Although God Is Not Great was first published in 2007, I was put off reading it by my atheist acquaintances who advised that it constituted nothing more than a rabid fundamentalist rant; a characteristic more commonly associated with the conservative religious fraternity.
Having taken their advice based on demonstrable wisdom in these matters, I did not bother to purchase a copy, until recently while browsing through a bookstore and coming across it again. For some reason I decided to just see what all the fuss was about and bought a copy. I was pleasantly surprised after finally completing it, because unlike most of my other reading material, I was captivated into reading it, in its entirety, before moving onto something else in between. And, I haven’t been enticed into going out on a murderous rampage, targeting clergymen.
Needless to say, in future when advised not to read something, or when forbidden to read something (or view for that matter), just go ahead and do it anyway. Knowledge, whether good or bad is disseminated so that people can make informed decisions. By restricting yourself, or prohibiting others to only one point of view, defeats the objective of learning. Off course the opposite is also true, but one has to be a little more circumspect when advised or pushed to read (or view) any material.
Anyway, back to the book. Christopher Hitchens has many detractors, most of whom find his anti-theistic stance (some say he’s a god-hater) more infuriating than that of ordinary atheists. As I mentioned earlier, his detractors are not confined to the religious, but even atheists find his approach disquieting. Although the book presents a no-holds-barred attack on religion, his literary style and witty approach (believers would say mocking) makes the book highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable.
The title might not make any sense to believers because it seems to be a contradiction in (atheist) terms: how can something that is not supposed to exist, be great? I have it on good authority that it is actually a witty reversal of the Islamic proclamation Allahuh Akhbar, which translates roughly as God is great. The title has also been called arrogant, but it confirms Hitchens’ anti-theistic stance; it’s as if he’s throwing down a challenge to the object of his revulsion to account for the crass behaviour so vividly described in the book.
The historical approach not only lends weight to his arguments against religious belief, but are extremely informative, especially to the layman who does not have the time or craving for the monumental amounts of research involved. How many believers have sat down to read through the religious texts of competing religions, or even bothered with cursory examinations of these texts? Not too many, I would advance. Yet, many believers hold dogmatic opinions, not only about their own religion, but others as well.
The book is littered with memorable one-liners. A favorite of mine is: in reference to religion (or more specifically Christianity, I think) he calls it ‘a plagiarism of a plagiarism, of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion.’ There are far too many to mention, but I don’t want you reading any of them.
Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important. Where once it used to be able, by its total command of a world-view, to prevent the emergence of rivals, it can now only impede and retard – or try to turn back – the measurable advances that we have made. Sometimes, true, it will artfully concede them. But this is to offer itself the choice between irrelevance and obstruction, impotence or outright reaction, and , given this choice, it is programmed to select the worse of the two. Meanwhile, confronted with undreamed-of vistas inside our own evolving cortex, in the farthest reaches of the known universe, and in the proteins and acids which constitute our nature, religion offers either annihilation in the name of god, or else the false promise that if we take a knife to our foreskins, or pray in the right direction, or ingest pieces of wafer, we shall be “saved.” It is as if someone, offered a delicious and fragrant out-of-season fruit, matured in a painstakingly and lovingly designed hothouse, should throw away the flesh and the pulp and gnaw moodily on the pit.