Of all the criticisms that could be leveled at Christopher Hitchens – and there are many – a boring style is not one of them. Despite some controversial positions and persuasions, his writing was always exciting, entertaining and engaging. Regrettably, the same cannot be said for Curtis White. In an excerpt from his recent book “The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers” published in Salon last week, White accuses the “notorious” Hitchens of some of journalism’s worst crimes – lying, dishonesty, shamefulness and an all-round lack of “decency.” However, while running through a litany of examples apparently highlighting Hitchens’ intellectual turpitude, White manages something remarkable. Rather than convicting Hitch of “telling less than he knew or ought to have known’,”White shows how it is in fact he who is literarily lazy, inconsistent and mendacious.
White begins with some concessions, curiously feeling the need to acknowledge his own qualified atheism by rejecting the notion of a “CEO God” – whatever that means – he then concedes that religious extremism is “still very much a problem politically” and across the globe. Yet, after admitting that the “religious right is real, and international fundamentalism is dangerous and frightening,” White goes on to admonish Hitchens for reducing religion down “to a series of criminal anecdotes” – presumably ignoring all the good stuff it has done for the world.
In this way, White rehashes a well-worn criticism of the new breed of atheists – that they do not recognize the positive, progressive aspects of organized religion and instead focus only on the negative. This is neither new nor compelling. How many times during a debate, or town-hall-style meeting has some smug reverend or pastor not sat up and said, “Ah! but don’t religious charities in Africa and South America do such fantastic things, Mr. Hitchens?” As if that somehow discredits any analysis or interrogation of institutional religiosity.