Monday, February 7, 2011

"God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything"

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is a significant text by noted atheist Christopher Hitchens.  After its release in 2007 it was a best seller for quite some time.  This book has contributed mightily to the rise of the New Atheism within this country.

Because of its impact, I decided to give this book a try.  Since I'm obviously a theist, I knew that it would be a challenge to read it.  Let's face it: it's always easier to read someone you agree with than someone you don't.

Not wanting to add to Hitchens' already full wallet, I checked this one out of a local library.

I must admit that I selectively skimmed this book.  The reason is that I have no interest in Hitchens' discussion of world religions outside biblical Christianity.  My interest was two-fold.  First, how does Hitchens interact with biblical claims?  Second, what does he propose as the best belief system?

Hitchens begins God is Not Great by, in order, pointing out that religion kills, making fun of prohibitions against the pig, claiming that religion is hazardous to human health, stating that metaphysical claims of religion are false, and skewering the idea of intelligent design.

Soon after, Hitchens spends about 25 pages blasting away at the bible.  I thought he would spend more time on this, but for some reason he decided not to.  He lumps Islam in with Judaism and Christianity, taking shots at the Koran for about 15 more pages.

Hitchens continues by attacking miracles, Hell, the origins of religions, the ends of religions, and the outcomes of religion.  He takes a few pages (ten) to state that none of the eastern religions offer a good solution either.  Forging onward, Hitchens claims that religion itself is an original sin, religion is child abuse, and that totalitarianism is actually based in religion.

Not surprisingly, Hitchens concludes with what he believes is the best belief system - what he refers to as "rational."  It is basically a materialist, evolutionary, atheistic worldview that he proposes.

Although this book was a challenge to read because of the author's attitude toward Jesus Christ, there were a couple of good things about it.

First, Hitchens is a good writer.  The book moves along relatively quickly and is not laborious whatsoever.  Hitchens is also intelligent.

Second, Hitchens gets much correct when he focuses his guns on world religions.  In a sense, religion (if by that we mean man-made religion) does poison everything.  The author accurately points out atrocity after atrocity committed in the name of religion.

Despite these positives, this book is lacking in many areas.  I've chosen to point out eight significant problems:

First, Hitchens writes in a condescending manner.  He repeatedly uses the word "stupid" to describe any belief in God.  In life I've always thought that if you have a good case to make against something, then you simply state the facts.  You only have to resort to name-calling if your case is weak in the fist place.

Second, the author has a tendency to lump all religions together.  This should be an obvious mistake since the major religions almost all make exclusive truth claims.  He should have spent much more time dealing with them one-by-one.  Note that Hitchens devotes only 25 pages to the bible.

Third, Hitchens out-of-hand rules out the supernatural. Although this is not surprising, what it does is color his view of anything having to do with the divine. Instead of actually addressing religions' truth claims in a respectful and thoughtful manner, he instead tends to poke fun, talk down, and when all else fails, refer to them as "stupid."

Fourth, the case that Hitchens tries to make against the bible is simply weak.  He attempts to point out inconsistencies but fails to do so.  For example, he says that the Matthew and Luke birth narratives contradict one another.  This is simply not factual.  Instead, Matthew and Luke talk about several different aspects of what occurred.  Hitchens also attacks manuscript evidence for the scriptures.  He fails to make his case, seeming to not realize that there is more manuscript evidence for the bible than any other book from antiquity.

Fifth, Hitchens absolutely does not understand the consequences of the fall of mankind into sin.  He repeatedly asks (in various ways) why if God is good He would create such a messed up world and let terrible things happen.  Hitchens is looking for a world before the fall of Adam and Eve in Eden.  Hitchens additionally doesn't understand the vast disparity between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of mankind.  Let me emphasize that the author's lack of understanding in not an intellectual one, but a spiritual one.

Sixth, in looking at many who claim to be followers of Christ, Hitchens fails to see Jesus Himself.  The reality is that this is a sad indictment of many over the years who have claimed the name of Christ but who were in reality far from it.  A good example is the horror of the crusades.  Because of this poor behavior, Hitchens does not see the person of Jesus Christ for being as majestic and wonderful as He is.  Instead, the author quickly dismisses Jesus as someone who was probably man-made and is now followed by those who are "stupid."

Seventh, as is typical of most atheists, Hitchens pits science against religion.  This is faulty because all religions do not think the same about science.  Also, biblical Christianity welcomes science because true science (which looks at the facts) always supports biblical truth claims.  What Hitchens is really in favor of is scientific naturalism, which is a sort of religion itself.

Eighth, Hitchens in essence blames the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century on religions of the past.  Because, says the author, religion played a significant role in this type of rule in previous centuries, religion is at least part to blame for what occurred under men such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. This could not be farther from the truth. The 20th century's murderous rulers rejected religion in favor of an atheistic, materialistic, naturalistic, evolutionary worldview and the outcome was slaughter on a scale the world had never previously seen.

In summary, God is Not Great is a good book for any Christian to read who wants to understand what atheists believe and why they do so. However, because of Hitchens' faulty worldview, this book was doomed from the start to have multiple problems.

In the end, regardless of what Christopher Hitchens says, there is a God who is great and greatly to be praised!


Aussie John said...


Christopher Hitchin's brother, Peter, has, according to a recent interview I listened to, become a Christian "through art".

I have been trying to get hold of his book, Rage Against God.

The reviews I have happened upon indicate that the book deals more with the broader issues which led him to embrace God, and to avoid the theological issues.

I have heard him in a couple of interviews, and would like to hear, or read, of whether the Lord Jesus enters into what he believes. So far he has not mentioned Him, which gives me some concern.

You will agree, I'm certain, that God cannot be known, apart from the revelation of Himself in the person and work of the Lord, Jesus Christ!

Tim A said...

I'm wondering if Hitchens has observed or said anything about how every religion, including apostate denominations who call themselves Christians have connected together with atheists in the support of the largest killing spree of all - abortion? I wonder what he would say about this unification to murder on the part of atheists and religionists? Does this not show all these allegedly "different" beliefs to be fully unified in their beliefs in the destruction of the unborn and newly born, thus pointing to a unifying deceiver intent on destruction of human life.

Eric said...


I don't know much at all about Hitchens' brother. If Jesus isn't a part of his beliefs, then we know he's certainly not a Christian.

Eric said...


That's an interesting situation you bring up. I don't know what he would say. He probably views abortion as just a form of natural selection.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Not terrible impressed with the new atheism. Nothing much is new about it. Same old arguments. I read more secular authors than I do christian ones, probably by an order of magnitude. Have a long term interest in modernism, novels and other forms of creative literature. Ideologically motivated preachers of dogmatic atheism are a colossal bore. But the literary artists who are writing fiction as secular materialists, that stuff I have been reading for half a century. Not sure why everyone seems so concerned about the so called New Atheism. These people are just threaten by the fact that in total world fundamentalism and some form of theism outnumbers them ten to one. And the more dangerous forms of fundamentalism are increasing in numbers.