Hitchens: How Religion Poisons Everything

This was my first Christopher Hitchens reading, so it took a few pages to get adjusted to his style of prose.

god-is-not-great

It is interesting to compare God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006). Hitchens’ style is far more direct. Here is cool chart that I linked to in my previous post (click to expand):

intp-intj-dawkins-hitchens

While Dawkins constantly hedges his arguments and states the caveats, Hitchens explicitly makes clear his disapproval and wastes no time in getting there. The following excerpt is from as early as page 6.  Pardon the lengthy quotes, but Hitchens writes in long form:

There is no need for us to gather every day, or every seven days, or on any high and auspicious day, to proclaim our rectitude or to grovel and wallow in our unworthiness. We atheists do not require any priests, or any hierarchy above them, to police our doctrine. Sacrifices and ceremonies are abhorrent to us, as are relics and the worship of any images or objects (even including objects in the form of one of man’s most useful innovations: the bound book). To us no spot on earth is or could be “holier” than another: to the ostentatious absurdity of the pilgrimage, or the plain horror of killing civilians in the name of some sacred wall or cave or shrine or rock, we can counterpose a leisurely or urgent walk from one side of the library or the gallery to another, or to lunch with an agreeable friend, in pursuit of truth or beauty…. We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday, sometimes ratcheted up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness.

Hitchens is also wanting to provide large amounts of detail to counter even simple claims. Whereas Dawkins, whose arguments are mostly logical, appeals to the logos, Hitchens appeals to the pathos. Whereas Dawkins attacks the biological improbability of the virgin birth, Hitchens ridicules it by comparing it to other instances of it in other cultures. Dawkins says it was more or less impossible, while Hitchens says if it did happen, then it was not very impressive:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise. When his mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Yes, and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danaë as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis. The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Isis. Mercury was born of the virgin Maia. Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia. For some reason, many religions force themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street, and even the Koran treats the Virgin Mary with reverence. However, this made no difference during the Crusades, when a papal army set out to recapture Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the Muslims, incidentally destroying many Jewish communities and sacking heretical Christian Byzantium along the way, and inflicted a massacre in the narrow streets of Jerusalem, where, according to the hysterical and gleeful chroniclers, the spilled blood reached up to the bridles of the horses. (22)

He is not afraid to call aspects of religion outright stupid.

The other man-made stupidities and cruelties of the religious are easy to detect as well…. Nothing proves the man-made character of religion as obviously as the sick mind that designed hell, unless it is the sorely limited mind that has failed to describe heaven—except as a place of either worldly comfort, eternal tedium, or (as Tertullian thought) continual relish in the torture of others. (218)

And on the “issue” of contraception:

Every single step toward the clarification of this argument has been opposed root and branch by the clergy. The attempt even to educate people in the possibility of “family planning” was anathematized from the first, and its early advocates and teachers were arrested (like John Stuart Mill) or put in jail or thrown out of their jobs. Only a few years ago, Mother Teresa denounced contraception as the moral equivalent of abortion, which “logically” meant (since she regarded abortion as murder) that a sheath or a pill was a murder weapon also. She was a little more fanatical even than her church, but here again we can see that the strenuous and dogmatic is the moral enemy of the good. It demands that we believe the impossible, and practice the unfeasible. The whole case for extending protection to the unborn, and to expressing a bias in favor of life, has been wrecked by those who use unborn children, as well as born ones, as mere manipulable objects of their doctrine.

The main takeaway point of this book is similar in spirit to that of Dawkins’ book. Dawkins argues that religion does not deserve special treatment and that the belief in gods is logically absurd, while Hitchens takes the taboo part of religion for granted and attacks the social consequences of it. Their books overlap in that they both view religion as a negative, but they are otherwise two totally separate books that complement each other well.

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