God Is Not Great, by British journalist Christopher Hitchens, is the atheists’ equivalent to Pope Pius IX’s published Syllabus of Errors, which enumerated the high crimes of modern religion’s sins. Hitchens, most recent atheist manifesto, not only places God in the witness box but is filled with one liners that Hitchens has developed as the result of endless sparring with believers whom he associates with the worst of history’s theocratic and inquisitional movements. In God Is Not Great, Hitchens’ seeks out and attacks believer’s weaker arguments such as people need faith for comfort in trying times and the need for religion to ward off fascism. However, the book’s real strength is its’ glimpses into religion’s role as seen in various war zones and isolated despotic regimes while its’ weakness lies in its insistence that religion poisons “everything”.

Historically religion, according to Hitchens has been “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.” Hitchens further argues that religion is “man-made” and postulates that the Bible “contain[s] a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre.”

However, any reasonable person is forced to acknowledge that horrors and good deeds are performed by believers and non-believers alike. Despite that though Hitchen’s Manichaean world will not allow that religion does any good or that secularism can be evil. Indeed, Hitchens apparently believes that Stalin’s purges weren’t really secular at all, since, as he quotes George Orwell, “a totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy.”

Interestingly, however, he sees the accomplishments of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom Hitchens does not believe was actually a Christian, as successful because King apparently rejected the sadism that characterizes the teachings of Jesus. Further adding, that, “No supernatural force was required to make the case against racism” in postwar America. Here again, Hitchen’s is wrong as it was the prophetic faith of black believers that gave them the strength to stand up to the indignities of fire hoses and police dogs.

Given Hitchens may manage to sway a select group with this wrongheaded book by offering incomplete assessments of scientific facts and secular beliefs people of faith will see it as attempt to deny his own responsibility to a higher power. Still, Hitchen’s is correct in believing that man can be moral without being religious and that one can track contemporary sexism and sexual repression to ancient religious beliefs. Also to be noted is his attack on “intelligent design” which is not only convincing but comical, coursing as it does through the crude architecture of the appendix and our inconvenient “urinogenital arrangements.”

Basically, God Is Not Great assumes an uneducated view of religion while criticizing religious people for using religion as a crutch against their own insecurities while attempting to convince the reader that ordinary Catholics are proud of the Inquisition and that ordinary Hindus view masturbation as an offense against Krishna. He would even try to convince us that faith is always blind and rituals always empty making religion about believing in an omnipotent potentate that blesses and curses on demand.

However, readers with a sense of irony will question how Hitchens can limit his description of the religious mind to being “literal and limited” while elevating the atheistic mindset to one that is “ironic and inquiring” when his book shows how little inquiring Hitchens has done and how limited and literal his own conclusions are. These limitations are obvious when one considers that his supporting facts center around religiously based atrocities and mayhem but offer no counter balance for the positive effects of religion on individuals who are lost without that sense of identity. His conclusion also offers a lack of fairness when he suggests that religious faith should be replaced with inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas since religious faith is grounded in nothing more than wish fulfillment.

Therefore, if you are an open-minded individual Hitchens believes that religion should play no part in your life since it is a man made concept designed to allow religious leaders to place a stamp of approval on your choices in life. However, while Hitchens intends to provoke, he is not mean-spirited or humorless as he offers his ideas in an effortlessly witty and entertaining style that is utterly rational. Given that, it will not stop fundamentalist believers who find their belief system under attack from charging him with blasphemy since he questions not only the virgin birth but the very existence of Jesus. As a theory, to be taken literally, the book must be taken with a grain of salt but as a scientific hypothesis Hitchens does an eloquent job of framing his argument based on science and reason. He accomplishes this by replacing hell with the Hubble Telescope’s awesome view of the universe, and Moses’ burning bush with the beauty and symmetry of the double helix. Overall, I don’t think that I have ever read a book that so matter-of-factly and flawlessly made its argument seem the only possible point-of-view which if it were embraced it could possibly become one of the most important and relevant pieces of literature written in the past decade.

[tags]Blasphemy, Reality, God, Religion, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens, Science, Martin Luther King Jr, book review, non-fiction, Catholic Church, inquisition, fascism, racism, man-made laws[/tags]