One of the most talked about books in recent years is God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by the award-winning writer Christopher Hitchens (Twelve Books, 2007.) The interesting thing is that many who comment about the book never actually read it. But is the book just hype in order to sell copies? No; it’s actually a very lively read that touches on diverse topics that rotate around a central theme – that organized religion does eventually poison everything it touches.
What It’s Not About
This book takes organized religion to task – not God. Although Hitchens is an outspoken atheist, he states clearly in the book that he does not to force people to become atheists – but he does bristle at those who think everyone should worship the same God. In the UK, Hitchen’s native country, the book is even published under a slightly different title “God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion”.
The book also does not urge any armed revolution of atheists to take over world governments. Hitchens assumes that people have a choice when it comes to matters of the spirit and is trying to get them see his point of view and, in so doing, point out how they are being taken advantage of by organized religion. The book is a more a comment on personal freedom than about God.
Hitchens begins the book by recounting a childhood epiphany that God didn’t exist. However, he gave religion a go anyway, even going so far as converting to the Greek Orthodox Church in order to marry. He also goes through how religion has been used for some of the worst crimes in history. He also points out many inconsistencies in several leading religious figures.
Perhaps Hitchens is most effective when he talks about what happened to his friend, celebrated and reviled author Salmon Rushdie. Hitchens also became a target of hate in the name of religion for sticking up for his friend. It’s that personal account that makes his case more compelling – if religious persecution can happen to privileged people Hitchens and Rushdie, it can happen to anybody.
As A Read
Hitchens’s prose is riveting, even if you don’t agree with him. He does have the ability to make you interested enough to keep on reading to the end, which is a very difficult skill for a non-fiction writer. One of the ways he does this is through rants. Unfortunately, the rants can sometimes backfire, making Hitchens seem out of control of his arguments, such as when he is criticizing the Dalai Lama. It seems he is just nitpicking with the Dalai Lama more for the sake of argument than anything else.
But the point of the book is not to entirely agree with Hitchens, but to at least start thinking for yourself about the power organized religion has in society.
In June of 2010, Hitchens was diagnosed with metastatic esophagal cancer. When asked in interviews since then how he was doing, Hitchens replies, “I’m dying.” But he still insists that immanent death will not change his views about God or organized religion.