August 06, 2007

Our Only Hope

Lengthy and fascinating interview with Christopher Hitchens in the Atlantic. I found this particular passage partlicularly interesting, given his recent book:

[Q:] ... when I read about your religious crisis at the age of nine, I found myself wondering if you would have been happier in a yeshiva, where you could have questioned everything and analyzed texts to your heart’s content.

[Answer:] My own way of joining a yeshiva was to become a Troskyite, I suppose. I was a member of an extremely Talmudic sect. The leading thinker of our group was a guy called Yigael Gluckstein; he wrote under the name Tony Cliff. There was a very heavy Jewish presence in this group, too. You realized that for many people this was a kind of substitute for the yeshiva. They loved the micro-arguments within Marxism about the nature of the Soviet state: the different theories of bureaucratic collectivism, state capitalism, workers’ status—absurd as these discussions would seem to outsiders, absurd as some of them actually were! Yeshivas were very good training, no doubt about it.

I use the word “fundamentalist” as a dismissive term, but actually, those who really struggle with the text, and try and make it come out right, have my respect in a way. Grudgingly. I think it’s sinister, but people who are willing to give a bit of their life to this, to their Torah portion or their Sura—it’s better than breezing along like some nihilist or hedonist. (emphasis added)

Stalinism okay, I absolutely understand (and in the book, Hitchens argues that the enthusiasm for communism should be regarded as a species of religious devotion), but hedonists? Nihilists? Assuming both are worldly wisemen following their own lights, and not fanatics attempting to act out their hedonism or nihilism at the expense of others, aren't they rather less destructive than those who struggle with the text? Hedonism doesn't much appeal to me (though I definitely think I could be an Epicurean), and nihilism seems to be something one outgrows in one's teens or early twenties; neither fetish strikes me as being as destructive of human happiness as those who really struggle with the text, and attempt to make it come out right, because the latter group can't help but try to make those parts of the world that don't come out right no matter what conform to the text (I think this is why Hitchens invokes the word 'sinister').

More refreshing is this exchange:

[Q:] There don’t seem to be many prominent secular voices in the Arab world.

[Answer:] There are more than you think. There are quite a lot in Iran. They’ve had the longest experience with theocracy, and they’re really through with it. And Algeria and Tunisia—these are people who have an idea of what it might be like to live under these characters, and they’re not willing to do it. And there are more and more of those voices among the European Muslim population. They’re our hope. Our only hope, actually.


Posted by Ideofact at August 6, 2007 02:03 AM