god is Not Great; Hitchens’ claim
In 2007, British writer Christopher Hitchens published one of the most provocative books of its time. god is Not Great gives us a closer look into Hitchens’ personal beliefs regarding religion; he tries to explain to us “How religion poisons everything”. The title page in itself already makes readers’ blood boil; it features the word ‘god’ in extremely small text at the top, not capitalized, and claims that religion ruins everything.
Clearly, this was done on purpose and it only seems appropriate for someone writing a book about how religion is essentially destroying our culture from the inside out. Saying that religion ruins everything is extremely bold, and one might think that maybe this was his strategy to intrigue people into opening it up; how in the world would this man go about defending such an absolute statement? The real question is whether or not Hitchens’ approach to this topic is too aggressive, and whether or not he uses effective language to convey his ideas. There are many reviews on his books that are not positive, which he had to have expected considering he attacked something many people hold close to them. It’s unfair to criticize Hitchens based off of his viewpoints, which many religious critics do, but rather the actual words, and the way he arranges them — that is fair criticism. No matter what side of the fence you are on, regarding the debate on religion, one can judge his approach as unique. Very few authors are as direct when it comes to touchy subjects for fear of offending people, but Hitchens throws all of that out the door and just gets straight to the point.
“Hitchens is an old- fashioned village atheist, standing in the square trying to pick arguments with the good citizens on their way to church” (Kinsley). This quotation refers to the way that Hitchens calls into question all of the contradictions that are surrounding religion. While most people just brush off the discontinuity errors of the religion they subscribe to, Christopher Hitchens brings them up because he believes they’re worth talking about. While he may seem annoying to the people who just accept their beliefs and pin faith as their proof, maybe he believes it is necessary to open their eyes a bit. “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence” (Hitchens, 150). This holds true for nearly every serious field of study today: the scientific method, criminal law, etc. Proof is something that the person making the claim is burdened with, and without that proof, why should anyone believe anything? You can tell how much evidence mean to Hitchens when making a claim, as it should to everyone, and coming from such a pious background lack of proof is what drove him the craziest. He is surprisingly more educated on the topic of religion than many of the people who follow it, “like an ex-smoker who grows to loathe the habit more than those who have not tasted nicotine” (Riddell).
While some may find it is irritating that he brings up all the gaps in the story of religion, seemingly spackled over by the idea of faith, I think that it is completely appropriate to bring up those exact moments. After all, it is a pretty important part in the argument that Hitchens is trying to create, and saying that it is bothersome and cheap of him is just lazy criticism. It’s those same critics who are too lazy to find evidence supporting their claims. Similarly, Hitchens talks about the extremists in major religions and the consequences that they have for society. Yes, we’ve all seen the recent ISIS attacks and bombings that happen in major cities around our country, and yes, we know that not everyone that practices religion plans on murdering a mass of people in a fiery blaze of glory in the name of said religion. “Throughout this book, he focuses on the most fanatical, most radical, most bizarre and destructive splinters of every faith he examines and extrapolates that splinter backward to characterize that whole branch of faith” (Bragg). While I do completely agree that it is inappropriate to generalize any whole group under a precise circumstance, I don’t think that Hitchens was in the wrong for bringing up such events. These events are absolutely worth noting, because it calls into play the idea that: religion is used by bad people to commit horrible acts with impunity.
At the end of page 32, where Hitchens talks about the attack on the world trade center on September 11, 2001, he does something that I found incredibly interesting and incredibly provocative. After the attacks there was a memorial sermon held in the National Cathedral in Washington, conducted by Billy Graham (a now famous evangelist). In his sermon he said “all of the dead were now in paradise and would not return to us even if they could.” Now, to many people this seems totally normal, as we know religion was mainly devised to explain what happens after we die, and to ease some of the fear of the unknown that is death. This is clearly what Graham was trying to do.
Anyone who has practiced formal religions knows that we base our actions in the current life based off what we will get in the after-life. This is something I used to agree with, but have recently come to see how scary it is. If people treat the one true life that we actually know exists as preparation for something that may not, they could end up doing some irrational things. Hitchens response to what Graham said is that “there was also something sinister in hearing detailed claims to knowledge of paradise, of the sort that bin Laden himself was making on behalf of the assassins.” (Hitchens, 32). This is a main driving point for Hitchens, and this shows us a direct connection between the idealisms of religions. People generally gravitate towards the more comfortable options, and with any aspect of life, knowledge is comfortable. The scary part is when the people who claim to have knowledge can use it to control people and get them to act in a way that they would not on their own. The inclusion of that quote is interesting to me because I understand how someone could think it’s crazy to compare a renowned evangelist to bin Laden, but Hitchens doesn’t fear stepping on any toes, and in doing so, he evokes critical thought in anyone who reads his work.
Reverend Mark D. Roberts suggests that “Atheists will happily devour it; religious folks will find it most distasteful.” Once again, this statement is understandable, but definitely not Hitchens’ purpose. I do not think that this book is just meant to monger hate towards religion within a group of people that have already decided to abandon religion in general, whatever their reason. Of course atheists will enjoy reading someone that they will probably agree with, but is it really meant for only them? Take this quote for example, another example of Hitchens edginess, “The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.” (Hitchens, 102). This is an extremely aggressive quote, sure to anger anyone who bases his or her beliefs off this literature, but the content that he presents (regardless of how crudely it is presented) is still valid. Jim Walker says, “About time, I say, but his belittling has good reason behind it. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, ‘Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.’” Personally I’d rather have an author that isn’t afraid to express himself as opposed to an author who constantly beats around the bush with nothing interesting to say.
When it really comes down to it, you can never please everyone. When someone wishes to address a subject as touchy as this, it only seems natural that some people are going to be outraged. I believe that the people who don’t agree with Hitchens’ tone and presentation of views are simply looking at the words face value, getting offended, and spending more time thinking about being offended than what the words actually said. I also think there is something commendable about not filtering out what you have to say just because of the fear of offending people. Doing so could severely impact the point that you’re trying to get across, and I think it is highly respectable that Christopher Hitchens had the courage to take on the majority of the world, and express his opinions.
Writing this essay was definitely a challenge, researching, organizing. When something is this controversial, there is almost too much material to work with. Overwhelming is an understatement. I am very passionate about the content of this argument, and analyzing such a fantastic author was a great pleasure. In the end I’m glad I got to take a close look at this text and what other scholars had to say about it.
I’d like to thank my group five members, Jacquelyn and Cassidy. You guys are awesome and always do a fantastic job helping me out with my essays. I’d also like to thank Laura, I appreciate your knit-pickiness because it is extremely helpful when I am editing the final version of my essay! Finally, the biggest thank you of all goes to prof. Joe Harris. Working with one of the greatest literary scholars in the world has been such a positive experience. Always providing advanced knowledge and suggestions that I will hopefully carry with me for a very long time.
· Bragg, Amanda. “God Is Not Great.” Open Letters Monthly an Arts and Literature Review Godbothering Comments. WordPress, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
· Kinsley, Michael. “In God, Distrust.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 May 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
· Riddell, Mary. “Review: God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 June 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
· Roberts, Mark D. “My Response to God Is Not Great.” N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2016.
· Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2007. Print.
· Jim Walker: http://www.nobeliefs.com/Hitchens.htm