[Hitchens, Christopher: god is not Great, How religion poisons everything; Twelve, Hachete Book Group USA, NY; 2007; ISBN-13 = 978-0-446-57980 and ISBN-10 = 0-446-57980-7]
The publisher's summary states that this book is "A case against religion and a description of the ways religion is man-made." Although accurate, this summary just does not tell you how much fun this book is to read. I want to tell that, and more.
This book is not about the career of author Christopher Hitchens, although it is peppered with references to his catholic assignments, travels, and experiences. It is, however, a fun visit into his mind, replete with unpretentious erudition, high intelligence, and passion. Hitchens himself states that he has been writing this book all of this life of some 58 years and will continue writing it.
This is what the book is really about:
...religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusiion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a a fabrication of a few nonevents.
Wow! That is excellent thinking and even better writing. Furthermore, he backs up his appraisal solidly through the book's 283 pages.
CH is an equal opportunity religion basher. He concentrates on Western religions, but includes significant swipes at Eastern religions as well. His experiences as a peripatetic journalist have taken him to almost all areas of the globe and have provided him opportunities to observe directly the varieties of, practices of, and effects of very many religions affecting the people of earth. He knows what he speaks about.
Besides a richness of direct experiences, CH is a well-educated, well-read, and well-self-direct scholar. He draws on historical, scientific, literary, and philosophical sources, with which he tars all religions, and with wit and erudition. He dissembles Christianity, Judaism, and Islam with a deftly wielded scalpel of reason, titillating the reader at every step with remarks such as these:
- Regarding the Church of Rome's complicity in the priestly sex scandals as no child's behind left.
- Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble and inspiring words a long time ago...
- Religion ...may speak about the bliss of the next world, but it wants power in this one.
- ...The mildest criticism of religion is also the most radical and devastating one. Religion is man-made.
- It is actually by means of the gods that we make our stupidity and gullibility into something ineffable.
- ...To believe in a god is...a willingness to believe in anything. Whereas to reject the belief is by no means to profess belief in nothing.
- If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.
- Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.
Hitchens more formally states his thesis (page 52) as ...we are entitled to at least three provisional conclusions. The first is that religion and the churches are manufactured, and that this salient fact is too obvious to ignore. The second is that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith and cannot be derived from it. The third is that religion is--because it claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs--not just amoral but immoral.
His dissection goes into the argument from design, evolution, argument from authority, and many other topics which religion says are its domain. Hitchens exposes the fraud in such claims. From his diagnostic dissections, he states a mega-truth: What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. This is even more true when the 'evidence' eventually offered is so shoddy and self-interested.
The last few chapters are particularly strong. Although written dispassionately, they are truly passionate--from content. He closes the loophole modern religionists use to try to evade the ridiculousness of any and all religions, namely trying to cite the a-religious totalitarian regimes of the 20th century--those atheist barbarian Nazis and Communists. They do this to try to sell the fallacy that atheism means only the barbarity of those regimes--a Hobson's choice.
He shows the same processes at work in totalitarianism as in religion. Secondly, the shows the extrremely close affinity between formal religions and those regimes, just how cozy they have been together. For example, the Catholic Church was all but a co-partner with various fascist regimes, including the Nazis--as was Islam. The last of these collusions faded away in the 1950s, although I think they never faded away in Islam. Afterall, just one tiny piece of evidence comes from Turkey, where the number one book sold last year was Hitler's Mein Kampf. Japan also participated by having a "god" as head of state and a rabid pantheistic religion of Shintoism, which begat Japanese fascism.
As for the Communists, they ...did not so much negate religion, in societies that they well understood were saturated with faith and superstition, as seek to replace it. And, totalitarian systems, whatever form they may take, are fundamentalist and as we would now say, 'faith-based.' One must never forget that Stalin started adulthood as a seminary student. His change of careers was but a small change.
The alternative to the grotesque phenomena [totalitarianism and religion] is not the chimera of secular pluralism and of the right not to believe or be compelled to believe. This defense has now become an urgent and inescapable responsibility: a matter of survival. (Page 252)
A word is in order about Hitchens himself, as he tells it in this book. He has migrated from the malignant Marxist Left toward the Right. However, he went beyond "conservative," thankfully. He evolved into a soldier fighting for a new Enlightenment. His most inspired thinking and writing address that theme in the concluding pages and simply must be read in context.
Hitchens' number one weakness lies in his lack of comprehensive philosophical fundamentals. He makes a decent stab in the right direction, but his lack of sufficient intellectual ammunition keeps his book at the silver medal stage, not the gold. When he deals with "metaphysics," for example, he deals with the branches, not the roots. When he speaks to morality and religion, he does not cut to the core of morality. For example, he cites five categories of religious immorality:
- Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous.
- The doctrine of blood sacrifice.
- The doctrine of atonement.
- The doctrine of eternal reward and punishment.
- The imposition of impossible tasks and rules.
While he explains each at some length, none is broad enough or fundamental enough to encompass the evil that is religion. These flaws are common in all anti-religion writers we have read. (We are developing a text that will cut right to the philosophical core, the real weakness, of religion, and do so in plain English).
Not only is the book worthy of buying and reading as a fine contribution to the mounting war to rid the world of deadly religion, but it leaves this reader's mind sufficiently titillated as to wish to have an opportunity to drink adult beverages and talk for hours with Christopher Hitchens. We are certain that we would disagree about many things, but we would be able to talk at length while disagreeing and do so respectfully and thoughtfully, to the mutual benefit and enjoyment of each of us. I cannot imagine having a similar experience with even the most "erudite" religionist.