But shoot me now, I’m about to defend Christopher Hitchens. Sort of. I should state from the outset that I used to be quite the fan of his as one of the few people to my left with a regular column. But Goddamn did that boy pick the wrong horse with the war in Iraq. And the whole Sidney Blumenthal thing! Anyway, I’m not so much defending his new book, as making fun of Hubert G. Locke attacking it in the PI.
I missed out on the opportunity — if it can be called that — to engage in a head-to-head with Christopher Hitchens when he came to town earlier this month. He was promoting his latest book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” before what I’m told was a packed house at Town Hall. Having had to forgo the chance for a personal encounter, I have to settle for this admittedly one-sided rejoinder via the printed page.
I’ve been to several book signings, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried to use them as an opportunity to confront the author. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, I’m just saying it seems excessively mean to me. But I’m sorry you’ve got a life.
I also have to take Hitchens on without bothering to buy and read his book. To do so, and thereby contribute to his royalties, would offend my principles, both fiscal and moral. It’s also unnecessary because, regardless of the book’s content, I can’t get beyond the absurdity of its title. The title may not be the author’s choice but it’s his book and he’s stuck with it.
Um. OK, putting aside the notion that people who disagree with you shouldn’t be able to support themselves, there are libraries. And did you bother to ask if the PI would get you a promotional copy? I’m not sure if they have a policy against it, but yeah, libraries. They are awesome. Or the Google. It took me like 3 seconds to find some excerpts
. OK, and you know what, I like that you’re blaming him even if someone else wrote the title. I mean I know that most headlines are written by other people, but man alive is “Hitchens’ assertion proves fatuous” a dull title.
Whether God is great is a proposition many would hardly find productive to dispute. It’s like arguing whether evil exists or love conquers all — statements that take us nowhere beyond affirmation or denial. Nonetheless, it’s the second half of the book title — Hitchens’ assertion that religion poisons everything — that gives me pause.
Pause from actually bothering to read it?
Never mind trying to figure out how it relates to his declaration that God isn’t great (most subtitles provide some explanation of the main title rather than announcing an entirely new idea — which leaves me to wonder about Hitchens’ much vaunted reputation as a writer — but that’s a wholly different matter). The problem, for me at least, is the irrationality of the claim that religion poisons everything — an irrationality that is only heightened by the evidence offered in its support.
I suspect that he (or whoever wrote the title) thinks that God Isn’t Great because Religion Poisons Everything. And so the book will be an examination of how religion poisons everything, making God not great. I personally don’t agree with it, but it would be nice to at least acknowledge that the title works fine. I don’t know how long a title is supposed to be, but seriously, it’s not the whole first chapter.
As for that evidence, I shall have to rely on an interview with Hitchens in The Seattle Times and a much more substantive review of his book in the May 21 issue of The New Yorker. To support his claim, Hitchens subjects us to a weary recitation of all the acts of wickedness and commands to commit such that are to be found in the Bible and the Quran, along with the accustomed recounting of all the obnoxious events of the past several millenniums that have been carried out in the name of one god or another.
Um, you’re writing a column for the PI, so you could probably, without too much trouble, get someone on the phone who wants to sell their book. It doesn’t look like he even gave that a try. I don’t know if he did, but most people who do try put a line in or something.Anyway, yeah, the bible says silly things. I mention it from time to time, usually when someone is saying we have to follow the bible on everything. But, I think most believers of any religion can, and do, put the crazy aside. It’s the literalists and the fundamentalists in any religion who you have to watch out for.
The problem is not just that we’ve heard all this before — and countless times over. It’s the assumption that it all takes place because people believe they have a divine warrant to do so that gives rise to several questions.
Right. Non-religious people do bad things too. News at 11.
Do people behave like savages only under some divine impulse? Is religion the only human sentiment that poisons everything it touches? Suppose, for example, we were to substitute “nationalism” for religion in Hitchens’ formula. One could then compile a list of human wickedness that would rival anything the Bible has to offer — from 12 years of Nazi mayhem and the slaughter of the Pol Pot regime to the antics of the Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo and what the Sudanese government is doing in Darfur. Or suppose we posit “democracy” for religion and ask the Iraqis what its impact has been on their society, or “neoconservatism” and then speculate on its influence on America’s role in contemporary world affairs.
Well, I’m not sure that Hitchens would argue that nationalism is a good thing, so I’m not sure what the point is. I think to the extent that those things matter it’s his assertion that it is easier to do bad things in the name of God than in the name of no God. Of course that’s an over simplification. But maybe you would have a better grasp of the complexities if you’d bothered to read the damn book before commenting on it. And yes, Hitler and Pol Pot were bad, but I’m not sure what that does to prove either God’s existence or His greatness.
Once we begin to catalog just how many ideas and concepts can be charged, at some time or other, with having venomous outcomes, the fatuous quality of Hitchens’ assertion becomes obvious. For his assault on religious believers, we could substitute white males or meat eaters or politicians or just about any other subcategory of the human species and come up with the same skewed results.
Hitchens isn’t arguing that any of those things are particularly good, only about religion. So, maybe you could engage him on the level of what he’s talking about and not on meat eaters.
Hitchens could benefit greatly from the sober counsel of Gordon Allport, the renowned Harvard psychologist, who gave a series of lectures more than a half-century ago on “The Individual and His Religion.” Allport states at the outset:
Well, having just read “Hitchens” and “sober” in the same sentence, I’m now prepared to say that anything is possible. But “The Individual and His Religion” isn’t a particularly good title, so we probably shouldn’t actually keep reading.
“I am dealing with the psychology, not the psychopathology, of religion. The neuro-tic function of religious belief … is indeed commonly encountered, so commonly that opponents of religion see only this function and declare it to dominate any life that harbors a religious sentiment. With this view I disagree. Many personalities attain a religious view of life without suffering arrested development and without self-deception.”
Would that we could say as much for Hitchens and his anti-religious sentiments.
I’m not sure how this sentence either has anything to do with the thing that was just quoted, or how it wraps up this column. Anyway, the end.