19 April 2009

Review: god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens

When I first started up this blog this year I knew that there would be certain books I'd find hard to write about, and I hoped that I'd just be able to get on with it anyway. This book - god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens – is not one of those hard-to-write-about books, but the six that I read between this book and the last one I wrote about… those ones were. With any luck I'll manage to write about them soon. But perhaps not.

In any case, this is the second book I've recently read about atheism and why it would be better for the world if religion was not a part of it. I'm not really sure what's lead me to reading about the subject because generally I don't think much about religion one way or another. I suppose in both cases, the titles just grabbed me: Dawkin's The God Delusion and now Hitchens' god is not Great.

Opening paragraph:
If the intended reader of this book should want to go beyond disagreement with its author and try to identify the sins and deformities that animated him to write it (and I have certainly noticed that those who publicly affirm charity and compassion and forgiveness are often inclined to take this course), then he or she will not just be quarreling with the unknowable and ineffable creator who – presumably – opted to make me this way. They will be defiling the memory of a good, sincere, simple woman, of stable and decent faith, named Mrs Jean Watts.

It was Mrs. Watt's task, when I was a boy of about nine and attending a school on the edge of Dartmoor, in southwestern England, to instruct me in lessons about nature, and also about scripture…
The subtitle of Hitchens' book is "How Religion Poisons Everything, which is a rather massive blanket statement, but also a very succinct introduction to just what this book is about: some of the many ways that religion has hurt the world. (A quick note: he doesn't talk only about Christianity, but about all the major world religions.) A slightly less scathing explanation would be this one: "There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking" (4). The book goes on to discuss these and several other ways that religion has and continues to poison the world.

I think Hitchens found a pretty good balance between talking about the more general harms it's done – setting back science and thus progress, for instance – and the more specific harms. I think it would be too easy to fall entire on the specific examples, which are more immediate (for example, the rampant abuse of children by ministers in Catholic churches) and so more horrifying and easy to understand.

I would have liked if Hitchens had spent more time talking about the ways that deists refute these arguments. (The classic examples, I suppose, are that Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin were atheists and look what harm they did. I do know that some people argue that none of those three were actually atheists.) He did talk about it to some extent, but maybe not quite in those terms. (Or maybe I should read that chapter again.)

Anyway, I found this a very readable book on the subject. (Much more so than Dawkins' The God Delusion, which was somewhat hit and miss in the readability department and which I also found a bit… smug in an irritating way.) I both enjoyed it and fully recommend it, to the religious, the secular and those who fall somewhere in between.

Christopher Hitchens is the author of several books including The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practise and Thomas Jefferson: Author of America and the editor of The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer. He has written for Vanity Fair, The Atlantic,and Slate amongst others. I didn't find an official website, but Hitchens Web has links to several of his articles. He does have a blog on politics, war and religion.

Hitchens, Christopher. god is not Great. Toronto: Emblem, 2008.
Finished: 12 April 2009
Rating: 5 of 5 intelligent designs
This was my 2nd book in April and my 14th in 2009.

*Psst... my ratings are numbered 1-5, meaning something like 1=sucky, 2=meh, 3=okay, 4=good, 5=great.

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