Enough is Enough

When is Humanity Going to Get That We’re All in This Together?

God is Not Great: Excellent Excerpt at Slate

Posted by honestpoet on April 27, 2007

Here’s one of three excerpts from Christopher Hitchens’s book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I haven’t read the other two yet, but this was so good I had to post it here.

A little bit to whet your appetite:

While some religious apology is magnificent in its limited way—one might cite Pascal—and some of it is dreary and absurd—here one cannot avoid naming C. S. Lewis—both styles have something in common, namely the appalling load of strain that they have to bear. How much effort it takes to affirm the incredible! The Aztecs had to tear open a human chest cavity every day just to make sure that the sun would rise. Monotheists are supposed to pester their deity more times than that, perhaps, lest he be deaf. How much vanity must be concealed—not too effectively at that—in order to pretend that one is the personal object of a divine plan? How much self-respect must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in an awareness of one’s own sin? How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required, to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to “fit” with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities? How many saints and miracles and councils and conclaves are required in order first to be able to establish a dogma and then—after infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty—to be forced to rescind one of those dogmas? God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization.

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18 Responses to “God is Not Great: Excellent Excerpt at Slate”

  1. whig said

    Christopher Hitchens is a warmonger. When he blames others for starting wars, he is drunk.

  2. honestpoet said

    What’s the basis for that statement?

  3. whig said

    On drink: “A team at the Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Ageing reports that a natural substance found in red wine, known as resveratrol, can reduce obesity and extend the life span. I thought I already knew about this elixir and was thinking of keeping the secret to myself.”

    Hat-tip.

    Do you need me to prove to you that he is a warmonger?

  4. whig said

    By the way, it’s actually a very interesting report and it would be equally true for him to accuse me of being regularly stoned, with similarly beneficial consequences to health being observed.

  5. honestpoet said

    Well, exactly. I drink too, but that hardly disproves my statements. They’re either false or true, on their own merit.

    And yes, I do expect you to prove he’s a warmonger, if you’re going to make such an accusation.

  6. whig said

    The statements are true, on their own merit.

    A war to be proud of — which you could have found very easily with Google, as it is the very first result searching on the terms christopher hitchens war.

    You are so eager to grasp anything that opposes Christianity you would join with the enemies of humanity.

  7. Miche said

    From an interview with the author you cited:

    As to the “Left” I’ll say briefly why this was the finish for me. Here is American society, attacked under open skies in broad daylight by the most reactionary and vicious force in the contemporary world, a force which treats Afghans and Algerians and Egyptians far worse than it has yet been able to treat us. The vaunted CIA and FBI are asleep, at best. The working-class heroes move, without orders and at risk to their lives, to fill the moral and political vacuum. The moral idiots, meanwhile, like Falwell and Robertson and Rabbi Lapin, announce that this clerical aggression is a punishment for our secularism. And the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, hitherto considered allies on our “national security” calculus, prove to be the most friendly to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

    Here was a time for the Left to demand a top-to-bottom house-cleaning of the state and of our covert alliances, a full inquiry into the origins of the defeat, and a resolute declaration in favor of a fight to the end for secular and humanist values: a fight which would make friends of the democratic and secular forces in the Muslim world.

    I think that he is perhaps onto the right thing but is supporting the wrong method. Any sort of militant religious group which seeks to limit the freedom of non-believers is wrong and it doesn’t matter what they call god. I think he is right about the covert alliances, but disagree that war (with Iraq) was the proper solution.

    Evidently he is a new Neo-Con; perhaps he is still figuring out his brand of that thing. FSM help us all when lefties and righties start changing position in a moment of panic.

  8. Miche said

    FTR, I’m almost always drunk when I am writing.

  9. Monte said

    Here’s an interesting contrast: Desmond Tutu: The Fire That Warms.

  10. Monte said

    Hello HP:
    I found this paragraph a little surprising and, to be honest, something of a disappointment. I had hoped for more from such a renowned source.

    Hitchins argues that religion is suspect because its efforts at coherent cosmology are belabored. But is it not equally true of, say, physics – or every cosmological view one has ever read? Ultimately, he ends up at the mother of all anti-religious credos: religious people do bad things.

    Certainly those who follow in the historical footsteps of my own faith have reason to live apologetically toward a world our colleagues have so often wounded. Terrible though those wounds will ever be, they aren’t the whole story.

    In every county in America tonight, poor people have been fed and housed by religious people. On the Gulf Coast, thousands of groups from churches – very likely millions of volunteers, a great number of them religious – have hauled and fed and built and cried for the sorrows of strangers. Others have worked for the Red Cross (or Crescent, in some lands). Non-white people share public facilities with expectation of equal access, largely because of the impact of the heroes of the black church. And across distance and time, there was a Bartolomeo Las Casas to rise in opposition to the greed of Columbus and champion the cause of the humanity of native peoples before the King of Spain. Or there is the story told in Tom Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, about the gathering of books and learning by Irish monks after the fall of Rome, and the return of literacy to Europe. There is Desmond Tutu, creating truth and reconciliation in South Africa against utterly impossible odds. There is Sojourner Truth, Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa.

    Does religion poison everything? Hardly. Religion is egalitarian: fools are as welcome to it as geniuses. And as in all of life, sometimes fools abuse that which is precious and good.

    I think it is more zealous than reasonable for Hitchins to suggest that such lunacy proves religion to be its source, rather than its means. For examples abound to the contrary.

    Sincere goodwill,
    Monte

  11. honestpoet said

    Whig, he’s hardly a warmonger. To say that some war is defensible is not the same thing as saying that war is something to be pursued at the drop of a hat, or for simple economic interest.

    The truth is that during the build up to the Iraq war I opposed it myself, until I heard stories from credible colleagues of my husband who had witnessed Hussein’s atrocities first hand (they sought asylum here after seeing their relatives put through giant paper shredders feet first and turned into fish-food). Even then I didn’t support it, but I did say publicly that I could no longer oppose it in good conscience (for which I caught a fair bit of flack and lost a few friends).

    Monte, what you say about some religious people being and doing good is completely true, but I don’t see in the paragraph I quoted above any falling back on the argument that religious people do bad things (which is, as you say, facile and specious, since non-religious people do bad things, too). Just that religious people believe ridiculous things, which I still believe is true. Physics may demand some mental calisthenics, but not the contortions that are required for theism. (That said, I hold you, Monte, in the utmost regard…there are worse things, in my book, than holding a belief I find ridiculous, esp. since you allow it to influence you so beautifully; and I thank you for your sincere goodwill.)

    Whether the man is a neo-con or not, I don’t know, and I don’t really care. It’s the words above I endorsed, not everything he’s ever thought or written.

  12. whig said

    The truth is that during the build up to the Iraq war I opposed it myself, until I heard stories from credible colleagues of my husband who had witnessed Hussein’s atrocities first hand (they sought asylum here after seeing their relatives put through giant paper shredders feet first and turned into fish-food).

    You denounce religion as fairy tales, and present this unsubstantiated nonsense. I suppose you believe the Iraqis threw the Kuwaiti babies out of incubators too, back before the first gulf war.

    You are lied to. You are deceived. You are made to believe nonsense. And you denounce religion?

  13. honestpoet said

    You are deceived if you think S.H. didn’t consider Hitler and Stalin excellent role models.

    Did you ever think that the truth might be more complicated than you have heretofore believed? That there might have been good reasons for going to war, but that the administration, bumblers as they are, didn’t give the right ones?

    Whig, I have to admit that I am tired of talking to you.

    And yes, I denounce religion as superstition that is holding us back from seeing ourselves as one species among many, culpable of great evil and capable of great good.

    I do not, actually, believe that there couldn’t exist a philosophy to unite us and incite us to excellence, to compassion and filial love. But it’s secular humanism, not any religion that’s been practiced to date.

  14. honestpoet said

    PS — Whig, if this is all you have to offer, please go away. I don’t have the energy for pointless argument.

  15. whig said

    Yes, I will go. I no longer believe you are honest.

  16. honestpoet said

    You are certainly entitled to your beliefs. Best wishes to you.

  17. Monte said

    Hi friend, hope you are well – came across this intriguing thought today:
    “While there is little evidence that human nature has changed for the better over the past two millennia, a few historical events, like Britain’s abolition of its extremely profitable slave trade, suggest that human history has also been something more than an endless contest of greed and power.” – David Brion Davis, a Yale University historian, in a column by Michael Gerson. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the end of the British slave trade, which Gerson calls “history’s strongest counterexample” to the claim that religion in public life only spawns hatred and extremism. (Source: The Washington Post)
    And, by the way, thanks for your kind words. The high regard is mutual, as is my respect for the way, regarding atheism, “you allow it to influence you so beautifully.” I do believe you are honest.

  18. honestpoet said

    Bless you, Monte. I love you, you know.

    I do know that we’re getting better as a species, however much individual acts of cruelty make it feel otherwise (my husband reminds me of this when I fall into despair). I also feel, though, that we’re at a crossroads, some sort of tipping point, that could determine whether we slide back into another century of global conflict, or a century (or more) of peaceful strides forward, when we realize the unity of humanity and strive to elevate all our neighbors.

    Love is the cure. Whatever the source of love is, I don’t know. If it exists outside of time and can be called by some name, I’m not sure (I rather doubt it), but if so, I don’t think it’s got the kind of personality that cares to be worshiped or praised.

    I absolutely KNOW it wouldn’t want us killing each other.

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