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GOD IS NOT GREAT BY CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: The Stop Smiling Review

The Stop Smiling Review

Left / God Is Not Great
Right / Photograph by WARREN DARIUS AFTAHI

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Monday, June 11, 2007

By A S H Smyth

God Is Not Great
By Christopher Hitchens
(Twelve Books)

“Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago. … Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important.”

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For several years now, the fight against religion has been gathering pace. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennett — all have contributed their considerable and diverse talents to the struggle against the last vestiges of the dark ages. And now, with his inimitably robust prose and unapologetic common sense, Christopher Hitchens has joined them in the front line.

At root, Hitchens says, “There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith”: It is scientifically insupportable; it encourages both servility and selfishness; it springs from and causes “dangerous sexual repression” (leading to violence); and it is the product of “wish-thinking.”

Or, as Will Self once wrote, “That's what religion is for, so that any old nasty, brutal patriarchal system can be cooked up and justified on behalf of a lot of men with little cocks and big sticks.”

But, theoretical validity aside, it’s the consequences of religion which really trouble Hitchens — its impact on the real world. Religion makes people behave worse, not better (Buddhism included). As Isaac would have attested, religion is bad for the health, physically or mentally, privately or publicly (consider AIDS prevention). Religion is the cause — and the aymptom — of second-rate thinking. Religion deludes us with the impression of a grand design: “There, but for the grace of God, go I” actually means, “God’s plan just put some other poor bastard in the fire instead of me.”

Though much of this ground has been covered before, Hitchens does not hesitate to explore some of the more absurd areas of religious faith, as found in the good books. The New (and ostensibly friendlier) Testament, he explains, has been used as a warrant for just as much death and destruction as the Old. The Koran — though dictated straight to Mohammed — contains plentiful borrowings from Judaism and Christianity. And my favorite: “A Short Digression on the Pig; or Why Heaven Hates Ham.”

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