The unfortunate passing of Christopher Hitchens from Oesophageal cancer only a few days ago has left me with an incredible, albeit unexpected, loss. During my more religious times, my more respectful of religious times, as well as during the burgeoning period of my political interested, I avidly read Hitchens columns and essays in the Australian (reprints of his columns in other magazines etc.) and on the Internet. I studied, questioned, and learned from how he seemed to take the issues on merit (as he saw them) rather than judging them purely from an ideological vantage point. I watched with amazement and supreme respect as he willingly submitted to being water boarded, and then publicly announced that his former stance (on waterboarding) had been wrong in light of his new knowledge. I stood in awe of his intellect, vocabulary and breathtaking writing. Hitchens, whether you agreed with him or not, had truly breathtaking talent for capturing the reader and making them think. Talents a great many of us are deeply envious of. He will be sorely missed.
Shortly after learning of Hitchens passing I decided to reread, and this time finish, his famous anti-religion polemic “God Is Not Great”. Having finished it this morning (after not being able to put it down for two days) I cannot for the life of me remember why I didn’t finish it the first time. In the acknowledgements, Hitchens claims that he has been writing the book for his entire life. It shows. The sheer weight of reasoning and references gives the impression of a work of passion. A work that is the culmination of a lifetime’s interest in the subject, rather than a work that has been specifically researched and written for the sake of it.
It is hard to summarise a book that covers its subject using such a vast array of sources and angles. With a book this long, convoluted, and rich in detail, I shall have to concentrate on what I have found important. Possibly the line of the book is Hitchens now famous phrase/argument: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence”. However, Hitchens does not resort to arguments bereft of evidence. On the contrary Hitchens draws from science, history, philosophy (rather heavily), fiction, law, reason, the religious books, and even the religions themselves (and I have probably missed a few). Hitchens uses them all in a steady stream of rhetoric that meticulously lays out his case. However, Hitchens not only mercilessly rips apart the hypocritical, idiotic, manufactured and contradictory (all his words, and again I have left much out) nature of the major religions, he also lays the case for atheism/humanism. He counters the common arguments that in the absence of religion there is also an absence of ethics and morality. In fact Hitchens turns the argument on its head, pointing out the many examples (of innumerable) of religions and religious people either defying the very ethics they espouse, or blindly espousing/committing unethical acts they had not considered. And again, there is much much more I have not covered.
This review of course does not do the book justice in the slightest. I am not the wordsmith that Hitchens was, and at 22 years old I have not had the opportunity (or until recently the inkling) to read as far and wide. However, “God Is Not Great” has given me a brilliant starting off point for my future studies. It has introduced many lines of reasoning that I had never considered, and many many authors and books I likely would not have come across. Hitchens legendary memory and passion for the subject shine brightly in this piece, and for lovers of Hitchens essays I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is harder for me to recommend it for the religious among us, as they are likely to be highly offended. But as Hitchens would probably point out, the reason they are still religious is because they are not open to works and criticism like this. I cannot say enough how much I loved this book. It is every bit the “…astonishing example of sustained and persuasive rhetoric…” that Simon Hoggart proclaimed in last Saturday’s edition of the Guardian.
Title: God Is Not Great
Author: Christopher Hitchens
Pages: 336 (Paperback)
Publisher: Pocket Books
Amazon Link: God Is Not Great