Tag Archives: Christopher Hitchens

God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

19 Apr

This is a good book to explore some of the arguments around gods existence, the nature of religion and its effects on people.

The reader is left in no doubt as to his view given the subtitle of the book: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Not as good as watching the Hitch debate live mind. If after reading the book and watching him talk you can remain religious then you clearly must have a screw loose (I recommend the second link – he summarises the book in 10 minutes).

The Hitch (PBUH) calls himself an anti-theist rather than an atheist; a distinction I enjoy.

I heartily agree with most of what he says. I’ve noticed more and more the egregious lack of morals in the biblical stories and the principles espoused therein. Although most Christians (by necessity) cherry pick the nice bits and close their ears to the downright nasty bits, I think it’s important to point out the fact that it condones slavery, selling your daughter, rape, genocide, ritual slaughter of animals, human sacrifice and torture; whether that be to appease god or to punish non believers for all eternity. Indeed the idea that we have the choice to follow god, and then choose not to take that option then deserve the eternal damnation that Jesus first introduces, it is scandalous to claim the christian god is all loving, all powerful and all knowing. Further, if he already knows the future and the choices we will make, he has therefore created us knowing that we will make that choice. Pretty immoral.

And so if people truly do follow the claims of the belief system, and believe the bible to be the word of god, i.e. get a bit fundamentalist, then we’re in for a rough ride.

He argued that putting threats of eternal punishment behind these religious moral exhortations rather devalues them – surely we should do it out of a better motive.

And then christians can somehow claim that the morals and laws in society come from religion. (Granted some come from the church trying to maintain power and control.) In fact, in the fourth century, when christianity was being codified, they borrowed largely from the Stoics. I would argue that most decent laws come from our natural instincts as humans to figure out rules to work together as a society, i.e. we have a moral society not because of religion, but in spite of it.

I think The Hitch could have pushed this point more strongly in his book; he does this to great effect in his debates.

That said, most of the arguments were great, and added to the already big armoury of anti-christian arguments that are fairly obvious to anyone that takes the time to read even a small part of the bible with an open mind. He does it with wit and erudition without getting ranty and so it is an enjoyable and educational read.

His treatment of the assertion that atheistic regimes can also be pretty abhorrent (Russia, Cambodia, Nazi Germany et al) could have been stronger; he draws parallels between the ideologies of these regimes and religion and shows that religious people and organisations didn’t condemn then, and even supported them. He could have done a lot better than that, for example mentioning that Hitler was a christian and his interpretation of christianity was a central motivation for his antisemitism. He could have also used an argument that I prefer: mentioning that Hitler was a vegetarian and by the same ‘logic’ could say therefore vegetarianism leads to evil. Or he could have just shown this cartoon which says it nicely. “Saying that you believe in atheism is like saying you believe in maths. Hitler and Stalin didn’t go to war in the name of atheism, much like they didn’t go to war in the name of fractions or prime numbers.

Again, in his debates he puts forward the excellent two questions:

First, you have to name for me an ethical action or an ethical statement or moral action or moral statement made or undertaken by a believer that I couldn’t undertake or say, I couldn’t state or do. I haven’t yet had an example pointed out of that to me. In other words, that a person of faith would have an advantage by being able to call upon divine sanction. Whereas if I ask you to think of a wicked act undertaken by someone in the name of God or because of their faith or a wicked statement made, you wouldn’t have that much difficulty, I think, in coming up with an example right away. The genital mutilation community, for example, is almost exclusively religious; the suicide bombing community is almost exclusively religious; there are injunctions for genocide in the Old Testament; there are injunctions, warrants for slavery and racism in the Old Testament too. There’s simply no way of deriving morality and ethics from the supernatural. When we come to the question of the absolute, well, the most often cited one is the Golden Rule, the one that almost everyone feels they have in common. The injunction not to do to others as you wouldn’t want them to do to you. This doesn’t in fact come from the Sermon on the Mount or from Christianity, or it doesn’t originate with it. It’s certainly adumbrated by Rabbi Hillel, a Babylonian rabbi, and it’s to be found in The Analects of Confucious, too.

It almost seems like he rushed the latter part of the book. Most though was very good and stuffed full of great arguments and quotes. I particularly loved “if triangles had gods their gods would have three sides”.

Suffice it to say that if you are in any doubt as to whether to pursue the believers route, or have the misguided view that religious values are somehow good for society, then have a read and be disabused of those notions.

Who Came First?

11 Mar
If triangles had gods their gods would have three sides.

– The Hitch

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