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The Soft Side Of Christopher Hitchens, And The Brilliance Of Mason Crumpacker

HitchlistMason Crumpacker is a ridiculously smart 9-year-old girl who became moderately famous this month after chancing into a conversation with Christopher Hitchens at a get-together of freethinkers in Houston, TX. Hitch was there to receive the Dawkins Award, and after a brief speech took a moment to answer questions, even though a Q&A wasn't part of the program. Mason, then eight, left her mum's side to wander through the thousand-strong crowd in search of the emcee. She seized his mic, and asked the ailing eminence:

What books should I read?

Hitchens seemed charmed, and asked to speak with the girl after the presentation. There, at a table surrounded by Hitchfans, the two spoke for a quarter of an hour. (You can read the Hitchensian reading list AFTER THE JUMP.)

No one's really explained why the encounter's so lit up the blogosphere. It probably has something to do with Hitchens' health, and something to do with seeing such a typically prickly personage instantly tenderize when confronted with a child. But it also has to do with Mason's precocity, which was evident to everybody gathered around that table in Houston. 

So evident was it that the Dallas News this week dispatched a reporter to interview the girl. Her responses are mindblowing. She's nine!

Dallas News: Why did you decide to go to an atheist convention?

Mason: I thought it would be interesting to meet different freethinkers and see what they thought about the world. I just wanted to boost my intellectual curiosity.

If someone invited you to a Christian convention, or a Buddhist convention or Hari Krishna convention, would you go?

Probably. I’d like to experiment with different religions. I just like to see what they believe and see if they make sense or not.

What do you think is the role of religion in people’s understanding of right versus wrong?

Religion is a way to get their children to behave. The world is kind of scary without religion, for them because they don’t know what is going to happen.

How does a religion have to “make sense”?

If someone questions [a religious belief] and just says, how do you know this is right? The priest says: Well, it’s in the Bible, isn’t it? Everything revolves around the Bible. Some people believe that if the Bible says it, it’s true, completely true. If I do decide to believe in something, they should have further proof.

Why did you decide it was important to ask a question of Hitchens?

Because I had just found out that he was dying, and he’s a brilliant man. And I felt that his knowledge of the world shouldn’t be wasted, and that someone should continue what he started.

Where will he go when he dies?


Did he answer you the way you expected to be answered?

Yes. He was very honest to me and very, very nice. I think all adults should be honest to kids with their answers and take them seriously. They’re living people, too. I especially hate when adults dumb it down for me.

You can read the whole exchange at Why Evolution's True. (At the Dallas News it's behind a pay wall.) And you can see the Hitchensian reading list below ...

Road Dawkins’ Magic of Reality

Road Greek and Roman myths, "particularly those compiled by Robert Graves"

Road "Anything satirical"

Road Shakespeare

Road Geoffrey Chaucer

Road Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Road PG Wodehouse (“for fun”)

Road David Hume

Road Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

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  1. Ayn Rand has been reincarnated! Run!

    Posted by: Jason 2 | Oct 30, 2011 3:14:18 PM

  2. I'm 17, and I don't think I was anywhere near this level of intellectual inquiry until I was 13-14 when I became engrossed with trying to form my sense of spirituality. She has done the same thing and, it seems, is already making conclusions based on that journey at the age of 9. Expect great things from this young girl.

    Posted by: moony | Oct 30, 2011 3:20:31 PM

  3. First, thank you, what a wonderful posting. Second, this little girl has a lot to teach us all.

    Posted by: matt | Oct 30, 2011 3:56:10 PM

  4. awesome


    @ jason2

    plz! ayn rand was an idiot. Rand's atheism wasn't based on logic but rather her desire to not feel any remorse when stomping on everyone else

    Posted by: say what | Oct 30, 2011 4:54:13 PM

  5. I should thanks to you for this post. Wonderful!

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    Posted by: James Fold | Oct 30, 2011 5:16:04 PM

  6. Good report, Brandon

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Oct 30, 2011 5:17:02 PM

  7. I've never met a dishonest atheist. Seriously. This little girl must have wonderful parents. They are passing on an intellectual tradition of honesty.

    Of the religious folk I have questioned two things stand out: first, they are of the religion of their parents and grandparents, a family tradition accepted without thoughtful inquiry. Second, they don't know much about what they profess to be adherents of. When questioned about the details of their religion they simply are unaware.

    Ayn Rand may have been a political idiot (extremely anti-Communist, having been raised in Russia) but she had religion right. She did not run from atheism.

    Posted by: Not Udderly Ridiculous | Oct 30, 2011 5:23:44 PM

  8. Is it too early to start planning this girl's run for the presidency?

    Posted by: jamesintoronto | Oct 30, 2011 5:36:08 PM

  9. I like that he recommended Hume to an 8-year-old. Also I like that her name is Mason Crumpacker.

    Posted by: sam | Oct 30, 2011 11:57:22 PM

  10. Not much of a free thinker, really, spouting standard atheist dogma.

    Atheism is prejudice, just like homophobia. It's only belief is a claim that most of humanity are wrong about their own experiences, and that belief is based on ego, not facts, logic, evidence, experience, or reason.

    "I've never met a dishonest atheist. "

    Every atheist I've ever met was dishonest.

    "They are passing on an intellectual tradition of honesty."

    Homophobes say the same thing about their belief that homosexuality is wrong.

    Posted by: Cassandra | Oct 31, 2011 12:11:46 AM

  11. "Atheism is a prejudice"? Nice try, but no. It's not a religion either. It's the understanding there is no God, gods, deities, etc. You're projecting.

    I don't care what you believe, unless and until you start trying to impose your beliefs on me, impose them on secular civil law, or try to have them taught in PUBLIC school classrooms. Unfortunately it seems all religions get there eventually.

    Posted by: Caliban | Oct 31, 2011 1:52:42 AM

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  13. "Atheism is prejudice, just like homophobia." As a homo atheist, I find this statement incredibly offensive. From the moment of my first memory, belief in god did not make sense to me, despite being raised in a religious faith community. No one needed to feed me any "atheist dogma" for me to realize that the dogma that WAS being forced down my throat was wrong. Atheism and homophobia are actually NOTHING alike.

    Posted by: Boone | Oct 31, 2011 3:48:29 AM

  14. Atheism is prejudice? Really? So what is religion? Where do you think homophobia originated and subjugation of women if you look at the history of religion based marriage for starters?

    Posted by: Robert in NYC | Oct 31, 2011 8:08:18 AM

  15. I have never found Hitch to be prickly. Flamboyant, maybe. And not one to suffer fools, but always gracious.

    Posted by: Jim | Oct 31, 2011 8:56:57 AM

  16. Hitch spent the weekend at my house in CT one year and we routed Henry Kissinger for a charity fund headline read:
    "Hitchins In, Kissinger Out!"

    Cheers, Joe Mustich, CT USA

    But over the years he has gotten too conservative and reactionary for me...
    but I hope his health is better....

    Also in his autobiography he talks about fooling around with guys at Oxford....

    Posted by: Jos. A. Mustich | Oct 31, 2011 8:57:50 AM

  17. @JASON 2

    Your comment cracked me up. Great idea for a horror movie---oh wait, they already made it. "Orphan"

    Posted by: Christopher | Oct 31, 2011 10:46:59 AM

  18. This is really an argument of left brain versus right brain. The left brain is rational and the right is mystical. Hence the war. When Atheists get one into an intellectual argument they win, because in the realm of logical intellectualism everything must have limits to exist as a concept. When the right brain gives you mystical experiences, you just know God exists.

    Posted by: Joey | Oct 31, 2011 1:20:29 PM

  19. I've always liked Hitchens, especially because he almost got kicked out of prep school at 15 for a homosexual tryst, but I never liked his intense dislike of Bill Clinton, probably because of Bill's obvious heterosexuality and all the attention it brought him. A little jealous maybe.

    If atheists had saints Hitch would be one of them.

    Posted by: Not Udderly Ridiculous | Oct 31, 2011 3:15:29 PM

  20. Unfortunately, Atheists can not prove the non existence of a "GOD" of any kind for the simple reason that "nonexistent things" do not emit light, can not be weighed, can not be seen, cannot affect the characteristics of real things, nor cause real things to DO anything.

    The invention of Gods came about in times when the leaders of various tribes had to come up with answers to questions from their members about natural events that came up from time to time. Simple things what is rain, lightening, death, how "dead people" (in a comma) can come back to life; what causes bushes to suddenly burn up (after being struck by lightning). Also, do not forget that the earth was flat and the Sun rotated around the earth. It was not until just a few years ago that the Pope finally admitted that the Sun was the center of our universe and that the Earth rotated around it,and not the reverse.

    There are certain laws of physics that just cannot be violated for if a single fundamental law is violated, the entire universe would cease to exist.

    I was taught by the nuns in grammar school that even cows acknowledge the existence of God by rising up from the ground in the morning by kneeling on their front legs first. That must mean that my cat and dog are atheists because they do not do that.

    Posted by: Jery6 | Oct 31, 2011 8:44:12 PM

  21. The previous post was by Jerry6; not jery6. Sorry.

    Posted by: Jerry6 | Oct 31, 2011 8:45:48 PM

  22. The equation of atheism and intellectual capacity is a gross overstatement. Just as there are ignorant people of faith, there are uneducated and uninformed atheists. And just as there are incredibly intelligent atheists, there are devastatingly smart people of faith. Don't believe me? Try: Yale Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, or the University of Chicago Divinity School to start.

    What it comes down to is respecting the beliefs of your peers, no matter what side of the debate you are on. And to not generalize. Not all atheists are smart and liberal, not all people of faith are conservative and uneducated.

    Posted by: Steven P. | Nov 1, 2011 2:32:05 AM

  23. "That must mean that my cat and dog are atheists because they do not do that. "

    From the same reasoning cats must be muslims because the way they stretch back looks a lot like a muslim prayer:

    Posted by: Lurker | Nov 4, 2011 8:57:48 AM

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