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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sam reviews Christopher Hitchens, "God is not Great"

Christopher Hitchens’ new book, subtitled “How religion poisons everything” is his personal repudiation of religion and religious belief. In it he lists his objections to faith-based religion including “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.” The book follows closely on the publication of “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins which has similar themes.

The first chapter is somewhat autobiographical and details some of the author’s doubts as a child about the reality of faith. Whilst as an adult Hitchens believes in respecting different faiths and professes to have friends of many different religious orientations, interestingly he seems annoyed when some of them after listening to his objections proclaim him to be a “seeker”.

Personally I’m sympathetic to many of his objections to organized religion and its excesses as I’m sure many religious people are too (perhaps including Jesus and the many prophets who criticized the hypocrisy and venality of the religious authorities of their times-I would like to think that religious belief and humanism are not mutually exclusive-well clearly they're not-the leading example, which Hitchens cites, being Martin Luther King).

A digression: Richard Dawkins was recently featured in the ABC program Compass. During that documentary I found myself sympathizing with the theologically liberal Anglican bishop that Dawkins interviewed. The topic of evolution was mentioned. The bishop felt that religion also evolves and is enlightened by science. Dawkins responded saying that the bishop was someone that he had a lot in common with.

To Hitchens credit, he gives quite a balanced view of the issues albeit from an atheistic point of view. He doesn’t disguise the fact that many so-called humanists have been equally guilty of hypocrisy and support for totalitarian regimes-one of his major criticisms of religion. I learnt a lot by reading this book and especially many fuller accounts of recent human tragedies and the unfortunate role that certain misguided religious people played in them (eg. the Rwandan genocide). Reading this book was not a problem for me. Though it was challenging and thought-provoking I wasn’t threatened by it in a spiritual sense. Then again the author would probably recognize a tendency towards deism in the reviewer if we were to discuss theology (deism-just learnt the meaning of this very interesting word after reading his book-had to google it!)

Hitchens draws a link between religion, racism and totalitarianism. It is hard to deny that this link has existed (and unfortunately still exists). Is religion nothing more than a destructive and irrational tribalism sustained by far-fetched myths? Christopher Hitchens seems to think so. Personally I’m a bit more optimistic. I see the problems of religion reflecting the problems of the human condition-one of which being that the power of love is frequently overcome by the love of power. But thank God for evolution! I would like to think that the glass is not as dark as it once was.

(God is Not Great-How religion poisons everything by Christopher Hithens, published in paperback by arrangement with Warner Books Inc., New York, New York, USA 2007).


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