“Atheism is Vandalism!” — Hitchens responds

January 22, 2014

From a panel discussion about “Religion and Culture” featuring Christopher Hitchens and two writers on religion, Zachary Karabell and Jonathan Kirsch…..

About 51 minutes in comes this attack on Christopher Hitchens and atheism from Jonathan Kirsch–

Kirsch: I was reminded of a trip my wife and I took to Paris, we saw the Pantheon, which is a church which was desacrilized after the French Revolution. It is a sterile church. You can go to Notre Dame or Sacré-Cœur which are old medieval churches and they’re very beautiful places. We go into our art museums which we praise as the highest art of the classical world. Their original purpose was what our Bible calls idols.

This is our culture – religion is our culture. It provides the stuff of our culture. And to repudiate that — our cultural legacy — is precisely the same as the Taliban going out an dynamiting Buddhist statues in Afghanistan: it’s vandalism!

Bas Sac 1Sacré-Cœur Basilica

Christopher Hitchens responds bluntly —

Silly point. Very very silly point…. Extremely silly point.

The (so-called) moderator ridicules Hitchens for being so blunt, so Hitchens makes his point more clearly:

Sacré-Cœur, by the way, was built-in the late nineteenth century. It’s not medieval at all. It was built to celebrate the defeat of Republicanism in France. It expresses the sectarianism of the French Catholic Church; its historical alignment with the anti-semites, the army and the elite. You can go and worship there if you like, if that’s the kind of culture to you like.

The so-called moderator tries to stop him and says “Now we’re just bickering.” Kirsch takes the interruption as a chance to try to salvage something:

Kirsch: Well I do believe Notre dame is a Medieval cathedral.

Hitchens: Yes, around which Thomas Aquinas once flew, you might be interested to know…He levitated… We have witnesses! After leaving one of his books on the high altar for God to read, and receiving — by channeling — a favorable review, he flew in delight around the knave of Notre Dame. You can check it out. And many people think that’s culture.

Well something got demolished there, but it was not the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur!

Posted by Yakaru



  1. We could grant that desacrilizing the Pantheon is sort of similar to the Taliban dynamiting a Buddhist statue, but the deeper question is whether culture must remain fixed for all time, or whether culture can develop and change.

    Christians destroyed many pagan temples in the early centuries of their history. So why shouldn’t we destroy Christian temples now?

    Christians believed in cultural change in the late Roman Empire days, yet now they argue that cultural change is bad?

  2. In fact Hitchens’ position is more likely to lead to the protection of Christian temples than Kirsch’s. I think Kirsch — like many people – hear someone knocking religion and immediately assume they’re a bigot.

    Preventing religions from gaining political power will protect religious believers and religious temples etc from destruction by competing religions.

    And I now realize I should maybe have added a small footnote to the post — Hitchens talking about the history of the Parthenon — see the update at the end of the post.

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