God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything-Christopher Hitchens

In Book Reviews, nonfiction on July 15, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Christopher Hitchens is a writer for Vanity Fair and The Atlantic and has written several books.  His 2007 book, God Is Not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything, is a full frontal attack on religious belief from an ardent atheist. Hitchens’ goal is to show how religion is not a positive in this world, and in fact, is at the root of many of the atrocities that have occurred over the centuries. Hitchens’ span in the book is tremendous: he tackles all types of religious behavior and forcefully works to show through copious examples that each one is not only not good, but ultimately, self-delusional and harmful to mankind, overall.

Particularly good is the section concerning religious devotion toward and against certain dietary restrictions; Hitchens skewers both the Jewish and Muslim prohibition on pork.  He’s not only attacking the belief that a particular food is bad but the extension of this belief into the anti-Three Little Pig and Winnie the Pooh attitudes that Muslims espouse.  His argument is that in this day and age, it is not only sadly misguided to belief such things to such an extent, but it is also actively retarding to the rest of society to behave like this.  In addition, the section concerning the Catholic Church’s prohibition on condoms in its newest area of potential converts, Africa, is quintessential Hitchens: his attacks are surgical and effective because they don’t deal with any issue of faith but with human behavior in the name of faith, an entirely different thing. His condemnation of the Church for not only hurting the effort to stop the spread of AIDS there but also hindering the efforts through its proscription against the use of condoms is sound argument.

Hitchens’ style is almost chatty, and the book flows well.  He provides ample examples of his points, and the reader never forgets that this author is a devotee to this subject.  I vacillate between finding Hitchens incredibly interesting and insufferably irritating when I watch him on television, but my response to his writing is somewhat different in that he isn’t irritating when I don’t have to hear his voice.  This backhanded compliment is meant to help any readers who also find him a bit pompous when he’s speaking.

In the end, Christopher Hitchens’ argument is a simple one:  religion may have served a purpose in the past, but that time is long past.  He sees religious belief holding humanity back instead of helping it.  In many ways, it would be difficult to argue with such an idea.  The list of heinous acts committed in the name of religion is depressingly long.  And today, religion continues to cause death and destruction in the name of whatever deity is promising everlasting salvation to those who crave it most. Whether one agrees with Hitchens or not, these behaviors continue to imperil each member of the human race.

Believers won’t be swayed by Hitchens because they are speaking of apples while he is speaking of oranges.  His oranges involve thought based on proof, whereas believers can provide no proof of their beliefs, only that believing provides them with something they need.  Critics of Hitchens and other atheists may attempt to pick apart books such as God Is Not Great based on what they see as misinterpretations, but they are missing the point.  Hitchens and those like him will never believe.  They do not have what believers have in them that creates a need to believe in a god.  Even today, as he’s been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, Hitchens is a firm non-believer.  What is telling is that beneath a recent online article about his cancer diagnosis, there were comments by people attacking him for not believing.  Comments such as “See what happens when you don’t believe?  God doesn’t forget” and “I bet he believes in God now” only serve to prove the point Hitchens argues throughout this book.


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