A Review of Hitchen’s “God is Not Great”

Eric, a friend from church, passed on to me this thought-provoking review of Christopher Hitchen’s book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The author is Dr. Eugene McCarraher of Villanova University:

Here are a couple of paragraphs:

For Hitchens, all you really need to know about religion is its historical malignancy. God Is Not Great, echoing Shelley’s charge that religion “taintest everything,” recounts its poisonous effects on human affairs. Slavery, genocide, misogyny, racism, complicity in tyranny: it is, in truth, a hefty record of iniquity and shame, and Christians will always need—and I daresay deserve—these painful lessons in humility. But Hitchens turns the ethical lapses of religion into a silly fallacy. If, as he asserts, “an ethical life can be lived without religion”—a point which, to my knowledge, no major theologian has ever denied—Hitchens would also have us believe that unethical lives must be lived with religion.

Then again, this is a writer who understands religion only as a mélange of prohibition and superstition, plus an incitement to violence, and so large parts of the story get erased. Hitchens’s claim that the God of Moses “never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all” is preposterous, given the Torah’s injunctions about forgiveness of debts, redistribution of land, or openness to strangers, or the prophets’ exhortations to mercy, justice, and beating swords into ploughshares. He rightly contends that the crimes of Nazism and Communism do not mitigate the felonies of religion; indeed, he writes, “one might hope that religion had retained more sense of its dignity than that.” True, but that sense of dignity is inseparable from standards by which the religious can identify and condemn atrocities done in their name—standards that fascists and Stalinists never recognized, let alone applied. Doctrines of racial purity lead inexorably to repression, ethnic cleansing, or genocide; acceptance of “historical necessity” inevitably sanctions “the necessary murder,” as Auden later regretted putting it. There is nothing even remotely comparable in these secular ideologies to the command to love one’s enemies. Those Christians down the ages who tried to prevent the crimes of their horrifically errant brethren did so because they believed—often at the cost of their lives or fortunes—that the human person was the imago Dei, a conviction they derived from Christian theology.

The rest of the review can be read here.

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