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God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everythingby Christopher Hitchens
One of the most informed journalists in the country (he seems to have been everywhere, met everyone, and read everything), he is also one of the most entertaining. His command of the language is legendary; his wit ferocious. His skill in marshalling facts in service to an argument is a wonder to behold. Readers won't pick up this book just to find out what Christopher Hitchens thinks about religion. They'll read it because, whether or not he persuades, he always makes it worth your while to hear him out.
"Test your faith severely or find a champion for your feelings, but read Hitchens. It's a tendentious delight, a caustic and even brilliant book. And with the title alone, he takes his life in his hands, which right there has got to be some proof of his thesis." Mark Warren, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
Christopher Hitchens, hailed as "one of the most brilliant journalists of our time" (London Observer), takes on his biggest subject yet — the dangerous role of religion in the world.
In the tradition of Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian and Sam Harris's recent bestseller, The End of Faith, Christopher Hitchens makes the ultimate case against religion. With a close and erudite reading of the major religious texts, he documents the ways in which religion is a man-made wish, a cause of dangerous sexual repression, and a distortion of our origins in the cosmos. With eloquent clarity, Hitchens frames the argument for a more secular life based on science and reason, in which hell is replaced by the Hubble Telescope's awesome view of the universe, and Moses and the burning bush give way to the beauty and symmetry of the double helix.
"Hitchens, one of our great political pugilists, delivers the best of the recent rash of atheist manifestos. The same contrarian spirit that makes him delightful reading as a political commentator, even (or especially) when he's completely wrong, makes him an entertaining huckster prosecutor once he has God placed in the dock. And can he turn a phrase!: 'monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents.' Hitchens's one-liners bear the marks of considerable sparring practice with believers. Yet few believers will recognize themselves as Hitchens associates all of them for all time with the worst of history's theocratic and inquisitional moments. All the same, this is salutary reading as a means of culling believers' weaker arguments: that faith offers comfort (false comfort is none at all), or has provided a historical hedge against fascism (it mostly hasn't), or that 'Eastern' religions are better (nope). The book's real strength is Hitchens's on-the-ground glimpses of religion's worst face in various war zones and isolated despotic regimes. But its weakness is its almost fanatical insistence that religion poisons 'everything,' which tips over into barely disguised misanthropy." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A century and a half ago Pope Pius IX published the Syllabus of Errors, a rhetorical tour de force against the high crimes and misdemeanors of the modern world. 'God Is Not Great,' by the British journalist and professional provocateur Christopher Hitchens, is the atheists' equivalent: an unrelenting enumeration of religion's sins and wickedness, written with much of the rhetorical pomp and all of... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the imperial condescension of a Vatican encyclical. Hitchens, who once described Mother Teresa as 'a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud,' is notorious for making mincemeat out of sacred cows, but in this book it is the sacred itself that is skewered. Religion, Hitchens writes, is '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.' Channeling the anti-supernatural spirits of other acolytes of the 'new atheism,' Hitchens argues that religion is 'man-made' and murderous, originating in fear and sustained by brute force. Like Richard Dawkins, he denounces the religious education of young people as child abuse. Like Sam Harris, he fires away at the Koran as well as the Bible. And like Daniel Dennett, he views faith as wish-fulfillment. Historian George Marsden once described fundamentalism as evangelicalism that is mad about something. If so, these evangelistic atheists have something in common with their fundamentalist foes, and Hitchens is the maddest of the lot. Protestant theologian John Calvin was 'a sadist and torturer and killer,' Hitchens writes, and the Bible 'contain(s) a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre.' As should be obvious to any reasonable person — unlike Hitchens I do not exclude believers from this category — horrors and good deeds are performed by believers and nonbelievers alike. But in Hitchens' Manichaean world, religion does little good and secularism hardly any evil. INDEED, Hitchens arrives at the conclusion that the secular murderousness of Stalin's purges wasn't really secular at all, since, as he quotes George Orwell, 'a totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy.' And in North Korea today, what has gone awry is not communism but Confucianism. Hitchens is not so forgiving when it comes to religion's transgressions. He aims his poison pen at the Dalai Lama, St. Francis and Gandhi. Among religious leaders only the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. comes off well. But in the gospel according to Hitchens whatever good King did accrues to his humanism rather than his Christianity. In fact, King was not actually a Christian at all, argues Hitchens, since he rejected the sadism that characterizes the teachings of Jesus. 'No supernatural force was required to make the case against racism' in postwar America, writes Hitchens. But he's wrong. 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. As for those white liberals inspired by Paine, Mencken and Hitchens' other secular heroes, well, they stood down. Hitchens says a lot of true things in this wrongheaded book. He is right that you can be moral without being religious. He is right to track contemporary sexism and sexual repression to ancient religious beliefs. And his attack on 'intelligent design' is not only convincing but comical, coursing as it does through the crude architecture of the appendix and our inconvenient 'urinogenital arrangements.' What Hitchens gets wrong is religion itself. Hitchens claims that some of his best friends are believers. If so, he doesn't know much about his best friends. He writes about religious people the way northern racists used to talk about 'Negroes' — with feigned knowing, and a sneer. 'God Is Not Great' assumes a childish definition of religion and then criticizes religious people for believing such foolery. But it is Hitchens who is the naif. To read this oddly innocent book as gospel is to believe that ordinary Catholics are proud of the Inquisition, that ordinary Hindus view masturbation as an offense against Krishna, and that ordinary Jews cheer when a renegade Orthodox rebbe sucks the blood off a freshly circumcised penis. It is to believe that faith is always blind and rituals always empty — that there is no difference between taking communion and drinking the Kool-Aid (a beverage Hitchens feels compelled to mention no fewer than three times). If this is religion, then by all means we should have less of it. But the only people who believe that religion is about believing blindly in a God who blesses and curses on demand and sees science and reason as spawns of Satan are unlettered fundamentalists and their atheistic doppelgangers. Hitchens describes the religious mind as 'literal and limited' and the atheistic mind as 'ironic and inquiring.' Readers with any sense of irony — and here I do not exclude believers — will be surprised to see how little inquiring Hitchens has done and how limited and literal is his own ill-prepared reduction of religion. Christopher Hitchens is a brilliant man, and there is no living journalist I more enjoy reading. But I have never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject. In the end, this maddeningly dogmatic book does little more than illustrate one of Hitchens' pet themes — the ability of dogma to put reason to sleep. Stephen Prothero is the chair of Boston University's religion department and the author of 'Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn't.'" Reviewed by Michael DirdaRon CharlesIlan StavansGraham JoyceStephen Prothero, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Hitchens intends to provoke, but he is not mean-spirited and humorless. Indeed, he is effortlessly witty and entertaining as well as utterly rational. Believers will be disturbed and may even charge him with blasphemy...and he may not change many minds, but he offers the open-minded plenty to think about." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] provocative, challenging, and passionate work — a religious believer's and apologist's nightmare." Librbary Journal
"It's clear from page to page that Hitchens...is having a grand time twitting the folks in the white collars and purple dresses, in the turbans and beehives. Like-minded readers will enjoy his arguments, too." Kirkus Reviews
"The strength of this book is the undeniable eloquence of its indignation....Its weakness is that the thinking in it has indeed oft been thought." Los Angeles Times
"[Hitchens's] indictments are trenchant and witty, and the book is a treasure house of zingers worthy of Mark Twain or H. L. Mencken." Boston Globe
"Hitchens has outfoxed the Hitchens watchers by writing a serious and deeply felt book, totally consistent with his beliefs of a lifetime. And God should be flattered: unlike most of those clamoring for his attention, Hitchens treats him like an adult." New York Times
"God Is Not Great is somewhat of a disappointment t1; not so much for those who disagree, who will simply be irritated, but for those of us who think that it has an important case to make and were hoping that this might be the book to carry that message to the people." San Francisco Chronicle
Book News Annotation:
When Hitchens (contributing editor, Vanity Fair) asserts, as he does in the subtitle, that "religion poisons everything," he's not kidding. He believes that the argument with faith "is the foundation and origin of all arguments, because it is the beginning--but not the end--of all arguments about philosophy, science, history, and human nature." His polemical attack on religion portrays it as prone to violence, destructive of valuable human knowledge, sexually repressive, socially regressive, and just plain irrational. Those readers wondering if the title of the book, alluding to the standard Muslim invocation "God is great" ("Allahu Akbar"), means that this volume is aimed primarily at supporting Hitchens's well-known antipathy towards "Islamo-fascism" and support for the "War on Terror" should be assured that he tosses his polemical barbs at other religious targets here as well, including Christianity and Buddhism. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Hitchens takes on his biggest subject yet--the increasingly dangerous role of religion in the world. With insight and wit, he describes the ways in which religion is man-made, immoral, and repressive and argues for a new enlightenment through science and reason.
About the Author
Christopher Hitchens is the author of Letters to a Young Contrarian, and the bestseller No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family. A regular contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly and Slate, Hitchens also writes for The Weekly Standard, The National Review, and The Independent, and has appeared on The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, The Chris Matthew's Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and C-Span's Washington Journal. He was named one of the world's "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect. Christopher Hitchens lives in Washington, D.C.
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