An Interesting Review of Hitchens' God Is Not Great

From Hitchens' flat world by Father Raymond J. De Souza as published in the National Post:

God is not Great -- lavishly excerpted in the National Post these last four days (the final instalment appearing on the opposite page) -- has lots of arguments like that. Isn't it silly for religious believers to bring themselves before God in certain places when God could see them wherever they are? And why do we need to tell an omniscient God what we need? And what if different believers pray for mutually contradictory things? And didn't you know about inconsistencies in sacred texts? And -- this example must be included because Hitchens is mightily annoyed that religion seeks to restrain the sexual appetite -- why would God create human beings with their hands close to their genitals if he didn't intend for them vigorous onanistic exertions, of which all religions take a dim view? You see, such puzzles can only be solved by realizing that the whole putrid mess is pure fabrication by fraudsters playing upon mankind's "infantile" need for consolations in a harsh world.

Hitchens writes as though he has read deeply in the history of religious thought, but if so he managed to do it without engaging what he has found there. He breezily dismisses the long examination of the great questions of divine power and human freedom, divine foreknowledge and human uncertainty, divine inspiration and human agency, human nature and the natural law, as insuperable problems that must either be ignored or shielded from the penetrating reason of clever people like Christopher Hitchens.

I'm sorry, was that an ad hominem attack? Hard to resist after reading what is, essentially, a book-length example of same. Hitchens' approach is to romp through history, using his cutting literary style to spoof and mock all the absurdities he finds in the world of religion. If Hitchens met a local vicar with bad breath, religion is to blame for halitosis. It's a fun game, but not really an argument. Hitchens claims that "religion poisons everything" -- including the aftermath of his beloved Iraq War, which was going swimmingly until the mullahs screwed it up--as though without religion history would be free of people doing beastly things.

Despite Hitchens entertaining style, his book quickly becomes tedious. If you are the sort of person who thinks it very clever to respond to, say, an argument defending the role of religious believers in a pluralistic society by shouting, "What about the Crusades?", you will be nodding along with Hitchens in emphatic agreement. If you find such ad historiam arguments tedious, you will be simply nodding off.

Page after page, Hitchens piles one outrage upon another. So convinced is he of the rightness of his conclusion -- "religion poisons everything" -- that he does not blanch from the most breathtaking rearrangements of the facts and terms of debate. With an apparently straight face he excuses the evils of secular regimes, by blaming the Catholic Church for Nazism and classifying North Korea's communist regime as a religious cult. If anti-clerical fascists and atheistic autocrats fall into the camp of religion, then the reader can only wonder why Hitchens doesn't blame the priests for inclement weather.


Jason Pratt said…
I take it this is representative of what to expect from Christopher's answer to Douglas' challenge about an atheistic ground for critting atheistic regimes for behaving badly: they made a religion out of atheism.

In other words, they took it too seriously and tried to apply it at a popularly acceptable level. Had they been more rational and ethical about applying their belief that reality is at bottom non-rational and amoral instead, they would have... been... um... it would have been the Church's fault then! Like with the Nazis! {nod!}

Still, I haven't checked in with the debate in Christianity Today yet; so maybe he has a different answer there. (Links can be found in the previous post by The Dawn Treader.)

Anonymous said…
How come these demagogues who would've flunked theology sell so widely and people actually listen to them? Well, I guess we can be grateful that Francis Collins' "The Language of God" was a bestseller for a while. But the question remains. This really has more to do with sociology than the war of ideas. It's no accident that Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, et al are finding such fertile ground to spread their sophomoric anti-religious rants. But it would be nice to see more popular pro-religious books as well.
Anonymous said…
How about instead of a sarcastic flanking attack on Hitchens, a straight on argument for religion for those, like me, who are not predisposed to accept it. Is there such a thing, or must there always be an element of mystical discovery etc?
BK said…
Hello Anonymous,

I think that there has been many places that the case has been made for Christianity. The case is, in fact, cumulative, taking lines of arguments from various perspectives to point out that Christianity provides the best answers for a multitude of things that we observe in our lives. For example, it makes sense of good and evil, man's depravity and greatness, the general acknowledgement of morality, the existence of the universe, the meaning and purpose of life, the basis of rationality, and others. One very good resource, in my opinion, is William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith. I would also recommend Francis Schaeffer's Trilogy and C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.

Obviously, since the argument is multi-faceted, this blog is not a place where I try to make the entire argument in one entry. Rather, if you read through multiple entries you will see various parts of the argument being made. This particular entry is responding to what I view to be a hit-piece against Christianity. As such, it has to point out the flaws and does so in a way commenserate with the writings of Hitchens.
BK said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
I'll look for those books but keep in mind, there may be wonderful ideas about the meaning and purpose of life in the bible but it does not follow that everything therein is not wholley made up
BK said…
You are correct that it is possible that it may wholly be made up. But I would respond that there is very little in the world we can know absolutely. In the case of Christianity, the case that is being made is that while it is possible that it is all a fabrication, that is not likely. Moreover, there is no other worldview that does as good of a job of providing answers for everything we see around us.

I encourage you to read those books and see what you think. If you set in your mind that Christianity is wrong, these books probably won't convince you to the contrary. However, if you approach it openly, you may find that these books provide a good framework for seeing that the Christian faith is both reasonable and likely true.
Anonymous said…
Here are some ideas about how to move forward:

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