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.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007