That winning atheist charm

So Christopher Hitchens is a drunken, uncouthe buffoon. This isn’t exactly news, of course:

Eyewitnesses report that Hitchens erupted into a drunken rage at a recent promotional event for his book. Hitchens reportedly descended from the stage, visibly inebriated, approached a Roman Catholic priest in the audience, and began shouting at him, only inches from his face. Hitchens’ manner appeared so physically menacing, witnesses say, that a plainclothes bodyguard on duty at the event rushed in and escorted the drunken scribe from the room.

All of this happened four and a half months ago, on May 1. It was never reported in the press. A conspiracy of silence shielded the bestselling author from the negative publicity his behavior seemingly should have earned him. Indeed, the world at large would know nothing of this incident, had Hitchens himself not chosen to mention it in the September 2007 issue of Vanity Fair….

One eyewitness states that Hitchens’ “drunken, rambling, anti-Semitic, bigoted and foul-mouthed rant” caused “two-thirds of the people to leave in disgust” before the talk had ended.

Hitchens responds thusly: “You probably know that the charge against me is a standard and oft-repeated one, which would either mean that I am always incapable with drink (in which case one wonders how I manage to meet all my deadlines) or that a cliché is at work.”

Now, Hitchens is far too literate to be unaware that the drunken asshole who nevertheless manages to write interesting prose while intoxicated is somewhat of a cliché in itself. His denial at the linked site is interesting in that it isn’t so much a denial as an attempt to deflect the subject. It seems he may actually be a little ashamed of his behavior, since he was trying to spin it even though he was given the every chance to put it behind him.

But being a socially autistic bully, he just couldn’t pass up the chance to take a free shot in print at a priest. Given that there was a room full of people at the event, I have a feeling the story of his boorish behavior will be confirmed in due time. But what is more troubling than Hitchens’s behavior is that no one saw fit to speak up about it until Hitchens himself decided to drew attention to the incident in his Vanity Fair piece.

It’s a pity that no matter how drunk Hitchens might get during a debate with me, he still wouldn’t dare to get in my face. I’m just not sure if it’s my stunning good looks or the 17-inch guns.

Here’s the transcript; I found the following exchange to be rather more interesting than the brouhaha:

Unidentified Audience Member: [inaudible] wasn’t the Marxist dialectical materialism a form of religion?

Christopher Hitchens: I won’t have a word said against Marxist dialectical materialism.

Unidentified Audience Member: Repeat the question, please?

Christopher Hitchens: The lady asked, Wasn’t Marxist dialectical materialism a form of religion? Well, the answer to that is that yes, in a way, it was. It was designed as it was to be the negation of faith.

Here’s the common misquotation in modern discourse. Who here has not heard it said that Marx said that religion was the opium of the people? Hands up who hasn’t heard that. Good. He said absolutely no such thing. In his contribution to the — his introduction, actually, to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right– Karl Marx says the following about religion. He says, “Religion is the heart of the heartless world, the spirit of the spiritless situation,” and adds that religion “has plucked the flowers from the chain, not so that we shall bear the chain without any consolation, but so that we shall break the chain and cull the living flower.” It’s very important that you understand that difference.

And the lady asked me as a supplementary question, Isn’t it the case that he learned all this from, as it were, Western civilization? It’s true to an extent. I mean, he was the son of a rabbi, but he repudiated Judaism. But it is the — I think you’ll see it’s the absolute negation of the vulgar parody of what Marx is supposed to have believed.

And for this reason, of course, I would say, to declare oneself a Marxist in any sense at all is to say, No, it’s not a religion; it is defined as a non-belief in the supernatural and as a repudiation of anything could be called a faith. Marxism’s great mistake was it believed it had found material evidence for a past, a present and a future; and that material means alone could install it. You could say that that was a terrible idea, but you can’t call it a religion.

So not only does Hitchens nearly attack a priest, but he also manages to undercut Sam Harris’s attempt to delink atheism from Communism.