Paul Derengowski, ThM
In 2007, another book was written as a part of the latest assault by those of the atheistic worldview upon those with a theistic worldview. god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is Christopher Hitchens’s effort to demean not only God and religion in general, but every person from Catholic to Mormon to Muslim, and everyone outside and in between. Although Hitchens was much less vitriolic than his contemporary, Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), his broad-sweeping commentary was no less filled with the same faulty equations and illogic than was Dawkins’s book. This brief overview will touch on a few of those equations, along with a brief critical analysis of just what the Hitchens-type atheist suggests as a viable alternative to his rejection of God.
As already noted, Hitchens’s book was not loaded with same kind of nastiness that can be found in Dawkins’s God Delusion. In fact, the book itself is fairly well-written, with Hitchens demonstrating an excellent command of the English language. If you do not have a dictionary handy, or you have not brushed up on your Verbal Advantage in a while, you will probably want to either get one or do so. Couple that with an obvious display of world history knowledge and travel, and occasional tidbits of humor and wit, and one can credit Hitchens with writing a piece that is factually and intellectually interesting in many places throughout his book.
That said, however, the mistake that Hitchens makes is the same that so many atheists make, and that is he starts with a false conclusion, and then tries to build his argument around it. For instance, just the title of the book itself, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, immediately implies that Christopher Hitchens himself is great, and now he is going to spend 300 pages explaining just how truly great he is. Unfortunately, Hitchens fails to deliver on his greatness, leaving one to wonder just who this guy is making this judgment against God. The latter half of the title is no better. Not only is not God a religion, nor is religion God himself, religion itself does not “poison” everything either, since all that poison does is kill or disable. And if religion was as destructive as Hitchens makes it out to be, then one has to wonder how he managed to survive all these years given his religious upbringing, and continued association with one religious order after another throughout most of his adult life. 1 So, right from the start, Hitchens is off on the wrong foot in trying to support his overall premise that God is a very, very bad person, who is then confused with any and every religious idea in existence, that many atheists hypocritically think needs to be totally eradicated, or simply placed so far back into the recesses of the human mind, as to be forgotten.
It is because of Hitchens’s equivocation between God and religion that critiquing his book becomes that much more difficult. Why? Because in much of what he says about various false religious movements is true, yet that cannot be directly attributed to the person of God. We are talking about two different things, which he wants to confuse everyone into believing are one and the same, when they are not. Therefore, when he says that religious faith “wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos,” or that “it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression,” in many instances of faulty religious faith, those things are true, but they are not true about God. If God cannot lie, then when he reveals that he created man and the cosmos in seven days, and that sexual intercourse was to be enjoyed within the confines of marriage, then only those propositions speaking contrary to God’s revelation are the one’s doing the misrepresenting and advocating dangerous moral practices. Moreover, when one takes into consideration that atheism itself is a religious faith, despite the atheistic denial to the contrary, one could easily conclude that because Hitchens himself advocates a meaningless and mathematically nonsensical view of cosmology, as well as a set of moral values built on the same meaninglessness that gives impetus to his cosmology, then atheism “wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos,” and “it is both the result and cause of dangerous sexual” promiscuity among many now suffering from one STD (sexually transmitted disease) after another, including AIDS itself. Therefore, to dispel some of the confusion, let us only look at what Hitchens has to say about God, since God is supposed to be the subject of his judgment.
One will search in vain to find something to justify Hitchens’s assertion that God is not great. The reason for this is that his book has nothing to do with God. It is all about Hitchens’s disgruntled attitude toward various religions and religious organizations, some of which is justified. Therefore, when he talks about the Muslims essentially stealing from external sources to concoct its religion, he is not saying anything substantive about God. He’s griping about what he perceives is a fraud; and he is correct. Moreover, when he takes his stab at miracles and hell, that has nothing to do with God either. It is merely his opining about something that he has a preferential distaste for. Or when he tries to get the reader to agree with him that religion is child abuse, that has nothing to do with God either. The bottom line is that Hitchens does nothing to support his initial premise, throughout the whole book, that God is not great. All he does is grind his irrational, atheistic axe until the grinding wheel falls off, as he drones on, and on, and on about that which many are willing to concede, and that is that there is all kinds of false religion out there, espousing all kinds of horrific doctrines and practices. But, once again, that is not God doing it. It is fallen men and women doing it; fallen men just like the “great” Christopher Hitchens.
So, just what is this latest attack by Hitchens really all about? Well, as he points out 153 pages into his book, it is all about trying to undermine one’s faith in God. That is his express “hope.” And he thinks that by presenting one example after another of religious misdeeds, coupled with his skewed understanding of some biblical doctrines, he can drive home the point of just how irrational it is to trust in God, even though as already pointed out, God is not religion, and religion is not God. What he ultimately wants is for those believers in God to unchain themselves from any restraints and do their own thinking. Little does he realize, or mention, that by supposedly freeing oneself from a belief in God only leads to another belief in another god, except the latter form of god is actually the person doing the reneging in the first place. In other words, Hitchens’s proposition is nothing more than a rehash of what Satan pulled on Eve in the Garden of Eden, when he finally persuaded her to deny God and set out on her own. She would be “like God,” according to Satan, knowing good and evil. She would be her own boss, doing her own independent thinking. The rest is history, with the same strategy being advocated by Christopher Hitchens, under the guise of free thought and liberation from religion.
Although Christopher Hitchens does a fine job writing this book, the overall content involved in making his case against God is severely flawed. He does not prove that God is not great, nor does he prove through his implicit defamation of God that Hitchens is great either. In fact, because of his personal vehemence toward religion—some of which is justified, some of it which is not—much of the time Hitchens comes off sounding like a babbling fool. And while he demonstrates a high level of journalistic acumen and wherewithal in matters of world history and events, he also demonstrates a woeful knowledge of just who God is, despite his religious upbringing and apparent knowledge of the Bible. This is probably the reason why one finds his comments lacking support in his criticism of God’s greatness. He does not really know God, hence he merely casts aspersions at Him from a distance, and hopefully others equally as naïve as Hitchens will buy into his argument, and abandon whatever little faith they had in God as well.
Therefore, I would not recommend this book to any Christian except those who know what they believe, and can see right through the façade of the atheistic worldview. Although interesting in some places, it is by and large misleading due to its sweeping generalizations and equivocations; and for those reasons alone, the unprepared person could be easily swept up in the deception and foolishness of it all. In a relatively short amount of time this book will go by the wayside—if it has not already—and Hitchens’s ungodly opinion will be realized for the “piffle” that it is.
- Hitchens claims to have been raised and studied in Anglican faith, “educated at a Methodist school, converted by marriage to Greek Orthodoxy, recognized as an incarnation by the followers of Sai Baba, and remarried by a rabbi,” (god is not Great, 195). ↩