Interview with Chris Hedges, author of “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008)

Interview with Chris Hedges
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad

By Charly Wilder
Salon Books
March 13, 2008

Audio interview with Chris Hedges:

Foreign correspondent and intellectual provocateur Chris Hedges explains why New Atheists like Christopher Hitchens are as dangerous as Christian fundamentalists.

Many charges have been leveled at foreign correspondent Chris Hedges over the years, but shrinking from conflict isn’t one of them. Hedges spent nearly seven years as Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, covered the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was part of the New York Times team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of global terrorism. He took on the American military-industrial complex with his books “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” and “What Every Person Should Know About War,” and provoked the rage of the Christian right by likening them to Nazis in last year’s “American Fascists.” Hedges now cements his reputation as an intellectual provocateur with the charmingly titled “I Don’t Believe in Atheists.”


via Interview with Chris Hedges, author of “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” | Salon Books.


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America Is in Need of a Moral Bailout by Chris Hedges

Bill Moyers Journal: Karen Armstrong on Compassion

Bill Moyers Journal: Faith and Reason (must-see)

16 thoughts on “Interview with Chris Hedges, author of “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008)

  1. Pingback: Chris Hedges and Sam Harris: Religion, Politics and the End of the World (2007) « Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: I Don’t Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges (2007) « Dandelion Salad

  3. Everybody just think of who you are dealing with here when you deal with Chris Hedges. he was a New York Times journalist for years. the times editorial staff is severe on its writers . they are accurate.

    if any of you would just take the time to read Hedges book you will find out that he backs up every word with fact and examples. he is not a conspiracy person . nor is he a generalizer.

    i have been reading and listening to chris Hitchens for 25 years. he is always on some crusade or another. in Hedges book –he lists the well known writers by name that believe in imperialism that are also atheists trying to make their case about the secular Utopian state. this really is not a generalization . it really is not . there are writers that even i did not know were on the nytimes best seller list making such claims to linking atheism to a pro-imperial stance. this book opened my eyes to the grim reality of a new very very destructive movement . what the religious right can’t do , these secularist will be able to do by persuading other secular minded people to join the cause of securing the secular state against theocratic scary scary Islam .

    just as the Mccarthy period used the word ”communist ” so the word ”terrorist ” is used . as edward r. murrow exposed Mccarthy , so another brave journalist named chris Hedges is standing up to both the religious right and the new atheism to expose it and their demagoguery . of course he will be hated…until the spell breaks.

  4. Pingback: When Atheism Becomes Religion: Americas New Fundamentalists (Chris Hedges) + Hitchens on Thom Hartmann « Dandelion Salad

    • This article is further proof that David Brooks talks straight out of his own behind. I find it amazing that these establishment conservative pundits have no concern for factual information as they defy reason with the intent to make some obtuse point on the jewish text, deluded atheists and individual responsibility. Its so shockingly absurd I found it comical.

      1. The Socratic Method is a device like what we would call “the devil’s advocate” where Socrates would ask in way to lead the person being questioned to rationalize solutions. “Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.” No, you have a dilemma. You define what your reaction to it could be. You chose the most moral. Socrates never advocated applying principals at random.

      2. “Today, many psychologists, cognitive scientists and even philosophers embrace a different view of morality. In this view, moral thinking is more like aesthetics.” The most funny statement in the whole argument. Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy, morality is defined by another branch of philosophy called Ethics. How could Brooks write a op-ed about the philosophical view of morals without even knowing that there is a discipline of philosophy that does just that.

      3. “Think of what happens when you put a new food into your mouth. You don’t have to decide if it’s disgusting. You just know. You don’t have to decide if a landscape is beautiful. You just know. Moral judgments are like that.” The profound idiocy of Brooks is simply amazing. For example feral children, those children that have been left to raise themselves or imprisoned/neglected by their own parents. These kids have no conception of social norms, they do not know language or had a chance to understand empathy. David Brooks could of said ‘look how easy the English language is, when I want to communicate the words I want to use come to me naturally’.

      3. Can it ever be that there is a conservative pundit who can get through a statement on morality without invoking Darwin? LOL Its so absurd! “Evolution is always about competition, but for humans, as Darwin speculated, competition among groups has turned us into pretty cooperative, empathetic and altruistic creatures — at least within our families, groups and sometimes nations.”

      No, Darwin didn’t. Darwin’s theory explained the diversity of life through mutation and natural selection. He was not making a stance on morality. Almost every species on the planet uses cooperation, its very rare that this is not the case, Darwin knew this! This is all code language used by the right to mean “look, another example of how Darwin can be dismissed”. For one there is no Darwinism, no one calls themselves a Darwinist. DNA and cell theory are not some elaborate leap of faith. The reason he is so hated is because human beings are categorically indistinguishable from apes. So the question of did we evolve from apes is entirely mute because we are still apes now. Our brains are much more advanced then our relatives so we have much more complex interactions, but its the same socially cooperative species. And if you believe that man was created from dust and women from Adam’s rib, you have problem with it.

      4. “It challenges the bookish way philosophy is conceived by most people. It challenges the Talmudic tradition, with its hyper-rational scrutiny of texts. It challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.”

      LOL good grief. Ok, to say it challenges the bookish way philosophy is “CONCEIVED” is just hysterical. I am going to assume he meant to say “PERCEIVED”, although even giving that allowance…it still makes no logical point as stated before on the entire study of morality in the philosophical field of Ethics. Brooks seemingly randomly picked the Talmud, but it goes the same for all religions: basic moral codes pre-existed them. Then the “new atheist” argument again. I got the feeling that this whole line of attack is because atheists no longer call themselves “deists” or “spiritual” as cutesy way of not overtly stating no belief at all. If the topic is “does God exist” or “my religion is factually true” then yes, atheists are at odds with religion. But not in general, even less then religions are at odds with atheists because they believe in saving souls and atheistic stances are regarded as a threat to their missionary work. I can understand when Brooks says ” unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning” because this is absolutely true when applied to David Brooks.

      5. Introduction or lead in, support your thesis in the body (add quote, anecdote), then make your conclusion. That’s the model of all persuasive essays. So what is Brooks conclusion? Oh yea, its those damned scientists.

      “Finally, it should also challenge the very scientists who study morality. They’re good at explaining how people make judgments about harm and fairness, but they still struggle to explain the feelings of awe, transcendence, patriotism, joy and self-sacrifice, which are not ancillary to most people’s moral experiences, but central. The evolutionary approach also leads many scientists to neglect the concept of individual responsibility and makes it hard for them to appreciate that most people struggle toward goodness, not as a means, but as an end in itself.”

      What scientists is he talking about? It really boggles the mind. Then to pull individual responsibility, the battle flag of the GOP out…for no apparent reason? Most people struggle towards goodness? LOL I really do not know what the hell this guy is talking about. Its like he made a conclusion based on another article.

      I think the last line of the article was the most inspiring: “Bob Herbert is off today.”

      Please Bob, whoever you are, comeback!

      • LOL, I thought you’d like that, Erk.

        This stayed on the Time’s most emailed list for days.
        He’s about the worst substitute for Bob Herbert, who’s brilliant, but at least they got rid of Wm. Kristol!
        You should email your response to Brooks.

        I actually find it interesting to imagine the evolutionary roots of morality, ethics, altruism and compassion all having some basis in the extended care required of human infants, and other more destructive impulses such as patriotism , racism, bigotry are found in the evolutionary baggage of the pack-mentality.

        Surely it will be shown that sociopaths have actual brain damage and are missing something, as it has already been shown that conservatives are disordered, or disabled, or actually diseased (my biased interpretation of the actual study), and that ‘the God part of the Brain” will be found somewhere in the hippocampus.

        • LOL Yea, writing Brooks would do no good. I think he is of the mold of Jonah Goldberg and is completely aware he is completely full of crap, just as long as he is selling articles and making a conservative point he does not have any journalistic ethical qualms with be inaccurate.

          I agree completely with sociopathic personalities are defined by their lack of empathy, Kurt Vonnegut has quite a nice rant on this in his book A Man Without a Country. There is also the authoritarian personality type where people abdicate their own moral reasoning to that of authority. Its important to know while sociopathic personalities are uncommon (although its not a on/off condition, there is gradient values) that this personality type is one quarter of the population and not uncommon at all.

          The mythos of the conservative movement is that we are 1) a nation of individuals only allied in self defense and 2) that this defines what freedom is (to be fair I know a few liberal anarchists that also fall into this mental trap so its not exclusively a conservative mantra). The opposite of what they call “social darwinism” is another concept called “civilization”. We, as human beings, all do better when everyone does better. You can highlight these moral issues using the Socratic Method (something someone should do to Brooks): Is it more important to punish criminals or to stop the root source of crime? As Aristotle pointed out “the mother of revolution and crime is poverty”. United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s imprisoned people. We know how to reduce crime, reduce poverty. But that would cost money or the redistribution of wealth (like its not being redistributed right now…to the top). But here is the point of it all: police forces cost money, jails cost money, a person in jail costs money. The same money could be used to reduce crime itself, people would not need to be jailed, we would need less police. Which is more moral? You cannot separate the human factor from human civilizations. Taking a look at the work of people like Dr. Stephen Bezruchka you find that inequality is the heart of a lot of social ills, including literally being ill 😉 The desperate shrill cry of “individual responsibility” is a self serving tool to avoid issues of egalitarianism and its benefits. To wrap this up in a nonsensical essay on morality like Brooks did is both the standard modus operandi of the right wing and absurd.

        • Another Conservatist credo: “All do better when the top 1% get everything, at the expense of everyone and everything else”

          (It’s no wonder that the Jim Crow former southern ‘Democrats’ all became republicans after desegregation–more reason not to trust either party).

          The combining of the various tentacles of ‘conservatism’; religious, social, financial and militaristic into this raygun revolution of corporatist, patriotic, hawkish religious cultists all working to make the 1% wealthier than it’s ever been in the history of the universe, should finally show that ‘conservatism’ is simply bad, in yet far worse than the sum of it’s parts.

          Perhaps part of reducing crime, is redefining what’s criminal… of course ‘conservatives’ would just like to lock ’em all up forever, and let god sort ’em out.

  5. i haven’t read the book, but listened to the interview. i agree with most of it but the notion that you have to keep the idea of sin or people may become immoral or something like that is silly to me. being afraid to kill someone cause of possible wrath of god or state doesn’t make you moral if that’s the only reason you don’t go out and commit murder. fear will never be moral. that is just basic animal survival instincts on a human playing field. besides, from what i understand of christianity you can commit any crime you like and go to heaven as long as you ask jesus for forgiveness. not exactly a real deterrent from sin.

    he did mention empathy in this interview and that i think is where we might find this so called morality. the golden rule is fairly simple and should easily apply in any culture. somehow people find ways of thwarting it intellectually though.

    dawkins and hitchens are incredibly dogmatic in their beliefs, they rival any extreme fundamentalist in that respect. a lot of what they do does seem to be for show and it may simply be a tactic in their strategy. it is far more convincing to listen to someone who believes what they are saying is unwavering truth than someone who says, “oh it might be this way.” i myself like it more when people say, “it might be this way”, because i like to think. so for me it doesn’t matter how convinced someone thinks they are, i will always hear them saying, “it might be this way”, despite their certainty.

  6. Wow nice generalization: New Atheists are like Christian Fundamentalists, “conspicuously allied with the neocons on the subject of America’s role in politics.” How about moderate Christians are like WW2 Germans, wanting to focus all of their personal energy on pursuit of their own wealth and happiness, and ready to denounce anybody that might expect them to think and take responsibility for their community and nation.
    I bet if you took the time, you would find that a more than typical number of “new atheists” support the end of war, universal non-profit healthcare, increased funding of education. But its easier to just close your eyes and yell generalizations when confronted with an idea that bothers you, than to take some time and think about what is really troubling you.
    How about this one: People named Hedges don’t like puppies.
    Gee now I’m as smart as you.

  7. Erk, I applaud you. Well thought out comments, never mind blog posts, are becoming a rarity.

    I’m iffy on Hedges – I read American Fascists and agreed large chunks of it, but I don’t think that there is such thing as a “New Atheist” movement.

  8. I did not realize this recording was a year old. I retract my statement of intellectual dishonesty as this was probably a honest misunderstanding. Yes, I listened to the whole audio, I read the essay by Hedges, I watched the debate between Harris and Hedges.

    This is not new rhetoric in my opinion and Harris is not pro Empire with this stance, this is not new rhetoric at all. During the Age of Enlightenment, at the establishment of the United States there were 4 archtypes of oppression that were addressed, to varying degrees of success. One was military oppression, as in a police state. One was artistocratic oppression, that of a ruling class or nobility. One was economic oppression, because if you are in abject poverty you are not free. And then there was religion, it was considered the worst of all because it enslaved the minds of men. So worst of all? Of all those listed? Yes, thats what they considered the worst of all. Now there is some strong rhetoric.

    Thomas Jefferson said “it neither breaks my bones nor picks my pocket if my neighbor believes in one god or twenty” (I am doing that from memory, so the quote may not be exact) as the establishment clause in the Constitution agrees with that stance and so do I. On the Jefferson Memorial it is written along the base of the rotunda on which his statue stands a famous line: “I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Every right wing Christian televangelist has used that phrase to show how Thomas Jefferson was invoking god to fight tyrrany. Not quite, the quote is from a letter to Benjamin Rush, the people he is swearing eternal hostility to is specifically the Christians and the tyrrany over the minds of men is religion in general.

    From , the years before the Civil War until FDR was elected the country was divided with a socially conservative and economically liberal south, and a socially liberal and economically conservative north. The economically liberal and socially liberal factions were condemned by a corrupt state and they in turn were support by the church leaders. While Eugene Debs was jailed for speaking out against WW1, the Klan was taking over the Democratic Party. The Bureau of Investigations (precursor to the FBI) cracked down on threats to America, they targeted the IWW, not the racial lynchings as was the case with the Palmer Raids headed by non other then a young J Edgar Hoover.

    When the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities was formed, the movie Salt of the Earth, a movie about labor rights was banned while the Klan glorification movie Birth of a Nation, with Jesus himself praising the Klan members and black people cast into hell, was called a valuable national treasure.

    After FDR the south former the Dixiecrat Party so they could use the church vote for more segregation and Jim Crow laws. Storm Thurmand ran for President saying “I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” Because thats what Jesus would do apparently. He would later kick off Reagan’s Presidential run.

    We then had the Southern Strategy to use the church vote that hated the Civil Rights as a tool to divide the country. And the rest of the Neo Con and right wing church alliance you know well, you are living in it.

    To say that really what the danger is those athiests is incredible at best and insulting at worst. Harris is not confusing tribalism with faith, faith leads to tribalism. All religions are a us verus them mentality, even today we 85% of the country is Christians and they feel they are presecuted as a people. The Texas Republican platform has “Our Party pledges to do everything within its power to dispel the mythof separation of church and state.” in it. There is talk of making a Ammendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage because of religion. Why do the Sunnis hate the Shiites? Religion. Why do Zionists mass murder the Palestinians? Religion.

    I don’t care what religion a person is, I only care about a persons actions. I tend to be very pragmatic in my views, if it works and it does no harm, I like it. I realize that some people need or want religion. Its conforting, it gives a sense of community, its part of a culture. But I am not buying for a second this theory about benevolent religions when I know all over the world, and in the United States too, that is simply not the case when they are allowed to hold power.

    Atheism has no doctrines, no dagma, no scriptures, no authority to listen to. It is no more a religion then NOT collecting stamps is a hobby. There is no atheist movement nor a atheist voting block because the very nature of being a atheist is the idea of God’s will does not exist.

    Sorry about the wall o’ text, had to get that off my mind. I’m not mad about this, I am not upset, just had to vent a little 😉

  9. then someone is lying . or Harris has changed his tune . if you go on to youtube and type in the four horseman , you will see a very long and revealing conversation between Hitchens , Dennet , Dawkins , and Harris . they are so patronizing on how they are gonna break the spell and enlighten us all . if that is not utopia thinking i dont know what is .

    one thing i do agree with them on , is their commitment to protecting holy sites from an aesthetic reason . and that alone may be why harris is hesitant to go willy nilly bombing . but that does not make him or any of these crusaders pacifists. they believe in Augustines just war all the way . that alone is enough for me to discount what they say . i hear to much of Augustines just war in theological circles . i would hope that the atheists of the world would at least have the courage and conviction to not copy the abuses of church history . but that is hoping for too much . ”human , all too human ” …. as Shakespeare says .

  10. Again with the atheists claiming deliverance of Utopia. Its almost laughable when its his own religious beliefs that has the literal concept of Utopia…after you die. Perfection is not a destination, its a direction. Societies do evolve and hopefully progress towards the better. Listening to Hedges seems to me to be a text book example of psychological projection.

    In the early 20th century Joe Hill the labor activist rewrote the religious song “In the sweet by and by” to be “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die” to mock the religious leaders who condemned the workers telling them not to take action and that obedience to god was more important then worker rights. Why worry about the state of the world when all eternity you will go to Utopia. That’s the real corrosive force in religion in my opinion.

    And again in this audio he accuses Sam Harris of wanting some preemptive nuclear strike against muslim nations. Sam Harris made a post on this on his blog to address Hedges specifically:

    I find it intellectually dishonest at best to continue down this same path for almost a year now when its clear Sam Harris advocates no such thing.

    • Erik, this interview was a year ago. I posted it to give more info on his book for those who haven’t read it. I have no idea if he and Sam Harris have talked since this interview. Did you listen/read the entire interview?

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