Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Long overdue review on "God is Not Great"

Way back in June, Metro Mama offered up a few free copies of Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I jumped on the offer since I'd been planning to read a number of atheism-themed books this summer.

Long story short, a lot of stuff happened this summer and I spent about two months reading a few pages at a time. Now, it's been another few weeks since I finished the book and I don't even have it with me. OK, so this is not the most responsible way of going about a review, but it's what I can manage right now.

To begin with, I am an atheist. And have been for a while. So I don't need convincing.

Which is probably the best audience for this book. I already agree with Hitchens that religion is a human construct and that modern science trumps the explanations created by religion in the past. I read much of the book raptly; while I have a general knowledge of most religions, Hitchens has studied them thoroughly and up-close. The details and anecdotes he provided have helped me better articulate my issues with religion and introduced me to many things I hadn't known before. And so I felt fully affirmed in my atheism.

Nonetheless, I have two quibbles with the book.

The first is that the end felt anticlimactic. I was waiting for the 'solution' I thought had been promised. Instead it felt like a rehash of everything he'd already said. His basic solution: people need to recognize in this day and age that religion just isn't necessary. But that doesn't give me any idea of how we get there other than trying to reason with people--and religion simply is not an area where the firmest believers are willing to listen to reason.

The second is that Hitchens cannot find any place for religion. He recasts every good act done in the name of religion as a 'humanist' act at its root. While I agree that concern for and attention to other people is not limited to believers, I also think it is a bit unfair to dismiss any religious influence on positive actions. There are several people in my life whom I respect very much and who hold their religious beliefs very dear. They are good people; I feel that if religion is what gives them the desire to do the things they do, it cannot be all bad--if only more people followed religion in the way they do.

But I would recommend reading God is Not Great to just about anyone. Atheists and agnostics will find more support for their (non-)beliefs and believers may find an opportunity to hone their arguments in support of religion or, at least, to define how religion drives them.


Her Bad Mother said...

We've talked about this, so you know that I agree with you, especially on your second point. By dismissing religion entirely Hitchens sorta thrwos himself into the abyss. How, then, to explain the prevalence of religious belief for all of human history? Humans have always been dullards? What?

Mouse said...

I think he tries to be a bit kinder to earlier people, though that's along the lines of, "They couldn't know any better, given the limitations of earlier science." But there's still that sense of "humans have always been dullards."

I kept looking for the arguments that would sway believers. When I agreed, I knew it was mostly because I didn't need to be convinced.

kittenpie said...

I have found this with so many of these kinds of non-fiction books that thrust themselves in the public eye by making bold statements. I may not entirely disagree, but I too often find they shoot themselves in the foot by being so very one-sided as to not even admit to any validity on the other side, and thus they lose my respect.

george1001 said...

He recasts every good act done in the name of religion as a 'humanist' act at its root.

I think his point is that moral decisions often are made independently of religious sources. Abolition of slavery, democracy, the many freedoms we enjoy occur despite Christianity.