Diary of a Country Bookseller

Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Dan Krotz

God is Not Great

By Christopher Hitchens

Reviewed by Dan Krotz

Christopher Hitchens has written a book titled God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. It is a splendid book, witty, outrageous, funny, and occasionally erudite. It is about the fallacy and delusion of theism and it sets out to prove, in the words of Robert Pirsig that, "if one man believes something that is not real, we call it insanity. If many people believe something that is not real we call it religion."

  Hitchens is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, where excerpts of the book have been appearing lately. There, he describes the Mormon Church as an organized racket and the Catholic Church as a League of Peculiar Gentlemen with dreadful and peculiar tastes. Muslims are condemned not only for being fools, but lunatics as well. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell -- who have publicly expressed the same opinion, as does Hitchens, about Muslims -- are taken to the woodshed and given a thorough flogging. There is no mote, nor beam that Hitchens fails to toss into the eye of Christianity. It is all great fun.

Breath-taking audacity

  And it is a stunt. Hitchens is, without putting too fine a point on it, the Evel Knievel of the essay. He does with a pen or keyboard what Knievel did with a Harley Davidson: his audacity takes our breath away; he leaps stylishly over Great Ideas and First Principles and when he crashes and burns he does it brilliantly.

  You have to love Hitchens. He is a boozer and a smoker and a fulltime literary rascal and precisely the kind of guy that God so loved. That he writes elegantly, gallantly and daringly -- and probably better than any other essayist in the West -- is certainly proof of a Necessary Being: talent such as Hitchens' does not spring from nothingness.

  Hitchens is also a writer of enormous courage. He is perhaps the last public intellectual in either the United States or Great Britain who continues to believe our intervention in Iraq is noble and indispensable to the causes of liberty.

A pariah to his 'base'

  Advocating that belief has caused Hitchens to become a pariah to his "base" constituency, the political left. Yet, he has not run to the right: God is Not Great is proof of his unfettered and fearless free agency. He is that rare being, a capital "C" classical Conservative: he makes everyone mad.

  God is Not Great is only the most recently published book among anti-theism tracts on the bestseller lists these days. Biologist Richard Dawkins has written The God Delusion and neuroscientist Sam Harris has written The End of Faith. These three writers, sometimes referred to as "the Unholy Trinity," are smart guys, and they know what they know.

  They know that God does not exist. The problem they run into is that other guys know that God does exist, and with the same degree of certainty, and with the same evidential basis. Dawkins solves this problem by referring to atheists as "Brights" with the implication, I guess, that theists are "Dulls" or knuckle-draggers.

Man's inhumanity to man

  Hitchens, to his (expected) credit, avoids the schoolyard "Na na Na na Na" and sticks to (the many) examples of how man's inhumanity to man plays out in the name of religion.

  When I drag my knuckles into church on Sunday mornings I do so with a sense of contentment and gratitude. I like the people who comprise my church family. I know that I can depend on them to bury me when I am dead, and to take care of wife when I am gone.

  I see Goodness as a practical, physical expression everywhere I look. All this Goodness, contentment and gratitude I take as evidence of God's existence. I can't help it: I know what I know.

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