Pharyngula

Hitchens on The Daily Show

Eh.

It wasn’t bad. Hitchens declared some laudable objectives for his book: he wants to end the idea that calling someone a person of faith is a compliment, and he laid out his position on the origins of religion. It’s built on fear of the dark, fear of death, and hatred of sex, and those aren’t sound bases for rational thought. So the sentiment was good.

Presentation … well, that wasn’t so good. I know Hitchens can be eloquent, but he wasn’t. He bumbled about and couldn’t quite manage to put two coherent sentences together.

I’m still getting the book, but I don’t think his performance tonight would have persuaded anybody who wasn’t already one of those uncompromising atheists.


You can watch the interview yourself over at onegoodmove.

Comments

  1. #1 The Science Pundit
    April 30, 2007

    I agree. Perhaps it’s true that he doesn’t bother to sober up for these interviews. Shame either way.

    (PZ–Did you catch the Iraqi flag pin on his lapel?)

  2. #2 yeahok
    May 1, 2007

    Yeah, he seemed really drunk.

  3. #3 Lago
    May 1, 2007

    Hitch does not use simply one sentence catch-phrases. He sets up ideas over several minutes, and then responds at the end establishing points. This does not transcribe all that well over to a show like “The Daily Show” where one needs to make small hook-like statements. In the end, Hitch didn’t do too bad, as I didn’t see him once fall over puking while asking the waitress to freshen his drink…

  4. #4 hexatron
    May 1, 2007

    I also thought there were possible methyl issues.
    And the host was serving the softest of softballs, which was not a service to either of them.

    I wonder what the fundamentalist christian daily show fan thought. Not a typical one. The one.

    (I am still kind of nauseated from watching the the PBS disexposee of the LDS (“on the one hand, they did some dreadful things. On the other hand, they were provoked.” Mountain Meadows was the comprehensible response to an Arkansan whe killed the mormon who has seduced his wife and had returned to take his children. Oooh–left out that part–the Arkansan killed a simple mormon missionary. Whoda guessed?)

  5. #5 Caledonian
    May 1, 2007

    I just don’t get his “the war was totally just” argument.

    In what sense? The Iraqi people aren’t better off, we’re not better off, there’s a whole new haven for terrorists (who are much better off), and basically our actions were motivated by an insane pipe dream of creating a glorious happy America-friendly society that resulted in our not planning things out.

    There are dozens of crazed dictators making their people suffer. It would neither be moral nor practical to go around toppling them. The invasion of Afganistan: justified, although we screwed that up really well, too. The invasion of Iraq: no.

  6. #6 Christian Burnham
    May 1, 2007

    It would be a bit like Dawkins writing a book on evolution whilst on crack. It’d probably still be pretty accurate and even have lots of good bits, even if some parts seem a little on the paranoid side. You’d get the feeling though that the prose could have been better if he had put the crack-pipe down.

    Uh… of course Dawkins isn’t actually a crack addict, whereas Hitchens is an alcoholic.

  7. #7 Aaron
    May 1, 2007

    I wasn’t at all impressed. What really truck me was his assertion that every God is born of a virgin. That’s simply not true… that didn’t even enter into Xianity until it was translated to Greek. Sexuality may be a recurring theme in many religions, but expecting every religion to match popular modern theology is a ridiculously narrow way to view religious thought.

  8. #8 anon
    May 1, 2007

    Hitchens also was on BookTV on C-SPAN2 this past weekend.
    May be you should have watch that instead of 5 minute talk.
    Problem with hitchens is that he is a boozer. He usually is
    no longer very coherent in his public debates. watch the booktv
    program and you will see.

  9. #9 whomever1
    May 1, 2007

    I prefer Timothy Leary’s view of the origin of religion. It followed the consumption of mushrooms.

  10. #10 JohnnieCanuck
    May 1, 2007

    Mushrooms, or in desert areas, heading off into the wilderness and waiting until dehydration, hyperthermia and probably sleep deprivation start giving you visions.

    That’s what the bible says happened to some possibly fictional guy who hallucinated that the devil was talking to him.

  11. #11 Callandor
    May 1, 2007

    “What really truck me was his assertion that every God is born of a virgin.”

    I’m not sure if he said that every god is born of a virgin, I thought he said that nearly every god is. Anyway, he does give a nice run down of examples of course. But then again maybe he simply misspoke (like everyone else, I was a bit discouraged when I saw him thinking he was a bit drunk).

  12. #12 Cain
    May 1, 2007

    Uh… of course Dawkins isn’t actually a crack addict, whereas Hitchens is an alcoholic.

    He’s not an alcoholic, he’s just British.

    But seriously, I didn’t think he did that well, and I agree with others that it was probably more the Hitchens/format mismatch than the boozing. Though, sometimes having Jon Stewart crack a joke every 30 seconds, however funny, doesn’t really help things either.

  13. #13 False Prophet
    May 1, 2007

    Well, I still plan to read Hitchens’ book, though I wasn’t very impressed by his show tonight either.

    I’m always mindful of this essay that skewers both Hitchens and George Orwell with the same spear.

  14. #14 Koray
    May 1, 2007

    I think it truly sucked.

  15. #15 G. Tingey
    May 1, 2007

    Two points:

    #12: But Dawkins is also English ……
    #13 The essay about Orwell is plain 150% WRONG.

    But, although we are much more relaxed about alchohol consumption, it is obvious that Hitchens can no longer hold it, and isn’t fit to be allowed out without a minder ….

    Coming back to the essay – Orwell really was an anti-imperialist, and Kipling was NEVER a racist, no matter what anyone with a special agenda tells you.
    The give-away to the last is the story “The Village that voted the Earth was flat” – where one of those exploited by a corrupt local court is Jewish, and get their revenge, in best Kipling fashion.

  16. #16 Christian Burnham
    May 1, 2007

    He’s not an alcoholic, he’s just British.

    I’m Irish and I think Hitchens hits the sauce too hard! (Admittedly, I’m a virtually tee-total Irishman.)

  17. #17 Callandor
    May 1, 2007

    I want to amend what I said above, since Hitchens did ask Stewart to name a god that wasn’t born of a virgin, and then said that they all were since the beginning of time. I’m only aware of a few Greek gods that violate that, but I’m hardly well versed in religious studies of multiple widely different faiths.

    And here’s the video courtesy of One Good Move.

  18. #18 Christian Burnham
    May 1, 2007

    Even Superman was ‘born’ in a metal sphere.

  19. #19 The Science Pundit
    May 1, 2007

    That’s simply not true… that didn’t even enter into Xianity until it was translated to Greek.

    ??????

    You are aware that Greek was the original written language of Xianity, aren’t you?

  20. #20 rebecca
    May 1, 2007

    If you ever get the chance you ought to read When God Was A Woman by Merlin Stone. It’s an interesting book about pre-Christian/Judeo religions and makes a lot of interesting points of why todays religion is what it is today.

  21. #21 ajay
    May 1, 2007

    Science Pundit: this is what Aaron may be confusedly thinking about; the argument that the supposed prophecy of the birth of Christ in Isaiah (originally written in Hebrew) which uses a word which can mean “virgin” or “young woman”; this was translated into Greek and other languages as “virgin”.

    Quite a few gods were said to be the result of a virgin birth. Mithras, for example. Wikipedia has a list. And the concept of the offspring of a god and a human having special powers (and even becoming a god in his own right) is even commoner: Herakles and Dionysius come to mind, but there are many others.

  22. #22 Rienk
    May 1, 2007

    Hitchins’ arguments for the Iraq war support are as incoherent and blind as the arguments of a Christian apologist. And seriously, he’s not the best role model for the atheist movement. You can be a hardliner, yes, but a pr*ck? I’d go with D.D.H. any day (That’s Dawkins, Dennet, Harris… and okay, just to make your day I will add an M. too!)

    By the way, what was the deal with the, I premuse, Muslim guy during the Q&A on BookTV? Hitchins going “I will not answer questions of crackpot fascists!” Did I miss something?

  23. #23 Rick Dakan
    May 1, 2007

    I saw Hitchens on both CSPAN and the Daily Show and his performance in both venues pretty much mimics the book. I’m about halfway through “god is not great” and I’m both enjoying it and totally not impressed. First and foremost, it is most definitely not a book that will convince many people to change their minds about religion or gods. In typical (and yes, sometimes amusing) Hitchens prose, he takes lots of shots at lots of religious targets and often lands some good blows. But a lot of them are pretty cheap shots. The most stupid is a little joke he repeated on CSPAN which says if you translate “No Child Left Behind” into latin it becomes “No child’s behind left.” That’s sort of true, but what on earth is his point? It was never written in latin nor was it ever a catchphrase of the Catholic Church, which is who he’s digging at here. It’s obviously just a silly joke he thought of and now can’t stop repeating because he thinks it’s clever (it’s not).

    Really though, the biggest problem with the book is that it has no organization. It’s like it spilled out of his head onto the page. He mentions four organizing points against religion early on, but only in passing and he does not use them as a framework for his argument. He just sort of jumps from one topic to the next to the next. For example, in a chapter on how religion negatively impacts health he starts off on strong ground criticizing The Roman Catholic church for fighting against condom use in Africa but by the end of the chapter he’s spending pages on stuff about the book of revelations and other weird theologies which, while interesting and all, have nothing to do with health. And so far the whole book is like that. A bunch of interesting ideas, facts and observations jumbled up in a box and poured out on the table.

    Also, the phrase that keeps coming to mind when I read the book is something I think I read on Orac’s site a while back: “The Plural of Anecdote is not Data.” The book is not a cohesive argument but rather a string of little factoids and, well, anecdotes (many of them personal to Hitchens), the show religion is BAD.

    And I agree. I think religion is BAD. And I’m enjoying the book as pure sort of echo chamber wankery. But no, I don’t think it will convince many believers to rethink their point of view.

  24. #24 Science Goddess
    May 1, 2007

    I think that we’re forgetting that Jon Stewart is a COMEDIAN! He claims not to be a journalist, and said so quite clearly on the Lehrer News Hour. I disagree with his self-description and find him hilarious and insightful. His work is so seminal, and pokes us all in the eye, every show is a revelation. Hitchens did his usual schtick, but I think many of us viewed it as jaded b/c we already think this way. It may have been interesting to that segment of the population that doesn’t come here to blog.
    SG

  25. #25 Aaron
    May 1, 2007

    Yes, thank you for clarifying, Ajay.

  26. #26 Will E.
    May 1, 2007

    While the “fact” that every god is born of a virgin may not be true in every mythology, I will say it was definitely things like that that turned my head around regarding my own religious upbringing. I never had a problem reconciling Darwin or Einstein with Xianity; I did, however, have a problem when I found more out about the ancient world’s mythologies, and how Xianity is a deceptive patchwork of many of them. *That* made me conclude that all religions are false. So Hitchens is on the right track with this type of comparative thinking.

  27. #27 Bert
    May 1, 2007

    It was like watching a talentless drunken uncle singing your favorite song. Yes the words are mostly there, but it is still repellant.

  28. #28 Cyrus
    May 1, 2007

    Even Superman was ‘born’ in a metal sphere.
    Posted by: Christian Burnham

    Only the post-Crisis version.

  29. #29 Graculus
    May 1, 2007

    That’s sort of true

    No it’s not, because child would not be in the genitive, it would remain in the nominative, and “left behind” is a single word in Latin. So the Latin word order of “No child left behind” is “No child left behind”.

    Hitchens is pretty much an idiot.

  30. #30 Moses
    May 1, 2007

    I think he was drunk again.

  31. #31 Blake Stacey
    May 1, 2007

    The familiar image of Mary cradling the infant Jesus is widely seen among scholars as an adaptation of a traditional Egyptian theme, Isis holding her infant son Horus. (You know, adopt the iconography which works. Same reason we say Jesus was born round about the winter solstice.) Isis gave birth to Horus after reassembling the pieces of her husband’s corpse (fashioning a replacement for one key member out of wood, since the original had been eaten by a fish). Doesn’t sound like a virgin birth to me.

    Isis was the daughter of Nut (sky goddess) and Geb (Earth god), who had to separated by Tefnut (moisture), since otherwise they would have gone on humping for all eternity.

    Again, not exactly a virgin birth.

    It goes without saying that Isis was one of the most widely worshiped divinities of the ancient world, with active temples in operation centuries after Christ.

  32. #32 Rick Dakan
    May 1, 2007

    You’re absolutely right graculus – I didn’t want to get into the whole latin translation thing. What I meant by sort of true was that you could translate it into latin and then back into english and it would, maybe, if you were bad at high school latin, come out as “no child’s behind left” but that wouldn’t be an accurate translation. Hitchens’ affinity for the phrase is purely puerile and strikes against his larger point.

  33. #33 Darwin's Stooge
    May 1, 2007

    IN his book, Hitchens talks about how he admired Trotsky and gang.

    The fucking lying nun killer Trotsky.

    After, that, he had nothing worth saying as far as I am concerned.

  34. #34 Greg Peterson
    May 1, 2007

    I really like the book. Everything negative that’s been said about it is true or mostly true. And Hitchens is an ass, and a drunk. He’s also pretentious and too clever by half. The book does not appear to have been intelligently designed. But as a series of random barbs and stories and quotations and anecdotes, I think it’s a blast. I LIKE well-ordered, cogent, organized arguments. But I also like stories by drunks in pubs. I know enough not to take every word they say as likely or even possible, but this sort of incautious communication can be provocative and lively and inspiring. Hitchens is an agent provocateur and contrarian, pure and simple. It is perhaps all he is, all he is good for. But by gawd the bastard’s pretty good at it, and that’s not nothing.

  35. #35 The Dude
    May 1, 2007

    Poor Hitchens… so drunk so often. Really kind of sad. Or it would be if (a) he wasn’t so mean spirited and (b) he wasn’t trying to pummel you with how many big words he knows (something he confuses with both prose & an argument).

    Is it me, or does he just seem to be jumping on the Dawkin’s bandwagon? Don’t get me wrong, I love the title of the book, but… it just seems awfully convenient. Or are we really witnessing the birth of a full on Atheist movement in this country? I myself just came out of the closet, am quite happy to be vocal about it and am finding lots of folks who don’t want organized religion and just want to be ‘spiritual’… but then again I live in Hollywood.

  36. #36 Mike Haubrich
    May 1, 2007

    Will E

    I found more out about the ancient world’s mythologies, and how Xianity is a deceptive patchwork of many of them. *That* made me conclude that all religions are false. So Hitchens is on the right track with this type of comparative thinking.

    That kind of did it for me, but I also leared to separate referential truth (literal truth) from the sort of truth learned in myth and fiction. Myths are useful in building fluid solidarity in social groups, whether the facts of the story are true or made up. Religions that use mythology for theology make the mistake of thinking that the story that they carry to validate their religion has referential truth.

    Campbell made a pretty good career of making this point:

    Chief Seattle’s Sales Agreement

  37. #37 Fatboy
    May 1, 2007

    Hmm. I’ve seen Hitchens name bounced around, but I’ve never really followed him or read anything of his. When I saw him on the Daily Show last night, he struck be as being off, and I even made a comment to my wife wondering if he was drunk. Well, this comment thread seems to confirm it. Either that, or like a few old timers I know, he’s been drinking heavily for so long, that even when he’s sober, he’s not altogether with it.

  38. #38 Melanie
    May 1, 2007

    Science pundit:

    The original languages! of Christianity were Hebrew and Aramaic. It is likely that Jesus spoke both. Greek didn’t enter the equation until Paul’s missions.

  39. #39 Retired Catholic
    May 1, 2007

    The only thing new that I discovered was how wrong some people are about Hitchins. He doesn’t have an addiction to Johnny Walder Blue. He drinks the Black. Had some in the green room, I suspect.

  40. #40 Richard
    May 1, 2007

    Yup, he’s at the age where a lifetime of alcohol abuse starts to show itself. The old brain cells have been assaulted a few too many times and the wit has turned to plain boorishness. I’m sure he’s got a few zingers in the book, but life is short and I only have time to read people who are at least trying to be professional. I hope he sobers up and lets his mind recover.

  41. #41 Brian
    May 1, 2007

    Melanie said:

    “The original languages! of Christianity were Hebrew and Aramaic. It is likely that Jesus spoke both. Greek didn’t enter the equation until Paul’s missions.”

    There is little evidence there was a historical Jesus, rather a mystery religion savior God later huamnized by having a earthly biography grafted on it (Paul, the earliest writer, is quite lean on any biography while the Gospels, written later, get their facts wrong and disagree with each other). At any rate, all of the canonical documents were first composed in Greek – this is easily demonstrated by textual analysis. And Hebrew had ceased to be a spoken langage of Jews well before the 1st century. Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Assyrian empire later to be replaced by Greek. Even the authoritative Jewish Scriptures of the 1st century (the ones scavanged by early Christian writers for proof texts) were a poor Greek translation called the Spetuagint, which explains alot of the nonsende in the Gospels – stories invented to correspond to misreadings of a poor Greek translation.

  42. #42 The Science Pundit
    May 1, 2007

    Melanie,

    If you read my post again, you’ll see that I said “the original written language …” If you can find me a Xian writing in Hebrew or Aramaic that pre-dates Paul (of Tarsus, not Zach Meyers), then I’ll concede the point.

  43. #43 Matt
    May 1, 2007

    He usually is no longer very coherent in his public debates. watch the booktv program and you will see.

    Not true.
    I was at the booktv program live, which was the LATimes Festival of Books, and Hitchens was the star of the panel. Very funny, very to-the-point and [actually] rather uncompromising and a bit rude. But, nonetheless, he was not incoherent and from the audience reaction you would have to agree. While I don’t agree with all his points. And find his uncompromising position shrill the guy isn’t incoherent.
    And the truth is on the Daily Show – or any TV show – it’s tough to string together long answers.

  44. #44 JJR
    May 2, 2007

    What bothers me about Hitchens and Harris both is that they end up becoming apologists for Empire on account of their “ecumenical” anti-clericalism…their desire to confront that semi-chimerical bogey man “radical Islam” blinds them to the amoral, naked neo-imperialism of the US and its Allies. That there are legitimate, concretely material grievances the Arab street has with US foreign policy & related military action, the IMF, the World Bank, transnational oil companies, etc. I say semi-chimerical, because yes, there is *some* substance to the “radical Islam vs. Modernity” struggle, and I remain a secular humanist, something tolerated in Western societies but very much repressed in Islamic societies. But to christen Bush’s War Machine (as Harris AND Hitchens both do) as the instrument of delivering enlightened secular humanism to the benighted Arab masses chained down by their superstitious religion is utterly obscene, not to mention racist as hell, and flatly ridiculous besides.

    Hitchen’s book may be worth a look, and I own Sam Harris’s book. But I find I can’t agree with either one 100%, especially once they move beyond the critique of reactionary Christianity in the Western world.

  45. #45 Lago
    May 2, 2007

    As stated above by many who saw it, the Booktv episode where Hitchen’s is out-numbered several apologists to one atheist shows what Hitch can actually do. Given more time to use his set, and even improvised responses, Hitchen kicks everyones butt…

    I used to think Hitchen to be a drunken spaz. Now I see him as a drunken spaz who kicked an entire panels collective ass as easy as one might crush a bug under their shoe.

    If you have not seen the Boobktv video, then please, take the time to do so…

  46. #46 lazarou
    May 2, 2007

    Wasn’t bad? WASN’T BAD??? The man could barely sit up, let alone string a coherent sentence together! He has cemented his reputation as one of the saddest, most reprehensible creatures on the planet, despite his spot-on views on religion.

    Having him associated with the atheist ‘movement’ can only be a bad thing, he’s a walking target for ridicule and we’ll have to bear that association. I say we ditch him at the nearest bar and carry on without him…

  47. #47 AJ Milne
    May 2, 2007

    What Greg Peterson said.

    It’s a really lively book, quarrelsome, in an oddly entertaining way I find hard to describe, but it really does stand a bit apart from its contemporaries. It’s memorable… and this is coming from someone who’s read so many atheist works and essays (sorta occupational hazard) that many of them have long ago started to blur into a homogenous whole.

    (Said it elsewhere, but I’ll say it again: I’d say that appearance of monotony isn’t so much a mark against the folk writing these books as it is an indication of the sad reality that what they critique has had little new to say of consequence in a few thousand years. It’s more the stubbornness of religion as a social phenomenon, the effectiveness of the methods by which it propagates itself, keeps itself going, that creates this odd situation: an absurdity or collection thereof is repeatedly pointed out as such, and trundles on all the same, presenting the same targets for richly deserved ridicule again and again.)

    Anyway. Hitchens’ book has that irascible wit about it; it’s not so much saying much new, but it says it very well, keeps it moving. I genuinely wonder if it might not prove persuasive, after all, to some, at least. While the book itself is a bit scattered to a certain sort of mind if you look at it in terms of the order in which the ideas are presented, the whole of the thought behind it does have a definitely knit quality about it… I find it builds, in a sort of organic way, as you read it, and Hitchens does have this nice repeated emphasis on the ‘tells’ in religious thought that reveal its very human origins.

    Picked it up on the strength of The Missionary Position, was hoping he might have another of those in him. Can’t say he disappointed.

  48. #48 cm
    May 2, 2007

    This clip should be used in a training film for anyone who is slated to go on The Daily Show to promote her/his book and the message in it, as the “what NOT to do” part of the film. Here are some helpful DOs and DON’Ts…

    – Don’t show up half in the bag. Hitchens was either tipsy, hung-over, sleep deprived, or on Quaaludes. He probably figured drawing 4% of his cognitive reserve would be enough for Daily Show viewers. He underestimated. This muddled mess will not fire anybody up to go buy the hardback.

    – Don’t let Jon Stewart drive the car. Stewart will grab the wheel if you show you are not holding it, as he did here, and try to salvage the segment by at least making it funny. That is what happened here. Don’t blame Jon too much for trying to bake a segment given such weak flour.

    – Transmit some enthusiasm.

    – Keep it simple. There’s little time nor mood to get across subtle points on TDS.

    If Hitch had followed these points he could have moved some product and maybe convinced a few people of his points.

  49. #49 Inoculated Mind
    May 2, 2007

    Hitchens may not have been drunk or on anything, but his performance was simply awful. I don’t know what he was thinking he was going to say, but the first question seemed to have caught him unprepared, and he was slow and ineloquent the rest of the interview. Most of all, on the Daily Show you need to be ANIMATED! Maybe he forgot to sleep during the previous 48 hours.

  50. #50 lazarou
    May 3, 2007

    Hitchens may not have been drunk or on anything

    He was drunk. No question about it. If you’ve ever seen him sober in public – a rare occasion, I know – you’ll know he is really sharp and focussed. On the Daily Show he was absolutely out of it, an absolute disgrace. If you’re going to do that at least do it with style like Ollie Reed or Serge Gainsbourg 🙂

  51. #51 Cwarren
    August 13, 2007

    Christopher Hitchens is only human. Atheism is not to be a fabled ‘higher ground’, where mistakes are disallowed, and opinions suppressed. Leave piousness to the religious and allow our fellow animals their quirks. Everyone seems to be concerned with a PR issue regarding Hitchens representation of atheism. Why? I would not expect anyone to defend his behaviour, but nor would I expect this personal attack and a practical repudiation of his work.

    P.S – I really enjoyed the book. Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennet, have all showed me in the last year, that I am not alone.

  52. #52 bunnycatch3r
    September 19, 2008

    P.S – I really enjoyed the book. Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennet, have all showed me in the last year, that I am not alone.

    Du Er Ikke Alene

  53. #53 bunnycatch3r
    September 19, 2008

    P.S – I really enjoyed the book. Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennet, have all showed me in the last year, that I am not alone.

    Du Er Ikke Alene

  54. #54 Holly Judd
    January 7, 2009

    If you read my post again, you’ll see that I said “the original written language …” If you can find me a Xian writing in Hebrew or Aramaic that pre-dates Paul (of Tarsus, not Zach Meyers), then I’ll concede the point.

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