Christopher Hitchens is not great

Posted in Books, Faith, God by Deputy city editor on July 5, 2007

God is not great” is the latest polemic from the prolific, clever but also oddly deranged Christopher Hitchens. It is sharply written, studiously controversalist, superficially largely indisputable. Hitchens is such a brilliant man but there is a catch. He is capable of error. I am sure he is capable of conceding this. The hugeness of Hitchens’ mistakes on Iraq and his flirtation with neoconservatism does make it very difficult to assume that anything he says is necessarily sound.

Even though there is nothing especially original in the basic idea that all religion is a lot of tosh, Hitchens’s work is not entirely derivative despite the vacuum cleaner sourcing and introductions to all the great heretics. There are those who might criticise this book as a clipping job. But Hitchens has chosen the right clippings and assembled them in a sensible order. Even leaving room for scepticism, this does seem a pretty sound bill of indictment.

Hitchens believes religious faith not merely ignorant but an agent for making things worse and responsible for much that ails humanity. Possibly he is right. He acknowledges that man seems perfectly capable of creating secular faiths that are quite as wicked as religiously dogmatic ones.

Maybe we are just wicked by nature and the most wicked people of all will always be drawn to those institutions – such as the church – where they can practice their wickedness to cruellest effect. If it is true that the childhood of man was shockingly ill informed, it is also true that the great faith pillars were practically the only institutions going. Hitchens seems to think the religious dictatorships even worse than the secular ones, and it is to the credit of Hitchens that you are not going to find elsewhere between covers so complete or entertaining an evisceration of the world’s great faiths.

His book is much better than Dawkins’s recent rant, The God Delusion. Unlike Hitchens, Dawkins knows very little about religion, whereas Hitchens has taken on board a great deal and is a much better prosecutor. Whether Hitchens will convince the faithful of the errors of their ways is another question. If you are already in the school that reckons man created God and not the reverse, you will delight in this text. Or you may read it, snort and still find comfort in the Catholic mass. Hitchens removes the entrails from all of the great faiths and finds much that is remarkable but on this question, you are either with him or against him, so I will be surprised if this book changes many minds. His call for a new reformation seems facile. I will send it to my niece in Illinois and hope for the best. I am still too annoyed with Hitchens to give it the praise others say it deserves.

Lenin, blogging from a parish nearby, comments criticially on Hitchens here.


2 Responses

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  1. Les said, on July 8, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    if you had spelled his name right I may have taken your criticism as mildly informative. how unfortunate.

  2. Jonathan Miller said, on July 9, 2008 at 9:34 am

    I am grateful to Les who is quite right that a couple of Hitchins crept in… which I have now corrected. This is an example of the generative power of the internet. But perhaps his tone is a little ungenerous.In fact the spelling was mostly right! Although one can quibble at Hitchens’s – which I would defend by saying it is a nod to Homer Simpson, and his neighbours, the Flanders’s. Anyway, I have offered Les a position as my official copy editor and await to hear if he will respond and put his eagle eye to fruitful labour. If he accepts this unpaid but vital function, he can start by reading the rest of the blog and noting the mistakes, which doubtless can be harvested by the dozen if not hundreds and I promise to correct them as fast as he can point them out.

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