Christopher Hitchens' exorcism of religion proves that the Great Contrarian doesn't tiptoe around anybody's altar. True to its unabashedly blasphemous title, God Is Not Great dishes the dirt on all the major religions of the world, accusing them of high crimes including -- but certainly not limited to -- inhuman cruelty, superstition, fabrication, corruption, sexism, racism, and internal contradictions. It is not by accident that as the epigraph of one chapter, Hitchens has chosen Freud's "Where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of every possible sort of dishonesty and intellectual misdemeanor." Stoking the fires of a hot topic.
… Hitchens has outfoxed the Hitchens watchers by writing a serious and deeply felt book, totally consistent with his beliefs of a lifetime. And God should be flattered: unlike most of those clamoring for his attention, Hitchens treats him like an adult.
The New York Times
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 2007 Reed Business Information
In 2002, Hitchens appeared before a Vatican committee in the nonofficial capacity of advocatus diaboli, or "devil's advocate," to argue against the beatification of Mother Teresa. In his latest best-selling book, he adopts a similar role to articulate his case against the relevance and utility of religious belief. Once a budding theologian in short pants, the young Hitchens revolted against all things religious when one of his teachers suggested that God made vegetation green because it was more pleasing to the human eye than any other color. This teacher of firm but obtuse faith, by the author's calculation, set him firmly on the road to atheism. Hitchens takes all religions to task for their willful disregard of scientific fact, common sense, and even basic human decency. He is at his most entertaining and provocative when confronting particular faiths (his depiction of the rise of Mormonism and the canonization of the Muslim scriptures in particular), but his relentless dismantling of the creationist, or intelligent design, movement provides more substantial fare, as does his defense of a wholly secular morality, a theme that informs each chapter of the book. Given the levels of violence, intolerance, and oppression committed by and in the name of religion, Hitchens argues, the claim that religion makes humanity better-and, conversely, that the lack of religious belief destroys any foundation for a functional morality-remains a spurious one. Hitchens also proves to be a more than capable reader; his wit, erudition, and passionate unbelief could not have been conveyed as compellingly by a surrogate, though perhaps his reading of the introductory quotations that head many ofthe book's chapters might have been rendered with a little more enthusiasm. Highly recommended for all general collections.
Put an -ism onto it, and whatever it is, noted polemicist and contrarian Hitchens (Love, Poverty, and War, 2005, etc.) is likely to decimate it. So he reveals in this pleasingly intemperate assault on organized religion. Hitchens opens by recalling an epistemological crisis. Why, if God was great, did he need to be praised "so incessantly for doing what came to him naturally"? If Jesus could heal the blind, why didn't he do away with blindness? Such doubts arrive to all proper questioners; sometimes they turn into C.S. Lewis or Malcolm Muggeridge, sometimes they turn into committed atheists. Hitchens, forthrightly in the latter camp, offers "four irreducible objections to religious faith" at the outset, namely that religion misrepresents human origins and those of the universe at large; that owing to this, religion combines "the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism"; that religion suppresses sexuality to a dangerous degree; and that religion is a species of wishful-thinking. And the author adds another twist of the knife: Religion makes people crazy, violent and ill-behaved. Just ask Salman Rushdie-or Giordano Bruno. Hitchens, a brave grappler quite obviously unafraid of giving offense, cheerfully takes on all comers, from mullahs to commissars to Mahatma Gandhi-and a noted televangelist who once challenged him with a thought experiment in which, in a foreign land, Hitchens is approached by a large group of men. Wouldn't he feel more comfortable, the televangelist asked, to learn that they had just left a religious service? Citing personal experiences in cities only beginning with B-Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem and Baghdad-Hitchens answers emphatically in thenegative. And all that's before taking on Joseph Smith, and Mohammed, and . . . It's clear from page to page that Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair, is having a grand time twitting the folks in the white collars and purple dresses, in the turbans and beehives. Like-minded readers will enjoy his arguments, too.
From the Publisher
"I am pretty sure that Hitchens's book will stand out as a leading example. How does Hitchens fare as a narrator? Quite well, at least to these unwashed ears. Hitchens has a windy prose style that is sometimes too stuffed with parenthetical qualifiers to be read easily. His breezy narration, however, makes such cluttered prose easy on the ear; we sense more of a conversational lecturer at work rather than a mere writer. Of course, Hitchens' upper-crust British accent will sound either charming or down-right intimidating. It enhanced his formidable learning and dry sense of humor." -Winston-Salem Journal"
God is not great; brilliant"... Dennis Groves says: My Audio Book List
The author propounds his belief that all religion is not only wrong-headed but dangerous. One doubts the flamboyant journalist will sway those convinced that metaphysical certainty depends on faith, not proof, and that the higher powers are fundamentally good. Others will find his points familiar (if not self-evident), his knowledge wide, his writing graceful, and his sarcasm apt. Like partisans of any description, he ignores inconvenient facts and overstates his case. As narrator, he contributes a pleasantly moderated voice and a listener-friendly British accent. At times, he sounds a bit tired, at other times rushed, but, all in all, he reads well enough, with the added benefit of knowing where the laugh lines are. Y.R. © AudioFile 2007, Portland, Maine [Published: DEC 07/ JAN 08]"
Hitchens also proves to be more than a capable readeer; his wit, erudition, and passionate unbelief could not have been conveyed as compellingly by a surrogate. Highly recommended for all general collections." -Audiofile
Read an Excerpt
Putting It Mildly
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. Watts’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. She would take me and my fellows on walks, in an especially lovely part of my beautiful country of birth, and teach us to tell the different birds, trees, and plants from one another. The amazing variety to be found in a hedgerow; the wonder of a clutch of eggs found in an intricate nest; the way that if the nettles stung your legs (we had to wear shorts) there would be a soothing dock leaf planted near to hand: all this has stayed in my mind, just like the “gamekeeper’s museum,” where the local peasantry would display the corpses of rats, weasels, and other vermin and predators, presumably supplied by some less kindly deity. If you read John Clare’s imperishable rural poems you will catch the music of what I mean to convey.
At later lessons we would be given a printed slip of paper entitled “Search the Scriptures,” which was sent to the school by whatever national authority supervised the teaching of religion. (This, along with daily prayer services, was compulsory and enforced by the state.) The slip would contain a single verse from the Old or New Testament, and the assignment was to look up the verse and then to tell the class or the teacher, orally or in writing, what the story and the moral was. I used to love this exercise, and even to excel at it so that (like Bertie Wooster) I frequently passed “top” in scripture class. It was my first introduction to practical and textual criticism. I would read all the chapters that led up to the verse, and all the ones that followed it, to be sure that I had got the “point” of the original clue. I can still do this, greatly to the annoyance of some of my enemies, and still have respect for those whose style is sometimes dismissed as “merely” Talmudic, or Koranic, or “fundamentalist.” This is good and necessary mental and literary training.
However, there came a day when poor, dear Mrs. Watts overreached herself. Seeking ambitiously to fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, “So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to our eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, or orange, how awful that would be.”
And now behold what this pious old trout hath wrought. I liked Mrs. Watts: she was an affectionate and childless widow who had a friendly old sheepdog who really was named Rover, and she would invite us for sweets and treats after hours to her slightly ramshackle old house near the railway line. If Satan chose her to tempt me into error he was much more inventive than the subtle serpent in the Garden of Eden. She never raised her voice or offered violence–which couldn’t be said for all my teachers–and in general was one of those people, of the sort whose memorial is in Middlemarch, of whom it may be said that if “things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been,” this is “half-owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
However, I was frankly appalled by what she said. My little ankle-strap sandals curled with embarrassment for her. At the age of nine I had not even a conception of the argument from design, or of Darwinian evolution as its rival, or of the relationship between photosynthesis and chlorophyll. The secrets of the genome were as hidden from me as they were, at that time, to everyone else. I had not then visited scenes of nature where almost everything was hideously indifferent or hostile to human life, if not life itself. I simply knew, almost as if I had privileged access to a higher authority, that my teacher had managed to get everything wrong in just two sentences. The eyes were adjusted to nature, and not the other way about.
I must not pretend to remember everything perfectly, or in order, after this epiphany, but in a fairly short time I had also begun to notice other oddities. Why, if god was the creator of all things, were we supposed to “praise” him so incessantly for doing what came to him naturally? This seemed servile, apart from anything else. If Jesus could heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness? What was so wonderful about his casting out devils, so that the devils would enter a herd of pigs instead? That seemed sinister: more like black magic. With all this continual prayer, why no result? Why did I have to keep saying, in public, that I was a miserable sinner? Why was the subject of sex considered so toxic? These faltering and childish objections are, I have since discovered, extremely commonplace, partly because no religion can meet them with any satisfactory answer. But another, larger one also presented itself. (I say “presented itself” rather than “occurred to me” because these objections are, as well as insuperable, inescapable.) The headmaster, who led the daily services and prayers and held the Book, and was a bit of a sadist and a closeted homosexual (and whom I have long since forgiven because he ignited my interest in history and lent me my first copy of P. G. Wodehouse), was giving a no-nonsense talk to some of us one evening. “You may not see the point of all this faith now,” he said. “But you will one day, when you start to lose loved ones.”
Again, I experienced a stab of sheer indignation as well as dis-belief. Why, that would be as much as saying that religion might not be true, but never mind that, since it can be relied upon for comfort. How contemptible. I was then nearing thirteen, and becoming quite the insufferable little intellectual. I had never heard of Sigmund Freud–though he would have been very useful to me in understanding the headmaster–but I had just been given a glimpse of his essay The Future of an Illusion.
What People are saying about this
From the Publisher
The author propounds his belief that all religion is not only wrong-headed but dangerous. One doubts the flamboyant journalist will sway those convinced that metaphysical certainty depends on faith, not proof, and that the higher powers are fundamentally good. Others will find his points familiar (if not self-evident), his knowledge wide, his writing graceful, and his sarcasm apt. Like partisans of any description, he ignores inconvenient facts and overstates his case. As narrator, he contributes a pleasantly moderated voice and a listener-friendly British accent. At times, he sounds a bit tired, at other times rushed, but, all in all, he reads well enough, with the added benefit of knowing where the laugh lines are. Y.R. © AudioFile 2007, Portland, Maine [Published: DEC 07/ JAN 08]
"I am pretty sure that Hitchens's book will stand out as a leading example. How does Hitchens fare as a narrator? Quite well, at least to these unwashed ears. Hitchens has a windy prose style that is sometimes too stuffed with parenthetical qualifiers to be read easily. His breezy narration, however, makes such cluttered prose easy on the ear; we sense more of a conversational lecturer at work rather than a mere writer. Of course, Hitchens' upper-crust British accent will sound either charming or down-right intimidating. It enhanced his formidable learning and dry sense of humor." -Winston-Salem Journal
"Hitchens also proves to be more than a capable readeer; his wit, erudition, and passionate unbelief could not have been conveyed as compellingly by a surrogate. Highly recommended for all general collections." -Audiofile
"God is not great; brilliant"... Dennis Groves says: My Audio Book List