God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
God is still not dead
By Steven Martinovich
One most admire the resiliency of the world's great religions. Their obituaries have written countless times, entire revolutions have been launched to throw off their yokes and most incredibly they've survived in spite of the behavior of their own adherents. That's not to say that religious faith is in a healthy state of affairs. Critics from the secular world have inflicted some heavy blows and it's not hard to imagine a largely secular Western civilization in a century or two's time.
Christopher Hitchens has arrived with what he hopes is another nail in the crucifixion of religion with God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. It's a fiery polemic which argues that religion is man-made, irrational and is a relic of humanity's youth. "[M]onotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents," he charges, and responsible for virtually all of humanity's sins, both past and present.
And quite a list of sins it is. Religions exist to control the minds and bodies of humans (or mammals, as he seems to prefer), he argues. They are responsible for intellectual, emotional and sexual repression. Mass murder has been its stock in trade since the beginning and torture – whether overt like the Inquisition or common like circumcision – has long been its manner of ensuring dogmatic purity. While religion seems, at least in the West, relatively benign today, it is only because it does not have the temporal power to demand our acquiescence to its demands.
Hitchens is an equal opportunity critic; not only do the three great monotheistic religions come under ferocious assault, but the allegedly enlightened religions of the Far East as well. The Dalai Llama is depicted as eager to restore a parasitical monastic elite to power and Buddhism has long been wed to violent political ideologies. Even Mohandas Gandhi comes under attack for wanting "India to revert to a village-dominated and primitive ‘spiritual' society" and employing violence when it suited his needs.
Given Hitchens' superlative analytical skills, God Is Not Great represents somewhat of a failure on his part. Rather than engage in serious literary criticism of religion, God Is Not Great instead often reads as the argument of a man determined to batter his quarry into submission. What could have been a masterful exploration instead becomes what feels like an endless catalogue of religion's sins. At times Hitchens' effort is like the scourging of Christ in Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ: too long and utterly devoid of subtly.
In fact, Hitchens is so invested in attacking religious faith that he makes some extraordinarily bizarre claims. With a worldview that sees the religious as poisonous and virtually everything secular as less tainted, Hitchens comes to the conclusion that the nation-sized slave labour camp known as North Korea isn't collapsing due to communism, but rather – because of his beloved George Orwell's contention that totalitarian states are de facto theocracies – Confucianism. The existence of a cult of personality, such as those enjoyed by Joseph Stalin or Enver Hoxha, are merely examples of religious influence in politics.
Although raised an Anglican, married by a rabbi and a once convert to the Greek Orthodox faith, the reader gets a sense that Hitchens doesn't really understand the religious mind. One almost believes that he really does feel that the religious encourage or forgive and forget all crimes committed in their god's name. He argues that those who are religious are by definition literal in their beliefs, an odd claim given that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all undergoing internal debates about their core values.
Hitchens may be guilty of the very crime he accuses religion of – namely of fanaticism – but it ultimately does serve a purpose. God Is Not Great raises a number of serious questions for the person of faith to consider, particularly the role which religion will play in the future. At a minimum, however, God Is Not Great illustrates that Hitchens is always entertaining – no matter whose sacred cow he's goring.
Steve Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
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