32. God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens

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32. God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens

Post  jrpstonecarver on Sat Nov 07, 2009 10:34 pm

One of the things about reading a lot is that I am constantly having my nose rubbed in how little I know and how small my life experiences actually are when compared with others. Reading just about anything by Hitchens can cause that sort of feeling, and this book drove it home for me.

With the subtitle "How Religion Poisons Everything", the subject is pretty obvious, and Hitchens doesn't hold back. His command of the language and literature are quite good, and he drives his points home completely. He spares no religious tradition of any sort.

There are three different reactions I had to reading this book, and keeping them separate in my mind is interesting:

1) Religion and its problems. This is, of course, the thing Hitchens is really after, and despite being essentially a life long atheist I learned a few things in here. For example, if you wanted the services of a prostitute in Iran you can do so *within* Islam. The Iranian brothels have the ability to marry you to the woman in question for an hour, and divorce you when you're done, thus making the transaction legal in the eyes of god. Seems a pretty petty and small minded god if that's all it takes to make prostitution legal in a theocracy, but then again, Islam tends to treat women pretty poorly anyway.

And don't think Christianity or Judaism get any better treatment here. Hitchens is well read and can open your eyes to the horrific things the founding texts contain, as well as the actions and beliefs of the more ardent current believers. Hitchens really dislikes Mother Teresa, and has all kinds of arguments on that front. Amusingly (to me) has has significant problems with the Dalai Llama too, and once again has the relevant knowledge to back up his vitriol.

I appreciate what Hitchens has to say here, and I agree with most if not all of what I read. There are so many awful things done in the name of religion, even now, that I wish it could all just be stopped. Sadly, however, I don't think most of the human race is anywhere near giving up its love of mystery and it's willingness to be lead by someone charismatic, regardless of how silly that leader's claims may be.

2) All that praise aside, I did have a problem with the book to some degree. It seems to wander a bit. Chapters that supposedly focus on one thing or area seem to meander into other areas without good reason. I found this a bit distracting at times. I can't tell if the book was rushed to print - without an editor suggesting ways to tighten up and/or reorganize to make it more effective. Alternately it might have been written over a very long time, where the focus of the author (and possible editors) gets lost in the long haul to get it out. Or maybe I'm entirely wrong and every word is exactly as Hitchens intended. Regardless, I found some of it a bit perturbing on an organizational level, and would have appreciated a slightly tighter presentation.

3) Finally, there;s the issue Hitchens's life experience. This is what I alluded to before. My own experiences and travel are nothing in comparison with those of Hitchens, and it's humbling to be shown how some have lived a broad and expanding life well beyond that of the rest of us. Hitchens has spent time in many foreign countries, in the presence of many dignitaries of various kinds, and generally lived in ways that the vast majority of us cannot imagine. I found it humbling in some ways and yet slightly irritating in others.

At times Hitchens's experiences back up his statements nicely, driving his arguments to conclusions readily. At other times, though they seem a tad peripheral, and it might have been better to present things without reference to all of those places and people.

In any case, I learned things from this book - some of them very disturbing - and I appreciate the fact that it was written. Hopefully it opens a few other eyes in the world.

Recommended.
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jrpstonecarver
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