God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Twelve Books, Hachette Book Group USA, 2007
(307 pages, $24.99, hardcover)
Sam Harris's The End of Faith apparently set other atheist minds to thinking, "If a Stanford graduate student can write a popular religion-bashing book, surely I can do better." Christopher Hitchens's recent effort in this genre employs a broader literary and cultural palate than Harris or Richard Dawkins ( The God Delusion), but philosophically, God Is Not Great is as shallow as its predecessors.
Among other irritants, its chatty apologia for European secularism is peppered with insults of his intellectual adversaries. C. S. Lewis's writings are "dreary and absurd," and intelligent-design arguments "well-financed propaganda" on behalf of a "puerile tautology."
Hitchens's far-reaching thesis is that "religion poisons everything"ómaking things worse than they would be if folks accepted his views: that there is no god; that natural science provides the only philosophical answers rational people require; that evolution (understood as a process of random change "directed" by nature's survive or perish judgments) is the sole cause of human development; and that a morality consistent with Jefferson's ideals can rest on these materialist premises.
He argues for this unqualified thesis as if a sound conclusion about the consistent effect of religion can be established via a list of particulars. Since he has 5,000 years of history from which to cherry-pick, it would be astounding if he couldn't assemble a long train of examples in favor of any idea he cared to promote.
Among the "proofs" he offers for his thesis are these: the child-evangelist Marjoe; the dubious revelations of Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith; the Messianic pretensions and recantation of Sabbatai Sevi; a pastiche of alleged Old Testament barbarisms; and an anti-kosher chapter titled "Why Heaven Hates Ham."
The problem of discovering causes and effects in societies suffused with religion doesn't bother Hitchens, who tacitly assumes that Thomas Jefferson would have embraced similar ideals absent the Christian society in which he was raised.
Read the entire article on the Touchstone Magazine website (new window will open).