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8 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very one sided, Jan. 2 2009
This review is from: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Paperback)
I was given this book for my birthday and the first time I read it I had trouble finishing it because I didn't like the polemics. Since then I have read it a couple more times, and my first reaction to this book has not changed my opinion of it. I will not argue about the unpleasant activities which he ascribes to various religions, but I have difficulty agreeing that nothing good has come from the development of religion through the ages.

My studies of various civilizations from the earliest of ancient times to modern times has led me to the conclusion that religion has usually been used as a tool by secular leaders (and sometimes truly religious leaders) to retain their control over their subject populations - but that doesn't always mean that the results have always been bad, which is the basic theme of this book.

I believe that the current religious turmoil in the Middle East is basically about power, where beliefs are being used as a tool to downgrade certain sectors of the population to make them conform to past and often unjust cultural values. Ensuring that the followers remain ignorant about the history of the religion is one of the ways to make them conform, and this has been a common practice which has been adopted by many leaders of religious institutions in past centuries and seems to continue to this day.

That said, however, it seems that religious institutions operate in a way which is very similar to political and business institutions, and that one of their primary concerns is to ensure the survival of that institution. In other words the policies are usually designed to meet that end and that the means to achieve that end are secondary. So I think the turmoil is caused as much with the religious institutions themselves as it is with the spokesmen (and they are usually men) and their followers. At the moment, there seems to be a polarisation occurring throughout the world - which is as much a tension between following the old ways rather than the new ones, as it is about which doctrine is right and which one is not right.

That the use of religion by "so-called" believers in their own faith has been used to justify indescribable cruelties in the name of that faith is absolutely undeniable, and in this respect I have no difficulty in accepting the facts which the author presents in this book. But he seems to concentrate on the various rulers and leaders who have perpetrated these horrific misdeeds - which in today's terminology are termed "crimes against humanity". Does this mean that religions have not produced any good, thoughtful, and moral leaders?

I believe that history does demonstrate the observation that religion - of whatever kind and in whatever area of the world - has had some positive effect on raising our standards of behaviour, so that the world is becoming more civilised. And history can also demonstrate that it has inspired many devout and humane individuals who do good works every day consistent in the true and honest belief in their faith.

I am sure that the late Christopher Hitchens, being the kind of person he was, must have thought about this issue, and I am sorry that he did not address the "good parts" of religious activity in this book. The fact this book is so one sided, is the reason why I will not give it more than 3 stars.
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Location: Sutton, Quebec

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