Book review

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Read date: Sept 2018

Rating: 5 star

It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive and trenchant criticism of the results of the religious impulse in humankind. Across almost every time and place, the results of religion are show to be, at best, no better than those of secularism, and in many cases, somewhere between slightly worse and inhumanly bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the monotheistic religions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, or the eastern mysticisms of Buddhism. These things aren’t just in our long ago history, either: Hitchens never lived to see the systematic oppression, arguably genocide, of the Rohingya people by the Buddhists of Myanmar, and he only saw the beginnings of the escalating series of revelations about the abuses inside the Catholic church. It’s not hard to imagine what he would have made of them – it’s often bad, altogether too much of the time. But Hitchens is not blind in his disbelief: he acknowledges many individuals of faith who have achieved and contributed greatly to their fellow humans. But overall, the balance in not in their favour.

Some might argue that faith shows us what the good life really is, even if we are not believers. However, as he shows in several chapters, this is a logical confusion: what kind of “good person” would you be if you were only being good out of fear of hellfire after death? How much better to be a good person simply because it’s the kindest, best, or just the right, way of being in the world. We don’t need the divine as a benchmark of fairness, we all have one – all the primates, and many other mammals, already have one.

I didn’t start this book as a believer, but it’s hard to imagine that someone who lived with faith in the divine would survive the contact with Hitchens and his writings with their faith entirely unscathed.

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