Audrey's Reviews > god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

god is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
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's review
Apr 08, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: non-fic, philosophy
Recommended for: atheists, agnostics, doubters, contrarians
Read in April, 2008

Christopher Hitchens makes many good points about why belief in God doesn't make sense anymore, and many excellent points about the evils of religion and how it's held us back. He writes with erudition and wit, and at times, is a pleasant person to visit with. I'm inclined to agree with much of what he writes here (although since I grew up without much formal religious instruction, I don't really need the hard sell on that one) but I was confused about his purpose in writing this book. If he just wants to write a polemic for people who already agree with him, his snide tone makes sense, but he seems to feel so strongly about actually dissuading people from their beliefs. Does he think he can mock people into not believing in God? I found the contemptuous tone that intermittently seeps into his writing offensive - and I'm not even religious. I think if you're going to attempt to prod people in the tender parts of their psyche and urge them to give up something that means a lot to them - even if you're convinced it's all bunk - a little care is called for, no?

Also, he seems to think all atheists are enlightened aesthetes who spend their time pondering the fine arts, literature and science just because *he* happens to be an enlightened aesthete who does these things (and discusses Shakespeare with Salman Rushdie to boot). I think that's probably as grave a mistake as thinking that all people who believe in God are Bible-thumping maniacs who are bombing abortion clinics.

I think, in the end, though, belief doesn't really capitulate to reason, ever. It's something felt with an organ other than the brain. I came away the same agnostic I've pretty much always been (although I think that might be a function of my personal tendency towards indecision rather than anything else). I don't fault him for trying, but I wonder if he's done atheists and non-believers a favor in writing this book.

There's an interesting op ed from the nytimes today on morality without religion; click here to go to it.

And apparently, Mark Twain agrees:
There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory as it is — in our country, particularly, and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree — it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime — the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor his Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilt.
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by James (new)

James Let me know how this is. I sort of want to read it, but then Christopher Hitchens is usually such a smug son of a bitch I just want to stab him in his flubby neck sometimes.

Audrey yeah, he was so self-congratulatory in the first chapter, I wasn't sure if I could keep reading. flubby, eh?

message 3: by James (new)

James That tends to be his MO, which is why I tend not to read anything he's written. Yeah, flubby. It just looks like if you gave it a slap it would quiver for an hour, like Flubber.

message 4: by Jed (last edited Apr 27, 2008 07:50AM) (new)

Jed Audrey I just read an article in the current issue of New York magazine about the fastest growing faith in America. It's titled, "If God is Dead...", or something like that. I'm so confused now. I think I need a pint for my penitence.

Audrey so what is the fastest growing faith in america? is it the church of latter day saints? born agains?

message 6: by Jed (new)

Jed The Jedi! heh. The subhead reads,the fastest growing faith in America is no faith at all. For some reason this is making me want to re-read, Demon-Haunted World again. It's less about this topic but more about critical or skeptical thinking through science.

Audrey It's a fine line, you know? I'm an empiricist during the day and all, but I'd hate to think of draining all the magic out of the world. When it comes down to it, do I *really* believe in astrology, ghosts, and unicorns? No, but I'd hate for the idea of them to go away too (esp the unicorns).

Audrey have you read that book by Richard Dawkins, _The God Delusion_?

message 9: by Jed (new)

Jed Okay, I admit, I converse with my cats all the time. That's cuckoo I know, but really I do. As a boy, I especially liked the water into wine part. The other stuff just scared the crap out of me.

message 10: by Audrey (last edited Apr 28, 2008 01:37PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Audrey Since I didn't grow up in a religious tradition, I pretty much made up my own stuff (very confident when I was little that fairies existed). I read a *lot* of Greek myths when I was a kid, though. And my neighbors were both very religious, so I got a Children's Bible from one of them, and an advent calendar every year. I looked at the pictures in the Bible, and liked the advent calendar chocolate. That was about as far as it went.

message 11: by Jed (last edited Apr 28, 2008 01:44PM) (new)

Jed It's going on my NYPL que now, though it does look familiar. I finished Cormac Mcarthy's, The Road a while back and I'm reminded of a part in the story where the loving father promises to protect his son with his life, as if he was appointed by God to do so. The father has become battle tested and hardened because of the post apocalyptic world they are struggling to survive in. On the other hand, the boy has not become so weary but rather, more kind and loving, even to those people that threaten to rob or kill them both. They encounter an old man who thinks the boy is an angel. The father's reply is,"What if I said that he's a god?" I feel that the boy in a sense, is a messiah for that world, not because of some hollow dictum, but because of his ability to keep his compassion alive.

Audrey I've been wanting to read that one and _No Country for Old Men_ also.
In that same vein, it makes more sense to me to be a good, ethical person for reasons that don't refer to a heavenly reward or a higher being. If you've got to be strong armed into it because you think someone's watching, is it still being "good?" But maybe no one thinks that anymore anyway (God as Big Brother, I mean).

message 13: by Jed (new)

Jed Amen to that. Currently reading, (and overdue) Cities of the Plain.

message 14: by Chris (new)

Chris I haven't read the book, but I've read articles and seen him on TV. Brilliant, but a real asshole too. He is a socialist, but after 9/11 he left The Nation and became a supporter of the neocon wars. He has written that his main reaction to 9/11 was that it is a great opportunity to take on Islam and snuff it out.

Audrey Yeah, the book definitely gave me the feeling that he was a complete asshole. I remembered the flap when he came out in support of the war - I think the whole left felt completely betrayed.

He says in the beginning that he would be fine if people believed whatever they wanted to, as long as they didn't force it on him, but I suspect he's just as eager to force his own non-belief down everyone's throat. He thinks religious fundamentalism in all forms is a threat to civilization and culture, and free, civilized exchange of ideas. Even if he does believe that, though, it doesn't automatically mean he has to support the war. I don't see how we're going to change anyone's (heart and) mind by bombing them into submission.

In his own eccentric way, though, he's really followed his own logic. He thought his way to a conclusion, and even though it meant overthrowing everything he's ever believed before, he stood by it. I admire him for being willing to rethink his own (political) beliefs so fundamentally.

message 16: by Skyler (new)

Skyler I will pray for you.

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