The Reactionary Utopian
                       May 8, 2007

by Joe Sobran

     The most beautiful religious movie I've ever seen is 
the 1947 French film MONSIEUR VINCENT, which dramatizes 
the later life of St. Vincent de Paul, best known for his 
organizational genius in ministering to the poor.

     It ends with a wise insight. The dying priest, 
played by the great Pierre Fresnay, tells a young nun 
always to keep her lovely smile: "Unless the poor know we 
love them, they will never forgive us for helping them."

     Excellent advice. I've known devout but obtuse 
Christians who have soured their own works of charity by 
unconsciously humiliating the people they meant to help 
-- with scolding or moralism, or by wounding their 
fragile self-respect. No need to act morally superior to 
a starving beggar.

     Sometimes I think the other side could use a bit of 
the same counsel. Too often today, the high and holy 
cause of unbelief is threatened by the smug sanctimony of 
the atheists.

     Consider Christopher Hitchens, author of the new 
whose title is perhaps self-explanatory. Religion poisons 
everything? Everything? Bach and Mozart? Thomas Aquinas 
and John Henry Newman?

     And what about atheists like Stalin? Hitchens is 
ready for that one, citing Orwell: "A totalitarian state 
is in effect a theocracy." Besides, we may note, Stalin 
went to a seminary, where maybe he picked some bad 
thinking habits, which he couldn't shake off when he 
stopped believing in God. Even bad atheists, it seems, 
can be chalked up to religion.

     Now Hitchens himself, born English and naturalized 
American, is a learned and eloquent man. (I've debated 
him on politics, and I have the scars to prove it.) But 
when he gets on the subject of religion -- any and all 
religion, mind you -- he turns plain silly. Like so many 
of his breed, he seems to think he can settle an argument 
with a combination of British suavity and British snot. 
After reading him, I'm always surer I know whom he hates 
(or, less often, loves) than what he thinks.

     And being erudite, he argues with impressive 
inductiveness, citing the usual horrors and then some -- 
crusades, inquisitions, wars, jihads, Jim Jones, Jimmy 
Swaggart, 9/11, et cetera, filing them all under the same 
heading, Religion, as if they were all instigated by the 
same agency. (And let's not forget the Scopes trial.)

     It may seem ironic that Hitchens, a fierce defender 
of the Iraq war, blames religion for war, when the last 
two popes have opposed both Iraq wars; but then, he also 
seems to blame the popes for opposing them. As Huck Finn 
might put it, and as Hitchens would surely agree, popes 
is mostly a bad lot.

     When you come right down to it, Hitchens's case 
against religion is a more impersonal form of the old 
Phil Donahue argument, which may be summarized thus: Mean 
old nuns whacked my knuckles with a ruler, ergo God does 
not exist. This is less inductive reasoning than simple 
free association with a grudge. Religion reminds 
Christopher Hitchens of a lot of bad memories, even if 
they are historical rather than autobiographical. That 
is, they are bad things he's read about, not necessarily 
experienced himself. Somehow I'd expected a more rigorous 

     Now taking the broad view, I agree that, as a 
historical matter, a lot of boys, over the centuries, 
have had their knuckles whacked by a lot of nuns. But, 
waiving the question whether some of those boys brought 
it on themselves (especially if religion has an inherent 
tendency to produce bad boys like Donahue), we still 
await a demonstration that mean nuns can be traced to the 
Sermon on the Mount. And here, unless I am mistaken, lies 
the fatal lacuna in Hitchens's thesis.

     And here I return to the practical problem. If you 
really think belief in God or gods has always caused so 
much suffering (such as the Trojan War, a quagmire which 
I, as a Catholic, would have opposed from the start), 
then it seems to me that you ought to propagate atheism 
seriously -- not just out of vanity to show how clever 
you are, but out of those same humanitarian motives to 
which you say religion is repugnant, and by which you 
claim to be driven. No need to humiliate the poor 
believers, is there?

     But Hitchens still believes in Darwin and the Iraq 
war. Me, I still run with the popes, but I must say I 
admire his faith.


Read this column on-line at 

Copyright (c) 2007 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate, This column may not be published in 
print or Internet publications without express permission 
of Griffin Internet Syndicate. You may forward it to 
interested individuals if you use this entire page, 
including the following disclaimer:

"SOBRAN'S and Joe Sobran's columns are available 
by subscription. For details and samples, see, write, or call 800-513-5053."