God Is [not] Great

This started out as a book review, but morphed into a full-scale rebuttal, not of every false claim by Hitchens (because he is somewhat repetitious), but certainly of a lot of them. Hitchens has 19 chapters, I have five:

2  34  5  -- Hitchens chapter: 1  2 3  4 5  6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15  1617  18 19 My conclusion

The title is our first clue that Christopher Hitchens is just another atheist liar. If God were indeed not great or non-existant, then there would be no need for a book like this to say so. He admits in his first chapter that "Religious faith is ... ineradicable." The Christians (and Muslims; Jews have mostly already abandonned their historic faith) are not going away, and he knows it. This book is preaching to the choir (of atheists), seeking to entertain them with zingers that only an uncritical and illogical mind -- such as any atheist -- could accept; I doubt even a hearty agnostic would find it compelling, certainly not a thinking Christian.

Most of the criticisms Hitchens brings against Christian teaching -- as opposed to behavior, when it differs from our Christian teachings, as it often does -- comes from a presupposition of atheism. That is, Hitchens assumes from the outset that there is no god and no supernatural, so therefore any claims about what God did or said must necessarily be human inventions, which suppositions he repeats throughout the book without supporting evidence, as if they were necessarily true. His atheist audience already agrees with the premise, so these suppositions merely affirm them. If he really intended this book to convert Christians and other theists, he would need to better defend his presuppositions. If the premise is false -- and we theists certainly believe the atheists are wrong about the non-existence of any supernatural -- then any conclusions drawn from those premises are also most certainly wrong. I investigated this presuppositional logic in much greater detail in my own faith journey.

Sometimes I get the impression that the only difference between the Christians and the pagans is who pays the bill on Judgment Day. I think there should be a bigger difference than that, and I suspect God does too -- and maybe there is, but it's lost in the noise of all those people who pretend to be Christians but are not. Hitchens complains about Christian (or Muslim or whatever) teachings occasionally, but most of his criticisms against religionists compare a few well-behaved atheists (I presume he includes himself here, but never explicitly) against the vast number of religionists who do things very badly. It is most curious that in both cases, Christians and atheists alike, the people he looks at are not following the explicit teachings of their respective religions. That's a logic error called the "genetic fallacy" which attributes to a body of teachings the failings of its adherents. When Christians deviate from our core teachings, they become very bad people indeed, and justly deserve Hitchens' contempt. But it's not the fault of anybody's religion, but the fact that all people are sinners. When the atheists deviate from their core teachings (primarily Darwinism) we should all applaud them, because those core teachings -- both the "red in tooth and claw" line, and racism of the most vile kind -- are essentially sociopathic. Because Hitchens only compares "good" (meaning ethical, or inconsistent) atheists to "bad" (meaning unethical, or inconsistent) Christians, we have an apples-to-oranges compare that makes us look bad. It's not a fair comparison. He should either compare core teachings to core teachings, or else he should compare average persons to average persons. But if he did, atheism would look much worse than Christianity. OK, the Muslims look bad either way. That's why  the atheists consider it important to lump all religions together when they want to argue against us. Some people call that "guilt by association" and it's also bad logic. But atheists are not known for good logic.

It is unfortunate that most dictionaries present the atheist definition of "religion", which is anything involving God or the supernatural. Some world religions don't qualify by that definition, such a Buddhism and Confucianism, which have no gods. A better definition of religion would "a body of beliefs which answer the ultimate questions, 'Who are we?' and 'Where did we come from?' and 'Where are we going?' and 'Why should I do that?' without reference to testable evidence." Atheists and a few orthodox Christians might wish to exempt their faith from such a definition, but it's still true of them (and us). Christianity looks at history for the source of our faith, but there's not much we can do to test the quality of our founding document, other than to observe how silly the alternative explanations are. Atheists put their trust in Darwin to explain the first two questions while ignoring that Darwinism has no supporting evidence, and don't bother to answer the fourth at all, except as Hitchens observes (again without evidence, on page 6) "We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion." In principle that is true, but in practice nobody succeeds, neither with nor without religion. In this review I will rely on this more inclusive definition of religion to show that Hitchens' own faith is not significantly different from the faiths he criticizes, except in the invocation of deity, which in his case has the Anselmian attribute of non-existence. He admits, halfway through (p.153), that he had a religion-like belief system, but could not bring himself to admit it was still true when he wrote, which faith differed only slightly (not greatly) from his previous admitted Marxist faith.

Like many evangelical atheists -- Hitchens calls himself an "antitheist" by which he means a crusading atheist -- he was raised in a family of weak believers (a Baptist father and a Jewish mother) who pounded Judeo-Christian ethics into his impressionable young mind long before he was old enough to understand why he should do those things. He early claims "I am not one of those whose chance at a wholesome belief was destroyed by child abuse or brutish indoctrination," then goes on to tell us how his chance at a wholesome belief was destroyed by the child abuse and brutish indoctrination of neglect to tell him why we should believe in God -- probably because his parents also lacked that benefit in their upbringing. Failing to tell your children why they should be good is child abuse, and Hitchens admits that his parents did that to him (p.11) but considered it rather an advantage.

The subtitle, "How Religion Poisons Everything" is repeated frequently throughout the book, but it is disingenuous, unless you take "religion" to mean "Islam" at those times only, and ignore the fact that he does not turn the same critical eye on his own religion, which is even more poisonous than Islam. Christianity, the only other religion that gets much ink here, is by comparison only moderately distasteful. By linking Christianity to Islam, Hitchens tries to make us all look as bad as the Muslims and the atheists really are.

The remainder of this review will point out some of the illogic that permeates every page of this book.

P.1  Hitchens implies in the first sentence that "the intended reader of this book" is one of "those who publicly affirm charity and compassion and forgiveness" but contradictorily "try to identify the sins and deformities that animated [Hitchens] to write it." In other words, us Christians. But as I already pointed out, no good Christian is likely to be persuaded by his illogic and insults, but rather the covert atheists masquerading as Christians might be persuaded to be slightly more honest (that is, open) about their true faith.

In answer to their imputed question, Hitchens lays the blame squarely on "the unknowable and ineffable creator who opted to make me this way" -- a nod to the Calvinist leanings of his father -- and on "a good, sincere, simple woman, of stable and decent faith, named Mrs. Jean Watts," his school teacher when he was nine. That's a severe warning to teachers everywhere, not to take their task lightly or ignorantly, lest their good intentions lead young minds to Hell. But Hitchens really had a choice in the matter. He chose the same end Jesus taught of in Luke 19, that "we will not have this man to reign over us," and God lovingly gives them their wish, nevermind that the alternative is rather unpleasant. We will see more of this theme underlying Hitchens' book, particularly as he comes out and says so.

P.3  Continuing with his blame of Mrs.Watts, Hitchens asserts, "I simply knew, [his emphasis] almost as if I had priviledged access to a higher authority, that my teacher had managed to get everything wrong in just two sentences." And how exactly did Hitchens know this? He doesn't say. He never tells us why he believes his atheistic assertions are true, only that they are. Of course he cannot know they are true, it is an act of blind faith, the exact same thing he blames all us religionists for all through the book. He cannot know there is no god anywhere in the universe unless he is a god, which contradicts the premise. He cannot know that our "eyes were adjusted to nature, and not the other way about," unless he knows how nature came to be and how our eyes came to be. To be sure, that's what the Darwinists tell us happened (not from their own research, which does not support the hypothesis), but Hitchens already admitted to not yet knowing about Darwin's theory at the time. Hitchens just knew, the way young schoolboys everywhere "know" various silly ideas we invent in our minds before we have been educated in how the world really works. Unfortunately, in Hitchens' case, he never got that later education; the Darwinists had full control of the educational system in England even before they got it here in the USA.

P.4  "There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: [1] that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, [2] that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, [3] that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and [4] that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking." [I added the numbers]. I would say (from my broader definition of religion) that this is also true of the atheistic religion. The first item I have dealt with at length elsewhere. Servility cannot be greater anywhere than under the repressive regimes of atheistic governments like Stalin's (former) Soviet Union. My dictionary defines "solipsism" as the belief that only self exists, which is certainly not true of any religionists I know or can imagine, including atheists, so this bogus claim is at least as true of them as us. I think the atheist males tend to be particularly bent out of shape about the Christian doctrine of sex within marriage and not otherwise, because we protect women from a bondage greater than a little deferred gratification thereby imposed on the men; when you consider the larger picture, it's the atheists who do the repressing. And finally, the illogic of atheism is clearly more about wish-thinking than any recognition of the necessary existence of an objective Creator God.

P.5  "Our principles are not a faith... we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason." Most people -- certainly including all atheists -- consider faith to be a belief that contradicts evidence, yet here we have a most profound faith that there is no god, neither can there be, despite the immense evidence to the contrary. The fact that many apparent scientists also deny these evidences is testimony not to the unreasonableness of the evidence, but only to the stranglehold the atheists have on the intellectual elite -- even including those professing to be theists, who must therefore guard their true beliefs and scientific findings lest they lose their grant funding and jobs (as happened to Robert Gentry and others too visible to ignore).

P.5  "We have music and art and literature, and find that serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books." Is he serious? The best art and literature is produced by Christians and not atheists (I think it was a confessed atheist who pointed that out), and even among his list of presumed literary giants are as many Christians as unbelievers. Taking the popular sense of "mythical" as meaning "fiction" (as I'm sure he intended), it seems strange that he would find Christian fiction writers more enlightening than Christian "fiction" (myth) writers. Of course the Bible isn't fiction, but you can't really expect a leading atheist to check his facts before foaming at the mouth. All he's really saying here is that he prefers more modern fiction to the older classics.

P.5  "No statistic will ever find that... we commit more crimes of greed and violence than the faithful. (In fact if a proper statistical inquiry could ever be made, I am sure the evidence would be the other way.)" His confidence notwithstanding, I believe that might be true in mostly Christian nations like the USA because there are so few professing atheists. However, it was atheists like Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot who killed more people in the last century than all religionists in all history before them. Columbia is often ranked today as the most violent of all nations, almost entirely the work of Marxist (aka atheist) FARC guerillas. And while it is true that Islamic terrorists have been doing a lot of killing in the last few decades, it is unfair to lump with them the essentially peaceful Christians and Buddhists; per capita for the number of believers, I still think the atheists have the Muslims beat in "crimes of greed or violence." This can be checked, and Hitchens' unfounded faith to the contrary objectively disproved.

He goes on to add on the next page, "And we know for a fact... that religion has caused innumerable people... to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser to raise an eyebrow." Maybe those people are in fact innumerable (perhaps too few to count), but it seems curious the ethical standards he chose to compare them to include ethnic cleansing (such as atheist Hitler did in Germany) and brothel-keeping (which would be consistent with the relief of "sexual repression" in his objection [3]). He is playing to an audience who believes in absolute morality -- as he himself does, if you could get him to stop squirming away from it -- and not arguing from his own convictions. Assuming (as I do, and he seems to claim) that he has convictions. This is one of the hallmarks of my "BS Detector," which reminds us that Hitchens does not care about truth, and his arguments cannot be trusted.

P.7  After spending most of the page falsely ridiculing classic Christian writers, he wonders, "How many saints and miracles and councils and conclaves are required in order first to be able to establish a dogma and then -- after infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty -- to be forced to rescind one of those dogmas?" He gives no actual examples of such "infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty" attached to any dogma established by "saints and miracles and councils and conclaves," because of course there are none. He is probably thinking of the Spanish Inquisition, which killed only some 700 people during its entire existence, far fewer than the number of children killed by atheist abortionists in the USA in one day any day this year and every year since it became legal. However, neither the Inquisition nor the Crusades (the other whipping boy of anti-Christians) was based on "dogma" but only ill-informed (Catholic) Christians trying to do right without actually reading either the Bible or the "dogmas." What basis did Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot and the FARC have for their atrocities? Only that (so they assumed) there is no god to hold them accountable. That's a problem Hitchens does not address. How could he? It would look far worse for his own religion than for those he criticizes.

P.8  "God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization." Hitchens here confuses Judeo-Christian teaching with all the other religions (including his own). Only the Bible teaches that God created man in his own image, and it is only the Christian faith that led to the civilization that Hitchens now considers so retarded. He is historically incorrect. If he were as ignorant as he sounds, I would blame this falsehood on ignorance and atheistic illogic. However, he brags about being well-read; therefore this is just plain disingenuousness, also known as lies. Atheists do not build civilizations, they tear them down. Look at Pol Pot or Stalin or the FARC. Chinese intellectuals -- mostly not Christians (yet) -- are now admitting that Christianity is better for their country's infrastructure than their current atheism. Otherwise, that is, for all other religions (including again atheism), I agree: the fratricide in those religions (including atheism) retards civilization.

P.8  After gushing over various things he finds beautiful -- "the staggering photographs taken by the Hubble telescope... the beauty and symmetry of the double helix," and so on -- he goes to express confidence that "you will be at once impressed that such a near-perfect phenomenon is at the core of your being, and reassured (I hope) that you have so much in common with other tribes of the human species -- 'race' having gone, along with 'creation' into the ashcan... Now at last you can be properly humble in the face of your maker, which turns out not to be a 'who,' but a process of mutation with rather more random elements than our vanity might wish." Perhaps Hitchens is not sufficiently well-educated to know and understand that random elements do not result in near-perfect phenomena. The perfection is real, it's the randomness of its presumed origin that is unscientific (untestable using the scientific method) and false. But religion answers the question "Who are we?" and Hitchens' religion has not failed him, except in veracity. His ashcan is also doubtless full of many things that are alive and well -- even in his own religion. Consider, for example that notion of "race" which properly belongs there, nevermind that his patron saint of evolution, Charles Darwin himself, titled his seminal work "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." Racism is deeply embedded in the very nature of Darwinism, and apart from the Christian influence on our culture, it would be promoted as such very much as it was earlier in our own country and especially in Hitler's Germany. Hitchens is wish-thinking again.

P.10  "The mildest criticism of religion is also the most radical and the most devastating one. Religion is man-made." With apropriate qualification, I would have to agree. With the possible exceptions of classic Judaism and Christianity, but not excepting Hitchens' own atheism, they all are indeed man-made. I might even go farther: God became Man in Christ, and He invented classic Christianity, so it also is not an exception. So what? Nevermind who made it, Is it true? Hitchens does not address that crucial question, except indirectly and without any supporting evidence. His own (man-made) religion rests squarely on one demonstrably false premise, that there is no god. We know from recent history that Joseph Smith invented Mormonism, and we have documents showing that (at least some of) his "prophetic revelations" were false, which casts doubt on all of them. Not so recent history supports the origin of Islam in Mohammed, but (as far as I know) he did not offer any verifiable authentication for his religion. Christianity is unique in offering a large number of historical verifications, none of them false nor contradictory, nevermind what Hitchens may believe and say about them (he offers no evidence, so there is nothing to refute). Judaism has a similar historical basis, but most of the verification is lost in antiquity.

P.11  "Sophocles showed, well before the rise of monotheism, that ..." This is only a nit, but it seems rather remarkable that a Greek playwright born almost a thousand years after Moses should be able to show anything at all before him, let alone "before the rise of monotheism" which certainly predated Moses who wrote of it. Hitchens is assuming that monotheism is a late invention because we don't happen to have extant copies of the writings of Moses that can be reliably dated before the Babylonian captivity. We do, however, have other written documents from before the time of Moses, and some from the time of the Kings that correspond well to information in the much later copies we do have. There is no evidence of a late composition for the Torah except in the minds of the atheists.

P.13  Hitchens concludes the first chapter with the wish "that [my religious friends] in turn leave me alone," by which from the context seems to mean that he does not want us criticizing his faith the way he criticizes ours in this book.

He goes on, rather apocalyptically, "As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything." His italics emphasizes the subtitle of the book, perhaps with the intent of deflecting attention from the fact that his own atheistic religion is no less poisonous to civilization than the Islamic terrorists. Yes, there are Muslims who want us destroyed. There are atheists who want us destroyed, but most of the ones in a position to do it died in the last century. The Islamic terrorists with the same goal will also die without achieving their end. This not because of Hitchens and his hostility to the rest of us, but because Christians follow the Prince of Peace, and the gates of Hell will not prevail over God's kingdom.

That's just the first chapter.

Chapter 2 is titled "Religion Kills" and with my previously stated understanding of religion to include atheism, I would mostly agree. The atheists have killed more people in the last century than all the deaths attributable to Christians in all of history put together -- and the atheists are still killing people today in Columbia and China and North Korea and Viet Nam and elsewhere where they are in power (but not in such volume at this time).

P.16  "Why does such a belief [the Christian faith, including an eternity of bliss and repose] not make its adherents happy?" That's a good question, probably most easily answered by the observation that these supposed adherents are not really. If they truly believed that "obey[ing] the rules and commandments that [God] has lovingly prescribed" is an intrinsic part of attaining that "eternity of bliss and repose," then surely they would in fact make a more vigorous effort to "obey the rules and commandments," and they would find that they are not the "horrible form of benevolent and unalterable dictatorship" that Hitchens imagines because (as I previously noted) he "will not have this man to reign over us," but rather "the rules and commandments" are what make Heaven a nice place to be, and if everybody obeyed them today this earth would also be a nicer place. I suspect that Hitchens wants the benefits of everybody else obeying the rules and commandments without himself being so restricted. Atheism is like that: so long as they are a tiny minority in an otherwise Christian culture, they enjoy the benefits of Christianity without feeling overly constrained by its values. When the atheists become dominant, the benefits tend to evaporate rather quickly. Hitchens prefers not to notice that fact.

P.17  "It can be stated as a truth that religion does not, and in the long run cannot, be content with its own marvelous claims and sublime assurances. It must seek to interfere with the lives of nonbelievers, or heretics, or adherents of other faiths." I note again that Hitchens' own religion is not excepted from this condemnation, considering that all atheistic governments in the world over the past hundred years have persecuted and killed perceived heretics from their own unbelief. This is still happening today in China and Viet Nam and North Korea and Myanmar. I prefer to believe true Christian faith (as taught by Jesus) is an exception, but it seems honored more often in the breach. What can I say? Hitchens' hypocritical criticism stands against all religions as practiced.

P.18  Hitchens has a remarkable way of subtly shifting the premise of a question, so that he can answer it in a way that makes religion look bad. The question as asked (and reported by Hitchens), "I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching. Now -- would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting?" He then goes on to cite six cities whose names all begin with "B" where he had been, and where he would have to answer that in the negative. He starts by changing the question, "I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that [they] were coming from a religious observance." He must change the question to make "religion" look bad, because there are only two religions who hold "prayer meetings." My first impression was that the dangerous one of them holds prayers five times each day, beginning before sunrise and ending before sunset (well before "evening coming on"). The "five times" part everybody agrees on, but the times are all over the clock, often listed as six or eight different times (including after sunset). So I guess I can't distinguish out that case any more.

In Belfast it's not the people who go to prayer meetings who are dangerous, but the ones who do not. So Hitchens' change of the question is necessary to make religion look bad. In Beirut I will admit that Muslims coming from prayer could be dangerous; I don't think the Maronite Catholics went to prayer meetings, but if they did, they would not be so dangerous (they certainly do not engage in suicide bombings). Mumbai (Bombay) Hindu "goons and thugs" certainly were not among those who attended prayer meetings (if any Hindus did); I think Hitchens just added this one for alliteration, and not for any actual danger coming out of a prayer meeting.

For Belgrade Hitchens mentions only different sects of Christians, which like the Irish are unlikely to engage in violence coming out of a prayer meeting -- if they went at all. It is curious that one of the allegedly religious thugs listed by Hitchens for that area was an ex-Communist and presumably also an atheist -- and very unlikely to have come out of a prayer meeting. He has only praise for their Muslim victims, further putting the lie to his accusation.

After a full page of irrelevant whining about various gods giving birth to humans in mythological literature, which somehow I suppose Hitchens expected to cover for the openly admitted fact that the Christians in Bethlehem were no threat, he finally gets around to complaining about the Muslims again, not as a threat of physical harm in Bethlehem, but merely as an excuse to complain about their religious intolerance in other regions under Palestinian control. Finally, Baghdad is again a Muslim city, and people coming from a prayer meeting at dusk there are every much the threat they are any other time of day in that city. Hitchens spent three full pages whining about Muslim-incited bloodshed in Iraq.

So there are really only two cities in his list of six where coming from a prayer meeting makes a group of men more dangerous than otherwise, and in both cases, it's Muslim men (and not any other religion) who are made more dangerous by their prayers. So to correct his disingenuous claim, he should have said "Islam poisons everything." I could agree with that. I am not a Muslim, and I do not defend them. Christians coming out of a prayer meeting are very unlikely to immediately engage in violence, anywhere in the world.

P.27  Hitchens "can think of a handful of priests and bishops and rabbis and imams who have put humanity ahead of their own sect or creed.... But this is a compliment to humanism, not to religion." I think he got that wrong in at least one case, because Jesus (the founder of Christianity) taught "Blessed are the peacemakers," and the Christians in general, even after taking Ireland and the Crusades and the Inquisition into account, have been far less warlike and cruel than the atheists (thinking again of Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot). But the purpose of his book is to trash the Christians, not the atheists.

The last half of the chapter "Religion Kills" is devoted to anecdotes first about Muslims, which really were lethal (mostly the fatwa against the life of Salman Rushdie, followed by a discussion of the 9/11 hijackers), and then about Christians, mostly sermons -- also known as "free speech" -- that imagined eternal punishment for unbelievers, and their real and imagined violations of "the separation of church and state."

P.32  As part of his 9/11 diatribe, Hitchens insists "The nineteen suicide murderers... were beyond any doubt the most sincere believers on those planes." I doubt that. Because the Christian faith is more into peacemaking than Islam does not make us less sincere, and Todd Beamer, the guy whose brave action took down United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania was certainly a sincere (Christian) believer. But the purpose of Hitchens' book is to trash the Christians, not praise them.

In the same paragraph Hitchens whines about "a president who wanted to hand over the care of the poor to 'faith-based' institutions," as if letting the people who do the job best for the least government cost was somehow bad policy.

Concern for the poor is a uniquely Christian (and Jewish, and perhaps also Muslim) virtue, totally at odds with our natural inclinations and especially opposite to the false religious teachings of Darwinism, Hitchens' religion of convenience. Darwin's principle of "survival of the fittest" inherently denigrates the poor and the weak, and invites the strong and the powerful (rich) to dominate and eventually replace them. Hitchens really only believes Darwin because the only alternative (as some other atheists are honest enough to admit) is so repugnant to him. This is why we can know for a fact that Hitchens' ethics do not come from a thoughful analysis of his own religious (that is, Darwinist and atheist) ideals, but were adopted at an early age from the Christian and Jewish faith of his parents. It is also why he can argue with conviction (at least in his own case) "that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it."

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Minor corrections added 2012 December 31