Saturday, June 16, 2007

God is Not Great, But the Book is Almost Great

I just finished reading God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and I thought I’d write a short book review here in the blog.

God is Not Great is one of a quartet of recent books that take the piss out of religion. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) I love this book. Oh, it is not perfect, but it is a fine read and it makes a plethora of points that need to be made.

I mentioned that this one of a quartet (that means 4) of books criticizing religion as untrue and harmful. The four books are:

  • God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

  • Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

  • Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett


  • Hitchens is the best writer of the lot and this becomes clear as you read through these books. The literary flourish found within the pages of God is Not Great makes reading the book a delight. Of the four, though, Dawkins is the best thinker, and his book is clearer of purpose and a better thought out IMHO. Hitchens’ book makes a wonderful companion to Dawkins’ book, though and I would recommend it as the second best in the list above. But, hell, you should read all of them, as well as Harris’ better & earlier tome The End of Faith. Well, except maybe for Dennett’s book; I’ve given it several tries but it is too dry for my taste, so I’ll likely not complete it (that is, at least not every page from beginning to end).

    But back to Hitchens. The problem with God is Not Great is that it tackles issues as the author sets them up and not as a religious person would defend their faith. As an atheist, I enjoyed Hitchens rants but as someone who regularly talks (OK, sometimes argues) with the “faithful” I can almost hear myself saying what believers would likely say. Now, of course, I don't agree with what I hear myself saying and I wish that Hitchens would veer in that direction and take on those arguments, but he goes in the directions he goes in; such is the perogative of any writer, I s'pose.

    That means that Hitchens’ book is unlikely to convince strong believers in their imaginary friend to ditch their faith and take up reason. But his writing style and command of history are truly incredible and that knowledge oozes from the pages of God is Not Great.

    I’ve read that tired old cliché that Hitchens’ book is “angry” – but that is just a fucked- up criticism that religiosos try to stab every atheist with… “Oh, you are so angry!” Well, it only sounds angry because what you faithful believers believe in is just so incredibly fucking stupid. Walking on water and talking asses and magic hats and protective underwear and women as inferior and on and on and on… It is hard not to sound angry criticizing such insipid drivel.

    But I digress. What else do I like about Hitchens’ book? Well, he discusses not just Christianity, but also Judaism and Islam as he points out the flaws in the major religion’s books, history, and lines of thinking. I particularly liked his chapter on religion as child abuse – and it is hard to argue with the issues he decries. Hell, a large majority of children in the western world still get their foreskin chopped off because of an ancient book of myth. (I wonder what it’d be like to have a foreskin sometimes, but that is a matter for future discussion. Err, ah, maybe not.)

    So I think the book works for the converted, but the “faithful” will not likely be converted. For them, a better book would be Dan Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith, the tale of a preacher turned atheist that is highly convincing and might be a better place for a questioning believer to begin.

    32 comments:

    bev said...

    Thank you for the thoughtful book review. I'm not a fan of Hitchens as he comes off as a pompous ass. But with this recommendation, I'll try it. Pompous-assness can often make for great writing.
    I still need to read Dawkins. I keep forgetting to pick it up at the library.

    re: foreskin...
    Of all the things I don't understand in the bible, the thing I can't figure out the most is the whole circumcision (sp?) thing. I just feel like some old man who was once a Jewish priest is laughing his ass off somewhere in the cosmos.
    I have a theory that boys would be less horny if they had their foreskins. Just a thought.
    I'm not an expert on foreskins.

    csm said...

    Oh, Hitchens is still a pompous ass, but if you know that going in you an just factor that into the equation. I enjoyed the "stuff" in the Dawkins book more, the actual writing talent in the Hitchens book more (although he does offer some interesting history I did not know).

    By the way, didja notice that "Recent Comments" are now available?

    Ceroill said...

    csm, I noticed! Nice to see you managed it!

    derF said...

    12 Steps To A Definitive Answer?

    jan said...

    I'm very keen on #19.
    (poem?)

    csm, do you want us to try to send you articles that catch our eye?
    I just saw a great one on how long Cheney and Libbby have worked together, and why Libby might actually be, as Cheney stated, the most honest person that cheney knows. haha

    Not that you necessary want that one... Just wondering.
    The more I have a chance to explore the site, the more i like it.
    Thank you.

    csm said...

    Yes, Bev/Jan (and anyone else here), if you see an article that you think is worthy of a blog entry here, just send me an e-mail at serenityofreason@yahoo.com and I will do my best to post something about it.

    derF said...

    When I found this I thought someone here might want to browse through it. Its Richard Dawkins’ web site .

    Lou said...

    I was asked to do a review of Dawkins "The God Delusion". I thought I would share from the review.

    In his extensive exposition, Dawkins is correct in that religions are potentially dangerous, and often illogical. Dawkins follows the popular illusion that atheists don't do evil deeds in the name of atheism. He ignores contradictory history such as the practically the entire Orthodox priesthood being exterminated simply for being priests under the rule of Stalin.

    It is also quite evident that Dawkins has a shallow knowledge of the Bible and is intolerant of theists, yet demands forbearance of science. If as Dawkins demands, religion is to be blamed for the fraud done in it the name of religion then what is the defense of science? Should science be the blame for the Piltdown hoax? Debating on these matters fairly necessitates the defining of authenticity in science and religion. Dawkins fails to initiate these discussions.

    Dawkins is clearly on a charge to build the atheist following but fails to engage with religious thought in any serious way relying instead on superfluous quotations and anecdote. Dawkins is either unable or unwilling to offer reason philosophically and complains of excessively of the double standards. Yes, he makes it clear that religion is bad and we can all agree with this reasonably but compared to what systematic thought? When he delves into this area, his biases become quite apparent and he becomes unconvincing. If debates between science and religion are to be meaningful they must evolve in order to take place at a far higher level of erudition than Dawkins offers.

    The God Delusion amazingly offers no new arguments on the question of God. In truth, Dawkins attacks much of the religious dogma but when it comes to God, even he must admit we just don’t know. When addressing the inquiry of origins he responds correctly, we don’t know but one day we shall. The answer, if ever found, just could be unanticipated.

    BAWDYSCOT said...

    Stalin was a dictator first, communist second and an atheist third. Any self respecting atheist has no fondness for the scoundrel. I don't blame Christianity for Hitler( a dictator first, facist second and a Christian third)and I consider blaming atheism for Stalin bullshit.

    BAWDYSCOT said...

    I will stand behind my comment though, organized religion is an impediment to human progress, IMO.

    csm said...

    The problem with "trying to build the atheist following" is that atheists are free-thinkers and unlikely to follow anyone, even someone as intelligent and thoughtful as Dawkins.

    lou said...

    Freethinker by characterization never rules out following the viewpoints of men. Atheists are much akin to any other religious faction. They track their leader’s ideas, beliefs and premises. Some follow authors like a Dawkins, some follow organizations like AA or many will make the argument they look at the work of science which is in continuous flux. In the end, they have their own dogma and the common denominator is their proven fallibility.

    BAWDYSCOT said...

    I love it when people generalize because it points out their feeble minds. I personally do not subscribe to any atheist publications, listen to any atheist leaders, visit any atheist websites, donate any money to any atheist organizations and know very little about "atheist" history. This may not make me an "atheist" in your book, but I do not believe in a higher being running the show, which I would have to believe would make any believer in such a being to pigeonhole me to be an atheist.

    csm said...

    lou seems to be the new fcc (or perhaps, the old fcc?)

    BAWDYSCOT said...

    I dunno, I thought fcc was curmudgeon-at-large, but maybe I am wrong.

    lou said...

    Bawdy my sincere apologies. My feeble mind coupled with the many sources and years of influence upon my mind directs me frequently to make suppositions and declarations of generalities. I find it to be a splendid tribute to be able to concede the copious sources of influence that has molded my own beliefs and my attitudes from theologians to philosophers to scientists. I never deemed that others may not have had analogous experiences and possibly others may find such generalities to be odious. It is intricate task to experience life devoid of the stimulus of external opinions.

    BAWDYSCOT said...

    Lou, you funny man, my life is not devoid of the stimulus of external opinions, just atheist ones. I believe a person's spiritual life should be (and is for me) a personal one and that our species gets into trouble when these aspects of ourselves becomes organized into large groups, groups who then want to spread this organized thought through guilt, coercion and guile. I include organized atheism as part of the problem, so don't think I am excluding them.

    csm said...

    Just got around to thoroughly reading lou's review of Dawkins' incredible book. So I'm gonna respond to his criticisms:

    lou writes "Dawkins follows the popular illusion that atheists don't do evil deeds in the name of atheism."

    csm responds: Bawdy has tackled this quite nicely in his responses already. Atheists typically do not do anything in the name of atheism. If or when they do, well then, shame on them, too.

    lou writes "It is also quite evident that Dawkins has a shallow knowledge of the Bible and is intolerant of theists, yet demands forbearance of science."

    csm responds: I see no evidence in Dawkins' book that he has a shallow knowledge of the bible. The evidence I read points to Dawkins having superior knowledge of that horrible book than most christians. Furthermore, religion is based on unsubstatiatable claims of the supernatural and deserves no tolerance. Science backs up its claims with testing and evidence and deserves our forebearance. Choose not to at your own peril.

    lou writes "If as Dawkins demands, religion is to be blamed for the fraud done in it the name of religion then what is the defense of science? Should science be the blame for the Piltdown hoax?"

    csm responds: The Piltdown hoax? Really? It was proven to be a hoax by a scientist. True, it took 40 years, but score one for science because it has been over millenia that much religious stupidity has reigned. Better to blame science for the nuclear bomb, something science is responsible for creating.

    lou writes "Dawkins is clearly on a charge to build the atheist following..."

    csm responds: I already noted that there is no atheist following as atheists do not tend to follow anyone.

    lou writes "If debates between science and religion are to be meaningful they must evolve in order to take place at a far higher level of erudition than Dawkins offers."

    csm responds: lou is entitled to his opinions, of course. I personally find the erudition offered by Dawkins to be quite convincing, especially as compared to the quacks and snake oil salesmen on the religious side of the aisle. (There are, of course, some notable exception, such as John Shelby Spong).

    lou writes "When addressing the inquiry of origins he responds correctly, we don’t know but one day we shall. The answer, if ever found, just could be unanticipated."

    csm responds: On this we can agree, except that I don't necessarily know that I agree that we shall one day know. We may never find out what preceeded the big bang.

    lou said...

    That tends to be the great problem with constituents of belief systems. They rarely can see their own deficiencies but suddenly become experts on the defeciencies of others. While I esteem the work of Dawkins in his field, I can say with great assurance that Dawkins has only a superficial understanding of religious concepts, or he hides his comprehension well. Dawkins assertions are no more than a rehash of old arguments and provide nothing of real consequence. Dawkins has acknowledged his limited review of theologians. As an ethologist and a biologist, he is hardly an authority in theology. I doubt Dawkins has read or heard of Christian thinkers like Rahner or Moltmann.

    We agree with the Piltdown hoax, we can go more recent with the recent cloning hoax by S Korean scientists?

    The argument is that Stalin was a dictator first, a communist second and an atheist third? An intriguing yet old hypothesis that atheist often employ to shelter their belief system. However, much like God this hypothesis cannot be verified. I constantly find this argument to be disappointingly naive as if the human psyche could even be apportioned so precisely.

    jan said...

    Too bad we ran out of Christians here.

    I'm wondering how the Southern Baptists feel about the Pope telling them yesterday that they aren't Christians.

    When I was a Baptist, they called the Pope The Beast. Since then, they've become political bedfellows with The Beast.

    Maybe we'll be lucky and they'll eat each other alive.

    BAWDYSCOT said...

    Lou,

    That old hypothesis doesn't shelter my belief system because as I have said, my belief system is MY OWN belief system. They are my personal beliefs and I don't feel I have very much in common with Stalin. You keep wanting to pigeonhole me. I could care less what anyone else wants to believe but I would defend to the death their right to believe what they want. My fervent feeling is if people would keep the thought these ARE personal beliefs(does every Catholic have exactly the same beliefs as any other, how about Baptists)and tone down the organizational aspect of their particular religions, humans might have a better chance of getting along with each other.

    lou said...

    Bawdy,

    You have this interminable desire to take my annotations as personally intended for you. I speak in generalities since it would be unfeasible to address every exemption. I feel confident most readers would concede this to be spot on. Nevertheless, you did employ the old Stalin contention so my line of reasoning against the Stalin hypothesis still holds. I doubt even your human psyche could be be apportioned so precisely.

    csm said...

    So, lou, does that mean you embrace Hitler's atrocities as the action of a christian and as being driven by his christianity? If not, then you are a hypocrite if you continue to use Stalin as your atheist foil.

    lou said...

    You are one who in fact postulates Hitler was a Christian? Hitler once confided that Christianity was an invention of “sick minds”. Hitler was a materialist, a rationalist and a master of propaganda among other things but hardly a Christian. This would be akin to maintaining that csm is a Christian given that he was a constituent at one time? I deduce many are still under the chimera of the propaganda pertaining to Hitler.

    In order to satisfy the need to unearth a Roman Catholic revolutionary and to keep myself from hypocrisy we could look to Urban II, Bernard of Clairvaux and possibly Richard I to fulfill the position?

    BAWDYSCOT said...

    Lou,

    You need to look at who you are posting to; csm made the last post before yours.

    I guess my main beef with you Lou, is that you don't qualify your statements. When you talk of atheists it is ALL atheists. Words like "most", "some" and "a few" work wonders.

    Also, from what I have read, Hitler and the church were not at odds in the beginning of that black era; it was only once the church saw the handwriting on the wall that Hitler renounced the church. That is my understanding, but maybe I am wrong.

    lou said...

    Bawdy, I used the term ALL? No, in truth that is your construal. Why not presuppose I intened most, some, or few? No, you determined to interpret my statement as ALL.

    As for my retort after csm posted, he made reference to your Stalin argument. I neither deem my reply to him to be unreasonable nor was it targeted toward a distinct individual.

    My apologies if you have problems following my posts.

    BAWDYSCOT said...

    "Atheists are much akin to any other religious faction. They track their leader's ideas, beliefs and premises."

    Lou:
    7/10/07 7:16am

    True you didn't use the word ALL, but the statement sure was all inclusive, eh?

    csm said...

    The statement was not only all encompassing, it was fucking stupid. Atheism is not a religion, it is a lack of belief in theism. Atheism has not leaders. There are authors who write about the topic and are trying to be viewed as thought leaders on atheism (or, perhaps more accurately, on the dangers of theism). But that doesn't make someone like Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris akin to the Pope or Pat Robertson or whoever your local pastor is if you are religious.

    Furthermore, Hitler was most certainly a christian (follow the link) and no amount of religious writhing and wriggling can unmake him one. But as a reasonable person, I understand that his christianity had little to nothing to do with his insanity and barbarism. Follow me into the world of the reasonable, lou, and begin to understand the same is true for Stalin.

    Finally, regarding this gem of a quote from lou again "That tends to be the great problem with constituents of belief systems. They rarely can see their own deficiencies but suddenly become experts on the defeciencies of others.": I am somewhat of an expert on the deficiencies of christianity cause I was one, and through study and research cured myself. Can't say the same thing about other religions, but it is easier to ignore those because I wasn't indoctrinated into them at an early age. Now lou criticizes atheism and falls into his on self-set trap. Unless I am mistaken lou is no atheist, yet he readily tries to position himself as an "expert in its deficiencies." Yet obviously lou is clueless. First off, let me set you straight, atheism is NOT a belief, but a lack of a belief. It is the lack of belief in a deity. A lack of belief is no more a belief than a lack of cash is money.

    lou said...

    Thanks for the link csm however I have in fact read several well researched books on Hitler and the rise of Nazism in Germany. You may want to do an erudite analysis of Hitler rather than a web search for a url that suits your presuppositions. If you conclude he was a true Roman Catholic then I can recognize that conclusion. I will continue to view Hitler as a master of propaganda that evidently still entraps even now.

    Let me correct another errant supposition. I was an affirmed atheist up until the time I worked on my PhD. several years back. I have been an avowed agnostic since. I realize Dawkins refers to my genus as “cop outs” but I don’t have a vendetta with the religious sects. I read and discover across a broad spectrum of writers from Atheist to Christian. I find words of wisdom as well as fallacies in all belief schemes. I have thus far to uncover one that has a monopoly on the truth. One thing they ALL (I do mean all) have in common is the zealous who struggle with any form of criticism.

    BAWDYSCOT said...

    I guess, Lou, what I am trying to relate is that I do not believe Stalin's reign of terror was derived from his lack of religiosity. I believe it had more to do with his own psyche, his own base personal truth, his own thirst for power.
    Would Stalin have taken the same path if he were a Christian? Maybe not, but I think so. Some Christians, without a doubt, do terrible things on different scales, but I for one do not believe they do them because of their religious beliefs; they have some other problems. This is why I have a fit when people blame atheism for Stalin.

    csm said...

    Follow this link for a very well-written essay on the true definitions of agnostic and atheist (as well as how christians try to change those definitions to benefit their belief systems)

    csm said...

    If you want more proof that Hitler and Nazi Germany was definitely Christian, follow this link!