[2008-12-19] “God Is Not Great”

“God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens might well become the little red book of modern antitheism. The roughly 350 pages in this book are an erudite exposition of its subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything”. The book seeks to show that it would do modern society a lot of good to get rid of religion. If you are an atheist, you will find a lot of reaffirming material in this book. If you are religious, this book might rekindle some of the suppressed incredulity you probably felt when you were first introduced to your particular dogma.

While Bertrand Russell's cogent essay “Why I am Not a Christian” is a gentle introduction to atheism, this book is an out-and-out attack on the evil effects of religion on society. The description in the first couple of chapters of the terrible torture and killing of the non-believers by the religious, over the millennia and across the world, is quite chilling. The description in these chapters of the genital mutiliation of hapless infants and children in the name of religion and the sexual abuse of children by some of the clergy will evoke revulsion in many a person. The remaining chapters in the book systematically take apart some of the arguments advanced in support of theism and against atheism.

The author focusses most of his attention on the major monotheistic religions originating from the Middle East - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Major oriental religions like Buddhism, and most notably Hinduism, receive much less attention. While the author spends some time criticising the basic tenets of these religions, most of the derision is reserved for the atrocities committed in the name of these religions by their respective followers. Human progress has been set back innumerable times because of the suppression of scientific and philosophical ideas deemed antithetical to religious dogma.

If you have not read the first five books of the Old Testament forming the Pentateuch, some of the passages in this book might not be clear. If you have read these books and were disgusted by a god who comes across as rather petty, demanding and barbaric, you will find yourself in agreement with the thrust of these passages. If you were dismissive of the ravings in the Book of Revelation, you will find an empathetic voice in this book. In general though, having read the Bible is not a pre-requisite for understanding the message in this book.

It surely takes a lot of courage to write and publish such a book. Some of the material in this book will attract the ire of religious fanatics who will then want to harm the author. Despite the dangers, we have been seeing an increasing number of such books published in recent times, some of which (most notably this one) have become best-sellers. We can probably surmise that more and more people are willing to be sceptical of religion and its need in modern society. This can only augur well for the future of mankind.

Other Posts from 2008