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Talk about preaching to the converted. I didn’t read Christopher Hitchens’s polemic for any challenge to the way I think about religion, but rather to see what arguments against belief he might cite that I wasn’t aware of. I suppose I also bought the book because the writer had been in the news recently, having revealed that he had cancer. Then he died, and I decided to read the book.

Over its fifteen or twenty chapters, the book argues mordantly and resolutely that belief in god (and Hitchens consistently gives the word a lower case initial) is a force for evil in the world, a non-sensical idea invented by primitive peoples of the Middle East millennia ago, in the name of which atrocities have been and continue to be committed.

Each chapter is an essay arguing this point in a specific area. Subjects include the monstrousness of the Bible (a quotation show the biblical Moses ordering the slaughter of the wives and sons of defeated soldiers and taking the daughters for slaves); the fear and hatred of religion for sex and the condoning of the genital mutilation of babies; the insipid fear of modern western religions of condemning Islamic totalitarian fiats against free speech in non-Muslim countries (Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses is a friend of Hitchens’s); the speciousness of the argument that some of the worst atrocities of history have been committed in secular regimes (Hitchens argues that the fascists of Europe and Stalin’s Russia were not so much non-religious as quasi-religious; their deifications of their leaders, their extermination of all dissenting views, their use of regime-aggrandising propaganda and imagery were all features adapted from religion); and the human heroism and inspiration of Martin Luther King Jr, a preacher fighting against the biblically ordained separation of the races and supported by many communists and rationalists.

As a read, it’s pretty entertaining. Hitchens’s erudition is impressive and there are various anecdotes from his life as a reporter that show that he is widely travelled and has conversed with people of many faiths and backgrounds. He has a sense of humour that often takes the form of presenting some damning information then saying, ‘I’ll leave the reader to decide for himself …’, which is a tiny bit grating. The chapters are short enough to be read in a single sitting, but long enough to explore the issue in some depth and provide some interesting facts.

God Is Not Great concludes with a rallying call for a new Enlightenment based on science, reason and humanism. This chapter was necessary, but feels like an afterthought, as Hitchens doesn’t spend much time describing how this might be brought about – but that would be another book.

The tone struck throughout the volume under discussion is combative and it focuses on extremes of religiosity – primitive superstitions, Islamic terrorism, exploitation of the gullible, textual uncertainty (the seventy-two virgins promised in the Koran to martyrs may, apparently, really be sweet white raisins), barbarous abuses (like African bishops who tell their flocks that condoms cause AIDS) – that most intelligent, moderate believers in whatever religion would agree with Hitchens on. It doesn’t really address the simple faith in faith that many seem to possess. Thus, God Is Not Great may only serve to sway the opinions of those who are already non-religious.

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Atheism

funny puns - Clearly, NOT a Sign from God
see more So Much Pun

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