The trouble one encounters in reading God is Not Great is the Voice. After watching and listening to Christopher Hitchens speak, the words peal off of the page in his contemptuous English sneer. Your mind processes the words, sentences, and paragraphs but, all the while, your MIND hears the voice surreptitiously attempting to corner you for interrogation. Certainly, you agree with me about all of this god silliness, don’t you? You’re not one of those believers are you? – leering pompously over his glasses for assent from the sycophantic atheists in the distance who lap these prickly rants up. Hitchens is far more erudite than Sam Harris and even a bit less irritable but their two recent works are similar in theme and tenor. Both plow the same ground, germinating from the casual assumption that there is no God of any stripe and that the religious people of the world range from simply ignorant to downright evil and dangerous.
I agree with Mr. Hitchens as he observes that much evil is promulgated in the name of religion. Religious practice is a human endeavor and unlike the hopes of the progressivist dream, humans cannot be perfected. To indict broad swaths of people through the actions of a few adherents should cause us to examine Hitchens’ general arguments more closely. To argue that evil practitioners of a faith are representative of the whole requires that we move our examination to a lower strata and ask, are the theological foundations of the religion inherently wicked? Once established, the follow up question is whether or not a person roots their evil in this theology. Does the pederast priest locate his acts in the Bible? If not, intellectual honesty in making ones argument requires a separation of the man from the belief. Hitchens consistently fails to kick over this stone since it threatens to trim the broad brush with which he paints.
This broad swath extends to Mr. Hitchens’ presentation of God in general. He would have the reader accept his expansive definition of ‘god’ as being the same deity represented by all of the faith groups he excoriates. The enlightened reader will see through this facade immediately. Without a careful evaluation of the apologetic for faith traditions one might be tempted to step into this trap but the thoughtful reader will not. Simple logic (which Hitchens demands we practice on nearly every page) leads one to conclude that all views of God cannot be true. If one is correct, the others then must be false according to the apologetics of each.
The final pages of God is Not Great provide a reading group guide composed of 19 questions meant to gauge your assent to Hitchens’ arguments. I propose that we examine these one by one and see how they hold up. It might be that we discover that God is great while people, in their fallen state, are not. The two should not be confused.