Book Review—God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
Atheists are telling the truth. Not about everything though, as Christians cannot accept their claim to the absence of God. Though Christ-followers reject the atheistic perspective on religion, however, we don’t have to ignore them completely on all matters. Although many popular atheists base their views on a false perception of what Christians believe, they do base their ideas on a correct experience of what Christians practice. In God Is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens demonstrates just that.
Hitchens’s goal: to prove that “religion has run out of justifications.” He argues that religion has outlived its usefulness and must now give way to the methods of science and reason. During the dark ages of human understanding, he argues, religion held society within its tyrannical grasp as the only means of explanation. This control has been exploited throughout history by those in power, disturbingly often to immoral gains, horrendous acts of violence, and evil behavior. Religion represses. Religion abuses. Religion kills (the title of chapter one and a constant theme throughout the book).
Hitchens targets his assault on religion as a whole, but he devotes the majority of the book to discrediting the three major monotheistic religions of the world (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and Christianity in particular. He begins by arguing the ridiculousness of divine revelation and the irrationality of faith, moving then to citing historical evidences of religion’s inability to dictate or improve moral behavior. Two key points that Hitchens continually stresses: first, the constantly felt need by religion to hypocritically associate itself with culture (he offers the papal support of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime as just one of the many pieces of evidence in supporting this claim); second, the overwhelming documentation of child abuse within the church and the lack of a response by the ruling faithful. A true God could never allow such atrocities to take place in His name. This point brings the argument to its peak: religion is decisively man-made. “Yet again it is demonstrated that monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents.”
Hitchens concludes with a long litany of great scientific and philosophical minds whose tongues were quieted by the domineering church of the past. Now that religion no longer rules society and society no longer considers religion practical, Hitchens calls for the need of a new enlightenment. Humanity should throw off the shackles of religion and emerge from the medieval dungeon to the light of day. You no longer have to listen to the church. “Leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.”
While we as Christians may disagree with Hitchens’s claims of religion as an immoral man-made apparition, we cannot argue against the historical injustices performed in the name of God. While we disagree with Hitchens’s understanding of religious doctrines, we cannot argue against his own experience of these doctrines in practice. This is exactly the problem for Hitchens—Christian dogmatism over matters which we do not have authority to speak.
We misuse the Bible when we think it a political constitution or a science textbook. The church cannot address the assertions of atheism until it first admits to and addresses its own faults within. We can no longer attempt to legislate conversions or to rationalize belief to people. Mr. Hitchens lives by reason; we live by faith. Our lifestyles then should demonstrate themselves as markedly different, ceasing to ignore the perversion of the church in the past to fit with culture, and discontinuing the distortion of the church to fit with the modern, rationalistic culture of today. “Let the advocates and partisans of religion rely on faith alone, and let them be brave enough to admit that this is what they are doing.” His remark sounds as if coming from the pulpit, and we should take it under exactly that authority.