Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris have had things to themselves for too long. Now it’s time for Christopher Hitchens to join the party. His new book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is now available.
So, my summer reading list just got one title longer. In general I have mixed feelings about Hitchens. He’s a terrific writer, and his essays are always enjoyable to read even when I disagree with him. I’ve consistently been impressed by his writing on religion, most notably his columns for Free Inquiry magazine.
The trouble is, he very rarely defends an actual position. Usually he merely attacks, with considerably savagery, anyone taking a position contrary to his own. Which is fine, when he is attacking someone I think deserves to be attacked. But in the last decade or so he has chosen some poor targets indeed.
His fanatical and mostly irrational hatred of Bill Clinton rendered much of his writing from the late nineties worthless. And, of course, he jumped on the Iraq War bandwagon with considerable enthusiasm. He was quite clear that the people who questioned the existence of Saddam’s WMD stockpiles were being foolish. He had no doubt that we would be greeted as liberators and that we could install democracy in Iraq as if it were a washing machine. His rather pathetic attempt to explain how, actually, he’s been right about everything all along is available here.
Slate has run several excertps from Htichen’s book. Here’s an excerpt from one of the excerpts:
The argument with faith is the foundation and origin of all arguments, because it is the beginning–but not the end–of all arguments about philosophy, science, history, and human nature. It is also the beginning–but by no means the end–of all disputes about the good life and the just city. Religious faith is, precisely because we are still-evolving creatures, ineradicable. It will never die out, or at least not until we get over our fear of death, and of the dark, and of the unknown, and of each other. For this reason, I would not prohibit it even if I thought I could. Very generous of me, you may say. But will the religious grant me the same indulgence? I ask because there is a real and serious difference between me and my religious friends, and the real and serious friends are sufficiently honest to admit it. I would be quite content to go to their children’s bar mitzvahs, to marvel at their Gothic cathedrals, to “respect” their belief that the Koran was dictated, though exclusively in Arabic, to an illiterate merchant, or to interest myself in Wicca and Hindu and Jain consolations. And as it happens, I will continue to do this without insisting on the polite reciprocal condition–which is that they in turn leave me alone. But this, religion is ultimately incapable of doing. As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.
Sounds about right. I’ll look forward to reading the book.