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Christopher Hitchens


The Case Against Religion

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
As its title indicates, this book is cast in the mould of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion but is if anything even more uncompromising. Thus, after an introductory chapter explaining why he chose to write the book, Hitchens gives his second chapter the title "Religion Kills". This sets the tone for much of what follows.

The book is an attack on religion in general, which is probably why it includes a short (and inadequate) chapter on Hinduism and Buddhism; given that Buddhism is unconcerned with a God, this might have been better omitted. In any case, the main focus, as one would expect, is on the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Hitchens, in fact, equates religion with theism.

However, this book is not the place to come for a reasoned discussion of the claims of theism. Hitchens is mainly concerned not so much to counter the claims of religion philosophically as to demonstrate that its effects are inherently bad. We get one short chapter on the metaphysical shortcomings of religion and another on the failure of arguments from design, but the rest of the book is really polemics.

Hitchens's position, stated at the outset, is that religion poisons everything [his italics]. By this he means that "people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction." He supports his views with plenty of chapter and verse taken from the Old and New Testaments and the Koran; there are also numerous references to contemporary events. The writing is chatty and journalistic, but for some reason I found the book quite hard to focus on; perhaps this style is more suited to a Sunday newspaper than to book length.

This is one of several forceful attacks on religion (by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel C. Dennett) to have appeared in recent years. Although they attract a lot of attention and seem to be widely read, I wonder how much effect they really have. As Michael Shermer has remarked in a recent article in Scientific American (19 August 2007), "anti" movements by themselves are not enough; something positive is needed as well. And, as Martin Rees, the President of the Royal Society has said, it may be better to seek allies among religious moderates than to attack all religious views indiscriminately.

31 August 2007

%T God Is Not Great
%S The Case Against Religion
%A Hitchens, Christopher
%I Atlantic Books
%C London
%D 2007
%G ISBN 978-1-84354 586 6
%P 307pp
%K religion

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