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God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything Hardcover – May 1, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* God is getting bad press lately. Sam Harris' The End of Faith(2005) and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (2006) have questioned the existence of any spiritual being and met with enormous success. Now, noted, often acerbic journalist Hitchens enters the fray. As his subtitle indicates, his premise is simple. Not only does religion poison everything, which he argues by explaining several ways in which religion is immoral, but the world would be better off without religion. Replace religious faith with inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas, he exhorts. Closely reading major religious texts, Hitchens points to numerous examples of atrocities and mayhem in them. Religious faith, he asserts, is both result and cause of dangerous sexual repression. What's more, it is grounded in nothing more than wish fulfillment. Hence, he believes that religion is man-made, and an ethical life can be lived without its stamp of approval. With such chapter titles as "Religion Kills" and "Is Religion Child Abuse?" Hitchens intends to provoke, but he is not mean-spirited and humorless. Indeed, he is effortlessly witty and entertaining as well as utterly rational. Believers will be disturbed and may even charge him with blasphemy (he questions not only the virgin birth but the very existence of Jesus), and he may not change many minds, but he offers the open-minded plenty to think about. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The primary gist of the book is that people are indoctrinated from birth into belief systems before they are capable of reasoning for themselves and taught that they must be faithful to whatever the belief system is and reject anything seen or heard that contradicts their belief (or dogma) - to do otherwise is to admit that their belief is wrong and or unfounded.
Hitchens saves most of his ammunition for radical Islam. Mainly he argues they're nothing but a bunch of copycats, going so far as to ban the eating of pork. Muhammad also reportedly used the Bible as an inspiration for the Qur'an and many of his hadiths. Hitchens also isn't fond of the torture they put women through, mainly the mutilation of sexual organs and the sewing shut of the vagina, leaving only a small aperture for menstruating and urinating. Especially grating is the revelation that many of the terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers were virgins (having been isolated from women for most of their lives), and that their express motivation was martyrdom for the cause for which they would be rewarded with 70 virgins in the afterlife. Of course the Jewish custom of circumcision (adopted by Christians) also gets its share of derision. Perhaps Hitchens' best argument here is his belittling of Intelligent Design. If God is so great, why do rabbis need to improve on his work?
Perhaps Hitchens second most derided belief is Catholicism. He especially reviles Pope Pius XII's appeasement of the Nazis and the church's later help in helping some of them escape. Then there were the massacres in Rawanda in which Catholic bishops were complicit and the troubles in Bosnia where the Catholics and the Greek Orthodox tried to "cleanse" the world of Moslems. The Inquisition is touched upon only briefly, but the church's treatment of Galileo is especially condemned.
Hitchens doesn't have much respect for scientists and philosophers who hedge their bets. In the early stages of his book Charles Darwin tiptoed around the idea of nature being the sole source of human life. Other philosophers and scientists leave room for the possibility that a supreme being created evolution. Hitchens scoffs at the idea as being unnecessarily intricate. Evolution is a sloppy process with remnants of previous existence still around, such as a tail in humans. According to Hitchens the human eye is backwards. An all powerful God wouldn't make that mistake.
Hitchens can be as vicious as Don Rickles. Here's what he has to say about Tim LaHaye, who along with Jerry B. Jenkins, wrote the LEFT BEHIND series about the End Times and The Rapture. He says it was "apparently generated by the old expedient of letting two orangutans loose on a word processor." Hitchens insists that religion "is not just amoral but positively immoral," primarily for the hell it puts children through. He outlines five areas in which this is true:
1. Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous.
2. The doctrine of blood sacrifice.
3. The doctrine of atonement. (Atonement for what? Should a child be blamed for what his parents did?)
4. The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment.
5. The imposition of impossible tasks and rules.
Hitchens, as does Freud, cites fear of death and wishful thinking as the reason most people cling to religion. He also argues that for a group of people who emphasize faith they sure don't have much. Muslims are outraged by cartoons making fun of Muhammad. Scientists are portrayed as converting on their death beds. Darwin was supposed to be perusing a Bible. He wasn't. Einstein made it clear once and for all that he did not believe in God: "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as science can reveal it."
Christopher Hitchens never ducked a debate with a religious proponent and usually came out ahead. Richard Dawkins adds a blurb to the front of the book: "If you are a religious apologist invited to debate with Christopher Hitchens, decline." And no, Hitchens did not convert on his deathbed.