanations to the creation of the universe.

              I thought this was clear to you; Guido. There is a big difference between agnosticism and atheism, specially of the furibund “you are stupid if you believe, I know it” type.


            • Well, Kepler, not believing in Quetzalcoatl is a kind of atheism. To not believe in Jehovah requires exactly the same kind of belief that you not believing in Quetzalcoatl. As for the possibility of a creator of it all, sure, maybe, it could be, even Dawkins admits it, but it’s not a possibility I am considering seriously until there is evidence on the fact.

              You could say that not believing in Quetzalcoatl makes me palinesque, it’s up to you.


            • Guido,
              I believe in Quetzalcoatl as much as you do (even if I do believe in some God, unlike you). Now: do you think you have proof of the non-existence of Quetzalcoatl, proof using the scientific methods?
              I think we have less proof of that than of our belief Superman is just a human invention.
              In any case: it is not about whether X or Y is “a religion”, but about when we consider our belief is scientifically founded beyond any doubt as far our understanding of the universe concerns.

              I have a lot of believes relating computer-related technology, but I differentiate them from the things I hold for proven there.


            • The whole point is, Kepler, we do not need scientific proof to reject ideas that have no evidence to back them. I know I could be wrong and we might find evidence of a creator. I just find it is extremely unlikely, and even if we do, it won’t change how I live my life or how I think human beings should relate to each other. Just the same than the discovery of the Higg’s boson.

              You do not need scientific proof to reject the concept of technetium gnome from another universe that lives under my bed ans eats USB sticks. When I have technetium samples with different isotopic composition and partially digested USB thumbdrives, we will need some science, but not before I put the evidence on the table.


            • Guido,

              You don’t get my point. See the distinction. It is not even about humility but honesty: say when you are saying something based on belief or on clear proof.

              I am not rejecting you don’t need scientific proof to reject something. I am saying that all the time. I don’t need scientific proof to be rejecting a lot of things as UTTERLY RIDICULOUS and scientifically very unlikely (out of my “hunch” experience and scientific and non scientific background). But I don’t go and declare certain things have been scientifically proven as false and everyone believing in them is stupid “because those things have been proven through scientific method as false” when in fact they haven’t…and the less concrete those things are (the existence of some kind of God as opposed to Manitu with the head of an eagle in accordance with the Cheyenne tradition), the more pretentious and pseudo scientific you are if you do claim you are using science to disapprove those things. Reject anything you want, just as I do, but have the honesty to say when you are doing so by reasonable experience, by hunch, and when by the scientific method. Else, you are being dishonest. Keep belief and conclusions of a clean scientific work apart. I thought this should be clear to you.

              I have found out the most adamant atheists in very unreligious Europe who keep stating almost like a sport that some form of agent/creator is scientifically proven are no scientists at all or or are rather from some fringe group, Richard Dawkins being one of the few scientists who is so obsessed…and yet when you start to discuss with him about the ultimate sources, he becomes as fuzzy as anyone of us and has to concede exactly what you said. So: what’s the point? Most others are honest and say when what they state is a strong belief or less strong belief. This insistence on declaring something for proven is some form of obsession and highly unprofessional.

              Remember Kurt Gödel? I don’t talk about the ontological proof aspect but about the incompleteness theorems.


            • Guido,
              I think you are having comprehension problems or I problems with expressing myself…or perhaps both.

              As I said already several times, rejecting something based on what we believe to be “common sense” is not bad. I said I do it all the time, also on areas where I am a specialist. Still, I differentiate between what is just “common sense” and pretending something is scientifically proven.

              Geez. And this pretension of “scientific basis” is indeed Palin-esque.


            • And no, Guido, as far as I remember, he hasn’t said that. Only that when someone with a little bit of scientific training does start to ask him questions about the ultimate matters, he
              starts to concede. Else, he is so obsessed with the whole issue on a superficial level that he spends enormous amounts of time and money campaigning about atheism, just like any good Jehova witnesses…about images, about logos, nothing more.
              I applaud that we teach evolution theory at school and reject pseudo-science a la intelligent design and we keep religious adoctrination from school but his is another matter. The guy is intent on promoting atheism as such. Perhaps you haven’t seen his campaign here (yea, paid by him, with all those buses, just like US evangelicals in the South, and with as much “depth”)

              In that sense: either a little bit less noisy atheists and agnostics show more seriousness.


            • So, you cannot find a quote where the guy says that, but still Atheists are irrational and whatsoever… sounds like a textbook straw man to me.

              If you build a god that does not interact with anything, is touchy feely force that permeates everything, but affects nothing, of course I cannot disprove it. If you make claims about the physical world, of course we can prove or disprove them, in a scientific way. You might have a kind of belief of the former kind, but when believers make factual claims about the world, don’t get upset when a skeptic says “we have proved it is not true”.

              “Else, he is so obsessed with the whole issue on a superficial level that he spends enormous amounts of time and money campaigning about atheism, just like any good Jehova witnesses…about images, about logos, nothing more.”
              When you have a society in which churches make factual claims about life and society, when those churches try to change the laws so they become like their beliefs, no matter who is screwed up and which rights are destroyed (see what’s going on Mexico now), and at the same time people from these churches hide rapists and murderers, promotion of skepticism about organized beliefs is not only necessary, but vital. Dawkins is a natural resource.

              Now, agnostic towards what?
              Jehovah? SHiva? Quetzalcoatl?

              The point is not to be an agnostic, but against what kind of deity.


          • If one accepts the argument that since no theology can be proved or disproved then all theologies (including Atheism) are of equal value, one is then saying that knowledge is impossible. Yet, it is necessary for us to form conclusions in life, for without forming any conclusion at all, we cower in the dark, unable to decide on any clear courses of action. Agnosticism is a type of moral cowardice that avoids any conclusions, and thus, any responsibility for those conclusions.


            • Roy,

              It appears that you confuse humility and questing with cowardice, how so? Questing requires the courage of the adventurous.Not knowing what is over the mountain requires courage to take a look.One never knows what frightening entity might lie on the other side :) ; whereas certainty gives us colossal comfort and allows us to stop searching and settle down in our knowledge.

              I opine that it is quite the contrary to your statement.Those who are able to say “I don’t know” to a question that is way over all of our heads and certainly not provable , admits to the fact that in the acceptance of a belief in the existence of GOD is an act of faith, not an act of knowledge as we would normally define it.

              To claim one is an atheist is basically similar to claiming belief in God in that it appears to act as an assurance to the believer.ANY belief has similar psychological benefits and believers of all sorts are emotionally and intellectually related, as it is both comforting and easy to believe and feel certain, as it allows the believer to stop questing and find comfort in his certainty.

              On the other hand it requires an adventurous spirit and a touch of bravery to stand in the little cloud of not-

              Don’t confuse the philosophical world with the political one here.One is related the the infinite, the other to the finite.


      • A slave to his own convictions? Not so sure. He was a leftist who didn’t hesitate to support Thatcher, who never bought into the Mao or Castro revolution, who favoured the Malvinas invasion, who championed the Iraq war…etc, etc. In every case he did exactly the opposite he was supposed to do, he acted with independence, as an individual, and you will have to admit that he put some effort into presenting tangible arguments you can agree with or not. If that doesn’t qualify him as a free thinker, I don’t know what would. Or just take his article about Chávez. He was just there on the air with the Talker, he had been invited by his friend the actor. He sniffed the whole thing, and wrote exactly what he wanted to write.


  2. My Caracas Chronicles don’t com link quit functioning to open at current post. Forced to come in the back door via archive. Did not know if you are aware of this or not.


  3. On his recent book of memoirs, “Hitch-22”, Hitchens says: “Well, was there an authentic socialist movement for them to join, as I would once have said there was? Not really, or not anymore, or only in forms of populism and nationalism à la Hugo Chavez that seemed to me repellent. Could a real internationalist “Left” be expected to revive? It didn’t seem probable.” And the caption of his picture with Chavez and Sean Penn, it reads: “Getting to know the General: in Venezuela with Sean Penn, Douglas Brinkley, and the dictator”.



  4. Simply said: whether you like it or not, you can’t prove either way…and if you firmly believe atheism is proved, you are as fanatical and as unscientific as Sarah Palin, whether you have a PhD in biology or not, just differing from how many levels of unexplained explanations to the creation of the universe.

    One for the ages eh Kepler? So, since, in your opinion, the existence of god can not be “proven”, then it follows that atheism is as “fanatical and unscientific” as believing in something whose existence it is impossible to prove, beyond the realm of feelings and personal beliefs rooted solely in faith.

    What a clever remark… Who’d ‘a thunk it?

    “… unexplained explanations to the creation of the universe”? Surely religious books have the answer, right? You know, el barbudo, seven days…


  5. One of the great features of the Venezuelan republic, from its outset, is the fact that religion has not polluted politics. Whether you believe in God, or not, please remember: democracy helps believers and non-believers alike.


  6. NO kind of believer is a free thinker.It is pure rubbish to say otherwise.

    The nature of a belief system itself means having a close mind,it means ending a quest…..

    As the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved, it requires an act of faith to make a determination one way or the other.As atheism is also not provable or disprovable it equally requires an act of faith.Kepler is correct.

    Logic 101


    • Laargadaaaa!!!

      Logic 101? Let’s see… Some people believe in god. Where does that belief originates? In faith. In the physical and philosophical need that most individuals have to “believe” that there’s something greater, something that “rules” our acts, something that “watches” over us. It’s a comforting, or better yet, self-comforting belief system. For what’s the prospect otherwise? It inhabits that which we see every morning in the mirror. All our success as much as all of our failures reside with that entity we see every morning. The thing is, most people make the conscious decision of believing that what happens to them in life is not a result of natural process, environment, effort, input, etc. Rather most people think that things happen “for a reason”, and that “reason” is that, well, there’s a chivuo, up there somewhere, crafting, planning and directing every action of our lives, whose consequences are totally beyond our control.

      So a little, weak, and malnourished kid in sub-Saharan Africa facing the almost sure prospect of not living beyond 2 years of age, has that life, not because he was born in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because el chivuo up there somewhere had that particular plan for him, and for his family.

      So when we ask: where’s god in his infinite compassion, well meaning and wisdom, as caricatured by religious institutions, its believers and scribes alike, what’s the answer? We do not question, for “the Lord works in mysterious…”

      So when we say, armed with scientific knowledge that has withstood the test of religious dogma, that there is not such thing as god, that it’s all a system of belief upon which religions have been constructed to take advantage of human beings’ intrinsic spiritual needs, that it does not exist in the tangible, measurable, physical world, then we have to hear from, presumably, believers that since we can not demonstrate scientifically that there is no god, then believing that there is no god amounts to “fanatic and unscientific” behaviour, on a par with that of believers.

      So what gives? I can say, confidently, god does not exist. I can confidently say that the whole thing about the creator -and who created the creator?- is pure and absolute bullshit. Can the believers call me a fanatic because I am making a statement of fact, until of course, proven otherwise? Evidently they do. If believers are right, why not settle the issue once and for all, why not win the argument, why not call on their god and demonstrate that indeed there is a god? Simple, they can not do it. But it gets better. An article of faith is compared to an article of fact. Faith = fact.

      Indeed, logic 101…


      • Alek,

        Better to keep your rant simple, otherwise we get lost in a myriad of possible things to answer.Here I repeat my more bottom line approach.

        Your argument is straw man.I am not defending Religion as I am not a believer.I am defending the quest of an agnostic.

        The para scientists, as opposed to more higher level theoretical scientists( true- scientists) out there think they have the definite answers to things.They play an important role in the betterment of the human race, but not when it comes to philosophical questions and or the furthering of the quest for new paradigms.

        The finite may be answerable, but the infinite is not.Agnosticism is a more honest and brave approach to the quest of ultimate realities, than is a simple minded one where we think we are Gods in our own Universe.Atheism is a form of making man as God.The science of man can only be as great as the man who reasons.Ultimate knowledge is only correct until it is inevitably proven only a part of reality.


  7. For the record, I do not consider myself an agnostic. It’s not an “unknown and unknowable” issue. On the contrary, until proven otherwise, which I can here announce will be never, it remains conjecture, fantasy, faith, nothing else.

    But then this “Atheism is a form of making man as God”. To which I add “Y dios creo al hombre a su imagen y semejanza.” Es decir, the bullshit originates from those who assumed the role of being god speakers on earth. For when did god say that? Where’s the evidence of him saying any of the stuff “attributed” to him?

    And I never said that I have definite answers to anything. But to the god question I have it: total and unsubstantiated BS. As simple, as infuriating, and as rude, to those who believe, as that, until, of course, proven otherwise.


    • Alek,

      You say:

      “And I never said that I have definite answers to anything.”

      If you know there is no God you would have to know ultimate reality. An atheist believes in a definite answer: NO GOD.

      An agnostic keeps an open mind and entertains no ultimate answers.


  8. For Alek: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”

    For Firepigette: “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

    And for a good chuckle: “Eskimo: “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?” Priest: “No, not if you did not know.” Eskimo: “Then why did you tell me?””


  9. ” In one of the rather free-associating speeches for which he has become celebrated, Chávez appealed to Jesus Christ to restage the raising of Lazarus and reanimate Bolívar’s constituent parts.”

    That’s what I call sharp because it defines the subject’s style. Cristopher Hitchens, you will be sorely missed. The persons who tear apart masks, disguises and delusions are always too scarce.

    Have you noticed that only atheists seem to draw fire about “strongly” held beliefs? Even when they state explicitly that they cannot disprove or prove a God or gods? Why should they? Why not take proponents of religion to task on their extraordinary claims?

    They are only advancing their belief that an all-and-ever-loving and caring creator does not exist, just because nobody can honestly prove to have seen it or measured its effects. And as far as the world goes, it shows NOT the work of an ever-loving creator. As far as I know, this is the easiest belief to hold, being intellectually honest about what we see. Many atheists grate because they come down as caring too much about the existence or nonexistence of God, when the answer to faith-based claims should be “whatever…”.


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