God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
- By Christopher Hitchens
- ISBN10: 0446579807
- ISBN13: 9780446579803
- Published on: 2007-05-01
- Original language: English
- Number of items: 1
- Dimensions: 9.25″ h x 1.25″ w x 6.25″ l, 1.16 pounds
- Binding: Hardcover
- 307 pages
In the tradition of Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and Sam Harris’s recent bestseller, The End of Faith, Christopher Hitchens makes the ultimate case against religion. With a close and erudite reading of the major religious texts, he documents the ways in which religion is a man-made wish, a cause of dangerous sexual repression, and a distortion of our origins in the cosmos. With eloquent clarity, Hitchens frames the argument for a more secular life based on science and reason, in which hell is replaced by the Hubble Telescope’s awesome view of the universe, and Moses and the burning bush give way to the beauty and symmetry of the double helix.
From Publishers Weekly
Hitchens, one of our great political pugilists, delivers the best of the recent rash of atheist manifestos. The same contrarian spirit that makes him delightful reading as a political commentator, even (or especially) when he’s completely wrong, makes him an entertaining huckster prosecutor once he has God placed in the dock. And can he turn a phrase!: “monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents.” Hitchens’s one-liners bear the marks of considerable sparring practice with believers. Yet few believers will recognize themselves as Hitchens associates all of them for all time with the worst of history’s theocratic and inquisitional moments. All the same, this is salutary reading as a means of culling believers’ weaker arguments: that faith offers comfort (false comfort is none at all), or has provided a historical hedge against fascism (it mostly hasn’t), or that “Eastern” religions are better (nope). The book’s real strength is Hitchens’s on-the-ground glimpses of religion’s worst face in various war zones and isolated despotic regimes. But its weakness is its almost fanatical insistence that religion poisons “everything,” which tips over into barely disguised misanthropy. (May 30) – Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* God is getting bad press lately. Sam Harris’ The End of Faith(2005) and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006) have questioned the existence of any spiritual being and met with enormous success. Now, noted, often acerbic journalist Hitchens enters the fray. As his subtitle indicates, his premise is simple. Not only does religion poison everything, which he argues by explaining several ways in which religion is immoral, but the world would be better off without religion. Replace religious faith with inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas, he exhorts. Closely reading major religious texts, Hitchens points to numerous examples of atrocities and mayhem in them. Religious faith, he asserts, is both result and cause of dangerous sexual repression. What’s more, it is grounded in nothing more than wish fulfillment. Hence, he believes that religion is man-made, and an ethical life can be lived without its stamp of approval. With such chapter titles as “Religion Kills” and “Is Religion Child Abuse?” Hitchens intends to provoke, but he is not mean-spirited and humorless. Indeed, he is effortlessly witty and entertaining as well as utterly rational. Believers will be disturbed and may even charge him with blasphemy (he questions not only the virgin birth but the very existence of Jesus), and he may not change many minds, but he offers the open-minded plenty to think about. June Sawyers – Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“[A] pleasingly intemperate assault on organized religion…” — ―Kirkus Reviews
“An intellectual willing to show his teeth in the cause of righteousness.” — ―The New Yorker
“Thank God for Christopher Hitchens.” — ―Esquire Magazine
One hell of a religious read.” — ―New York Post
Most helpful reviews
From someone who’s actually read the book!
By Scott Bresinger
After looking through some of the other customer reviews found here, I was dismayed by the amount of “blog-style” entries: that is, people who may have only glanced at the title or saw Hitchens promoting the book on CNN or YouTube and decided to just speak up, either in support or condemnation. However, if you’re curious about the book and just want to know what to expect, may I humbly offer some actual information?
Hitchens, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, author of books too numerous to mention and contributor to smaller magazines such as Free Inquiry, adds to the recent renaissance of pro-atheist books with his own provocatively-titled contribution. Whereas Sam Harris (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason) sees dire warnings and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion offers a defense of science, Hitchens uses his long experience in journalism to illustrate the madness that results when faith is unchallenged by reason. Dawkins has been criticized for adopting a harsh tone (an assessment I disagree with), but Hitchens is the one who really pours on the anger and witty derision. Some sample chapter titles make it clear he’s playing for keeps:
Chapter two: “Religion Kills”
Chapter Four: “The Metaphysical Claims of Religion Are False”
Chapter Seven: “Revelation: The Nightmare of the Old Testament”
Chapter Eight: “The ‘New’ Testament Exceeds the Evil of the ‘Old’ One”
Chapter Nine: “The Koran is Borrowed From Both Jewish and Christian Myths”
That should give you a pretty good idea of the tone, but the chapter titles prove to be no mere cheap provocations. Drawing on decades (if not centuries) of scholarship that exposes the cobbled-together recipes for the holy books of the three “great” monotheisms, he shows them to be products of a violent time when scientific information about the world was unavailable and most people were entirely illiterate. He then gives modern day examples of how these myths have been put to horrendous use (yes, 9/11 is mentioned). In one section, he revisits the sins of “Agnes Bojaxhiu, an ambitious Albanian nun who had become well-known under the nom de guerre of ‘Mother Teresa’,” which he covered at greater length in his previous controversial expose The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, and reiterates how the “miracles” ascribed to her are so slap-dash and false they’re almost comical.
While he devotes much of his outrage at “the big three” (my phrase), he also offers a chapter titled “There Is No ‘Eastern’ Solution,” which would have to find disagreement with Sam Harris, who argues that many of the spiritual practices of Buddhism, shorn of their supernatural trappings, could be beneficial. Hitchens, ever the realist, wants us to know that history doesn’t bear these claims out.
Hitchens often delivers his ideas like he’s trying to splash his martini across your face at a party–at one point he muses “Why do people keeep saying, ‘God is in the details’? He isn’t in ours, unless his yokel creationist fans wish to take credit for his clumsiness, failure and incompetence”–and the result is often thrilling reading. His vitriol can be unnerving sometimes, like when he asks “Is Religion Child Abuse?”, not to mention the full title of his tome. Never trust a book that splashes the word “everything” on its cover; it’s usually a sign that the author is either desperate or foolishly grandiose. After reading the book, I don’t think Hitchens is either, but in his worst moments he shows symptoms. In any event, I’m sure he doesn’t intend this to be a work of (pardon the phrase) “evangelism”–he doensn’t hope to influence even the mildly religious–but like that martini in the face (followed, perhaps, by an olive to the noggin), he wants to deliver a wake-up call. Some may see only a plea for attention, but he would quickly redirect you the the world outside.
And thus he spake…
By Kashyap Deorah
My favorite part of the book is the last third. By that time Hitchens has made his arguments about how Religion Poisons Everything and is now rebutting the best intellectual arguments against his thesis. What would become of human decency, morality and ethics without religion? How do you address the inherent human need to believe in something and take comfort in a higher power? What are the god-less alternatives and aren’t those institutions as bad or worse? Doesn’t religion provide stability to society by pacifying individuals in times of darkness and uncertainty? It is hard to sum things up and provide sound bytes about something as complex as religion, but my take-away from this book is that any religion (by design) has the ingredients of becoming totalitarian, when successful; and totalitarianism of any kind leads to ultimate power corruption.
Hitchens makes his arguments and rebuts the best counter-arguments with passion and panache. If you are amongst the majority of people in the world – believers – his irreverent sense of humor may lead you to immediately brush him off as a partisan hack; while the unbelievers will get a kick out of each of the thousands of punchlines that Hitchens artfully mumbles. However, if you belong to the third category – an intellectual who chooses to look beyond a bi-polar view of the world when it comes to religion – I would urge patience with Hitchens’ indulgence as a genius linguist (when you have it, it is hard not to flaunt it!) and you will find this book extremely rewarding and will not go un-satiated. If you are seriously debating the merits and demerits of religion as an institution in the society we live in, you have glanced at the perfect place, no matter what your affiliations.
If you are looking for education on the various major religions in the world, their origin, history, interconnection, impact, popularity, etc.; this is NOT the right book for you. The book presupposes basic knowledge about these topics, and on several occasions I felt that I lacked the prior knowledge to appreciate many nuances in Hitchens’ arguments.
Hitchens is no economist, and he does not get into numbers and measurements. But Hitchens is a seasoned intellectual, and does utter the voice of reason grounded in the sound principles of philosophical debate. His knowledge and wisdom about religion are comparable (arguably) with “good” reverends and pastors. The book is written in commentary style, but does have a semi-structured flow to it.
Just like this book lashes out at totalitarianism in the form of religion, I wish someone writes a book lashing out at totalitarianism in its other most ugly form in the modern world – Nationalism.
By Jon Hunt
Christopher Hitchens, in his hard-hitting and revealing new book, “god is not Great”, has found the courage to say what so many of us have thought for a long time…religion is its own curse and has been a plague endured by millions for centuries. With science and reason as his guide, Hitchens debunks just about everything from god and the Bible to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mother Teresa and more… and he does it with a breathtaking panache. It’s the best book on this subject I’ve ever read.
No mere bystander when it comes to faith, Hitchens recounts his own associations with religion and how he moved to his current intense feelings about the topic. As a lapsed Christian who has moved towards atheism, I found myself concurring with just about everything he says. Not content to simply disagree with the faith-based crowd, Hitchens lambastes them. Good for him. The chapters in this book are all relevant to 2007 and some really stand out. One chapter entitled “A Note on Health”, gets this book going full steam and another one toward the end, “Is Religion Child Abuse?”, cuts to the quick. The Catholic Church, to Hitchens’s credit, comes under scathing attack…I wish he had written even more about the abuses that this institution has caused.
Hitchens warns about secularism, too, (citing non-religious movements such as Fascism and Communism and the immense suffering they have inflicted). But it is religion itself that Hitchens finds almost intolerable. He closes by saying “religion has run out of justifications…it no longer offers an explanation of anything important”. Bull’s-eye! Religion should be in the business of putting itself out of business.
“god is not Great” is an important book in large part because it demonstrates convincingly that science has trumped religion and continues to, everytime. The depth which Hitchens tackles religion and its ramifications is matched by a compelling narrative style that has become the author’s “signature”. I highly recommend this book for its courage to tell the truth.
All right, Goodreads just ate the huge review that I wrote for this, so clearly it doesn’t want me to put you through all that. So I’ll just write the shortened version things I thought/you should know about this book in bullet points:
1) If you are a believer, this book isn’t likely to convince you otherwise. Hitchens is passionately against the idea of organized religions and their awful history, and doesn’t see the need for God, and he’s not afraid to say so. And he is often snotty about it and he will insert a few sneering remarks to what would otherwise be an entirely serious, convincing pargraph. This is part of the striking, amusing style of his writing, but is likely to put people off as well, I think. It’s just with passages like these:
“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and triabalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive towards children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience. There is one more charge to be added to the bill of indictment as well. With a necessary part of its collective mind, religion looks forward in the purely eschatological sense of anticipating the end. I mean, rather, that it openly or covertly wishes the end to occur. Perhaps half aware that its unsupported arguements are not entirely persuasive, and perhaps uneasy about its own greedy accumulation of wealth and temporal power, religion has never ceased to proclaim the Apocalypse and the day of judgement.”
… and chapter titles like “Religion as Original Sin,” and “Is Religion Child Abuse?”… I’m doubtful anyone but people who already had their doubts would pick up this book. I personally already had my doubts. I was raised Catholic, but I haven’t really believed for awhile now. This book is good for calling you out on that, I think, but if you’re not leaning that way…. I don’t know. Perhaps it will raise some questions, but I don’t think this book on its own will convince firm believers.
2) Major faults of the book: those stated above, plus Hitchens writes with a lot of passion that can sometimes obscure his point. He’s often rambling and stream of consciousness in style and I just wish for the sake of his points that he had been more clear and that he had relied less on personal anecdotes. They were interesting, but sometimes made his arguements seem a little too based on narrow or extreme circumstances that he had had the misfortune to experience.
3) Case: Hitchens lays out a number of charges against God and religion that I think are interesting and true. One of the most interesting is the question: If God did not exist, would people suddenly behave immorally? And if people think so, what does that say about the human race? Hitchens told the story of a few church leaders who seemed to imply that they would be dissolute hedonists were it not for the rules of God that they followed. I think it says something interesting about the kind of people that religion can attract. He goes into the atrocities that people have committed in the name of religion, of course, and also asks the question: If people have done good things in the name of religion, would they have done them without them? And of course there are the examples of secular peoples doing things just as selfless and heroic without God standing over them. His case is essentially that religion has done much more evil than good, and that arguement for keeping it is bogus.
Other big points: God is unnecessary and we have outgrown him- religion was an invention of primitive peoples and now we have science and God is unnecessary. We can believe in scientific advance, and wonder at the natural world. Essentially, he calls religion “wish fulfillment” and says that people should at least admit that what they’re doing is essentially fanciful and that they have nothing but their faith to prop them up since.. furthermore… the Bible is not historical and cannot be proved to be so. Stories contradict each other, commands contradict each other, and were all written hundreds of years after the fact. There has been no real historical evidence of any of the events in the Bible, and if Jesus existed, he probably wasn’t born when or where the Bible says he was. He also believes that religion must atone for the false leading of the innocent and the credulous, and the warping of children’s minds. Speaking as someone raised in the Catholic church, I can just comment that the complexes I got there will never go away.
…. it goes on, but you get the idea. I had more to say, but the site eating my review three times has sort of discouraged me.
It was a fascinating, engrossing read though, it really was. Hitchens has been around the world and has a lot of tales to tell of it. He does speak respectfully of many religious figures he’s met, and experiences that he’s had, and he’s clearly been educated in what he’s talking about as well as.. everything else. Quite the Renaissance man, in many respects. I think you have to respect his conviction and his brilliance, if nothing else.
Anyway, there you have it. I think I’ll read the God Delusion if I come back to atheistic reads. I’ve heard that’s much more soberly, academically done than Hitchens’ passionate rant-fest.
Hitchens says he’s been writing this book all his life, and the passion and wit that pervades gives it the feel of a masterfully crafted diary of his enthusiastic intellectual development in the persistent shadows of all the world’s religions. I do not believe this book is for fundamentalist believers any more than the Bible is for atheists – any reader has already established the basis of her own beliefs and thus opens the book awaiting the arguments with either an intrigued mind or sharpened weaponry. That said, as an atheist who has already read Harris and Dawkins, I absolutely embraced it.
One could say that Hitchens is preaching to the atheist choir – but aren’t they quite unharmonious to begin with? They crave different perspectives, and his is unique. He repeats the well-known fact that all powerful religions have upheld the oppression of women, non-believers, and non-conformists, and it seems this fact needs a great deal of repeating before anything will be done about it on a massive international scale. He is brave enough to dismiss Orthodox Judaism as racist, the New Testament’s urge for proselytizing abhorrent, and Gandhi’s Hindu-leanings divisive. While Harris focuses on the horrors of Muslim theocratic communities, Hitchens is far fairer in his distribution of attacks upon all major religions.
He also points out that the many great leaders (e.g., MLK, Jr.) who claimed religion as their inspiration were nevertheless choosing to adhere to only a few passages and downright ignoring a great many other violent ones.
Though Hitchens says he would gladly allow the religious to privately believe in whatever irrational monsters and fairies they wish, “contempt for intellect is never passive,” and thus he cannot leave them alone because they have steadfastly refused to leave the intellectual alone throughout the course of history and never by using reason but rather by the simple dogmatic threat that they are right because they have the word of god.
Hitchens claims the somewhat good Pope John Paul was primarily good because did so much long-overdue apologizing for the Church. I would take this a step further in pointing out that it took Germany a relatively short time to apologize for the Holocaust once it had been revealed and not a single German is ever allowed to forget it. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, took over 500 years to apologize for the Inquisition and few Catholic children spend up to 2 years learning how to prevent future atrocities in Sunday School. Instead, they learn “Jesus is the only way,” which is not too far off from what the Church said to the Jews in Spain all those years ago. All religions continue to repeat this mantra, differing only in the name of the god they choose, and as a result the world is still divided into groups that pity and/or hate one another based on texts as old as reliable as the Greek myths.
Anyone has the right to believe in whatever they wish, but no one should be granted immunity from the intellectual community merely because they refuse to admit that their beliefs and stories are as man-made as all the others. Anyone who reads Heidegger today is compelled to acknowledge and denounce his poisonous anti-Semitic leanings, admitting that he was a flawed individual who obviously did not have all the answers and can only contribute somewhat to our intellectual progress. If only the so-called words of god could be held to the same standard, the debates would be far more interesting and constructive, as Hitchens’s book is.
As a fellow Atheist, Mr. Hitchens is preaching to choir, so to speak, in this informative, captivating work in which Hitchens judiciously provides historically documented and personal examples of what he sees as an ever-increasing war being waged by a variety of religious fundamental organizations. In our very own country we have troops of well-funded, born-again fanatics preaching hatred of anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their standards.
Worse, these groups instill a deep-rooted fear in the most vulnerable, forced members of their congregation; young, helpless, defenseless children, sometimes as young as three. Hitchens provides chilling eye-witness accounts of these tactics which are slowly tearing away at the fabric of this great nation.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, if you have an open mind and enjoy reading well written, fact-based, relevant nonfiction, then you will enjoy this book. Certainly, deeply religious people may find certain parts upsetting as fundamental beliefs are challenged with factual, cited information. Hitchens has a way of peeling away the absurdity of certain religious beliefs and how these beliefs, at their very core, are contrary to very ideals shouted to the masses during worship services. Something I learned at an early age, as a baptized Roman Catholic about to be confirmed, is that before anyone blindly accepts what they’ve been told over a period of time about a particular religion, it is your right, your responsibility and your duty to pick up a couple of books about Judaism, Hindu, Islam, Buddhism, Heavens Gate Kool-Aid Lovers or whatever they were all about, even Mormonism and Jehovah Witness, and read. Read about each of these religious. Get a book along the lines of Religion for Dummies (there is a joke in there somewhere) and get an overview of what these groups are all about. Then study philosophy and science and art and history. Read Ayn Rand and Aristotle and Plato and study and research and think for yourself. And then, one day, years later, you’ll realize what is true for you and that will be your own religion.
There are too many great stories in Hitchens’ book but some of my personal favorites pertain to religious interference with women’s reproductive rights. Islamic authorities of the Council of Ulemas in Indonesia urged that condoms only be made available to married coupled (HUH?), and then only with a prescription. He also quotes an article from Foreign Policy magazine in which a n official of Pakistan’s AIDS Control Program stated that the [AIDS] problem was smaller in his country because of “better social and Islamic values,” This, in a state where the law allows a woman to be sentenced to be gang-raped in order to expiate the “shame” of a crime committed by her brother.
Good ol’ repression and denial. The building blocks of religion. Pro or con. Christian or Agnostic. Cubs or White Sox. This book will, if nothing else, be educational and thought-provoking.
I give this FIVE Pac Mans.
Imagine if a basketball fan set out to discredit baseball and converts its adherents to his chosen sport. He would note the rather dubious creation myth still celebrated in the sports’ Hall of Fame, the Black Sox scandal, the exclusion of African American players until the 1950s, frequent brawls between teams that literally clear the benches, and two most successful players of the last decade being almost undoubted cheats. He could go on to argue that the uniforms are childish, the habits of players disgusting (and their salaries even more so), and the rules hopelessly complex and inconsistent. Finally, he might say, subjecting children to such a game through organized little leagues is perhaps a form of child abuse. After all, it subjects them to needless stress to perform in an environment where even the most successful fail more than half the time and relies on shouting coaches for motivation. The basketball fan might then make a few comments on the beauty of a Larry Bird jumper, the deftness of a Magic Johnson behind-the-back pass, and the awe-inspiring grace of a Jordan dunk and thus safely conclude the argument convinced that his case was proved.
Replace baseball with religions and basketball with enlightenment rationalism and you’ve essentially got God is Not Great. Hitchens’ book is a catalog of the sins of religions and a well considered and highly pointed one at that. I found much I want to think over a bit more in my faith after watching it fall under Hitchens’s inspection. Still, it seems like the same sort of catalog can be written up about any organized human endeavor and the fact that organized religions are not free of the human stain hardly surprises.
What is surprising is the extent to which Hitchens’ goes to leave no saint unblemished. Why he chooses to blame Indian partition on Gandhi, when Gandhi advocated contra Jinnah for a united India is beyond me. Similar is the portrayal of Mother Teresa as an opportunistic nun (I am sure the people she served wish there were more such opportunists). I suspect Mother Teresa is cast in such an unfavorable light more from the antipathy Hitchens feels for his fellow polemicist Malcolm Muggeridge, who first filmed her, than anything she’s done. (In Hitchens estimation Muggeridge is an idiot as are most people he disagrees with).
I suppose an atheist will find most of this comforting, though he may be pricked by a niggling doubt (a similar doubt to the doubt a theist such as myself has when reading some of C.S. Lewis’ work) that the case for atheism is just a little too easily made here.
This book is fundamentally flawed in argument, but can be enjoyable to read. Christopher Hitchens, however, is an exceptionally witty writer, who often finds clever ways to express himself. His writing is conversational, flowing, but sometimes elitist, arrogant, and pretentious. His humor is evident throughout the book, but it is consistently divisive and adversarial.
As an atheist, I find the writing enjoyable, intelligent, and humorous. I do not need to be further convinced of the dangers of faith and religion, so I am willing to tolerate fallacies and offensive comments while I enjoy the witty writing. For the religious or the uncertain, however, this book may seem too irreverent and offensive to be of any intellectual value. Few faithful people would be willing to entertain the author’s notions long enough to see where he has valid points and separate them from his snideness. This is a true shame, because there are some worthwhile messages.
The main message is that religion can be a bad influence on things. Unfortunately, the author phrases this as the fallacious “religion poisons everything.” Christopher Hitchens provides many poignant examples of wrongdoing founded in faith and religion, but this does not imply that everything done by religion is bad. It is unfortunate that the conclusion of the book is overstated, because a more cautious assessment of the dangers of religious rejection of reason would be valuable and accessible to more people.
I would recommend that people interested in the subject matter instead review the extensive on-line collection of atheist writing. Much of it is more welcoming and less arrogant. http://www.infidels.org is a good source of such material, and it has an excellent introduction to atheism that is valuable both to atheists and to Christians (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/m…). The library also includes written works oriented towards people of other faiths as well.
If I could, I would have preferred to give this book 3.5 stars. It was not as good as I had hoped, but not as bad as I feared either. I think Hitchens could have done a better (more logical?) job of defending his premise; still, there’s lots of good stuff in here.
The chapter on Eastern religions, though, is troubling to me. Hitchens does hit something on the head in noting the monied, f**cked up set that sometimes accompanies Indian-style gurus, but it’s interesting that his Buddhist examples of violence are the only two I ever hear referenced – Sri Lanka and the Japanese oppression of China. I think it should be noted that while there are hundreds of examples of Christian violence, the same two examples come up again and again for “Buddhist violence”. One might think this says something about the “damage” done by Buddhism (as compared to the western faiths). Also, while I agree somewhat with his distaste for de-emphasis on the intellect that is sometimes found in zen practice, there are zen schools (namely some Korean) that focus heavily on knowledge. And it’s interesting that Hitchens includes no notes/references for the entire Eastern chapter. So, I’m wondering if the Dalai Lama quote on prostitution is taken out of context or if it’s very outdated.
All this being said about this one chapter, though, I still liked most of the book. And the other citations included reference a great number of books I’d like to now read, namely what I can find about Spinoza and a number of books by Michael Shermer. And overall, though I bristle like Hitchens at the “Brights” moniker Richard Dawkins supports, I prefer Dawkins’ recent The God Delusion. Namely because it approaches the issue of god from a scientific point of view. Hitchens succeeds at showing some strong examples of the audacity and violence of religious figures and groups (the recurring emphasis on the terrible things religion does to children is particularly salient), but it doesn’t really get to the heart of the atheist/believer question.
A fundamentalist, however affable or well-deported in public discourse, betrays himself as such in withholding from the scathing-hot iron of criticism all but a very exactingly well-chiseled core of self-evident belief. God is not Great is written by a fundamentalist atheist. Christopher Hitchens provides another pillar to support the edifice that is fundamentalist atheism, joining Richard Dawkins and others in providing poorly reasoned, effusive vitriole against “religion,” a concept that is amorphous not because of its vagueries, but because in every multifarious expression it is precisely not any of the other expressions.
I will level a single charge against Mr. Hitchens that will hold up under any reader’s scrutiny, uniting his subject matter under a rubric even he was not so successful to discover. This book is utterly illogical. In fact, I redound to say that it would benefit the student of logic to read along with his logical fallacies primer a copy of this book. This defiance of logic is not, against intuition, the necessary mark of a fundamentalist. Though it is probably quite rare, I feel safe in contending that a fundamentalist is fulsomely capable of using logic successfully in his critique of anything save his own beliefs. But far from being a profound disappointment, this book was such well-written and consistent exposition of fundamentalism from a man whose purported goal was ultimately to defend rational empiricism from the denizens of “religion” (read: irrational, delusional, idiotic hate-mongers) that the irony alone is worth a casual glance.
Ever since ‘The Trial of Henry Kissinger’ I have been a fan of Christopher Hitchens. I knew that he was an atheist, but because of my own spritual searching I was reluctant to read this book when it first came out. I finally picked up the book because I have been on a non-fiction binge lately and I knew that by reading his book I was guaranteed an intelligent treatise. By the time I finished the book, I was very glad that I had read it.
Hitchens doesn’t so much attack God as he attacks religion. He begins the book by describing himself as a boy, learning passages from the Bible, and the moment he felt that there must not be a God because of a comment his teacher makes. The tales of his boyhood experiences with religion and atheism are used for making his one of his thesis — that organized religion ruins everything. He points out that it seems one goal of organized religion is to make humans relinquish independent and rational thought.
One of the great things about the book is that the chapters are clearly and concisely laid out. In fact, I found the chapter sequence to be quite methodical. As is his usual trait when Hitchens is arguing against something, he builds his arguments gradually and strongly.
Right after I bought the book I read online that many people who considered themselves evangelical have bought the book in a sort of know-thy-enemy way. I wonder if they felt like they any kind of rebuttal, because Hitchens — through his extensive readings and reportage — has built a historically sound case against the three organized religions.
It is worthy to note, while Hitchens does deride some of the beliefs and practices of the big three, he does not sneer of the entirety of the faiths. He knows that there are good people in these faiths who only wish to do good. It the people who take their faiths to the extremes and misinterpret the written word that Hitchens takes most issue with.
My only critique is that I do not think he addressed the evolution vs creationism as effectively as he could have. He makes mention of it several times, but does not explore it deeply.
Otherwise anyone with any kind of brainpower should read this book.
Well, it’s all there in the title. And in case you missed Hitchens’ point, he subtly reminds you of it by interjecting the book’s subtitle every time he recounts an example of how Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism (yes — Buddhism!) have brutalized the human race. (It’s the textual equivalent of grabbing you by your collar and shaking you violently while shouting, “See? I’m right! Admit I’m right!”) According to Hitchens, religion is really the source of 99% of this world’s evils; things like racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, poverty, and nationalism are merely offshoots of humankind’s seriously stupid affinity for creating gods. Thankfully for us, Great Thinkers such as himself are here to disabuse us of our pathetic and mystical thinking. And while I’m sure he would call me stupid for saying so, I think that Hitchens has replaced one godhead (God, Jehovah, Allah — whatever you want to call him) with another (secular — or maybe scientific? — humanism). And if there’s anything I know, it is that you cannot argue with a secular humanist.
Here’s what made this somewhat shrill and monotone book amusing and even enjoyable for me: Hitchens’ belief that no one is as fantastic as himself. What did someone once say about Orson Welles: “There but for the grace of God goes God”? Let me give just one example of how Hitchens’ stratospheric self-regard colors his view of the world and unintentionally caused me to erupt in laughter. Hitchens tells a story about how he was once on Sri Lanka — I think — and was able to get a group of natives out of a potentially dangerous situation, using his wits and his British press card. The men, according to Hitchens, then proceeded to treat him in an extremely respectful, bordering on adulatory, way. Instead of thinking, “Well, maybe their behavior is their culture’s way of expressing gratitude,” he arrives at the conclusion that they think he is a god. This incident says volumes more about Hitchens’ attitude toward himself (or should I say Himself) than it does about the Sri Lankan men.
Don’t get me wrong: I love reading polemical texts, and this is about as polemical as you can get. And Hitchens is a highly entertaining, erudite, and amusing author — the kind of guy who drives you bananas but that you secretly want to hang out with, just b/c he *does* say the most outrageous things. But like all polemical texts (including sacred ones!), this one lacks any kind of depth; it refuses to grapple with the complications and strangeness that make up life. It is the kind of book that an intelligent and rebellious 13-year old would love. It is the kind of book that a grown woman might buy and then place prominently on her bookshelf in advance of a maternal visit, just to raise her mother’s blood pressure a little. (“What?! Don’t you want to go to HEAVEN?!”) It is not the kind of book that imparts any kind of wisdom or knowledge or understanding.
In the recent past, I have read a couple of books which make the case for atheism as the only reasonable path for a thinking person. Of these, Hitchens’ is the most well-written and engaging book which is divided into multiple short essays on various issues such as eastern religions, the pig taboo… This keeps the reader better engaged than for instance Dawkins’ book which seems to lose steam midway.
Hitchens’ book does seem to contain some strange inaccuracies but perhaps these are forgivable in a work that purports to be in-progress. For instance, the flag of India doesn’t sport Gandhi’s spinning wheel. It does have a wheel but it derives from a different source unrelated to M.K. Gandhi. I do believe that pre-Independence (1947) India had a version of the flag which sported the spinning wheel of Gandhi. (Hitchens will also be glad to know that many Indians tend to agree with his opinion of Gandhi and he is not a universally loved figure inside India. That said, we need to separate his politics and from his religion.)
A reviewer here on gr complains about his hubris in believing that the Sri Lankans who accompanied him saw in him god reincarnated after his presence saved their lives (an incident mentioned in the book). People in South Asia are quite prone to do this and I am quite certain his account of this event is not colored by his ego.
Dawkins’ in his book is quite accepting of pan-theism and eastern religions in general. In fact, he is quite clear that his beef is with the dominant mono-theistic trio. Hitchens’ on the other hand doesn’t really spare any religion. However, his grasp of eastern religions is definitely weaker than of “western” religions.
Eastern religions have a lot that is wrong with them that can be laid bare incisively. Siddharta, who was born a Hindu, and became an atheist is one of the earliest figures we know by name, who rebelled against religion and ritual. Of course, we and our penchant for gods and religion, turned him into a god and now buddhism isn’t any better than a religion.
This book received two stars because of the writing. Hitchens writes well. I could have given it five stars for the value it holds for the Christian community – it serves as easy target practice. It is too bad that I only have 4000 characters at my disposal. Otherwise, I would love to go through this book in painstaking detail, pointing out the flabby and flaccid naked emperor while we all point and laugh at how confident the ignorant, intellectually naked emperor struts up and down the street.
There has always been a power struggle between the clear, cogent, and well-reasoned arguments of the philosopher on the one hand, and the bottom-feeding sophist on the other. Hitchens proudly stands in the line of the latter. Hitchens doesn’t bother to define “god,” “religion,” “poison,” and how it poisons “everything.” Why bother? He and his ilk have already defeated the theist fair and square, no need to take care in how well you argue. Indeed, so sure is Hitchens of the truth of his conclusion that he barely deals with any thing a Christian thinker has had to say, besides Paley. But of course Collins or Dembski would be a better target if you’re going to attack design. (Oh, I think he mentions Agustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman, just for the purpose of pointing out that they have written “evil and foolish things.”) He never bothers to engage any serious Christian thinker or argument (no, I am not saying that Agustine, Aquinas, Lewis, &c. are not serious Christian thinkers. I’m saying that he didn’t engage them.) No Plantinga, Swinburne, Collins, Alston, Craig, just to name a few.
Not only that, but his approach is double minded. For example, he begins by saying that the religious adherent is “the intended reader of this book.” But for almost every page after that he subjects his “intended reader” to scorn and ridicule. Is this any way to treat your “intended reader?” Indeed, he begins chapter two by asking his reader to imagine that they believe in an all powerful being. But if Christians like me are, as he says, his “intended audience,” then we don’t have to “imagine”, now do we? We might as well top this paragraph off by pointing out that Hitchens has a chapter called “The Tawdriness of the Miraculous and the Decline of Hell.” But, after speaking about the miraculous, the chapter ends. … He says nary a word about hell! These were just a couple of lowlights. I could multiply these types of criticisms all too easily.
The book claims that Hitchens was named #5 on a list of top 100 intellectuals. Which theist does he unleash the artillery of his massive brain power on? His 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Watts! He spends more time critiquing her than any competent theological or theistic philosopher.
He says that we do evil because we evolved that way. So, religion isn’t to blame, Mammaw Nature is. He appeals to “Ockham’s razor, yet he doesn’t use it, like other naturalists have, to whittle away mental states like beliefs and pain (he relies on these states for his arguments, though). He doesn’t use it to whittle away moral claims. There’s much he can’t explain using his razor as he does. He critiques the designer because of poor design, yet he gives no indication that he knows what the design plan was aiming to achieve. You can’t call the designer a bad designer without knowing his intentions. And, dysteleogy assumes teleology. He never bothers to address the arguments which seek to show that if our cognitive faculties evolved given a naturalistic understanding of the universe, we have no reason to belief our beliefs are aimed at truth. They’d just be aimed at survival. Hitchens drops the ball over and over again.
Unfortunately I don’t have the time, or key strokes, to really get into this. Overall, the book was a flop. If this is the best The New Atheism has to offer, theists can relax.
So. I’ve read it, front to back.
Hitchens laments that the faithful (of whatever persuasion) “have believed what the priests and rabbis and imams tell them about what the unbelievers think” (10), and (it follows) he rages that priests, rabbis and imams would presume to know or communicate what atheists think and why. And yet, what is Hitchens’s book if not 300 pages of an unbeliever telling other unbelievers what believers think and why? The hypocrisy here, and elsewhere in the book, is bald as can be. Time and again, he holds religious institutions fiercely accountable for their contempt – e.g. organized religion is “contemptuous of women” (56) – even as he himself exhibits and condones contempt no less virulent for being on the page than one might see in a religious setting. Indeed, he writes that it is with “contempt [one must:] regard” (58) believers who reflect on and/or long to witness the end of the world. People “must” regard them with contempt, he writes, “must” allowing for no disagreement, no wiggle room. Hitchens here fashions himself the moral arbiter in his arguments against religions having fashioned themselves moral arbiters. Later still, he criticizes Evelyn Waugh’s comments about remarriage constituting an addition of spittle in the face of Christ as a wickedness that outstrips Waugh’s own infidelities. At this point, I’ll make it known that I, too, am critical of Waugh’s opinion on remarriage (and of his having expressed it to a friend on the cusp of remarriage), but who except Hitchens has made Hitchens qualified to rank Waugh’s wickednesses? Again, his proclamation is arbitrary, and his authority specious at best. Or earlier in the book when he writes: “The harder work of inquiry, proof, and demonstration is infinitely more rewarding […:] than any theology” (71)…according to whom? Hitchens. Later, writing of Spinoza: “his meditations on the human condition have provided more real consolation to thoughtful people than has any religion” (262)…again, according to whom? Hitchens. Although, what’s even likelier here is a subtle dig at religious people on the whole in the suggestion that none of them is “thoughtful.” He makes statement after statement that cannot be made, counting on his snide sense of humor to persuade people into believing their intellects are being used in siding with his arguments, when, in truth, their intellects are being appealed to less than their vanities. No one likes to side with the folks being humiliated (except Christ, anyway), and his wit insures his readers will at least want to side with him, even when their consciences and critical aptitudes discourage it.
His incessant rollcall of insults, referring to various believers as “orangutans” (56), “ignoramus” (64), “goons” (275), “barbarian” (275), “pathetic fraud” (270), “boobies” (269), “hypocrites” (212) – all language that suggests Hitchens is every bit the “bigot and […:] persecutor” (180) he rakes Martin Luther over the coals for having been. And when he condemns Mahayanna Buddhism’s assertion that sometimes (it is perceived) one should be killed in order to preserve untold numbers of lives (203), one cannot but think of Hitchens’s own vocal support for the war in Iraq, for the invasion of a sovereign nation on grounds debatable at best, dubious at worst, and resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. (It also warrants mentioning here that Hitchens’s intellectual compatriot Sam Harris has written that a nuclear first strike in which tens of millions might die might be permissible if it meant saving more lives in the long run. Chris Hedges, in his book I Don’t Believe in Atheists, takes Harris to task for this.)
And then there is his admiration of Socrates’s concession that he might have been wrong, Socrates having said “in effect: I do not know for certain about death and the gods – but I am as certain as I can be that you do not know, either” (257). This is an attribution Hitchens gives to Socrates, and one he applauds, and likely believes he shares. But the book is evidence otherwise. His cherry-picking in the texts he uses, the spin he brings to bear in the historical epochs he unfolds, and the manipulation of context in which he situates certain literary and scientific appropriations (one would think Dostoevsky hadn’t been a Christian! or that Stephen Jay Gould hadn’t been conciliatory and respectful to religion!) are embarrassments. Hitchens is a bright man, and he should be bright enough to see that replacing centuries of religious hostilities with 300 pages of secular ridicule does nothing to set the bar higher than it has been. The book is a rant in which numerous good points are made – e.g. “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.” (266) – and in which others are woefully ignored (e.g. that just as human decency precedes religion, so, too, does the impulse – to wreak havoc and cause harm – he attributes to religion itself).
One final thing I’ll mention is how unfortunate it is that Hitchens cannot seem to fathom the ways in which truth and facts are different entities, if often compliments. He’s a literary critic and should know this better than anyone! Just as Northrop Frye has discussed at length, the Old Testament was never intended as a literal document – the culture that conceived of it understood this, so why can’t Hitchens? The stories in the Old Testament are not facts and were not meant to be taken as such, so criticizing their being more akin to fables merely because a contingent of modern religious folk have misunderstood their meaning reveals Hitchens’s response to be more a reaction than a response and reveals a misunderstanding in him as deep as the one in the literalist perspective of which he’s so unforgiving. Ironically, one of the best explanations of the assertion that truth is as often found in an absence of fact as in fact can be seen in Enduring Love, a novel by Ian McEwan – the writer to whom God is not Great is dedicated. In it, Clarissa, a Keats scholar commenting on a disputed urban legend-like encounter between Keats and Wordsworth, says: “It isn’t true, but it tells the truth” (183). Similarly, the Old Testament isn’t true as we understand “true” to be “factual,” but it does tell the truth – about mankind, his nature, his shortcomings, his sense of longing, his sense of the sacred, etc. Enduring Love’s exploration of this question with regard to religion – and not just Keats – plumbs much deeper, too, than I’ve mentioned here. Again, that Hitchens seems incapable of distinguishing between “truth” and “facts” or “data” is bizarre, given his standing as a literary critic.
However learned he is, and whatever the book’s nominal pluses, its tone is offensive, its conclusions misguided and its suppositions the product less of inquiry than of resentment. If there were a 1 1/2 star rating to give it, I would, but God is not Great warrants rounding down far more than rounding up.
The themes in this book are transparently derivative of Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell and Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, and the treatment lacks their qualifications as scientists and philosophers, although Hitchens is also smart and witty. He has collected a trove of anecdotes and strange-but-true facts, as flashy and entertaining as the title of his book. But whereas Dennett spent the first third of his book carefully setting up the scope of his question, and Dawkins took pains toward diplomacy, Hitchens does neither. He dives into his thesis with the assumption that the reader either already agrees with him or else needs to be hit on the head with a hammer.
Hitchens’s authority for this book, aside from being fairly well-read on the subject, comes from his encounters with violence:
“A week before the events of September 11, 2001, I was on a panel with Dennis Prager, who is one of America’s better-known religious broadcasters. He challenged me in public to answer what he called a ‘straight yes/no question,’ and I happily agreed. Very well, he said. I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching. Now–would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting? … ‘Just to stay within the letter ‘B,’ I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance.” (p. 18)
He goes on to address the present occupation of Iraq. He says that Muslim issues led to the rise of Saddam’s dictatorship, and that since the overthrow of Saddam, there has been more intra-Muslim violence. His point about the essential violence of religion would have been made even stronger if he acknowledged the Christian influence behind the US invasion of Iraq. But he seems to think that the invasion itself was a potentially positive force that the Iraqis could have used to free themselves, had they not been corrupted by religion.
He claims that atheists are better equipped than religious people to politefully respect alien religious customs (and to refrain from attacking their houses of worship), although his personal displays of politeness are spotty. His lapses include “[God’s] yokel creationist fans” (p. 85), “vapid and annoying holiday known as ‘Hannukah’,” (p. 273) “Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms,” (p. 129), and a reference to the Left Behind novels by LaHaye and Jenkins that were “apparently generated by the old expedient of letting two orangutans loose on a word processor.” (p. 56) (I share his general sentiment on the last point, but I was less harsh when I reviewed Left Behind.)
In other places, he shows a concern for politeness: “My own annoyance at Professor Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, for their cringe-making proposal that atheists should conceitedly nominate themselves to be called ‘brights,’ is part of a continuous argument.” (p. 5)
God is not Great predominantly adresses Abrahamic religion, particularly in describing submission to a monarch-like god. A last-minute attempt to debunk “soft” Eastern religion barely scratches the subject, except to mention that India and Pakistan are preparing for nuclear war and to peek at a cult ashram in the United States.
He ignores more innocuous components of religion, including new theories of so-called “neurotheology” which examine religious experiences merely as brain states, which would have brought the book more up-to-date as a philosophical work.
Hitchens’ broadside against religious faith of all sorts. His debunking of all the justifications for religion, particularly the idea the religion makes people act better, and his defense of the secular idea that morality requires no supernatural source.
His two main targets are Islam and Christianity, but he also takes shots at Mormonism, Judaism, Buddhism and the rest. It is a refreshing change of pace from the usual liberal American secularist argument, which focuses almost exclusively upon fundamentalist Protestantism, while being too politically correct to dish it out to the others. Hitchens hammers the Christians for their intolerance AND took a hand in protesting in support of the right of a Danish newspapers to publish cartoons of Muhammad. (This is where I part company with American and European liberals who value ‘sensitivity’ over free speech, at least when it comes to certain topics.)
While Hitchens is hard-core, he is less obnoxious than, say, Richard Dawkins, who I heard on the radio recently. The thing that struck me is that Dawkins simply claimed that wondering the whys of human existence was simply not a legitimate endeavor. In other words, if someone asks, “Why are we here?” Dawkins response is the, “That’s not a proper question.” Which, IMHO, is a rather gutless way of getting around saying, “There is no reason.” Hitchens would point the questioner to literature and philosophy for answers to life’s questions. He also rejects the elitist and noxious label of ‘Brights,’ embraced by other vocal atheists.
Overall an excellent read and a ringing affirmation of the virtues of secular society.
Let me begin this review by telling you that I’m an atheist. In fact, I’m with Douglas Adams in calling myself a “radical atheist”, just to make sure that everyone gets the point. Yes, really. It’s in my profile.
So my opinion about this book really has nothing to do with my personal convictions. Well, not my personal religious convictions, of which there are none. It has everything to do with my personal convictions as an atheist. And as an atheist, I’m offended by this book.
Hitchens is not, and I quote from the numerous book reviews so helpfully printed on the first few pages of my paperback copy,”witty, impressive, entertaining, funny, challenging” or, GOD forbid (pardon the pun), “excellent”.
He is not even polemical, since that would require some factual discussion. He is simply inflammatory.
Hitchens bashes religion in 341 pages, complete with references and an index. (I guess that way he can pretend that his “work” has some academic value). Now, the book is called “God is not great – How Religion poisons everything”. What the hell did she expect this to be, you will probably ask.
Let me tell you.
I expected this to be a serious, well presented argument of why the world would be better off without religion. I expected there to be a theoretical discussion about how a world without religion can not only work, but work better than one with religion. And I expected there to be a dicussion and dissection of religious beliefs and their influence on human interaction and how these beliefs, in a modern society, are not necessary anymore, and/or are probably even hindering the development of our society.
Instead I get 341 pages on the most stupidest things people do in the name of religion, like, fundamentalist muslims telling poor people not to get polio vaccinations, and arguments like ‘jews and muslims hate pigs because pigs are dirty and eat their young if they are trapped in little stables, but the muslims completely stole that idea from the jew’ (complete with a really touching page on why pigs are really cute animals and that human babies love little pigs. Cause you can never be wrong with the human baby argument.)
Cause not eating pigs is really one of the worst problems caused by religions in modern times. Poor pigs, they feel all left out. Well, I don’t eat pigs, and I certainly don’t think that makes me a bad person. Just a mostly vegetarian one who can’t stomach pig meat.
But wait, the pig thing is leading somewhere. It is leading, piggies beware, to the oh so representative story of the muslims who, because of the ban on pigs, try to ban things like “Winnie-the-Pooh”, or “The Three little piglets”. Because yes, that’s certainly a REAL problem, and, you know, EVERY muslim thinks that way. Plus, since America is SO GOOD with its non-censorship policies, it’s always a really good idea for Americans to hold up the “STOP CENSORSHIP” banner to other nations.
(this was sarcasm, in case you couldn’t tell).
I’m sorry, but almost everyone I know is religious. NO ONE I know is a radical muslim, christian, jew or whatever. Maybe that’s why I have the nagging feeling that most religious people are really quite normal and do not oppose bans on children’s books or tell people not to get vaccinated in the name of god.
And I really think pointing out the tiny minority of FREAKS in a religion, any religion, btw, in order to ban the whole thing, is kind of ineffective. What does Hitches want to say with that? That religion is okay, as long as they keep in check the radicals?
As a radical atheist, I’m confused.
Arguing with the most extreme examples is certain to get you heard, but in my experience, it isn’t very effective. It’s too easy to say, yes, Hitchens, you are right, but religion isn’t really like that. The [insert religious work of your choice] doesn’t really say that. And then the normal religious people will lean back and stay as happily religious as they are.
That there is a reason why people are religious, that religions have shaped our societies and our behaviors as humans for as long as we can think?
Hitchens doesn’t mention it.
And that there is no more need for religion in the present we live in, that religion has in fact become THE factor that is most likely to hinder the evolution of humans as a race?
Not a word.
Or wait, maybe he does mention that somewhere in the 241 pages I chose not to read, because I have better things to do with my time. But I doubt it.
I bought this book because I was led to believe that Hitchens is one THE top intellectuals of the USA, and one of the important proponents of the so-called “new atheism”. (whatever that is)
If he is, I feel sorry for us “old atheists”. And I’m calling myself that because I most certainly do not want to be connected to a movement that does itself exactly what it criticizes in religious radicals: attack and condemn, without reason or explanation. That’s what Hitchens does in this book. Hitchens may think that he is atheist, and he may argue on behalf of atheism. But in doing so, he turns his atheism into the one thing that I am strongly against: a new religion.
And that does not only offend my as an atheist, it also harms atheism as such. And that’s probably the fundamental difference between me and Hitches: we both are convinced that there is no god. But where I only want people to take responsibility for their own mistakes and to not blame a superior being, where I want them to be human because they are, and not because some religion dictates how and why they should be human, Hitchens does not seem to think that far. He just jumped onto the popular train (“new” atheim? Really?) to point his finger at the most outrageous and stupid examples of radical religious people he could find.
Newsflash, Mr. Hitchens: there are idiots everywhere, but you cannot judge the whole system upon them.
Case in point.
P.S.: Oh, and I should probably mention that the book isn’t very well written either. The language, especially the first chapter, is pompous. The structure of the “arguments” is, at best, random. Also, the author seems to have chosen not to religiously follow the rules of logic. Or to, you know, be logical at all.
*closes book and throws it on the sale pile*
This book was recommended to me by a friend several times before I finally gave it a shot. I was a little wary from the title…I enjoy books about religion (and people’s escapes from them), but don’t have a lot of time for openly, anti-religious folks’ emotional whining and ranting.
To my pleasant surprise, Christopher Hitchens’ book was a joy. Hitchens gradually found huimself appalled by the amount of religiously-fueled atrocity on our planet. Our various religious leaders are constantly pointing to the amount of “evil” on earth as a sign of man’s sinfulness (and demonic tampering), but Hitchens shows, in example after example, that most of the atrocities are carried out by these very religious people themselves. Nobody is spared here: Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, on and on.
This book takes an objective look at history and modern life, and points its finger at every instance of war, injustice, persecution, genocide, slavery, racism, ethnic-cleansing, intolerance, child-molestation, etc…and notices that – without exception – these are always propagated by religious ideals. His conclusion is in the title: “Religion poisons everything.”
The one chapter where he loses my attention is his expose on evolution, and subsequent conclusion that these “facts” should be enough to silence all the religiously inclined. There are many people, like myself, who have no problem with the concept of evolution. As much as I have examined the evidence though, I see it as simply another theory lacking any hard evidence. It’s handled almost religiously by scientists who, I think, sometimes forget that they are supposed to be scientific. (though Hitchens is not a scientist) For those who are decidedly non-evolutionists, this side-track will weaken Hitchens’ overall case for you. Vice-versa for those of you who embrace it. Personally, I think this book could have stood just as well (or even better) without it. His other information is difficult to argue with, so this just gives his detractors something to nit-pick about.
Hitchen’s has an immensely enjoyable writing style, with an elegantly flowing prose resting upon a razor-sharp wit. I had to re-read countless passages many times simply because I was amazed his ability to construct such poignant and humorous sentences.
If you’re heavily religious (I know some Christians are fond of saying they’re not religious at all. If you are, and that is your stance, then I’m talking SPECIFICALLY to YOU), this book is not for you! You will be offended. This is a book for open-minded people who believe that – if humans are to continually progress – established institutions must be constantly re-examined, and ultimately discarded when they no longer serve their purpose.