God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

by Christopher Hitchens

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446697965
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 04/06/2009
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 45,115
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Christopher Hitchens is a widely published polemicist and frequent radio and TV commentator. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a visiting professor of liberal studies at the New School in New York.

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

One Putting It Mildly 1

Two Religion Kills 15

Three A Short Digression on the Pig; or, Why Heaven Hates Ham 37

Four A Note on Health, to Which Religion Can Be Hazardous 43

Five The Metaphysical Claims of Religion Are False 63

Six Arguments from Design 73

Seven Revelation: The Nightmare of the "Old Testament 97

Eight The "New" Testament Exceeds the Evil of the "Old" One 109

Nine The Koran Is Borrowed from Both Jewish and Christian Myths 123

Ten The Tawdriness of the Miraculous and the Decline of Hell 139

Eleven "The Lowly Stamp of Their Origin": Religion's Corrupt Beginnings 155

Twelve A Coda: How Religions End 169

Thirteen Does Religion Make People Behave Better? 173

Fourteen There Is No "Eastern" Solution 195

Fifteen Religion as an Original Sin 205

Sixteen Is Religion Child Abuse? 217

Seventeen An Objection Anticipated: The Last-Ditch "Case" Against Secularism 229

Eighteen A Finer Tradition: The Resistance of the Rational 253

Nineteen In Conclusion: The Need for a New Enlightenment 277

Afterword 285

Acknowledgments 295

References 297

Index 305

Reading Group Guide 319

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

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God Is Not Great 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 464 reviews.
Wanderluster More than 1 year ago
As someone who was raised in a pentecostal Christian household and yet miraculously turned out completely and utterly open-minded and inquisitive, I found this book truly compelling. My current view on religion could best be described as "agnostic," and this book helped to reinforce my beliefs (and non-beliefs). Hitchens presents point after well-crafted point that the thinking individual simply cannot ignore. He tackles the "big three" monotheistic religions (and touches on Eastern philosophies as well) with the apt authority of one who really knows his enemy, so to speak. He understands the teachings and stories of the Bible and the Qur'an very well, and deftly and unapologetically points out the many contradictions and sensationalisms therein. If Hitchens' goal was to leave me both enlightened (by his thought-provoking insights) and infuriated (by the dumbfounding machinations of religion), then I can happily say he has achieved a roaring success.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although a Christian, i found this book pretty engaging. Hitchen makes some valid and interesting points that i've never even bothered to consider. Overall, while this is a controversial book, i would recommend it to others, as I believe everyone should be open to new ideas and gather insight to the other side of the argument.
john_gault More than 1 year ago
If you're a religious person, it gives one pause. If anything it will provide you a different point of view about the basis of your thinking. It's a calm, rational, and well thought out argument for a point of view supporting agnosticism, and atheism. He doesn't push, but the points made need to be considered which challenge your point of view. If you subscribe to a faith, it will give you pause to reflect on how you rationalize your point of view with his. You need to approach the book for what it is; a well presented, rational but different point of view of religion(s), and belief in a "supreme being" regardless of which religion you subscribe (actively or not). Trying to tackle his rational approach with platitudes, and edicts from your religion, is a waste of your money and time. He's not trying to get you to "convert" to anything; just a scholarly presentation of a point of view that isn't mainstream, but does reflect faith based actions of individuals, groups, and current religions. If you're not, it is a different way of thinking, with many rational points of view presented, that are difficult to refute. Personally, I share his point of view, but was never able to crystalize it as succinctly and with the background research he provides to move this point of view forward. Religion has always been a practice of mysticism. It was an enjoyable read.
DreadFallen More than 1 year ago
Well researched and written. A fun read for all non-fiction fans, atheists and theists alike. Although an atheist myself, I would think this book to be an entertaining read to the theist/deist as well. But theists beware, this man does not keep his gloves up in the argument. As the title suggests, there is a huge bias against religion within the confines of its cover, but that should not suggest the author's assessment to be an incorrect one. The esoteric vocabulary in the book could be a little dissuasive to a newbie on the subject. So, if this is your first book on these matters, I would recommend having a smart phone with a dictionary app close by to help you along.
Ring-fan More than 1 year ago
This book NEEDS to be read by everyone out there to show once and for all that each and every religion is invented even the so-called good book. It's all nonsense when it comes down to belief in a superior being and author Hitchens is dead on accurate in what his book reveals which is the TRUTH. When we die, we're buried and that's it. Get this wonderful book and learn the truth! god didn't invent us, we invented him.
MarkJesssing More than 1 year ago
After 25 years of bible study I have finally given up believing that the bible is based on truth. I bought the unabridged CD version and Christopher speaks in plain language why religious belief makes a person biased. Simple daily facts are called "good" or "bad" by religious people and the end result is always to isolate somebody else for what they do or what they are. He explains that all belief in GOD is really bad for society as a whole. This is a great book to stimulate your thinking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've been a fan of "Hitch"'s from hello, so excuse the partiality. Though a lot of the subject matter has been covered before, Hitchens reframes it in a very logical way, introducing the reader to new scholars one has never heard of before, thereby encouraging further inquiry. This was such a good read, it made me forget the clock while reading in bed. If it was a cigarette, I would've burned my house down! Oh, and the paperback is more pliable for bed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Hitchens 'God Is Not Great' is quite the controversial book. Christopher talks mainly about the three main religions but also goes into the smaller ones and provides such a mound of evidence against all of them that its jaw dropping. He talks about the threats on him and his family for writing this book as well. Pretty much the book is his experiences and outlooks on religion. I really enjoyed the book. Its use of real world examples and facts build an unbeatable case against religion. I personally disagree with religion and although i have quite a few good reasons against it Mr. Hitchens's book gives me an arsenal to use against it. I think a book like this has been long overdue and the fact that books like this are starting to get more frequent show me that people are starting to see the problems with established religion. Up until only about 100 years ago anyone who spoke out against the church would just be killed but the times have changed and this book is the best proof of that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Difficult at times for me to understand without looking things up on the internet, however for the most part it is easily understandable if you read carefully. I am in fact an atheist, but my personal views aside, do not condemn this book simply because the title disagrees with your beliefs. Read the book first (if anything it should give you an informative insight of the alternate point of view) then make your judgment.
random_skeptic More than 1 year ago
Overall, God is not Great was an interesting read. I think that Christopher Hitchens had some very good points to make about religion, especially organized religion. I particularly enjoyed some of his personal experiences with various religions that he included in the book. He also presented some factual information that I was not aware of before reading God is not Great. However, his wrting style was bit tedious at times. It almost seemed to ramble at points. I also feel he made some large generalizations about religion and the religious that were a bit unfair. Nevertheless, there were points in the book where he actually gave religion its due and that has to be brought out as well. An interesting addition to the atheistic view.
Medic1007 More than 1 year ago
His examples of evil done in the name of God (Allah, Yahweh or any of the multiple gods of antiquity) are right on the mark.
Wyntre More than 1 year ago
Christopher Hitchens knows how to get straight to the point and takes on this topic with relish and unbridled bluntness. This is a great book for discussion or study groups. Wether you are a person of faith or not, this book gives you an opportunity to use critical thinking and leave your prejudices at the door.
blazingdingo More than 1 year ago
Many reviewers are merely expressing the fact that they didn't read Hitchens book by attacking merely the title. If you can't handle criticism, Christians, don't make statements about reality that you can't prove.
slosrfr More than 1 year ago
Christopher Hitchens hits the nail on the head with this well documented account of how organized religions have caused immeasureable damage to mankind for thousands of years. He debunks all religions as "wish thinking" with no basis in fact. A good read for anyone who wants to learn and understand why religion is poison. One of the underlying premises asks why human beings are so willing to give up their innate ability to think for themselves by handing over that right to religions and so called religious leaders. A MUST READ!
Amateur_Intellectual More than 1 year ago
Hitchens lays out his philosophy on belief in deities and of religion. He writes smartly, with his 'Hitchens wit', to show how non-belief is not only more logical but how belief in deities is completely irrational and how life without such belief is much more bright.
MichaeltheNookGuy More than 1 year ago
Fan of philosophy or modern day thinking? Hitchens is always fascinating. You may be a fan of god and religion but he makes such a good case for real world common sense thinking, you will still be intrigued. He has several titles available but this one's my fav. -Michael
Brian O'Neill More than 1 year ago
A surprisingly quick read, Hitchens' thoughtful and insightful review and dismemberment on both religious thought and thinkers spares none. While he is constantly pointing to others that came before him to speak out on this topic, he is original in his combination of accessability, directness, and wit. Enjoyable, and has given me much to think about, and clarify in my own views.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First of all, about the rules of reviewing here ... I sincerely doubt the writer of the Evangelical polemic has read this book thus the posting is way off topic, and in fact not a review of the book at all. Doesn't that disqualify him/her as a reviewer? I see often on these sites that this sort of thing - which is really just an attempt at affecting the book's sales through skewing the reader ratings - is let slide. Too bad. It's dishonest and an unfair use of this forum. Secondly, having actually read what Hitchens has written, it's well worth the read. Certainly there is a lot here that has been said before, but it's good to have it catalogued in one spot and by someone who knows how to write. And the underlying thesis - that religion has on the whole contributed more pain and misunderstanding than anything else to the world by substituting superstition and sheep-like adherence to 'the rules' for actual human goodness and decency - is well borne out by the examples, of course. Hitchens does much to balance the lunacy of the many books by theso-called religious right 'which of course is wrong in so many ways', in asking for a reasoned and respectful approach to human relations, not based on blindness, but on vision, not on ritual, but on rationality.
Stetson Preston More than 1 year ago
Hitchens relates to both believers and nonbelievers, and no religion is safe. He writes in the ways of intellectuals, and uses appropiate references and life experiences. This is truly a thought-provoking book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Christopher Hitchens¿ book is a useful addition to the current wave of books exposing the rotten roots of religion. It is less thorough than Richard Dawkins¿ The God delusion or Victor Stenger¿s God, the failed hypothesis, but is well-written and lively. Hitchens writes, ¿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.¿ Hitchens shows that the arguments from revelation, the dogmas of the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, are all transparent and muddled fables, odd collections written and edited by a variety of people. He describes organized religion as ¿Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive towards children.¿ Religions are coercive against all society until tamed, and they still try to mould children¿s minds, witness their drive to impose faith schools on the unwilling British people. Religions have always been enemies of science and inquiry. Every day¿s newspaper gives us an ignorant old man in a long frock denouncing a scientific advance. Hitchens notes ¿the ever-mounting evidence, concerning the origins of the cosmos and the origin of species, which consign it to marginality if not to irrelevance.¿ He shows how religion has subsisted only on lies, fears and false hopes, and how it has instigated, justified and enabled genocide, slavery and tyranny. He sums up, ¿Religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral. And these faults and crimes are not to be found in the behavior of its adherents (which can sometimes be exemplary) but in its original precepts. These include: presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and credulous the doctrine of blood sacrifice the doctrine of atonement the doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment the imposition of impossible tasks and rules.¿
Guest More than 1 year ago
A different standpoint than the pastor's daughter... i loved this book. it's always interesting to see different views from different people, and help define your own beliefs. if all you do as a christian is hear what your pastor tells you, your only getting 1 persons belief system, so you can't even make up your own mind, you just get told what to think.
deesy58 More than 1 year ago
Well-reasoned and well-written, this book offers a lucid and detailed look at the philosophy and history of religion throughout the world. All the major monotheistic religions are examined, and are found wanting. The famous Hitchins sarcasm is often visible. It is clear that he has done a thorough job of research, and all clear thinking people would probably benefit from reading this book, whether they agree with its premises or not. No editing errors at all were found in the book, and source citations are included at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although it's not terribly difficult to make the argument that religion poisons everything, Hitchens' way of writing and approaching the issue are airtight and understandably make some people very upset. Anyone approaching this from an unbiased standpoint(practically impossible, I know) will have no choice but to praise the attention to detail in his argument.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very smart, witty and brutally honest book. The legendary Christopher Hitchens delivers a convincing and coherent argument chapter after chapter. Enthralling and articulate to the very end. This book changed my life and led me on a path to helping my fellow man for the sake of goodness itself.
Karen625 More than 1 year ago
I have always not really believed in God. Since I was a young girl, the Catholic religion was literally forced upon me and my siblings. Once I was out of the family home and on my own, I decided for sure I would never again practice any type of religion. My family over the years, and to this day, still try to thrust religion into most conversations. Christopher Hitchens' book caught my eye in a magazine review. I knew instantly the book was next to read on my new Nook. Hitchens makes many sensible points and deals with history to reiterate how religion came into play in many different accountings and how twisted it's existence amongst believers is. Hitchens' depictions, from most every type of religion, makes him most definitely educated on the subject matter. His research resonates this simple question ... How can God's existence be so differentiated between followers and be believable - who do you believe? I say believe in yourself. Loved this book and commend Christopher Hitchens for his honesty, truth and obvious knowledge of a sometimes taboo subject.