A Refutation of the Undergraduate Atheists

by David V. Johnson

UnamumoIn “San Manuel Bueno, Martir,” the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno tells the fictional story of a parish priest in Valverde de Lucerna, a small Spanish town, and his successful conversion of a sophisticated favorite son, Lazaro, who had left to seek his fortunes in America and returned an atheist.

“The main thing,” San Manuel says, in summarizing his ministry, “is for the people to be happy, that everyone be happy with their life. The happiness of life is the main thing of all.”

When Lazaro arrives from the New World, he dismisses the town's medieval backwardness and begins confronting villagers about their superstitions. “Leave them alone, as long as it consoles them,” San Manuel tells him. “It is better for them to believe it all, even contradictory things, than not to believe in anything.”

Lazaro confronts San Manuel with a mixture of curiosity and respect, since San Manuel is not only beloved by Lazaro's family for his piety but also because he appears educated. Over time, the two become friends and, eventually, Lazaro rejoins the Church and takes communion, to the tearful delight of all.

The twist: Like Lazaro, San Manuel doesn't believe the articles of faith. (“I believe in one God, the Father and Almighty, Creator of heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen …”) What he believes in, rather, is administering to the needs of the villagers, in putting on such a convincing performance of dedication to Christ that they all believe he is a saint and have their faith in the Church and in life everlasting sustained. Lazaro's “conversion,” then, is one consistent with atheism. He becomes a lay-minister of sorts under San Manuel and eventually dies a Catholic.

I think of this story when I hear the arguments against religion of the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. If Unamuno's story were updated, I could imagine Lazaro coming home to Valverde de Lucerna with a copy of God Is Not Great under his arm, ready to do battle with San Manuel. And if the story makes sense, we can imagine someone who has imbibed the arguments of Hitchens, yet converts to the faith under the saint's arguments.

The question is why.

Read more »

How Not To Write: Maniza Naqvi’s Piece on Hitchens

by Tauriq Moosa

ScreenHunter_05 Dec. 20 13.12I had chosen not to write extensively about the late Christopher Hitchens, since his contributions to my life’s betterment is of no real interest to anyone save my future biographers. And in looking at Maniza Naqvi’s piece on Hitchens I am, in fact, still not focused on Hitchens but on a point much broader: using colourful language in place of arguments is unhelpful to, I think, everyone. To be clear and upfront, I adored Hitchens’ work but that is, in fact, irrelevant to why Naqvi’s piece is a thin piece of tripe that stays afloat on nothing but its own hot air and strained eloquence. This is the type of thing Hitchens attacked: obscurity dressed in eloquence, masking hollow ‘arguments’. Indeed, try and read the first sentence of her piece and see if it makes sense. Come back to me if you know what she's trying to say.

To summarise the entire piece: Ms Naqvi did not like Hitchens. The end.

It is one of many ‘critical’ pieces following his recent death. However, I find it doubtful you will acquire better critical pieces now that the great man is dead than were written while he was alive. No insight can, I think, be gained on his arguments now that his corpse is cold, except that critics can be certain that they will receive no brilliant and biting counter-attacks.

Naqvi’s piece contains things like:

This type of thinking is hitched to a fine pitch for the American audience, in the packaging and selling, in my opinion, of a slimy toad: the blow hard, alcoholic—poser, social climber, wannabe—the unoriginal mediocre cheerleader of war and mass murder who made a career of being draped in mounds of other peoples’ books and supposedly having been himself well read and writing well, all the while being a fraud—and an Iago to America’s Othello.

Oh, I see what she did there! Using colourful language and phrasing, Ms Naqvi managed to write an entire piece without saying anything. Even when dissected, this cumbersome paragraph tells us something extraordinary: Someone didn't like someone else. The world just became dimmer.

Read more »