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  • >> Hi, everyone. Welcome to today's Authors at Google event. After the talk, we're going

  • to have a Q and A session, and I'd like to remind everyone to please use the microphone

  • in the middle of the room, if you have questions. It's my pleasure to introduce Christopher

  • Hitchens. Mr. Hitchens was born in England, and educated at Oxford. In 1981, he migrated

  • to the US, and recently, became a US citizen. He's the author of a number of notable books

  • includingWhy Orwell MattersandLetters to a Young Contrarian.” As one of our most

  • notable public intellectuals, he has been a columnist atVanity Fair”, “The Atlantic,”

  • The Nation,” “SlateandFree Inquiry,” and taught at the New School,

  • UC Berkeley, and the University of Pittsburgh. In his new book, “God Is Not Great,” he

  • lines up the case against religion which he spent a lifetime developing with anger, humor

  • and a formidable style of argument that defines all of Mr. Hitchens's work. About the book,

  • Michael Kinsley wrote in the New York Times, “Hitchens has outfoxed the Hitchens watchers

  • by writing a serious and deeply-thought book, totally consistent with his beliefs of the

  • lifetime. And God should be flattered; unlike most of those clamoring for his attention,

  • Hitchens treats him like an adult. Ever contrarian, and always eloquent, he's here today to

  • discuss the book, take your questions, and take on anyone who dares to challenge him

  • to a debate. He'll be signing books afterwards. And, with that, please join me in welcoming

  • Christopher Hitchens to Google. >> HITCHENS: Thank you, darling. Sweet. Well,

  • thank you so much for that suspiciously grudging introduction. And thank you very much, ladies

  • and gentlemen, for coming. I understand we've only got the balance of an hour together so,

  • I'll try and break the rule of a lifetime and be terse. I think I'll put it like this.

  • It's true that publishers sometimes want to put a catchy or suggestive or challenging

  • title, subtitle on a book. And so, when we hit upon or they hit upon, well, how religion

  • poisons and why religion poisons everything, I knew what would happen, people would come

  • up to me, they'd say, you mean absolutely everything, you mean the whole thing? They'd

  • take me literally. I thought, well, all right. One of the things you have to do in life as

  • an author is live up to your damn subtitle. So, today, I'd defend the subtitle because

  • I think the title probably, when it came to me in the shower, I realized, it pretty much

  • does speak for itself. Unlike that sign outside Little Rock airport, huge--we had a black

  • sign that you see from the airport that says, just "Jesus," a word I have used myself, and

  • a name I know but putting it like that seems to say both too much and too little, you know

  • what I mean? Well, here's how religion has this effect, in my opinion: It is derived

  • from the childhood of our species, from the bawling, fearful period of infancy. It comes

  • from the time when we did not know that we lived on an orb. We thought we lived on a

  • disc. And we did not know that we went around the sun or that the sky was not a dome, when

  • we didn't know that there was a germ theory to explain disease, and innumerable theories

  • for the explanation of things like famine. It comes from a time when we had no good answers,

  • but because we are pattern-seeking animals, a good thing about us, and because we will

  • prefer even a conspiracy theory or junk theory to no theory at all, a bad thing about us.

  • This is and was our first attempt of philosophy, just as in some ways, it was our first attempt

  • at science, and it was all founded on and remains founded on a complete misapprehension

  • about the origins, first of the universe, and, second, about human nature. We now know

  • a great deal about the origins of the universe, and a great deal about our own nature. I just

  • had my DNA sequenced by National Geographic. You should all by the way get this done. It's

  • incredibly important to find out how racism and creationism would be abolished by this

  • extraordinary scientific breakthrough, how you can find out your kinship with all your

  • fellow creatures originating in Africa; but also, your kinship with other forms of life

  • including not just animal but plant, and you get an idea of how you are part of nature,

  • and how that's wonderful enough. And we know from Stephen Hawking and from any others,

  • Steven Weinberg and many other great physicists, an enormous amount now about what Professor

  • Weinberg's brilliant book calls The First Three Minutes, the concept of the Big Bang.

  • And we can be assured as we could probably need be that neither this enormous explosion

  • that set the universe in motion, which is still moving away from us in a great rate

  • nor this amazingly complex billion dollar--billion year period of evolution--we can be pretty

  • certain it was not designed so that you and I could be meeting in this room. We are not

  • the objects of either of these plans. These plans don't know we're here. I'm sorry

  • to say, wouldn't know or care if we stopped being here. We have to face this alone with

  • the equipment, intellectual and moral, that we've been given, or that we've acquired

  • or that is innate to us. And here's another way in which religion poisons matters. It

  • begins by saying, well, why don't we lie to ourselves instead, why don't we pretend

  • that we're not going to die, or that an exception to be made at least in our own case

  • if we make the right propitiations or the right moves. Why do we not pretend that the

  • things like modern diseases which we can sequence now, sequence the genes of, like AIDS, are

  • the punishment for wickedness and fornication? Why don't we keep fooling ourselves that there

  • is a divine superintendent of all this because it would abolish the feeling of loneliness

  • and possibly even irrelevance that we might otherwise--in other words, why don't we

  • surrender to wish thinking? That poisons everything, in my opinion. Right away, it attacks the

  • very basic integrity that we need to conduct the scrupulous inquiries, investigations,

  • experiments, interrogations of evidence that we need to survive, and to prosper and to

  • grow. And it's no coincidence, no accident that almost every scientific advance has been

  • made in the teeth of religious opposition of one form or another that says we shouldn't

  • be tampering with God's design. I suppose the most recent and most dangerous one of

  • these is the attempt to limit stem cell research. But everyone could probably think of all other

  • forms of scientific research and inquiry, especially medical that had led to religious

  • persecution, in reprisal. Thirdly, it's an attack, I think, on what's also very

  • important to us, our innate morality. If there's one point that I get made more than another

  • to me when I go and debate religious people, it's this: They say, where would your morals

  • come from if there was no God? It's actually--it's a question that's posed in Dostoyevsky's

  • wonderful novel, The Brothers Karamazov, one of the brothers says--Snelyakov, actually,

  • the wicked one, says it. If God is dead, isn't everything permitted, isn't everything permissible?

  • Where would our ethics be if there was no superintending duty? This, again, seems to

  • me a very profound insult to us in our very deepest nature and character. It is not the

  • case, I submit to you, that we do not set about butchering and raping and thieving from

  • each other right now only because we're afraid of a divine punishment or because we're

  • looking for a divine reward. It's an extraordinarily base and insulting thing to say to people.

  • On my mother's side, some of my ancestry is Jewish. I don't happen to believe the

  • story of Moses and Egypt or the exile or the wandering and the Sinai. And in fact, now

  • even Israeli archaeology has shown that there isn't a word of truth to that story or really

  • any of the others; but take it to be true. Am I expected to believe my mother's ancestors

  • got all the way to Mount Sinai, quite a trek, under the impression until they got there

  • that rape, murder, perjury, and theft were okay, only to be told when they got to the

  • foot of Mount Sinai, bad news, none of these things are kosher at all. They're all forbidden.

  • I don't think so. I think, I think we can--actually, I have a better explanation ever since--superior

  • as well as better--that no one would have been able to get as far as Mount Sinai or

  • any other mountain or in any other direction unless they had known that human solidarity

  • demands that we look upon each other as brothers and sisters, and that we forbid activities

  • such as murder, rape, perjury, and theft. This is innate in us. If those activities

  • are not innate, the sociopaths who don't understand the needs of anyone but themselves and the

  • psychopaths who positively take pleasure in breaking these rules, well, all we can say

  • is, according to one theory, they are also made in the image of God which makes the image

  • of God question rather problematic, does it not or that they can be explained by a further

  • and better research and have to be restrained and disciplined meanwhile, but in no sense

  • here is religion a help where it came to help most which is to our morality, to our ethics.

  • Finally, I would say--not finally because I'm finished here, I'm not quite done.

  • Don't relax. Everyone has got to drink, something to eat, but on the poison question, I think

  • there's the real temptation of something very poisonous to human society and human

  • relations which is the fear of freedom, the wish to be slaves, the wish to be told what

  • to do. Now, just as we all like to think and we live under written documents and proclamations

  • that encourage us to think that it is our birth right and our most precious need to

  • be free, to be liberated, to be untrammeled. So we also knew that unfortunately the innate

  • in people is the servile, is the wish to be told what to do, is the adoration for strong

  • and brutal and cruel leaders, that this other baser element of the human makeup has to be

  • accounted for and it gives us a great deal of trouble around the world as we speak. Religion,

  • in my view, is a reification, a distillation of this wish to be a serf, to be a slave.

  • Ask yourself if you really wish it was true that there was a celestial dictatorship that

  • watched over you from the moment you were born, actually the moment you were conceived,

  • all through life, night and day, knew your thoughts, waking and sleeping, could in fact

  • convict you of thought crime, the absolute--the absolute definition of a dictatorship, can

  • convict you for what you think or what you privately want, what you're talking about

  • to yourself, that admonishes you like this under permanent surveillance, control and

  • supervision and doesn't even let go of you when you're dead because that's when the

  • real fun begins. Now, my question is this--my question is this, who wishes that that were

  • true? Who wants to live the life of a serf in a celestial North Korea? I've been to

  • North Korea. I'm one of the very few writers who has. I'm indeed the only writer who's

  • been to all three axis of evil countries, Iran, Iraq and North Korea. And I can tell

  • you North Korea is the most religious state I've ever been to. I used to wonder when

  • I was a kid, what would it be like praising God and thanking him all day and all night?

  • Well, now I know because North Korea is a completely worshipful state. It's set up only

  • to do that, for adoration and it's only one short of a trinity. They have a father

  • and the son, as you know, the Dear Leader and the Great Leader. The father is still

  • the president of the country. He's been dead for 15 years, but Kim Jong-il, the little

  • one, is only the head of the party and the Army. His father is still the president, head

  • of the state. So you have in North Korea what you might call a necrocracy or what I also--I

  • called them mausolocracy, thanatocracy. One--just one short of a trinity; father, son, maybe

  • no holy ghost, but they do say that when the birth of the younger one took place, the birds

  • of Korea sang in Korean to mark the occasion. This I've checked. It did not happen. Take

  • my word for it. It didn't occur and I suppose I should add they don't threaten to follow

  • you after you're dead. You can leave North Korea. You can get out of their hell and their

  • paradise by dying. To the Christian and Muslim one, you cannot. This is the wish to be a

  • slave. And in my point of view, it's poisonous of human relations. Now, I've really babbled

  • for nearly twenty minutes. I'll be quick. It is argued, well, some religious people

  • have done great things and have been motivated to do so by their faith; the most cited case

  • in point I have found is that of Dr. Martin Luther King, who I know I don't need to

  • explain to you about. Two quick things on that: First, he was it's true a minister.

  • He did preach the Book of Exodus, the exile of an enslaved and oppressed people as his

  • metaphor. But if he really meant it, he would have said that the oppressed people, as the

  • Book of Exodus finds them doing, were entitled to kill anyone who stood on their way and

  • take their land and their property, enslave their women or kill their children, and commit

  • genocide, rape, ethnic cleansing and forcible theft of land. That's what Exodus described

  • as happening--the full destruction of the tribes. It's very fortunate that Dr. King

  • only the meant the Bible at the most to be used as a metaphor and after all he was using

  • the only book that he could be sure his audience has ever already read. That's the first

  • thing. The second is, during his lifetime, he was attacked all the time for having too

  • many secular and leftist non-believing friends, the people like famous black secularists like

  • Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph. These are the men that did organize the march on Washington;

  • which leads me to my third observation which is this: It's a challenge I made now in

  • debates with rabbis, with priests of all Christian stripes, with imams. Once--I know this sounds

  • like an opening of a joke about some bar, but once also with a Buddhist nun in Miami.

  • I asked them all. Here is my--here is my challenge. You have to name me an ethical statement that

  • was made or a moral action that was performed by a religious person in the name of faith

  • that could not have been made as an action or uttered as a statement by non--a person

  • not of faith, a person of no faith. You have to do that. Not so far and I've dealt at

  • quite a high level with the religious, no takers. No one has been able to find me that.

  • That being the case, we're entitled to say, I think, that religious faith serve as the

  • requirements whereas if I was to ask anyone in this room, think of a wicked thing said

  • or an evil thing done by a person of faith in the name of faith, no one would have a

  • second of hesitation in thinking of one, would they? It's interesting to realize how true

  • that is and how much true it's getting. Does anyone ever listen to Dennis Prager's Show?

  • He's a slightly loopy Christian broadcaster, religious broadcaster, I should say. He's

  • more Jewish than Christian--Judaic-Christian broadcaster who quite often rather generously

  • has me on the show. And he asked me a question the other day; he had a challenge of his own.

  • He said, “You are to imagine that you're in a town late at night where you have never

  • been before, and you have no friends and it's getting dark. And through the darkness, you

  • see coming towards you a group of men, let's say ten. Do you feel better or worse if you

  • know that they're just coming from a prayer meeting?” This is Mr. Prager's question

  • to me. I said, “Well, Mr. Prager, without leaving you, from just without quitting the

  • letter B, I can tell you I've had that experience in Belfast, in Beirut, in Baghdad, in Bombay,

  • in Bosnia, and in Bethlehem. And if you see anyone coming from a religious gathering,

  • in any of those places, you know exactly how fast you need to run. And no one has to explain

  • to you why and I haven't had to waste any time telling you, have I, ladies and gentlemen?

  • So I submit to you that it is those who are people of faith who have the explaining to

  • do, who have the justifying to do if this is indeed the case. If they can't account

  • for anything about the origin of our cosmos or our species, if they say that without them,

  • we'd be without morals and make us seem as if we are merely animals without faith,

  • if further, everybody can name an instance where religion has made people actually behave

  • worse to one another and act as a retardant upon the advances of knowledge and science

  • and information, I submit that the case to be made is theirs rather than mine. We have

  • a better tradition. We're not just arid secularists and materialists, we on the atheist

  • side. We can point, through the Hubble telescope, the fantastic, awe-inspiring majestic pictures

  • that are being taken now of the outer limits of our universe, and who's going to turn

  • away from those pictures and start gaping again at the burning bush? We have smaller

  • microscopes that can examine for us the miracles of the interior of the double helix and the

  • sheer beauty of that. The natural world is wonderful enough, more wonderful than anything

  • conjured by the fools who believe in astrology or the supernatural. And we have a better

  • tradition politically against the popes and the imams and the witch doctors and the divine

  • right of kings and the whole long tradition of civic repression combined with religion

  • that's known as theocracy. We have created in the United States, the only country in

  • the history of the world, written on founding documents testable, organized, works in progress

  • based on the theory of human liberation and the only constitution in the history of world

  • that says that there shall be a separation between the church and the state. God is never

  • mentioned in the United States Constitution except in order to limit religion and keep

  • it out of politics and put it under legal control. This achievement was described by

  • President Jefferson whose biographer, I am in a small way, to the Baptists of Danbury,

  • Connecticut in a letter after they reasoned him for fear of persecution. By the way, who

  • do you think Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut were afraid of being persecuted by? Anyone

  • knows? MALE: The Methodists?

  • HITCHENS: No, the Congregationalists of Danbury, Connecticut. People forget what it used to

  • be like, see how the Christians loved each other, how they tried to repeat the European

  • passion of one religious sect repressing and torturing another one. And as you probably

  • know, the president wrote back and saud, “No, you may be assured that there will ever be

  • in this country a wall of separation between the church and the state.” So I have a new

  • slogan and I'm taking it on tour and I invite you to join me in it and it goes like this,

  • Mr. Jefferson, build up that wall.” Okay, thank you very much for coming.

  • And I'm all yours. And that was 25 minutes; I hope that's fair. And I'll point out

  • the questions if you like because I don't think anyone