Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
19 May 2007

How to insult a man of the cloth

Christopher Hitchens, the man who has just published the book God is Not Great, and who has been slagging off the now dead Jerry Falwell, seems to be a very brave man. He is obviously prepared to take on even the most pious men of the cloth in the most extreme but entertaining manner.

He is after all the guy who wrote a book aimed at exposing the hypocrisy of Mother Theresa which he called The Missionary Position, but whose original title, Holy Cow, was thought to be too offensive by his publishers. As The New Republic Blog reports, Hitchens appeared on a US radio programme last week, and really let rip.

At one point Hitchens was joined on-air by Stephan Munsey, an evangelical pastor from Indiana. After making some pretty weak arguments on behalf of his faith, Munsey got to the crux of things. He explained how his 11-year-old daughter developed a grave case of Hodgkins’ Disease a few years ago. “She’s dying in front of me,” the minister recalled. “I kneel down, and I put my hand on her hand, and I ask God, ‘Would you heal my baby?'” The girl recovered. “You’ve come too late to me, Christopher Hitchens, to tell me that that was not an act of a real God,” Munsey declared.

Here I thought even Hitchens would put on kid gloves and grant the man his beliefs. “Are you going to call this father, Christopher Hitchens, a charlatan, a fool?” asked the host, Tom Ashbrook. Of course, that’s precisely what Hitch proceeded to do:

Well, it’s flat-out unbelievable testimony. And it’s been the basis of religious charlatanry all along… I’m very sorry if I sound callous, but I do know of a lot of children who have died horribly despite being prayed over with exreme fervency. And I think it’s disgusting to suppose that those prayers were infererior to other people’s…. There are such things as unexpected recoveries… [T]o claim that you have a personal line to God and that he’ll intervene for your convenience is a disgracefeul thing to say, mind you. And an insult to those whose children continue to suffer despite agonies of prayer on their behalf. This is a conscious attempt to defraud people. It’s the basis of a great deal of religious hucksterism. And besides being immoral, it’s highly unattractive.

You can listen to the whole program here.

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