God is not great - How religion poisons everything

Christopher Hitchens

I came late to this book, indeed some years after the author had died. During his later years and illness, he was told many times that he would renounce his atheism as death approached, but that reversal never happened and he stayed true to himself until the end.

I'd always found the title interesting as if it implied that there was a god, they just merely weren't great. In the early part of the book I found Hitchens in a couple of places almost suggesting he might be open to the existence of god which I found surprising. I guess all philosophers are technically agnostics, but I feel it gives the religious too much comfort to publicise this, when really on the wide scope available to an agnostic person, our views are far closer to atheism than thinking any particular religion might be true.

This book is important because, as Hitchens points out, one cannot simply choose to avoid religion. It is often portrayed as a harmless set of beliefs which are a personal choice, but it has always been, or sought to be, far too powerful, far too intrusive and far too maniacal for that. The religious have always sought political power, to legislate the lives of women, to limit free speech, to influence the education of children, to interfere with medicine, mental health, science, art, indeed almost every facet of society.

His particular focus is on the major faiths, particularly on the Judeo-Christian family, and he is ruthless in his dissection of their core beliefs. He also touches briefly on others, such as Buddhism and Japan in the second world war. I believe if he had lived longer he would have had much to say about the resurgence of Hindu nationalism as well.

Awash with examples of the cruelty and illogical worldview of far too many religious people, it is a sad fact but as atheists, we still need to read books like this. Religion is not just the historical cobwebs of the evolution of human understanding. For all its ridiculousness, the virgin births, the miracles, the resurrections, the angels, witches and demons, it is still a potent force in the world, and we must intellectually arm ourselves for the struggle against it.

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