God Is Not Great

God Is Not Great

Infobox Book

author = Hitchens, Christopher
name = God is not Great
country = United States
language = English
subject = Religion
publisher = Twelve Books
release_date = May 1, 2007
media_type = Hardcover, Audio book
isbn = ISBN 978-0-446-57980-3
pages = 307
"God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" (published in the United Kingdom as "God is Not Great: The Case Against Religion") is a 2007 non-fiction book by author and journalist Christopher Hitchens that is critical of religion.

In the book, Hitchens contends that religion is "violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children." Hitchens' main arguments for his points include a combination of personal stories, documented historical anecdotes and critical analysis of religious texts. His commentary focuses mainly on the Abrahamic religions, although he discusses other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well.


Specific criticisms of religion

Hitchens' critique of religion comes down to four main points:
* Religion misrepresents the origins of humankind and the cosmos
* Religion demands unreasonable suppression of human nature
* Religion inclines people to violence and blind submission to authority
* Religion expresses hostility to free inquiry

Chapter One: Putting It Mildly

Hitchens writes that he was raised in a religious environment, and that even at the age of nine he began to see some flaws in the arguments of religious believers, notably the argument from design. [Christopher Hitchens, "God Is Not Great", page 3] He then goes on to discuss people who become atheists; saying that some are people who have never believed, whereas others had to separately discard religious tradition. He writes that atheists who disagree with each other will eventually side together on whatever the evidence most strongly supports. [God Is Not Great, page 5] He briefly discusses why we believe and argues that religion will remain entrenched in the human consciousness as long as human beings fear death. He ends by saying that he does not want to get rid of religion if it leaves him and his beliefs alone, but that religion is incapable of this. [God Is Not Great, page 13]

Chapter Two: Religion Kills

In this chapter Hitchens discusses a hypothetical question he was asked by Dennis Prager: If he were alone in an unfamiliar city at night, and a group of men he didn't know approached him, would he feel safer, or less safe, if he knew these men had just come from a prayer meeting? Hitchens answers by specifying some "unfamiliar cities" where he may indeed feel threatened. Sticking just "within the letter "B" he lists Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. He claims "absolutely" that he can find reasons why, if walking in any such city and meeting a group of men coming from a religious observance, he would "feel immediately threatened." [God Is Not Great, page 18]

Next he goes on to discuss Salman Rushdie and his book "The Satanic Verses", as well as the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Chapter Three: A Short Digression On The Pig

Chapter three's full title is "A Short Digression On The Pig; or, Why Heaven Hates Ham". Hitchens discusses the prohibition on eating pigs ("porcophobia" as Hitchens jokingly calls it) in Judaism, also adopted by Islam.(pp. 37-41) Hitchens writes that this proscription is not just Biblical; even today, he says, Muslim zealots demand that the Three Little Pigs, Miss Piggy, Piglet from Winnie-the-Pooh, and other traditional pets and characters should be "removed from the innocent gaze of their children."(p.41)

Chapter Four: A Note On Health, To Which Religion May Be Hazardous

In this chapter, Hitchens declares that religions are hostile to treating diseases. He writes that many Muslims saw the polio vaccine as a conspiracy and thus allowed polio to spread. [God Is Not Great, pages 44-45] He then goes on to discuss the Catholic Church's response to the spread of HIV in Africa by telling people condoms are ineffective, which he argues contributed to the death toll [God Is Not Great, pages 45-6] . He opines that both Catholic and Muslim communities believe that HIV and HPV are punishment for sexual sin — particularly homosexuality [God Is Not Great, page 49] . He calls religious leaders "faith healers", and says they are hostile to medicine because it undermines their own position. [God Is Not Great, page 47]

He then criticizes the Jewish ritual of circumcision and denounces the traditional African practise of female genital mutilation. He finishes this chapter writing of the religious believers' "wish for obliteration" - for a death in the form of the day of the Apocalypse.

Chapter Five: The Metaphysical Claims of Religion Are False

Hitchens begins this chapter by saying that the strong faith that could stand up to any form of reason is long gone. He compares the popular knowledge of the world in Thomas Aquinas' time to what we now know about the world. He uses the example of Laplace ("It works well enough without that hypothesis [God] ") [God Is Not Great, pages 66-67] to demonstrate that Laplace didn't need God to explain things, and neither do we. He claims that religion becomes obsolete as an explanation when it becomes optional or one among many different beliefs. He concludes by saying that the leap of faith is not one leap; it is a leap that is repeatedly made, and people find it difficult to rely on faith, instead attempting to "prove" God's existence.

Chapter Six: Arguments From Design

In this chapter, Hitchens writes that Abrahamic religion is used to make people feel like lowly sinners and yet at the same time makes them feel like a creator cares about them, inflating their sense of self-importance. He says that superstition to some extent has a "natural advantage" and discusses a few examples as well as so-called miracles.

He then discusses the design arguments, using examples such as the human body wearing out in old age as bad design. He writes that if evolution had taken a slightly different course, there would be no guarantee at all that organisms remotely like us would ever have existed.

Chapter Seven: The Nightmare Of The Old Testament

Here Hitchens lists anachronisms and point-of-view inconsistencies in the Old Testament, and writes that many of the "gruesome, disordered events [...] never took place."(p.102) He writes that the Pentateuch was an "ill-carpentered fiction, bolted into place well after the nonevents that it fails to describe convincingly or even plausibly."(p.104) He points out, for instance, that when Moses orders parents to have their children stoned to death for indiscipline (citing Deuteronomy but no chapter in particular [See Deuteronomy 21:18-21, "If a man have a stubborn and unruly son [...] the people of the city shall stone him"] ) it is probably a violation of at least one of the very commandments Moses brought down from God, and that Moses "continually makes demented pronouncements."(p.106)

Chapter Eight: The "New" Testament Exceeds The Evil Of The "Old" One

Hitchens first connects the story of Abraham in the Old Testament with its prediction that "a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son," pointing out where the stories converge, Old Testament to New. Comparing the Testaments, he considers the New Testament "also a work of crude carpentry, hammered together long after its purported events, and full of attempts to make things come out right." He points out that, while H. L. Mencken considered some of the New Testament events to be historically verifiable, Mencken maintained that "most of them [...] show unmistakable signs of having been tampered with."(p.109-110)

Hitchens also outlines the inaccuracy in Luke's attempt to triangulate three world events of the time with Jesus' birth (viz, the census ordered by Caesar of the entire Roman world, the reign of King Herod in Judea and that of Quirinius as governor of Syria). He further states that there is no record of any Augustan census by any Roman historian (only by Josephus, which was six years after Jesus' birth was supposed to have taken place). In addition Hitchens states that Herod died in 4 B.C., and that Quirinius was not governor of Syria during his tenure.

Hitchens refers to the Mel Gibson film "The Passion of the Christ" as a "soap-opera film," saying that Gibson "adheres to a crackpot and schismatic Catholic sect" (Traditionalist Catholicism) and that his film tirelessly attempted to blame the death of Jesus on the Jews. Hitchens claims that Gibson did not realize that the four Gospels were not at all historical records, and that they had multiple authors, all being written many decades after the Crucifixion - and moreover, that they do not agree on anything "of importance" (e.g., on the Virgin birth, the genealogy of Jesus). He claims many contradictions in this area.(pp.110-112)

The author contends that the many "contradictions and illiteracies" of the New Testament, while written about at great lengths in other books, have never been explained except to excuse them as "metaphor" and "a Christ of faith." He brings history and the millennia that have passed to his argument, stating that the "feebleness" of the Bible is a result of the fact that until recently, Christians faced with arguments against the logic or factualness of the Bible could simply burn or silence those posing such "inconvenient questions."(p.115)

Hitchens points out the problematic implications of the scriptual proclamation "he that is without sin among you, let him cast a first stone" with regard to the practical legislation of retributive justice: "if only the non-sinners have the right to punish, then how could an imperfect society ever determine how to prosecute offenders?" Of the woman whom Jesus saved from the stoning (she having been charged with adultery), the author posits that Jesus thus forgives her of sheer sexual promiscuity, and if this be the case, the lesson has ever since been completely misunderstood.(p.121) Closing the chapter(p.122) he suggests that advocates of religion have faith alone to rely on - nothing else - and calls on them to "be brave enough" to admit they have nothing more to support their case.

Remaining chapters

Chapters 9-19:
* Chapter Nine: The Koran Is Borrowed From Both Jewish and Christian Myths
* Chapter Ten: The Tawdriness Of The Miraculous And The Decline Of Hell
* Chapter Eleven: Religion's Corrupt Beginnings
* Chapter Twelve: A Coda: How Religions End
* Chapter Thirteen: Does Religion Make People Behave Better?
* Chapter Fourteen: There Is No "Eastern" Solution
* Chapter Fifteen: Religion As An Original Sin
* Chapter Sixteen: Is Religion Child Abuse?
* Chapter Seventeen: An Objection Anticipated
* Chapter Eighteen: A Finer Tradition: The Resistance Of The Rational
* Chapter Nineteen: In Conclusion: The Need for a New Enlightenment

Critical reception

Left-wing critic Michael Kinsley, in the "New York Times" Book Review, lauded Hitchens' "... logical flourishes and conundrums, many of them entertaining to the nonbeliever." He concluded that "Hitchens has outfoxed the Hitchens watchers by writing a serious and deeply felt book, totally consistent with his beliefs of a lifetime." [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/books/review/Kinsley-t.html?ex=1181880000&en=1cff92bb5e3db397&ei=5070 Michael Kinsley, The New York Times Review of Books] ]

Bruce DeSilva of the Associated Press says: "This time he's outdone himself ... A spate of atheist screeds has arrived in the bookstores lately, but Hitchens' may be the best since Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian" (1927), laying out the essential arguments with force and precision ... He makes his case in the elegant yet biting prose we have come to expect from him ... Hitchens is the reincarnation of H. L. Mencken, the penultimate social critic of the first half of the 20th century, who used words like gunshots and considered most Americans 'boobs'." DeSilva goes on to say "Hitchens has nothing new to say, although it must be acknowledged that he says it exceptionally well." [cite web|url=http://religion.beloblog.com/archives/2007/04/hitchens_blames_religion_for_w_1.html|title=Dallas News, "Hitchens blames religion for -- well, you name it"] [cite web|url=http://www.hachettebookgroupusa.com/authors/69/3732/critical_praise.html|title=Critical Praise, God Is Not Great (Hardcover)]

"God Is Not Great" was not without detractors, however. Michael Medved called the book "a maddening combination of stimulation and sloppiness, erudition and ignorance, provocation and puerility". He concluded that the "sly distortions and grotesque errors that appear in every chapter of his work demonstrate the author’s carelessness and arrogance" and that, "Beyond its factual errors and obvious misstatements," Hitchens' book "provides a frequently primitive and juvenile characterization of religious belief." [ [http://www.townhall.com/columnists/MichaelMedved/2007/07/11/hitchens_vs_god Hitchens vs. God] by Michael Medved] Dennis Prager, meanwhile, said that Hitchens misrepresented his argument about "Bible class" in favor of the Christian faith. [ [http://www.townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2007/06/19/youre_in_a_bad_neighborhood_and_10_men_approach_you___ You're in a Bad Neighborhood and 10 Men Approach You…] by Dennis Prager]

Responding to Hitchens' statement that "all attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule", Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution quotes a paleontologist that Hitchens himself commended — Stephen Jay Gould. After a survey showed half of all scientists are religious, Gould said that "Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs — and equally compatible with atheism." [ [http://catholiceducation.org/articles/persecution/pch0154.htm The New New Atheism] by Peter Berkowitz] For his part, Ross Douthat remarked that "Hitchens's argument proceeds principally by anecdote, and at his best he is as convincing as that particular style allows, which is to say not terribly." [ [http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/persecution/pch0151.htm Lord Have Mercy: A review of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything] by Ross Douthat]

The religious conservative critic Frank Brennan described the book as an affirmation of Hitchens' Marxist origins in contrast to his labeling by some critics as a neoconservative:

The book was announced as a nominee for the National Book Award on October 10, 2007. [ [http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gIKp6SMKuAR1cD8M3gd3OePuyDbgD8S6HC081 Associated Press] ]

Sales history

The book was published on May 1, 2007, and within a week had reached #2 on the Amazon.com bestsellers list [ [http://www.amazon.com/dp/0446579807 Amazon.com book page - search for sales rank for current position] ] (behind "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"), and reached #1 on the "New York Times" Bestseller list in its third week. [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/books/bestseller/0603besthardnonfiction.html New York Times Bestseller list] ]


External links

* [http://slate.com/id/2165033/ Exclusive Excerpts from "God Is Not Great"] - "Slate"

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