God Is Not Great (Book Review)

God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens takes reason to religion. It’s a deep dive into a terribly important topic. Not only because it has shaped (and for the foreseeable future will shape) our lives. Whilst some will argue that we’re already living in the next Enlightenment (or hope so, Steven Pinker), Christopher Hitchens is more militant and political, if we need an Enlightenment, he will be one of the horsemen of it.

Here are some observations I had on the chapters:

  1. Putting it Mildly
    • “There still remains four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.”
    • Religion has been seen as attractive because we’re only partly rational
    • “… those who offer false consolation are false friends”
    • “Religion is man-made” (emphasis is on the man part)
    • “Religion poisons everything”
  2. Religion Kills
    • “It must seek to interfere with the lives of nonbelievers, or heretics, or adherents of other faiths. It may speak about the bliss of the next world, but it wants power in this one”
    • Since 2001 Hitchens sees religion (again) taking a larger role in public life (crazy Americans)
    • Religious wars/attacks between the West and Middle-East are two sides of the same coin (and feed/strengthen each other)
    • “In this respect, religion is not unlike racism. One version of it inspires and provokes the other”
  3. Why Heaven Hates Ham
    • Religion, Jews/Muslims, hate pigs, but why. (The even banned Animal Farm by George Orwell)
    • Pigs are intelligent, share lots of our DNA, you can use almost every part
    • The ban is not rationally (even way back when), archaeology shows that other people ate them without problems (trichinosis)
    • It’s just superstition that should have ended when it started
  4. A Note on Health
    • Smallpox eradication was harmed by false rumours spread by Muslims (see the same happening now in New York with measles, again wtf)
    • The damage from this is incalculable
    • Religions believe that the holy text should be enough to prevent people from doing the bad things (/protect them in a way?), of course, that is not how life works and in many cases, the victims even didn’t do anything morally wrong
    • “The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile”
    • Two major religions in Africa, “believe that the cure is much worse than the disease”
    • Child rape and torture is suspected to be so bad that there are maybe more kids than not (in religious schools) that we molested
    • Three conclusions up to this point:
      1. Religion and the churches are manufactured
      2. Ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it
      3. religion is – because it claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs – not just amoral but immoral
    • Religion actually looks forward to the day that it all ends. This is captured in a guilty joy (schadenfreude). They hope of course that they personally will be spared
  5. The Metaphysical Claims of Religion Are False
    • “Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody had the smallest idea what was going on”
    • Ockham’s razor is one of the thinking tools to show that religion/God is not a good explanation for science
  6. Arguments from Design
    • The paradox at the centre of the large religions concerns both feeling submissive and being rigorous and superior to others
    • The arguments from design concern the small and large. And they are centred not around inquiry but on faith alone (e.g. finding bones of dinosaurs is there to test your faith)
    • The often used example of the eye is very mistaken. It has been developed/’made’ by evolution over 40 times and in us human is quite inefficient (backwards and upside down)
    • Our DNA has lots of ‘junk’ left behind from everything between us and the bacteria we came from
    • A theory (also a word that is mislabelled) becomes accepted when it can make accurate predictions about things or events that have not yet been discovered or have not yet occurred
    • “…98 per cent of all the species that have ever appeared on earth have lapsed into extinction”
    • Evolution is not guided and that we’re here is the result of a lot of luck/bottlenecks
    • Fun fact: “… a cow is closer in family to a whale than to a horse”
    • Hitchens mentions The End of Faith by Sam Harris
  7. Revelation (Old Testament)
    • Again a focus on man and the focus on humans
    • The ten commandments say nothing about the protection of children, slavery, rape, genocide
    • Shortly after that, God tells Moses about when to buy and sell slaves (so, yeah), and the rules for selling daughters
    • “… none of the gruesome, disordered events described in Exodus ever took place”
    • “Freud made the obvious point that religion suffered from one incurable deficiency: it was too clearly derived from our own desire to escape from or survive death”
    • The context of the bible is local! (no mention of Inca’s or other peoples)
  8. The New Testament
    • The four gospels describe the events very differently and there is disagreement on mythical elements (including the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus)
    • “the word translated as ‘virgin’, namely almah means only ‘a young woman'”
    • Jesus had four brothers and some sisters (Matthew, 13:55-57)
    • (quoting C.S. Lewis, a “most popular Christian apologist”, speaking about Jesus): “Now, unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic.”
    • “The case for the biblical consistency or authenticity or ‘inspiration’ has been in tatters for some time, and the rents and tears only become more obvious with better research, and thus no ‘revelation’ can be derived from that quarter. So, then, let the advocates and partisans of religion rely on faith alone, and let them be brave enough to admit that this is what they are doing.”
  9. The Koran
    • “… relates facts about extremely tedious local quarrels.”
    • The Koran can only be read as the original and translations are not as true as the original revealed text
    • “There has never been an attempt in any age to challenge or even investigate the claims of Islam that has not been met with extremely harsh and swift repression.”
    • Almost as soon as it was established, after Muhammad died, quarrels over leadership erupted and started the Sunni and Shia divide.
    • Two quotes (as a rebuttal to Islam’s benign tolerance): “Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and be killed again.” and “God will not forgive those who serve other gods beside Him; but he will forgive whom He will for other sins. He that serves other gods besides God is guilty of a heinous sin.”
  10. The Tawdriness of the Miraculous
    • “… the age of miracles seems to lie somewhere in our past.”
    • And this could be welcomed but faith is apparently not enough on its own and we get some very strange attempts at describing miracles (which of course are then being discredited).
    • Houdini and others have shown us in many ways that miracles are smart ways of showing things that comply with the laws of nature.
    • “Miracles, in any case, do not vindicate the truth of the religion that practices them.”
    • Many people believe in miracle cures and therefore don’t undergo normal treatment.
    • “… many people will die needlessly as a result of this phoney and contemptible ‘miracle’.”
    • “The evidence (miracles) for faith, then, seems to leave faith looking even weaker than it would if it stood, alone and unsupported, all by itself.”
    • We have many other things to wonder about, the atom, quarks, black holes, morning sun in spring, etc.
  11. Religion’s Corrupt Beginnings
    • Here Hitchens takes a closer look at the origin of religion, for this he uses cargo cults and the Mormons as examples from last/this century.
    • “Is it not true that all religions down the ages have shown a keen interest in the amassment of material goods in the real world?”
    • American evangelism is a heartless con run by no good men (also see Derren Brown – Miracles for Sale)
    • “… twenty-five thousand words of the Book of Mormon are taken directly from the Old Testament.” (2000 new testament)
    • What if religion is the outcome of believing in believing, having faith, which in ancient time was equal to higher morale and thus higher chances of surviving?
  12. How Religion Ends
    • A short chapter on religions that are no longer here, how did they stop (not a clear/actionable reason, except no real following/end of world event didn’t happen).
  13. Does Religion Make People Behave Better
    • Religion is often equated to morality, to learning how to live a good life.
    • But being a moral person and being religious doesn’t go hand in hand, in many cases, the very ‘holy’ people are the same who abuse kids. And there are great atheists (even before our mainstream religions existed) that did great moral things.
    • The slave trade was blessed by the church (and Islam), “the most devout Christians made the most savage slaveholders.”
    • “No supernatural force was required to make the case against racism.”
    • “… there is no country in the world today where slavery is still practised where the justification of it is not derived from the Koran.”
    • The emancipation is also one where religion was holding it back instead of helping, and yes that is referring to the backward beliefs of Gandhi
    • “When priests go bad, they go very bad indeed, and commit crimes that would make the average sinner pale. One might prefer to attribute this to sexual repression than to the actual doctrines preached, but then one of the actual doctrines preached is sexual repression…”
    • The church has also been bad at saying sorry for the sins of the past and has lacked in denouncing people who do bad acts in the name of faith.
  14. There Is No “Eastern” Solution
    • Even in the east, you are not safe. Here gurus go after the possessions of famous/rich/average people, engage in orgies and strive for power, just like everywhere else.
    • Even the Hindu and Buddhists have a history of murderers and violence.
    • The best example is the Buddhists who raped China in honour of Japan.
  15. Religion as an Original Sin
    • “There are indeed several ways in which religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.”
    • “These include: presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous, the doctrine of blood sacrifice, atonement, eternal reward and/or punishment, the imposition of impossible tasks and rules
    • “The essential principle of totalitarianism is to make laws that are impossible to obey” (in regard to being responsible for sins from before your time).”
    • “… a spiritual police state.”
  16. Is Religion Child Abuse?
    • “… religion has always hoped to practice upon the unformed and undefended minds of the young…”
    • “… to keep the ignorant in a state of permanent fear.”
    • “The only proposition that is completely useless, either morally or practically, is the wild statement that sperms and eggs are all potential lives which must not be prevented from fusing and that, when united however briefly, have souls and must be protected by law.”
    • “Mother Theresa denounced contraception as the moral equivalent of abortion…”
    • “… it is hard to imagine anything more grotesque than the mutilation of infant genitalia (both sexes, multiple religions). Nor is it easy to imagine anything more incompatible with the argument from design.”
    • “… we are talking about the systematic rape and torture of children, positively aided and abetted by a hierarchy which knowingly moved the grossest offenders to parishes where they would be safer.”
  17. An Objection Anticipated
    • (short summary of points made before) “… usefulness of religion is in the past, and that its foundational books are transparent fables, and that it is man-made imposition, and that it has been an enemy of science and inquiry, and that it has subsisted largely on lies and fears, and been the accomplice of ignorance and guilt as well as of slavery, genocide, racism, and tyranny…”
    • Religion was bad but were there not terrible atheists like Hitler and Stalin. Alas, religion went to bed with them and were quite the supporters.
    • “The very first diplomatic accord undertaken by Hitler’s government… a treaty with the Vatican.”
    • In the case of communism, it was there not to fight religion, it was there to replace it.
  18. A Finer Tradition
    • Unbelief has been around as long as belief (see the trail of Socrates)
    • “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”
    • What if we imagined a world where religion didn’t get a hold of the whole world so early on, what if in evolution it had died out, what a world we would have lived in!
  19. In Conclusion (The Need for a New Enlightenment)
    • “… it is better and healthier for the mind to “choose” the path of scepticism and inquiry in any case…”
    • “… we are in need of a renewed Enlightenment, which will base itself on the proposition that the proper study of mankind is man and woman.”

I found this to quite the enlightening read and although I don’t think religion and discussion around it will occupy much of my mind-space, I think this is a good introduction to the sins of religion and has given me a better understanding of the space.

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