"It’s like taking a beautiful truffle or fruit and unwrapping and throwing away the fruit without eating the wrapper so that you can feel good." -Christopher Hitchens

GhaneaBassiri: Can I ask you a question? There’s an irrationality and superstition of religion and then there’s another critique that leads to that moral judgment because people love absolutist positions that lead to things that others would clearly see as being immoral. And those two don’t necessarily go hand in hand so I was wondering where the critique is exactly or is it both, is it one or the other because if you say it’s ok for Marcus to be completely rational in having mystical experiences…

Hitchens: No not rational, I would say subjective.

GhaneaBassiri: Subjective.

Borg: How about super-rational?

[Laughter]

Hitchens: He could be enlightened. We don’t know. Achieving enlightenment as the Buddhists say, without God.

GhaneaBassiri: Yeah, but so if we say that’s okay we would clearly have to worry about Marcus making bad choices right now because he could have a vision that would lead him to do something rude or we’d regret Right? So how can it be ok for him to have those things as long as he doesn’t prosthelatize it?

Hitchens: It isn’t unremarkable is it for people who have committed really quite extraordinary crimes to say that they heard voices telling them to do so. In fact, the Israeli police in Jerusalem have a name for it – The Jerusalem Syndrome. People who come to Jerusalem because they’re crazed and because only Jerusalem will do. So I don’t know about you, but if I’m on the bus or the subway and someone begins to say they’re on a mission from God, I tell you to move away. Maybe some of you want to move closer, but self-preservation makes me move further away.

Sewell: But when you judge your mystical experience it is by the fruits of it. If it tells you to murder people then it probably isn’t a good mystical experience.

Hitchens: Says who? Moses was very direct in his orders. So in the (Medina) stories there’s the prophet Mohammed, “Spare not the unbelievable.” And that’s very plain. Says the gentle (Nazarene), “No one comes to the Father, except by me. I am the way of the truth” and the rest of you can go and burn. More extreme than anything said in the Old Testament.

Borg: But I still think Marilyn’s comment is a good one. I agree with you that suicide bombers typically are a faith based initiative and I have no difficulty imagining that one or more of the Al-Qaeda people who hijacked those airliners may have been in a mystical state of consciousness in the last minute or so of their lives as those planes headed towards the towers.

Hitchens: At least.

Borg: So I would come back with what Marilyn had said that the way you differentiate a mystical experience in the context of the Nuremberg rallies of the late ‘30s where many Germans reported an experience which I have never experienced before from, what I would say, is something that is from God is by the fruits that it bears.

Hitchens: I mean I’ve never, I have been at rallies where you felt yourself part of something bigger than yourself, part of the great cause, and you thought it might even take some courage and sometimes it did. So I guess that would be the nearest I have come to a mystical experience. But is there any pleasure equivalent to the idea of thinking for yourself? And wrestling with a philosophical question all night.

Borg: Absolutely important.

Hitchens: Who would exchange the idea of reading Socrates and really trying to understand for the feeling that, ‘Oh great, this feels so cool and I’ve got so many friends.’

Sewell: I would.

Hitchens: One feeling is lonely, but really worth it. We don’t even know Socrates existed and it doesn’t matter because he never said you are to use my method or go to hell. Think for yourself and understand how little you know. That’ll keep me going through night after night. The oceanic feeling of being at a rally or at a constantly incantated weekly ceremony. I’ve been to Friday night prayers several times, chant the same thing, show that you believe it. Rubbish compared to thinking for yourself and taking the risk you could be wrong. It’s like taking a beautiful truffle or fruit and unwrapping and throwing away the fruit without eating the wrapper so that you can feel good.

Sewell: I think sometimes it’s best to let go of all that, Christopher. And I know that probably isn’t your way.

Hitchens: Let go of all which?

Sewell: Your intellect and be somewhere else. You know, because you can do what some people call mind fucking. You can just…

Hitchens: Goodness me.

[Laughter]