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  Volume 6 | Issue 26 | July 01, 2012 |


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Book Review

Intelligence, Information and Wit
- Hitchens' Attack on Religion

Rajiv Ashrafi

Christopher Hitchens led life as a brilliant and prolific journalist, literary critic, and as an outspoken atheist who was constantly in the pursuit of truth. 'God is Not Great' could be considered the legacy he left behind. Hitchens states that he has been writing it all his life. It shows in the passion, emotion and wit that pervade the collection of essays that make up this book. They are enthusiastically-written works that engage all major religions of the world (including some minor ones), offering factual and cited information on how they have been used to repress, oppress and suppress the progress of humanity. He does not set out to disprove the existence of God (or gods), but rather focuses on how religions are man-made constructs, as well as the ways in which they have been used to carry out various atrocities on humanity. All this is executed brilliantly in the text, which argues that “religion poisons everything.”

The author is fair in his attack on all religions. He dismisses Orthodox Judaism as racist propaganda, Muslims as bullies who have intense hatred for free speech, Gandhi's brand of Hinduism as divisive, and Christians to be a death cult that proselytises and antagonizes anyone who thinks differently. Hitchens attacks religion because of its hatred for intellect and free inquiry. He states how it has, throughout the course of history, refused to leave intellectuals and scientists alone by asserting that it is the word of God(s). His point of contention with religion is that it is based on ideas and beliefs written down thousands of years ago when the world was ignorant. Keeping that in mind, he finds it inconceivable that billions of people around the world still maintain unquestionable belief in ideas and thoughts that were formed during a time when most people were illiterate. In fact, Hitchens points out how they could not even scientifically explain natural disasters, let alone understand the Earth's place in the universe. The book does not preach atheism; as a matter of fact, Hitchens does not even hope to influence even the mildly religious. Instead, he talks about using science to better understand and explore the world around us. However, he is resentful towards religion, though he presents his arguments in a logical, rational manner. It will surely upset religious people who find their deeply ingrained beliefs challenged with unquestionable, unbiased information.

The writing is fluent, conversational and witty. It is fascinating to see someone systematically deconstruct religion with such passion and ferocity. However, he often comes across as elitist, arrogant and pretentious. The historical evidence and personal experiences with which he illustrates his points are vivid, persuasive, and often humorous, though it is consistently divisive and adversarial.

As it stands, Hitchens brilliantly puts into this book the reasons why one should stay away from organised religions the hypocrisy, prejudices, sexism and the overall foolishness are just a few of the things he writes about. The author has been around the world and has a lot to say about it. While one might think Hitchens is against every person who is religious, that is far from the truth. He notes his meetings with many prominent religious figures, speaking respectfully of many of them and the experiences he has had with them. It is clear that he is educated, rational and, above all, a humanist who abhors the ill effects of religion on humanity in general. Simply put, 'God is Not Great' is an informative, captivating work that offers intelligent discourse on religion with an appropriately embittered angle.

(Rajiv Ashrafi is a lecturer at North South University.)


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