My rating: 5 of 5 starsI feel compelled to start this review by simply stating that this is a book I think most every single person capable of rational thought and honesty with oneself should read. Not only that but after only being partway through the book I had this thought and by the time I finished I was convinced that this should be required reading for older school children.What is this book that has me so completely taken up with it? Its not just a book I think, it is more like a summation of ideas and concepts that have been at the heart of human experience but have always been pushed down and away into the dark in the face of fear and power-plays.Written by the exceptionally intelligent Christopher Hitchens – who I first came across properly when I watched the Intelligence Squared Debate from not long ago where he was speaking – this book is the first time in my life that I have seen the case against religion made so clearly and pulling no punches.
And its that last part that does it for me. Hitchens does not come to rant or rave or create confusion or generate fear. He simply looks at the picture in an intelligent and rational manner and then puts forth a well thought-out series of arguments that systematically address any and every aspect of religion as we know it and show us the clear flaws and mistakes and at times dangers that “the faithful” have brought upon themselves and all future generations that have come and have yet to be born even.
Now before anyone thinks that this is all about Atheism or hatred of god and all that – lets be clear, its really not. Hitchens himself is an atheist, of this there is no doubt. But the reason that I hold this book in such high regard and would give it to any and every person I knew to read is because of what we can learn from the basic lessons about the nature and purposes of religion, both intended and otherwise.
Religion has been called “the opiate of the masses” and in many ways it is – it keeps people in line and gives them something surreal and impossible to keep them happy on the inside, regardless of all else.
On a personal level I believe that people are well within their rights to practice religious beliefs, spirituality and any such practice – my belief is that since I can’t prove otherwise, I have no right to tell ANYONE not to believe in a divine being or the like.
The line however has to be drawn on organised religion. Have a community, share and be together by all means. But no one person should be infallible, no one should have the power of life and death over others, no one should be assumed to be a better or more divine being then any other – they are not. Period. At most you can be a better human being, no more.
Regardless of your beliefs, what we DO know is that this is your life and you cannot be 100% certain what will happen after, no matter how much you want to believe. The question we all tend to forget amid all the madness is how much we are living the most basic human tenets – love, kindness, reciprocity, courage, compassion, honesty, decency – all of which if I may say for the record, are things that people know intrinsically and religions can claim till the cows come home but they did not teach us this, we always knew it.
And the last thing I want to touch upon is something that really struck me while reading this – the brief mention of death and its role as motivation for so much of our irrational belief in religion. It struck me because I have been playing with a similar theme in my mind for some time now and that is that all the things we do that make no sense – religious obsession (both early and at an old age/dying state), communalism (as the term is used in South Asia only) and prejudice, weak ethics and morality and so much more can be tied back into our fear of dying!
Think about it – we die. Such is the way of life, all things die. But people are so afraid of it, so paranoid about it deep down that they will do anything to either assuage or bury that fear. I feel as though I will definitely invite some negative response for this but the absolute truth of this is in these simple statements:
“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” and, “You have to give up. You have to realize that someday you will die. Until you know that, you are useless.”
They are both by the same author – I’m not going to say who, if you know then good for you, if you don’t well then I would suggest finding out.
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All this said, I would like to close by stating that all these things are very personal to one and all – all anyone can ask for and what this book ask is for us to behave like the thinking, reasoning and intelligent beings that we have evolved into and question the archaic rantings of a world long dead and its place, if any at all, in this new world.
Humanity has so much it can accomplish, such potential – lets not squander it.