E's Reviews > God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
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's review
Dec 17, 07

bookshelves: politics-history
Read in September, 2007

Hitchens says he's been writing this book all his life, and the passion and wit that pervades gives it the feel of a masterfully crafted diary of his enthusiastic intellectual development in the persistent shadows of all the world's religions. I do not believe this book is for fundamentalist believers any more than the Bible is for atheists - any reader has already established the basis of her own beliefs and thus opens the book awaiting the arguments with either an intrigued mind or sharpened weaponry. That said, as an atheist who has already read Harris and Dawkins, I absolutely embraced it.

One could say that Hitchens is preaching to the atheist choir - but aren't they quite unharmonious to begin with? They crave different perspectives, and his is unique. He repeats the well-known fact that all powerful religions have upheld the oppression of women, non-believers, and non-conformists, and it seems this fact needs a great deal of repeating before anything will be done about it on a massive international scale. He is brave enough to dismiss Orthodox Judaism as racist, the New Testament’s urge for proselytizing imperialist, and Gandhi’s Hindu-leanings divisive. While Harris focuses on the horrors of Muslim theocratic communities, Hitchens is far fairer in his distribution of attacks upon all major religions.

He also points out that the many great leaders in the fight for social justice (e.g. MLK, Jr.) who claimed religion as their inspiration were nevertheless choosing to adhere to only a few passages and downright ignoring a great many other violent ones.

Though Hitchens says he would gladly allow the religious to privately believe in whatever supernatural beings they wish, “contempt for intellect is never passive.” He cannot leave them alone because they have steadfastly refused to leave the intellectual alone throughout the course of history and never by using reason but rather by the simple dogmatic threat that they are right because they have the word of god. (And for daring to challenge this, Hitchens receives countless death threats.)

Hitchens claims the somewhat good Pope John Paul was primarily good because did so much long-overdue apologizing for the Church. I would take this a step further in pointing out that it took Germany one generation to apologize for the Holocaust and the government continues to rightly assert that not a single German is ever allowed to forget it. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, took over 500 years to apologize for the Inquisition and few Catholic children spend up to 2 years learning how to prevent future atrocities in Sunday School. Instead, they learn "Jesus is the only way," which is not too far off from what the Church said to the Jews in Spain all those years ago. All religions continue to repeat this mantra, differing only in the name of the god they choose, and as a result the world is still divided into groups that pity and/or hate one another based on texts as old and as reliable as Roman mythology.

Anyone has the right to believe in whatever they wish, but no one should be granted immunity from the intellectual community merely because they refuse to admit that their source is as man-made and fallible as all the others. Anyone who reads Heidegger today is compelled to acknowledge his poisonous racism, admitting that he was a flawed individual who obviously did not have all the answers and can only contribute somewhat to our intellectual progress. If only the words of god could be held to the same standard, the debates would be far more interesting and constructive, as Hitchens's book is.
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Jp (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jp Great Review! I too believe that Hitchens has told an excellent if not somewhat sad story of the facts.

message 2: by Cassie (new) - added it

Cassie He also points out that the many great leaders (e.g., MLK, Jr.) who claimed religion as their inspiration were nevertheless choosing to adhere to only a few passages and downright ignoring a great many other violent ones.
I think this is true of so many people. It was definitely true of me for a long time.
Excellent review!

message 3: by Jeffrey (new) - added it

Jeffrey Mcandrew Right on! I agree with many thoughts.

John Mahoney I read this book almost straight through. It's a true polemic and you can almost feel CH's joy in putting it together for us, and for himself as well.

message 5: by Skyler (new)

Skyler I will pray for you.

Yurii Excellent review of a brilliant book

Arthur Edwards Good review

message 9: by Bassaidai88 (new)

Bassaidai88 Outstanding review E!

message 10: by Fester (new)

Fester McHaggis Skylar, you pray for us and we'll THINK for you.

message 11: by David (new)

David Streever This book is not for fundamentalists; it is merely for people who feel strongly that Hitchens is correct.

Hitchens assembles a common list of social ills, and after asserting that religion is man-made, pretends that the social ills aren't; he blames "religion"; as he has just pointed out, however, religion is also man-made.

The problems he documents exist with and without religion, and are quite simple; there is a basic human desire to hoard goods or take goods if you have none. Monkeys exhibit the same problem. Do they have a religion we can conveniently scapegoat?

This book is really only for people who have a hatred for religion, or a fear of religion. It doesn't answer questions or provide a greater context to understand our world.

The Bible is for anyone who reads. Is it well-written? No. It is dreadful, boring, and repetitive. However, the literary influences are incredibly strong in almost every English work of literature you'll ever read; having read the Bible, you can understand and appreciate non-religious writing better, because the greatest novelists of our language were well-versed in it.

There is no work of classic literature that doesn't have Biblical connections.

The Bible is for anyone who enjoys reading. Hitchen's book is for anyone who agrees with him.

message 12: by David (new)

David Streever @Cassie:
as to MLK Jr "ignoring" the violent ones; absolutely not.

Violence in the Bible has a context that wouldn't be appropriate to MLK's civil rights activism, which is why he didn't use violence.

The Bible does contain violence, but you need to read about the time period and the cultural context around that violence.

There is a huge mistake that *many* Christians (probably 80%) make; they interpret the Bible in a contemporary setting.

This is incredibly foolish. The Old Testament stories take place in a world of incredible and unbelievable violence and brutality. Many of the stories show the poor ends that come to violent people.

Other stories show that the early tribes of Judea were working to be less violent than their neighbors. ("You should of seen the other guy", essentially.)

You can not compare the Old Testament stories to *modern* stories. Rather, spend some time studying the Babylonians, Canaanites, Sumerians, and other tribes of the time, and then look at what the *real* point of the story is.

This is a mistake that Hitchens & fundamentalist Christians both make, which is why many people think that Hitchens brand of atheism is asinine and foolish.

The Atheism Tapes are a much better presentation of Atheism in modern media. Watch the episode with Denys Turner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1Wyt...) for an example of a *real* atheist having a real conversation about religion and faith.

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