A little red meat on Friday night via Slate’s continuing series of excerpts from “God Is Not Great,” his new omnibus anti-religion polemic. This comes from yesterday’s selection; today’s selection is on Mormonism and is breezier, but this took more balls to write so it earns the blockquote.
The likelihood that any of this humanly derived rhetoric is “inerrant,” let alone “final,” is conclusively disproved not just by its innumerable contradictions and incoherencies but by the famous episode of the Koran’s alleged “satanic verses,” out of which Salman Rushdie was later to make a literary project. On this much-discussed occasion, Muhammad was seeking to conciliate some leading Meccan poly-theists and in due course experienced a “revelation” that allowed them after all to continue worshipping some of the older local deities. It struck him later that this could not be right and that he must have inadvertently been “channeled” by the devil, who for some reason had briefly chosen to relax his habit of combating monotheists on their own ground. (Muhammad believed devoutly not just in the devil himself but in minor desert devils, or djinns, as well.) It was noticed even by some of his wives that the Prophet was capable of having a “revelation” that happened to suit his short-term needs, and he was sometimes teased about it. We are further told—on no authority that need be believed—that when he experienced revelation in public he would sometimes be gripped by pain and experience loud ringing in his ears. Beads of sweat would burst out on him, even on the chilliest of days. Some heartless Christian critics have suggested that he was an epileptic (though they fail to notice the same symptoms in the seizure experienced by Paul on the road to Damascus), but there is no need for us to speculate in this way. It is enough to rephrase David Hume’s unavoidable question. Which is more likely—that a man should be used as a transmitter by god to deliver some already existing revelations, or that he should utter some already existing revelations and believe himself to be, or claim to be, ordered by god to do so? As for the pains and the noises in the head, or the sweat, one can only regret the seeming fact that direct communication with god is not an experience of calm, beauty, and lucidity.
I’ve been meaning to link this vid for awhile but haven’t gotten to it for various reasons. It’s from a debate in Canada earlier this year over a proposed hate-speech statute; Hitch naturally segues from there to the larger subject of free inquiry, which lets him digress about his favorite hobbyhorse. He’s at the top of his game, too, but I realize this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea so be advised that it’s incendiary even by his standards. Islam takes the worst of it — that part begins at 16:35 if you’re counting up or 4:17 if you’re counting down — but by no means all of it. Definitely worth watching if you’re in the mood. Which, with the weekend upon us, maybe you’re not.