Sunday, June 26, 2011

Books I'm Reading: God is Not Great

I just finished reading God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens (originally published by Twelve: Hatchette Publishing Group, 2007, but I read the paperback edition of 2009). This is a book that until recently had escaped my notice. I picked it up, remaindered, a while back, not really knowing anything about it, simply because the title was provocative. I realize now that it must have got a lot of press when it was new and it seems to have stirred up quite a bit of controversy--although I don't really see why. So much of what author Hitchens says about religion here seems self-evident to me, needing little elaboration, but I acknowledge that many people do believe strongly in the stories that religions tell and that there does seem to be a powerful innate human tendency to need some sort of belief system. Hitchens acknowledges the same, but doesn't allow that to keep him from pointing out the many ludicrous things religions ask their adherents to swallow. Perhaps the most interesting angle was an attempt the author makes to look at religion from a purely moral perspective. He asks whether, all in all, people have behaved better or worse because of religion, and he comes down firmly on the side of secular humanism, not religion.

Unabashedly atheist, Hitchens pulls no punches for anyone. He happily insults all religions equally, not even failing to skewer Buddhism, which has always seemed to me the most benign of the major religions (note, however, that the book focuses on the three main monotheistic religions). Well written, well argued, entertaining. Recommended. The problem is, this book will do nothing to convince the true believer--it will only annoy and anger the religious--while, to the confirmed atheist, it will likely seem a series of arguments that hardly need to be made. Perhaps this book will be of most use to the undecided fence-sitter that needs a kick in the pants to finally abandon all hope.

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