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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 3-Jun-07
Book review review: Christopher Hitchens: "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" (I)

Web Log - June, 2007

Book review review: Christopher Hitchens: "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" (I)

Part I: Is religion really the root of all evil?

Part I Part II

I haven't read Hitchens' book, though I've read the first chapter online, and I've read some reviews and some interviews with Hitchens. So this isn't precisely a book review; call it a book review review.

Most important, this review gives me an opportunity to write about the role of religion in Generational Dynamics. Here, Part I starts with the Hitchens' view of religion in politics, which contrasts sharply with the Generational Dynamics view. Later, Part II develops a purely theoretic view of the role of religion in human development, and contrasts it with Hitchens' and others' theories.

I'm not a religious person. To paraphrase what a college friend once told me, God has never seen fit to bless me with faith. (The implication, in case you don't get it, is that if I don't have faith in God, then it's God's fault, not mine.)

But I've never been a religious hater either. Some of my best friends, as the saying goes, have been Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and so forth. And I respect them for having religion as a framework for understanding the world they have to live in. I know that most of them must be wrong (since these religions all contradict one another, so at most one of them could be correct), but I know that I've been wrong from time to time too. (Rarely, of course.)

But I look at other things as "religions" too. Communism is a religion, albeit one that rejects God. There are political religions as well: "Pro-abortion" and "pro-life" are examples. So are "Conservatism" and "Liberalism." Once again, I know that most of them must be wrong, since they contradict one another. But they provide a framework for getting through the day, and that's good.

I disagree with religious scholars who claim that you have to be religious to have a philosophy of "right" and "wrong." You don't have to be religious to believe that "Thou shalt not murder" is correct. Or that it has exceptions -- for self-defense or in war, for example. And since most people are wrong about religion (since at most one religion can be correct), it follows that most people, most societies and nations, figured out "Thou shalt not murder" without having to resort to a conversation with God.

I became turned off by religion in my youth. My devoutly religious mother took me to church every Sunday, and at times put me into "Sunday school." It wasn't until years later, looking back, that I figured out why I was so uncomfortable with that dynamic: I didn't speak Greek, so when I was in the Sunday school class, I forced all the others to speak English, which they hated to be forced to do. And I didn't really understand a whole lot of what was going on anyway, so the entire thing was pretty unpleasant all around.

Still, in college I became fascinated by religion, and studied it assiduously in college, especially after I fell in with a gang of fundamentalist Christians, who spoke of nothing else. As an MIT student, I was fortunate for two years to be able to sit in on the classes of Religions of the East and West given by Professor Huston Smith, probably the greatest religious scholar in the world. His classes were both inspiring and fascinating. I also spent hundreds of hours studying the Bible Correspondence Course of Herbert W. Armstrong. Because of those and other studies, I became far more knowledgeable about religion than most "religious" people, just as I've studied countries around the world for this web site, and enormously shocked and surprised to learn that I now know more about history and current events than almost all of the politicians, journalists and "experts" in Washington.

Christopher and Peter

I mention all this to explain why I greatly respect Christopher Hitchens for his scholarly, reasoned approach. He is one of the very few in Washington who are not total morons. Unlike almost everyone in Washington, he actually takes the trouble to learn about something, whether it's religion or Iraq, before he goes on TV or writes a book.

I have elsewhere on this web site speculated on the reasons why I'm able to develop this web site and the Generational Dynamics theory, when so few other people can. One of the reasons is that I'm not religious but I like religion. Most people who like religion are religious, and most people who aren't religious hate religion. Being not religious and liking religion appears to be a fairly unique quality, and although I've discussed religion with many people over the years, right now I really can't remember anyone besides myself who is not religious but likes religion.


Christopher Hitchens, left; his brother, Peter Hitchens, on the right.
Christopher Hitchens, left; his brother, Peter Hitchens, on the right.

Certainly Christopher Hitchens doesn't fit that category. Hitchens hates religion. Hitchens REALLY hates religion. His hatred of religion seems to come out of his pores.

This can be understood from an article by Christopher's brother Peter, in which he reviews the book, and bluntly explains what's wrong what's wrong with Christopher. He describes their upbringing:

"Because my father was in the Navy, we were brought up in a very old-fashioned Britain. ... Our boarding-school education, mainly on the edge of Dartmoor, took place in conditions closer by far to the Thirties than to now.

Our ancestry, so far as I have been able to dig it up, is a volatile mixture. On my fatherís side, fierce West Country nonconformists mixed with gentle, rather saintly Hampshire Anglicans. One grandfather was a pioneer of the National Union of Teachers and a straggler from the First World War, saved from the trenches by being sent to India.

Well into the Sixties his house was a museum of the world before 1939: no telephone, no TV, but a quietly singing kettle always on the hob and a mangle in the porch, and he refused to read fiction because he thought it immoral.

As for the other grandfather, I have yet to track him down, and we were always told he was "killed in the war", which is true in the sense that he was run over by a bus in the blackout."

This provides a very interesting generational insight. Both Peter and Christopher are in the rebellious Boomer generation, and they both rebelled strongly against their father and grandfather. However, they rebelled in completely different ways: Christopher "of the Left," Peter "of the Right." Christopher is "for" the Iraq war, Peter is "against" it. Christopher is an "atheist," Peter is a "believer."

What could be more typical of Boomers? They can't do anything but argue. They argue with their parents, they argue with each other. Each one is in the center of the universe, and his words are the Golden Words of Truth, even when they change their minds. This is a completely stereotypical case.

View of Religion

Although I greatly respect Christopher Hitchens for his scholarly, reasoned approach, his years of study and scholarship have taken him to a place that make no sense at all with regard to religion. And the sub-title of his book, "How religion poisons everything," epitomizes his total misunderstanding of the role of religion in human life.

He makes his argument by pointing to examples where, he believes, religion does harm or advocates harm:

Now, arguing against religion by means of a series of specific examples like this makes absolutely no sense at all. Maybe religion is still "right" overall, but those specific examples expose details where human beings have erred in detailing religious beliefs. You could even argue that the top levels of the religious hierachy in some religion are corrupt, without being able to logically conclude that individual believers are necessarily corrupt or that they don't do good.

For example, the 9/11 terrorists have been criticized, even by many Muslims, as violating Islam, and that Osama bin Laden is corrupt. The Archbishop of Canterbury may have simply been trying to comfort people anxious about nuclear war. Maybe religion is right, but hell still doesn't exist. Maybe the acts of child abuse are all individual errors.

And as for "sexual repression," what aspect of human life is more complex than that? Does Hitchens really think that "Thou shalt not commit adultery" would not be accepted as a general rule for morality if it weren't for religion? Just ask any man or woman how they feel about their spouses committing adultery, and you have your answer.

But Hitchens knows this. But he's not arguing against religion, for whose falsehood is a given to him. He's arguing against belief in religion. The subtitle of his book is, "How Religion Poisons Everything." But what he's really arguing is that "Belief in religion poisons everything."

Positives and negatives

But even here his argument makes no sense. Belief in religion may have had its problems, but it's also had its positives, and probably more positives than negatives. Belief in religion provides a social framework through which the people of a society can love and understand one another, and help and comfort one another in times of distress. The Archbishop of Canterbury wasn't trying to prepare people for the afterlife; he was trying to comfort living people in fear of nuclear war. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" is not a means of inflicting sexual repression on people; it's a way of providing a cultural norm that increases harmony and reduces conflict. And the fact that some people use religion to urge war is more than offset by the fact that most people use religion to urge peace.

The logical flaw in Hitchens' argument is that he considers all irrational thought to be based in religion, and that without religion, thought becomes rational. He says, "I consider all religions equally fallacious, because they all involve a surrender to faith." Well, aren't many non-religious political beliefs also a surrender to faith? Isn't the acceptance of ANY ideology a surrender to faith?

Feminism and Communism

Actually, Christopher Hitchens and I have one major experience in common: We both used to like President Clinton until it became clear that he was a violent serial rapist. Hitchens turned against Clinton when this became clear in 1999, and was viciously attacked for it.

Here's how he describes the situation:

"And thatís -- and I have letters from some of those -- several of those women, thanking me for doing it; women -- two of whom had been brutally raped by the President, I might add.

This is not nothing. And I ask you to think about it for a second. The feminist movement didnít care there was a rapist in the Oval Office? The womenís movement didnít mind there was a serial abuser, someone who was always hitting on the help, in the Oval Office? They didnít mind this?

Well, I donít think Iím being too judgmental in saying, well, I do. Iím not going to have a rapist as President. Itís not brave at all to come out and say that. It would just be cowardly not to do it; letís be clear. It was sickening to find that friends of mine were involved in covering up for this psychopath."

And yet, millions of feminists, who claim that this it's outrageous to even question the sincerity of a woman who says she's a rape victim, automatically condemn Clinton's accusers as lying. The recent collapse of the Duke University rape case by a prosecutor who knew (or should have known) for a certainty that the young white male students were innocent and the black woman accuser was a liar shows that it's feminists who care least of all about women who are raped. As I discussed at the time, feminism is a vast, wealthy, criminal enterprise, headed by Emily's List, the richest, wealthiest and most powerful political group in the country. Feminist groups adopt policies that increase the rape and abuse of women and children because they make money from such cases. They ignore rape accusations against wealthy supporters like Clinton, and bring false charges against innocent males who can't defend themselves. This is corruption at its highest.

A criminal organization like Emily's List requires for its success a large army of women who are so blinded to the feminist propaganda that they walk in lockstep with and obedience to the criminal enterprise and its money-generating machine, without even a whimper of protest about the people, especially millions of children, whose lives are being destroyed.

Now, why doesn't Hitchens call feminism a "religion"? It certainly embodies all the negative characteristics that Hitchens criticizes in a religion, including blind belief supported by faith, but it isn't "supernatural" enough for Hitchens to call it a religion.

You can understand why he's so insistent on this point when you realize that Hitchens spent many early years of his life promoting socialism and Communism, and believes that Communism would have been successful in Russia if only Trotsky, instead of Stalin, had won the Russian civil war in the 1920s.

Does Hitchens consider Communism to be a religion?

Well no, says Hitchens: Marxism was "designed as it was to be the negation of faith." He adds, "I would say, to declare oneself a Marxist in any sense at all is to say, No, itís not a religion; it is defined as a non-belief in the supernatural and as a repudiation of anything could be called a faith."

And yet, in the year 2007, we can confidently say that Marxism has never worked. It led to massive bloodshed in the Paris Commune of 1871; in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917; in Stalin's genocide of the Ukranians in the 1930s; in the Chinese Civil War of the 1930s-40s; in the Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward" in the late 1950s.

If religion "poisons everything," and is the CAUSE of all kinds of wars and repression, then surely the tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of deaths CAUSED by Marxism is even worse.

Furthermore Marxism has NEVER worked. You can blame the Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian and other religions for whatever wars or tortures you want, but each of them can at least point to centuries of time when those religions were a boon to mankind, providing comfort and support to those who need it, and providing a framework keeping families close to one another. Marxism has never even survived more than a few decades, and always has been a bloody disaster.

So, for Hitchens and other apologists for Marxism and socialism to claim that Russian Communism would have succeeded if only Trotsky had beaten Stalin has got to be a conclusion that can only be reached by the wildest of irrational faiths. And yet, here's the man decrying irrational religious thought, pursuing the most irrational non-religious thought.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, socialism and communism can't survive for long anyway. It's easy to prove, using the mathematics of Computation and Complexity Theory, that controlled, regulated economies only work for relatively small populations. As the population grows, the number of "regulators" grows exponentially faster than the population, and so either the government regulates less or it collapses. So, for example, if only 0.5% of the population is needed as regulators for 10,000 people, then 1% may be needed to perform the same amount of regulation for 100,000 people, and 2% for a million people, and so forth.

That's why Communist societies in Russia, Cuba, East Germany and North Korea all got stuck in the 1950s, using 1950s products and forbidding any economic innovation: their communist governments didn't have enough people to manage the economic changes. In the end, "laissez-faire capitalism" is not an ideology so much as a mathematic imperative, as populations grow.

And so, we have Hitchens, who vigorously rejects religion as being poisonous, irrational thought based on faith then accepting Marxism, which is even more poisonous and irrational, and even mathematically impossible.

Hitchens never seems able to reach the obvious insight: Religion doesn't cause wars; it's wars that cause religion. Religion serves as a justification for wars that were going to happen anyway. In that sense, religion is like other ideologies.

But we'll get to all that in Part II of this essay.

Part I Part II
(3-Jun-07) Permanent Link
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