god is not Great
Twelve Books: 2007
Without getting too political, it is unfortunate that the media—although providing color TV for years now—only provides coverage in black and white. There are shows from the far left and shows from the far right. So too do we have religious extremes: either fundamentalist extremists, or atheist assholes.
For the sake of this review, please imagine an audible sigh.
I have nothing against Christopher Hitchens. His views could not differ more from my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire him. Frankly, I’m upset he’s dead and I’m more upset at the people who relish in his death, as though we’ve backtracked several centuries and deemed his life fit for slaughter along with the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans in the name of God.
In interviews, Hitchens was poised and certainly respectable. It was humbling at times, because there is a stigma surrounding him that immediately strikes you with intimidation, but for Hitchens, it was simply what he believed. He did not find anything wrong with what he believed, for him it was a logical approach. His manner of speaking will not offset you because he’s not trying to convert anyone. What he believes is simple to him, so he’s only explaining the value of it in a way for others to understand.
But you won’t find any of that charisma in this book. You won’t find hidden truths or any level of sophistication. What you will find is a book for high school atheists and fundamentalists Catholics; the former to speak under a false pretense that they know what they’re talking about and the latter to be enraged.
Simply put, if you’re not in either of those two categories, you’re going to simply be frustrated and disappointed by the lengthy ad hominem prose. Yes, ad hominem. It’s sad that someone so articulate would fall victim to one of the basest arguments. To give you an example of how riddled with fallacy this book is, here’s a direct quote concerning the The Passion of the Christ:
“produced by an Australian fascist and ham actor named Mel Gibson… [who] adheres to a crackpot and schismatic Catholic sect.”
If you’re an avid thinker, you’re not left with, “Yeah, damn the man!” But rather, “What? You’ve just thrown the argument out the window. You’re attacking him with no substance, just verbal abuse. What about evidence, statistics, trial cases? How about some of that witty, British sarcasm by referencing how this multi-billionaire is allowed to continue making films despite openly racist and sexist outbursts? You’d make a much better case with the evidence against him and not with rude slurs—that’s the Gibson route!
By now, you should be able to notice that one sentence in Hitchens’ text can spark a paragraph of thoughts, but not the thoughts intended. Hitchens spoke pretty adamantly about making people think. This book however is only intended for the blind followers—who absorb anything—and the fundamentalists—who will be blinded by rage; Anger is a weakness of the mind.
Some of his arguments have no foundation to begin with. He mentions that every major country has had a religious war and as an example, he lists a bunch that start with the letter “B.” But why? He manages to list 15-25 countries that start with B, but what does that prove? A religious war might as well be called a culture war. Yes, people will throw “God” around in war, but no one joins a religion to go to war. It’s not wrong to leave such obvious counter-arguments out when you’re expressing a point of view, but it doesn’t say much when you’re point of view is so heavily ridden with fallacies that your own point is muddled.
The title alone is an active disservice. god is not Great. God is purposefully lowercased. It’s a title. Titles are capitalized. If you want “God” lowercased, title the book The god is not Great. If anything, the “The” makes it seem all the more mocking and you still get your effect of the lowercased “god.” But this oversight is a perfect representation of the book. Hitchens sacrificed grammar for a statement. You wouldn’t read a text that was riddled with typos—unless it was some famous king’s journal. This error perpetuates itself throughout the novel.
It’s upsetting because had he spoken like he normally does, with poise and stoic expression, he may have actually crafted a good book. For instance, there was one moment where I actually took away an interesting bit of information.
Hitchens talks about how the Mormon community has a ritual where, after a person is dead, they can convert them over to their religion. This makes sense for anyone in the Mormon faith whose relatives have died and they want them to be saved. The problem with this is the people that are dead have no say in the matter. As a result, when World War II ended, a bunch of Mormons got together and converted the dead Jews.
Off-hand, yes, that’s blasphemous and not doing anybody any favors. Can the Jews be upset? Yes, it’s their heritage and family! But should the Mormons be attacked for this? No. Anyone who reads that can see that, for them (the Mormons), they were just trying to help. What they did was not malicious; it came from an actual longing to do something good. The Jews have a right to say, “That’s not really helping and quite frankly, offensive,” but it was not out of hate that Mormons performed this ritual. What’s more, the Jewish and the Mormons have different beliefs anyway, so does it matter what the Mormons did? I don’t know how the ritual works, so maybe if they dug up the bodies and sprinkled them with water, sure, but if that is what they did, Hitchens makes no mention of it. This leads me to believe that it’s a quiet ritual, at most done over a grave site. Who is this hurting?
What it all comes down to is this analogy:
Christopher Hitchens is a Christian’s Atheist and Lee Strobel is an Atheist’s Christian.
I use these two because they are such polar opposites, and in keeping with the black & white media-stricken world, they work.
Lee Strobel, for those who don’t know, was once an atheist, who found God through journalism; through the digging of facts. He’s written The Case for Christ, The Case for Easter, The Case for et al. Frankly, Strobel’s journalistic, factual evidence is as dry and as boring as it sounds. His novels are not a call to arms, they’re as much a mentality as Hitchens, but of course, the latter being heated and enraged. Strobel’s arguments appear objective because they are journalistic, but the fact is, his texts are equally an opinion piece. I find the same lackluster motivation in reading these books—(and it should be said that, no, I have not finished god is not Great and I won’t. I had 30 pages to go before I quit. Similarly, I have not finished Strobel’s books as I have skipped around based on the contents.)
The sad truth is, due to both’s exposure, the other will always stand as a monument for others in the same category. Hitchens is a Christian’s Atheist in the sense that, he will be the image and voice brought to mind when Christians think of Atheists. Likewise, Strobel is the image Atheists draw to mind when they think of Christians.
Surely, there must be middle ground.
Frankly, I think it’s in between Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, Huston Smith’s Why Religion Matters, and the Wachowski “siblings” film, The Matrix, but that may very well be an opinion. In any case, it’s times like these where our old philosophers’ values haunt me. Thomas Hobbes believing that man was born to kill and will continue to destroy is contrasted by Aristotle who believed that man could be perfected.
And right in the middle, is good old Machiavelli who says, yes, people will destroy each other, but if you lie to them they will work together. The example is a military general does not say, “men, we’re going die on this battlefield and in a decade or two, it probably won’t matter or have any significance in the history books.” No, a general commands, “Victory is at hand. We win this one and we preserve the rights of our country and founding fathers—”
In short, “people need their myths,” and if it drives them to do good things, then who’s suffering?
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