Christopher Hitchens: “God Is Not Great”

May 6, 2007 | By | 11 Replies More

This week’s Newsweek reports on the latest book by Christopher Hitchens: God Is Not Great.

“Religion poisons everything,” [Christopher Hitchens] expostulates—from such minor pleasures as a slice of ham (Hitchens’s mother and wife were born Jewish), up through sex, and on to the future of life on Earth, whose end is both predicted and welcomed by fundamentalists of all stripes. “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”

These arguments are familiar from two recent best sellers, “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion.” Compared with these, “God Is Not Great” is both more political and more personal in its attacks on believers. Politically, Hitchens has a keen eye for the ways in which the godly ease the paths of the powerful, or even just celebrities: how Mother Teresa campaigned to defeat a law to allow divorce for the ordinary citizens of Ireland but approved it for her friend Princess Diana.

“God Is Not Great” leaves no major religious figure of the last hundred years unscathed. . . .[He] considers heaven a ridiculous and potentially dangerous fantasy in any case.

This article about Hitchens is yet another recognition that the mainstream media is “getting it,” that many people out there don’t run their lives on the basis of supernatural thinking.  

I haven’t read Hitchens’ book.  I might someday.  I do think that anything that puts the spotlight on any aspect of our society held sacrosanct is good.  I believe that most of the things that are characterized as a “religious beliefs” can’t stand the light of day.   Nonetheless, I would temper that thought with this one:  Religion is mainly a means of organizing people.  Good people use religion to accomplish extraordinarily good things.   Hostile people (even hostile people who smile a lot) use religion to do extraordinarily hostile things.

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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (11)

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  1. gatomjp says:

    "…many people out there don’t run their lives on the basis of supernatural thinking. "

    Although my grandmother was an avid churchgoer, my grandfather never went with her. If asked about it he would say, "That's a load of BULLS**T!" in his inimitable growl. Was he an atheist? Fred was a very simple man who worked with his hands. If he couldn't touch it, he didn't care much about it. Yet I don't think he would have labeled himself an atheist, if he even knew what that was. And I'm sure he didn't care.

    My point is that I think that there have always been many people who shared our disbelief in god and religion but but who weren't vocal about it or educated enough to know that they were taking a philosophical stand. Most of the previous generations of men in my family that I have been fortunate enough to have known in my lifetime could be described that way…non-believers for whom it simply wasn't an issue. They were practical men and just had no use for the mumbo-jumbo.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's more reaction to the new Hitchens book, this from Salon.com:

    Furthermore, Hitchens seems to think that, for any sensible modern person, reason must inevitably usurp the place religion once held at the center of life. Such a position assumes that simply because we understand what is going on during an earthquake or when a person is dying of cancer, these events cease to be terrifying.

    It's this radical inability to comprehend or even take an interest in the nature of religious experience with anything resembling imaginative sympathy — a rather patronizing analogy with his own loss of faith in Marxism notwithstanding — that makes "God Is Not Great" such a disappointing book. Watching a man of his intellect and learning go to work on the indefensible crassness of religious fundamentalism is rather like watching a vainglorious father running rings around his young son in a game of soccer. Hitchens might have engaged with the nuanced, less easily ridiculed faith of William Blake or Simone Weil, thinkers in whom he would have found worthy opponents. But instead he confines himself to picking apart fundamentalism, and we are the less enlightened for it . . .

    Although I am an unbeliever, this doesn't prevent me from recognizing that what led humans to create gods was not simply fear but a desire to harness and account for those sustaining moments when we receive our lives most abundantly. Iris Murdoch gives a far more persuasive and imaginatively generous account of religion when she writes, "God does not and cannot exist. But what led us to conceive of him does exist and is constantly pictured. That is, it is real as an Idea, and also incarnate in knowledge and work and love."

    I found the Iris Murdoch quote especially worthy of consideration.  This entire review can be found here.

  3. Ben says:

    I think I hear violins playing in the backround…

  4. Tim Hogan says:

    Ben, its "background" and that's the angels praying for you to stop believing that reason is the default position for humanity.

    Without a sense of the numinous and what that implicates, few great flights of science, literature and human accomplishment would have been possible. You may choose to denigrate religion and belief but, they have accomplished some good. For starters, I have my family, my faith community and good and kind friends which tolerate me (mostly!).

  5. Ben says:

    This is another reason why I doubt that you are right about God existing…

    http://www.adherents.com/adh_faq.html#howmany

    It is good backround info.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Ben: I followed the link immediately above, but I don’t think it presents persuasive evidence that there is no God. I don’t believe in a traditional loving and caring God, but I don’t see how the site supports my personal belief. The site gives information about MANY different religions. Wouldn’t that multitude of religions be evidence (if it’s evidence of anything) that there IS a God?

    On the other hand, that there are so very many religions and that so many of them conflict with each other WOULD seem to be evidence that a claim by any religion that it is the “one true religion” is specious.

  7. Ben says:

    It is evidence of something though… that it is indeed easy to fall into the faith trap. I could be in the trap right now and not know it. But you gotta admit… it just seems that Atheists have nailed it on the head. If you had to bet your marbles, you have to say that I am probably right. Ain't no God in this here barn. I'd even bet my soul on it.

  8. Tim Hogan says:

    Ben, there is no "rightness" about my belief in God, it is a personal choice. I believe. I have faith. You are not required to believe. You are not required to have faith. Again, go with God (or Not!)

  9. Jade Jackson says:

    I think a book (publ. a couple of years ago) by Joseph Chilton Pearce, "The Biology of Transcendence" does an excellent job of showing science and 'spirituality' (not religion — it has plenty to say about religions, mostly critical, including how much Jesus of Nazereth apparently disliked religions) in harmony with one another. His approach included a large amount of research into how our brains and emotions work together (or ofttimes against one another). I heartily reccommend it for a good read!

  10. Zen says:

    I guess what it comes down to (for me) is that humans need a way to make decisions quickly. At the basis of my decisions is a belief that God's hand is non-existent. This helps me make speedy (sometimes good) decisions. Likewise, I presume that many people feel the need to have a firm basis for their decision making. I may be wrong, but (in my mind), I am more right than the faithful. This puts me in an odd position when I learn that folks whom I respect and who are certainly more intelligent than myself (in specific areas) DO believe in the supernatural (faith implies supernatural). I realize that doesn't get me anywhere, except that I can sleep at night with a clear conscience free of sin (unless I commited it) and fear of death (unless I have terminal disease). Live long and prosper Tim!

  11. Tim Hogan says:

    Et tu' tambien!

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