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God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything    by Christopher Hitchens Amazon.com order for
God Is Not Great
by Christopher Hitchens
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Christopher Hitchens has spent some time in journalism: as a book reviewer for the Times, a staff writer for the New Statesman, chief foreign correspondent for the Daily Express, a regular columnist for the Nation, and a regular writer for Vanity Fair, Harper's, and Atlantic Monthly. As a foreign correspondent and travel writer, he has written from more than sixty different countries. He is also the author of such books as Letters to a Young Contrarian and Why Orwell Matters.

Hitchens now takes on a subject of growing discussion and debate, in a time when the number of atheists in the United States as well as the rest of the world is apparently growing - either because people are abandoning all religion or are simply coming out and admitting to atheist beliefs. A short time ago atheist was a label few would admit to, but now there are a slew of anti-religious books, including Richard Dawkins' God Delusion, Sam Harris' End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, to name only a few, with no doubt many more to be published. Hitchens addresses a subject that is creeping into mainstream media (Dawkins made Time's Top 100 Most Influential People list this year) and becoming a commonplace conversation in many households.

What I find quite uncanny, having read most of the books mentioned above, is how each author avoids covering the same examples and details when discussing the subject matter. They find new and different ways of arguing the futility of religion and putting forward their atheist beliefs. Hitchens joins the ranks here in presenting a new side to a growing subject matter. What makes God Is Not Great different is that while many of the other books calling for the end of religion gloss over the different faiths of the world, they ultimately focus on Christianity, as the most visible faith in the United States; Hitchens includes chapters not just on Christianity and its various denominations, but also on the Muslim religion and its denominations, Buddhism, Mormonism, as well as small religious sects around the world such as Shintoism and Jainism.

Hitchens puts his journalistic background to good use in citing many different examples of how each religion causes more pain and suffering than good. In most cases, these feature situations in which Hitchens was involved or that he learned about while in a specific country. He best illustrates this in the second chapter of the book when he talks about serving on a panel with Dennis Prager one of America's notorious religious broadcasters who challenged him to respond yes or no to a simple question: Hitchens was to imagine himself in a strange city one evening, whereupon he saw a group of men coming towards him; the question is would he feel safer or less safe if he was to learn that they were coming from a prayer meeting? Hitchens then spends the next five pages explaining specific situations from a list of places simply beginning with the letter "B": Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. In each city, he gives examples of why he would not feel safe, and in so doing covers the world's major religions.

Daniel Lazare discussed the different atheist and anti-religious books mentioned above in the May 28th issue of the Nation in his article, Among the Disbelievers. His point is that when religion is done away with, there is nothing left but an empty vessel. But the Dawkinses, Dennetts, Hitchenses, and Harrises of the world don't seek something to fill in for religion. Science and empirical evidence provides all the answers they need - and when a new scientific theory comes along with evidence to cancel out the old theory, then it is replaced, and science evolves. Hitchens repeatedly makes the point that religion is based on beliefs written down long ago, in some cases over thousands of years ago, when the world was a very different place with few accurate answers. In the year 2007, it seems inconceivable that so many people have complete and unquestioning belief in ideas that were current in a time when thunderstorms and earthquakes could not be scientifically explained.

Hitchens ends God is Not Great with this ominous statement: 'We have first to transcend our prehistory, and escape the gnarled hands which reach out to drag us back to the catacombs and the reeking altars and the guilty pleasures of subjection and abjection. 'Know yourself,' said the Greeks, gently suggesting the consolations of philosophy. To clear the mind for this project, it has become necessary to know the enemy, and to prepare to fight it.'

Review of the Audiobook by Alex Telander:

In some ways, the audiobook version of God is Not Great can be considered the superlative version. Christopher Hitchens, like Richard Dawkins, is originally British, having moved to the United States in 1981; his accent is still strong, his lip still stiff and upper.

So when one listens to Hitchens' thoughts and ideas, hopes and dreams in his own words, the power and empathy comes across the speakers or headphones. The listener is hypnotized by a calm voice speaking clearly and intellectually about the state of religion in the current world.

At the end of each chapter and section, there is a small string piece that allows the listener to clear their thoughts or take time to contemplate what was just heard. In this case and others, when the author narrates their own audiobook, it's well worth seeking out that version, in order to get the most out of the book.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

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