I think Hitchens was making a political argument about religion, not a deep philosophical one. I would see it as the argument Marx made, that religion is used to enslave people, or to use them to gain political power, to push ideas on people that are harmful. Of course, it isn’t always used that way and that’s why I don’t agree with people who rant against it in a general manner, instead of just arguing against those who are using it inappropriately or harmfully.
I also think that Hitchens hated imperialism, American imperialism as well as other forms, but he wasn’t anti-American. He was just the opposite. He loved America and he liked to talk about Marx’ admiration for it. He objected to American military power being used for the purpose of extending American domination/imperialism. He convinced himself that the second Iraq war wasn’t about that (he opposed the first Iraq war). He believed the second Iraq war was about using American power for a good purpose, to liberate Iraqis from their dictator. I thought that was odd because, in fact, that’s exactly what the British said when they “liberated” the Mesopotamians from the Turks, in the first place, created Iraq and tried to make it their first democratic “brown dominion”, modelled on Canada and Australia. That translates into setting up an independent country loyal to British interests which would happily fight in all its wars. But it didn’t work out because Iraqis aren’t Canadians or Australians.
I loved this debate between Hitchens and Tony Blair, after Christopher had become ill. It’s about religion. I would have preferred another topic, such as the direction of the left, or something along that line. But, it’s great anyway. Blair is religious and has converted to Catholicism. But, he’s what I’d call part of the “religious left” which I think is the best antidote to the “religious right” in all its least and most harmful meanings, from those who try to impose their attitudes regarding “moral issues” like homosexuality or birth control on others to the really evil “Islamofascists”. As Blair said, you can’t eradicate religion so it’s better to promote it in its better and more moderate forms, or words to that effect.
I don’t know if Blair was just being generous, or if he really meant it, but he said that people like Hitchens do a service because they remind religious people of the dangers of fanaticism and fundamentalism. I think that might be true.
In this debate they do get a little into the issue of “transcendence”, metaphysics, I suppose. I probably understand that in a sort of simplistic way, not being very knowledgeable, but Christopher talked about our appreciation of things that seem not of this world and beyond our understanding, whether it’s the universe or the magic of beautiful art and music often associated with religion. Tony, it seems to me, believes that the name religious people give for this is “God” and, I would say, they invent all sorts of stories to go with that, in order to make it more understandable, or for other not so positive reasons.
The Blair/Hitchens Debate