Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Religions are not great

G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy that it was not the arguments form Christians that convinced him of Christianity, but it was the arguments from atheists that made him convert. In the last chapter of that book he eloquently points out the contractions in the atheist arguments of his day. Likewise in Hitchens book God is not Great, there were a few points that I just could not reconcile. Below are just a few issues that easily jump out at me which can be summed up in a sentence or two.

Hitchens would love it if religion would just leave him alone (Chapter 1), but one of the problems of the Catholic church was that it did nothing when Hitler was in power (Chapter 17).

At least twice he reminds us that humans are just animals (Chapter 1 and 14) but it was out of ignorance and fear that Maimonides describe the Turkish as having "the nature of mute animals" (Chapter 5). It was also deplorable when Abraham was going to treat his only child like an animal (Chapter 15).

Hitchens laments the fact that some religions are against the pig because they do not kill and eat them, even though they are a quite intelligent and are "one of our fairly close cousins" (Chapter 3).

The conflict in Darfur between the Arab Muslims and the African Muslims, as well as the Rwandan genocide between the Tustsi and the Hutu only proves that religion is violent (Chapter 13). The fact that these conflicts are motivated by racial and not theological issues is lost on Hitchens, even though he states that each side theologically agree.

Chapter 17 is about how there is a connection between the Christian church and fascism as well as National Socialism, but in the same chapter it was admitted that Lenin and Trotsky were "certainly convinced atheists" who tried to destroy religion by national policy.

People who hold to a religion are threatening and morally suspect (Chapter 2) unless they are fundamentalist Christian anti-Communists in North Korea, Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Niemoller - to name the people who are religious that Hitchens agrees with in just one chapter (Chapter 17).

Hitchens points out that "To say that something is “man-made” is not always to say that it is stupid." (Chapter 8) only to argue extensively that religion is stupid because it is man-made, forgetting that atheism is not transcendent.

So in brief, some things I learnt from this book was: the problem with religion is that it interferes with peoples lives, except if you lived in Germany in the 1940's when religion didn't and should have. It is bad when religion considers people to be like animals even though we are. Religion is wrong because it saves the pigs life, when really we should be eating them, even though they are our cousins. Religion is the cause of wars, even when both sides share the same religion and when the issues are of race. Religion is responsible for fascism and socialism, except when it was the convicted atheists. Likewise religious people are bad, except when they aren't. Religion is wrong because it is a product of man's mind, but non-belief is correct because it appeals to man's reasoning.

Now to be fair, (as the above is really simplistic and biased - did I really have to point that out?), I can understand where Hitchens is coming from. In his time he has sampled a host of different cultures and countries. He has see a multitude of religions and interacted with many of them and has seen the conflict that they can cause, or are reported to have caused leading him to conclude that all religions are bad and that they poison everything. But the breath of his different experiences also shows the lack of depths he has had with any of them - and that is the problem with his argument against "religion" in general. Most of the book is against religion and not God, leading me to think the real title of the book should have been the title of this review, but that may come across less offensive and less surprising (especially to the Christian), so it may have sold less copies.

Religions are different, and even within them there is a spectrum of thinking and personalities. If Hitchens wasn't pointing a general finger at "religion", and writing against all his specifics in context, then I think this book wouldn't have caused as much of a stir. I agree with a lot of what Hitchens says (when he isn't over generalising), even in regards to the conduct of people on my own team, but I agree with him based on the convictions from my own team. No one likes a contradiction.

Related links
Astonishing New Additions in the Bible - This was a little bit more in depth look at Hitchens take on the New Testament, leaning on things Bart Ehrman have said.
Which God & what about Jesus? - Some initial thoughts I had on the opening few chapters of this book


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