God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
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.
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I thought it was a very thoughtful and well written review. Mostly, I enjoyed reading your personal views on the topic of ‘religion’.
I have a love-hate relationship with religion, although I’m big on spirituality – and there is a difference. LOL. The negatives about organized religion are written/spoken about ad nauseum. So I won’t go there.
However, there are many positives about some of the bigger organized religions. For example, from my own experience working for and in the Christian church, back in the day (both paid and voluntary ministry positions), I know that many many people’s lives have been effected in positive ways through ‘religious’ people. Unfortunately, the focus always goes to the negative…but I assure you, in the every day lives of every day people all over the planet, there are people who – because of their ‘religion – serve others to alleviate their pain and suffering.
And I think another positive about religion can be that it helps to engender a sense of “community”…a tribe, if you will. Those communities are like living organisms, and they have a way of taking care of their own so ‘no child is left behind’, when they are operating in a healthy manner.
I am a praying person, and I’ve experienced answers in direct response to my prayers that were nothing short of miraculous….as witness by others who didn’t necessarily ‘believe’. 🙂
I am a person who also believes in God – although not in the way of any one religion. And there is the biggest difference between having a personal spiritual life, and participating in religion. It’s less about “rules” and more about “relationship”.
And may I say its always nice to meet someone who is spiritually inclined and does believe, but is open to debate and not be dogmatic about things, for me its a rare thing. More often then not, open mindedness tends to be only skin deep – but thats just my experience.
You’re surprised by the lack of comments, well I feel a little bad about it too because I’ve been blogging for the better part of a decade now and for the last few years when a lot of folks I knew online fell out of blogging, the commenting just ceases. Made me stop blogging more or less, but I like doing it so I keep at it and every once in a while I meet someone like you who is open to sharing opinions and actually expressing them which makes it more worthwhile.
I do know what you mean though, religion and spirituality are two very different animals, so to speak, and people confuse them. My anger and dislike tends to be aimed at the dogmatic, the organised religions, the near-monarchic and self-involved and “superior” lot that ruin it for everyone else.
Like all things, there are good and great things done by people of faith and often just because their faith tells them, “this is what good people do” and not to prove anything to God or any of his “agents” here on the mortal plane. I know so many people from a variety of faiths and backgrounds and honestly, its the ones who love their faith on their own and don’t bother with anyone elses, well its the best lot of people you can be around in my opinion. They know me to be solidly humanist and a little extropic in my world view, though I tend to let my belief flow and grow with my understanding and learning.
And you’re right, it does foster community and togetherness and motivate people to do good, sadly its the bad eggs that literally kill everything and ruin everyones lot and this is why I think ‘organised religion’ should be abolished and if you must have a religious bent, follow what faith you will in your own life in your own time. Your life is your own and should stay that way. The ones that come up to me lovingly and say they want to save my immortal soul, I get your good intentions but I want to smack you across the face and kick you out. My soul, my problem. Mind your own. Does that make me sound like too much of an arse? ah well…
Its been a pleasure to meet you and hope to see you around from time to time – will be seeing you at yours regardless. Perhaps sometime we can actually have a more full talk on all this. Cheers!
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Thanks! Glad to have you on board!