- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Emblem Editions; First Edition edition (Sept. 2 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0771041438
- ISBN-13: 978-0771041433
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 386 g
- Customer Reviews: 1,911 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #40,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything Paperback – Sept. 2 2008
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“If God intended reasonable men and women to worship Him without embarrassment, why did He create Christopher Hitchens? It was a fatal miscalculation. In God Is Not Great, Hitchens not only demonstrates that religion is man-made--and made badly--he laughs the whole monstrosity to rubble. This is a profoundly clever book, addressing the most pressing social issue of our time, by one of the finest writers in the land.” Sam Harris, Author of the New York Times bestsellers The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation
"Noted, often acerbic journalist Hitchens enters the fray. As his subtitle indicates, his premise is simple. Not only does religion poison everything, which he argues by explaining several ways in which religion is immoral, but the world would be better off without religion.… With such chapter titles as "Religion Kills" and "Is Religion Child Abuse?" Hitchens intends to provoke, but he is not mean-spirited and humorless. Indeed, he is effortlessly witty and entertaining as well as utterly rational." Booklist (starred review)
"Do yourself a favor and skip the Dawkins and Harris; they're smug, turgid, and boring, with all the human feeling of a tax return. Read Hitchens instead. Test your faith severely or find a champion for your feelings, but read Hitchens. It's a tendentious delight, a caustic and even brilliant book. And with the title alone, he takes his life in his hands, which right there has got to be some proof of his thesis. And so, thank God for Christopher Hitchens." Esquire
"Hitchens, one of our great political pugilists, delivers the best of the recent rash of atheist manifestos. The same contrarian spirit that makes him delightful reading as a political commentator, even (or especially) when he's completely wrong, makes him an entertaining huckster prosecutor once he has God placed in the dock. Hitchens's one-liners bear the marks of considerable sparring practice with believers...this is salutary reading as a means of culling believers' weaker arguments." Publishers Weekly
About the Author
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS (1949-2011) was the author of the New York Times bestsellers god Is Not Great, Hitch 22: A Memoir, Arguably: Essays, and Mortality, among others. A regular contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly and Slate, Hitchens also wrote for The Weekly Standard, The National Review, and The Independent, and appeared on The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, The Chris Matthews Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and C Span's Washington Journal. He was named one of the world's "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect.
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In order to do a scholarly investigation of anything, the author needs to define what he is investigating. With a topic as abstract as religion, a study needs to clarify what it is examining. There is a vast difference between Islam that believes in one God and Hinduism that teaches there are thousands of gods and Buddhism that teaches there is no God. Hitchens writes like a Westerner in Vietnam in which there are fifty four ethnic groups discussing the (one) culture of Vietnam. He treats the different belief systems as if they are all the same. Without defining ones subject, your investigation is doomed.
Secondly, a study showing how religion harms society needs to make a comparison with non-religious beliefs and their impact on society. For his claims to mean anything, he needs to show by comparison that non-religious societies do not cause the same degree of human rights abuses. Before the 20th century, virtually every society was religious. So, we will look at the 20th century. R.J. Rummel writes about the human rights records of non-religious regimes in the 20th century. In his work Lethal Politics and Death by Government, he shows us that approximately 112 million were killed by non-religious dictators in the 20th century alone. (not to mention torture, imprisonment, etc.) Was Hitchens (a journalist for years) not aware of the abysmal human rights record of these regimes? An honest comparison would have totally undermined his thesis. Is that why he did not make the comparison?
Thirdly, Hitchens does not isolate the variables. He points to human rights violations by past societies and does not differentiate between violations caused by cultural values and religious values. For example, in the middle ages, European monarchs tried to suppress all non-christian beliefs (Jews, witches, etc.) Was that a function of their culture or was that a result of Christian teaching? The cultural norm in those days was for rulers to promote a unified religion in their kingdoms and to get the support of the dominant religion to enforce this. Hitchens does not even seem aware of this widespread norm, let alone investigate to see if this suppression was a part of Christian doctrine or a part of the culture. If he expects to be taken seriously, he needs to isolate the behaviours caused by the religions and those caused by cultural values.
Neither does he isolate variables when he discusses killing and wars. He gives many examples of religious people killing and fighting, but he does not investigate whether the killing is due to the religion or humans’ violent nature. Yes, humans will fight and kill because of their religious beliefs, but humans will fight for anything they believe in. They will fight for communism or democracy. They will fight for their family and land and power. He needs to ask, “Is this fighting because of democracy or family or religion, or is it because of human nature? He needs to isolate the real cause.
If Hitchens wanted to do a serious investigation, he would have checked out what percentage of wars were caused by religion. Phillip and Axelrod’s Encyclopedia of War chronicles 1763 wars throughout history. 123 have been religious in nature. That is just under 7%. Hitchens seems to equate correlation with causation. He has failed to isolate and identify the real cause.
Because of the high recommendation, I had expected at least some degree of scholarly rigour, but it seems that Hitchens’ hatred of religion has led him to violate the most basic rules of investigation. Those who already agree with him will undoubtedly love what he has to say, but those expecting a scholarly investigation will find ‘god is not great’ a serious disappointment.
Please do answer the question below this review if "this was helpful or not" If this did in fact help you, Thanks so much!
Though this book argues many points, I feel it is only focused on a few points of why religion itself is a horrid collection of lies. It focuses mostly on historical religious events and how they influenced society then and now.
If you wish to read more scientific, or philosophical literature on the same subject, check out books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.
Top international reviews
Hence the 3 *'s
I understand that religion has been used to do a lot of harm and wrong. But I am also fully aware that the issue doesn't stop at religion, it goes deeper than that, into the hearts and minds of the people who use religion to share the toxic ideas and beliefs that they hold.
Religion can be used. As can politics, science, education and poverty. We can use the tools at our disposal to impact and elevate our ideas and the things we believe holds the most value. For good as well as for bad. We can all do this within our own lives - we do it every day.
Trying to push all religious beliefs into the same box, gaffer taping it up and labelling it as poison undermines the whole of society. I understand that some religious teachings and scriptures have moral questions that we SHOULD be talking about today - so let's talk!
Whether Mr Hitchens wants to admit it or not, we live in a society (in the West at least) that has formed from a religious belief structure. Religious ideas led to the enlightenment and to science holding the position within society that it does today. We need to recognise that this is a journey, like a tree spreading out its branches. Rather than a level in a platform game, that we complete, reach the next level and then forget about the path that took us here.
If we begin to remove religion from our societies, then we saw away at the very branch that brought us to the place where we can honestly critique religion in the first place.
I am all for honest conversation - but we need to survey both lines of the battlefield and acknowledge the good religion has done as well.
Example? During the first 100 years after Christianity split from Jewdeism, we see small Christian groups within the societies it had spread to beginning to attribute value to the lowliest peoples within those societies. Salves, women, children, people with disabilities - Christians begin to see an intrinsic worth within all people, that the societies they lived in never saw, rather dismissing them without a second glance.
We take that idea of worth for granted now, but it wasn't always the case. Christianity changed the Greco-Roman world, and I think it is still doing so today.
This book has opened my mind. The author is right in much of what he says in this book, Religion for a very long time has become a charter for war and human suffering, unfortunately its disciples are now deadly and some even incredibly deluded.
The majority of the book was not new to me but I loved the injected wit and I actually found some of the arguements actually entertaining.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, if you have an open mind and enjoy reading well written, fact-based, relevant nonfiction, then I would say that you will enjoy reading this book.
The deeply religious amoung us, may find certain parts of the book upsetting as fundamental beliefs are challenged with factual, cited information.
I tend to look at the one star reviews before purchasing most things on Amazon, but this time it’s clear that many of the poor reviews were written by people who hadn’t read the book all the way through.
We’ve all heard the phrase “preaching to the converted” and it’s true that this book won’t turn a religious person into an atheist. It’s more likely to just annoy them.
I began to have doubts about religion around the age of five or six, realising on my own that the Church of England was spouting a load of rubbish. What I hadn’t realised until recently was the number of people who also came to this conclusion.
This book has educated me further in the historical aspects of religion. I’d long thought that it was a method of controlling the mindless populace, I just didn’t realise how evil and cruel this control has been.
As to the comments about the title “god is not great” is obviously a play on the phrase “allahu akba” but this has gone right over the heads of some reviewers.
Honestly, read the one star reviews. Written by people who didn’t read the book “, or think themselves more knowledgeable than the author. If they can do better why aren’t their books available on Amazon?...
Whatever else your view of religion is, this book WILL have you thinking long after the last page is turned. And I'm sure that's exactly what Hitch intended.
The chapter on atrocities done by secular regimes was the least convincing. Hitller and Stalin did not need religions to carry out their murders, and although they certainly had some implicit or explicit support most leaders were too scared to offer much resistance - especially if reprisals meant others were targeted.
Overall, it is an absorbing read, even though the book will convince nobody who isn’t firmly in the sceptical camp. As Christopher points out, we need a new Age of Enlightenment but alas, for hundreds of millions of people this is a long way off.
I was really looking forward to reading this having heard him talk on a podcast and couldn't wait to digest his views further. However, the way in which the book is written is almost incomprehensible, I found myself reading passages and pages over and over again to try and understand what his point was. He's clearly an intellectual person, however it seems as though he's written it for his peers rather than the masses using language I can only liken to legalese. From what I read he doesn't seem to have his own voice or opinions, everything he says is quoting or paraphrasing other people's opinions or thoughts which to me makes him comes across as very wishy-washy and lacking a spine.
Back to what stands to reason, then. What surely stands to reason is that religious faith does not take its stand on reason. Nor is that any matter of fine shades of interpretation. ‘Beliefs’ that men (and women) will kill or die for are self-commending. Indeed, so strong is their persuasive power in some quarters that they can be required as a matter of religious law. Hitchens’ text does not delve deeply into the question ‘What is this thing called faith anyhow?’ To me for one the truth seems to be that only our actions can be subject to someone’s commands, or even to our own decisions; and holding a belief is not an action, it is a state of affairs, like having a headache.
Continuing our lesson in truisms, people who think thoughts like these had better be careful how, when, where and in whose presence they give expression to them. Hitchens presents this matter vividly, calling on such mighty figures as David Hume in his support. Hume ca’ed canny and did not provoke dangerous reactions. So why did he need to? What is it about religious doctrines that they exert such control? Ordinary reason subverts them, and I wonder what exercises there are in the application of thought via Housman-style textual criticism of the texts that underlie them. Not, I suppose, that such instances as the miracles that abound require any Housman to refute them. Any one of us can do that, provided we want to.
One very deep and thoughtful book that may be found of help in this connection is one that I was surprised not to find cited by Hitchens. The book is In the Shadow of Mount Sinai, and it is by Peter Sloterdijk. As the title suggests, Sloterdijk restricts himself to the Abrahamic religions. So does Hitchens for the most part, although he determinedly expands into Asiatic religions for a shortish stretch of the book. What Sloterdijk studies is the need for authority, either personal leadership or abstract authority (often focused on some idol or other) that cultures and ‘nations’ experienced in their cultural development. Naturally this was no matter of the likes of Hume, Dawkins or any of those, it was a matter of an underlying need. I have no learning or expertise in such matters, but at a superficial ‘helicopter’ level this makes sense to me in attempting to account for the religious focus on the irrational and the power it exerts.
So what does one suppose Hitchens is trying to achieve with this book? He is a brilliant journalist and a brilliant writer, and his book is a pleasure to read, at least when the reader is receptive to the author’s cast of mind and personal values. I had the impression that he saw himself as a soldier of rationality fighting the good fight for reason against what he perceives as superstition, indeed often as plain old nonsense. He recognises that the fight has been going on for a while, and he cites Lucretius in the first century BC. I had never before thought of Lucretius as witty, but our author here is no doubt more perceptive than I am. One phrase often used by Lucretius is ‘patrii sermonis egestas’ – ‘the poverty of my native language’ – to complain about how difficult the doctrines of Epicurus were to represent in Latin. For the student that usually flagged a warning that we were in for a hard bit too. More accessible, and closer to our own era, is Arthur C Clarke’s short but awesome novel Childhood’s End. In this mighty story one aspect of the Overlords’ utopia is that they gave humanity extensive glimpses of humanity’s own history that humanity’s own resources had denied them. And as this unfolded, Clarke remarks laconically that religions which had bolstered mankind for centuries now dissolved in the face of proper knowledge. Hitchens was no Karellen, but he makes a worthy and strenuous effort of his own to help us understand.
If you are genuinely seeking understanding of how theology is evolving in a positive way, alongside science, forget this author!
While Mr Hitchens raises some excellent points in his book, supported by historical evidence (both recent and ancient) and rational argument, he does tend to allow himself to rant while making his points. For example, referring to people who defend religion as "feebleminded", "bigoted", "deceitful" and so on tends to make him sound prejudiced rather than enlightened.
I am sure that there are many examples that support each of these accusations, but that does not detract from the rather spoiling effect upon what should have been a deconstruction of the fallacious statement "look at all the good religion has done".