Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hitchens's New Book

Slate has excerpts from gadfly Christopher Hitchens's new book God is Not Great. From what Slate posted, presumably meant to entice or intrigue, I know one thing: I will not read this book. Hitchens's arguments are so unoriginal and his style so churlish (and yet ostentatious) that I cannot imagine reading anything lengthier than these excerpts, and even struggling through those short samples of his annoying prose felt like mental root-canal.

Don't get me wrong—I can read critics of religion. In fact, I enjoy the exercise. I don't get emotionally distraught. (With the possible exception of the writings of Bishop John Shelby Spong, whose material is an effective emetic.) But if I take the time to read a critic then please, at least let him be original, even if just occasionally. Hitchens, (at least based on the Slate excerpts) like Dawkins in The God Delusion, commits the unforgivable sin of being boring. Contrast Sam Harris who, to his credit, at least offerd some new perspectives in his atheistic/mystical rant. Sam Harris was quite fun to read.

Hitchens, it seems to me, even anticipates that he has nothing new to say, writing:

There are four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.

I do not think it is arrogant of me to claim that I had already discovered these four objections (as well as noticed the more vulgar and obvious fact that religion is used by those in temporal charge to invest themselves with authority) before my boyish voice had broken. I am morally certain that millions of other people came to very similar conclusions in very much the same way, and I have since met such people in hundreds of places, and in dozens of different countries.

He's right—we've all heard such objections a semi-infinite number of times. Yawn. Hitchens has plagiarized untold numbers of late night dorm room philosophers.

Let's see—can we dig out any new insight from the Slate excerpts?

We [atheists] may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

Translation: we atheists are supremely rational. Nope, heard that one before.

We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books.

Translation: Though supremely rational, we atheists also appreciate the sublime. Nope, heard that one before.

We do not believe in heaven or hell, yet no statistic will ever find that without these blandishments and threats we commit more crimes of greed or violence than the faithful. (In fact, if a proper statistical inquiry could ever be made, I am sure the evidence would be the other way.)

Translation: we atheists don't need no stinkin' heaven or hell to keep us in line. Nope, heard that one before.

We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true—that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.

Translation: we atheists don't need religion to define our morality. In fact, we behave better than the religious whose so-called morality often lands them in the gutter. Nope, heard that one before.

How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required, to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to "fit" with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities? How many saints and miracles and councils and conclaves are required in order first to be able to establish a dogma and then—after infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty—to be forced to rescind one of those dogmas?

Translation: we atheists are amazed at the hoops you'll jump through to reconcile religion with science. Nope, heard that one before.

The mildest criticism of religion is also the most radical and the most devastating one. Religion is man-made.

Hmm.. religion is an invention of men. Nope, heard that one before.

As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.

Translation: The theists are out to destroy us and establish a medieval American theocracy! Religion is the source of everything that is wrong in the world! Nope, heard that one before.

If you can refrain from buying but one book this year, I recommend God is Not Great without reservation.

Hat Tip: Evolution Blog

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