Only Wrong When the Buddhists Do It

At first glance, it may appear that the next chapter of Hitchens’ book would be another one where there is considerable agreement. It is entitled “There Is No ‘Eastern’ Solution,” and, of course, I completely agree with that, as far as it goes. In addition, I agree with Hitchens’ assessment of why many Westerners have gone the guru route. It appears to be the same motive that persuades a foolish woman to try to clean her living by rearranging the furniture, or a foolish student to try to improve his grades by buying additional notebook dividers. It promises change without actually delivering it.

But Hitchens says a few things in passing about rationality and argument that I should respond to.

“But an extraordinary number of people appear to believe that the mind, and the reasoning faculty — the only thing that divides us from our animal relatives — is something to be distrusted and even, as far as possible, dulled” (p. 198).

As a Christian, I agree with him that the mind is not to be rejected as it is in the East. Listed with everything else we have, we are also commanded to love the Lord our God with all our minds. So Hitchens is not like a Zen master — he does not disparage reason, but rather praises it. But like the ancient Israelites condemned by Isaiah, his practice does not live up to his praise. The goddess Reason could, with good reason, say, “He draws near me with his mouth, and with his lips does honour me, but he has removed his heart far from me.”

Hitchens quotes the hymn writer Reginald Heber, the Bishop of Calcutta and author of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and dismisses him as exhibiting the “condescension of old colonial boobies” (p. 199). The first funny thing here is that Hitchens accused someone else of “condescension” and he did so in such a manner as to suggest that Hitchens believes condescension to be a negative trait. I had not detected this sentiment earlier in the book. But the second funny thing is that he quoted an offensive hymn from Heber, the bad parts being a statement that in that part of the world “only man is vile,” followed up in the next verse with the statement that the “heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.” After Hitchens quotes this, and has us join him in a good laugh at the bishop’s expense, he then proceeds to a detailed discussion that reveals that Bishop Heber was entirely correct in his evaluation of his surroundings. This is reason?

Hitchens accuses eastern “mysticism” of certain faults that are certainly faults, but he does not appear to realize that he is doing the very same things himself.

“They consist, like most professions of faith, in merely assuming what has to be proved” (p. 202).

Exactly so. This shows that Hitchens knows that petitio principii is a fallacy, and this means that when asked to address how authoritative reason and logic are possible products of those chemical vats that we call brains, he needs to do more than blithly assume the role of reason and logic. This is what he has to account for. Not only does this mean that Hitchens has to show this, it also means that at some level he knows that he has to do this — and he still declines. Far easier to attack the Buddhists for doing it.

Another example. After discussing the Buddhist role in recruiting kamikaze pilots in WWII, Hitchens goes on to say this:

“Although many Buddhists now regret that deplorable attempt to prove their own superiority, no Buddhist since then has been able to demonstrate that Buddhism was wrong in its own terms. A faith that despises the mind and the free individual, that preaches submission and resignation, and that regards life as a poor and transient thing, is ill-equipped for self-criticism” (p. 204, emphasis mine).

This is precisely the issue that Christopher Hitchens is missing (or pretending to miss) in our on-going discussion over at Christianity Today. But this citation proves that he understands the concept. Not all Buddhists want to recruit young pilots to become suicide pilots. But some clearly did, and Hitchens is here stating that, given the premises, those who did not wish to do this had nothing to say to those who did. This is almost a Euclidian parallel to the argument against atheism that I presented to him at CT, and which he is pretending is mere casuistry. Granted that Hitchens doesn’t want to run off and do whatever evil thing has been done by any other given atheists, as they have acted out their own sense of freedom. The point is that Hitchens has nothing whatever to say to those who apply the premises of atheism differently. He pretends that this is not checkmate, and he does this because he is ill-equipped for self-criticism.

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