Leave it to the excellent Douglas Wolk to remind us of one of the downsides to Osama bin Laden’s demise: that it renders moot Frank Miller’s planned Batman Versus bin Laden comic. Although to be more accurate, Miller himself had second-thoughts about that idea and is still working on a superhero comic, sans Batman, about the “War on Terror.” Still, perhaps some other cartoonist can do an imaginary story where Batman dukes it out with Osama.
I wonder if anyone has written on the etiquette of prayer, the social ethics of when it is appropriate to pray for another person.
Christopher Hitchens has cancer. I have every good wish for him and hope that his chemotherapy treatment is effective and he recuperates quickly. But even if I were the praying sort, which I’m not, I’m not sure I would pray for Hitchens, for fear that it would be disrespectful of one of his chief (and most admirable) personality traits, his fierce atheism. To pray for Hitchens is to risk playing the fool, as James Boswell did when he went to the deathbed of the God-denying David Hume. Childishly, Boswell kept asking Hume if he didn’t want to reconcile himself with his creator. Hume displayed great forbearance but the entire scene was farcical and did no credit to religion.
September 11 had a strong effect on Christopher Hitchens. “I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that this was a feeling of exhilaration,” he remarked to an interviewer in 2003. “Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate.” Since that time, Hitchens has arguably become the most influential voice in favour of the Iraq War. Not only has Hitchens frequently defended the war on television and in print, he has been invited to the White House to discuss foreign policy with senior Bush administration officials. In November, Hitchens wrote an article for Vanity Fair describing the unusual influence his Iraq writings had on a young man named Mark Daily. After reading an article Hitchens wrote, Daily was inspired to sign up for combat in Iraq, beginning in November 2006. Two months later, Daily was killed during fighting in Mosul.
Hitchens’ most recent defence of the war takes the form of a contribution to a debate in Slate magazine. Former supporters of the war were asked to respond to the question, “How did I get Iraq wrong?” Hitchens’ answer? He didn’t. Unlike the other contributors, Hitchens denies that he has anything to answer for. Instead, he argues that the case for war was, and remains, morally defensible.
For an article published in 2008, this struck me as a surprising position to take. However, beyond the question of whether or not Hitchens’ position is true is the separate question of how well he argues for it. There are questions on which reasonable people can disagree, and we’ve all encountered strong challenges to our own views. On the other hand, some arguments are truly bad as arguments. Not only are the conclusions false, but the support offered for them is so weak, it is impossible to take the conclusions seriously while maintaining any sense of intellectual integrity.
Christopher Hitchens, perhaps cleaning himself for a trip to Mecca. Photo from Vanity Fair.
Despite his long history of unpredictable political and personal turns, Christopher Hitchens has completely shocked me with his recent decision to accept Mohammed as a prophet, a totally unexpected development coming so soon after his anti-theist polemic God Is Not Great.
The swaggering pundit made his devoutness evident in a very subtle fashion in an essay for Slate that touched on the controversy about Danish cartoons that mocked Mohammed. Hitchens wrote: “Not very long ago, [Kurt Westergaard] joined with other cartoonists in an open society in drawing some caricatures of the alleged ‘prophet’ Mohammed.”