God Is Not Great

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God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is a 2007 book by the author and journalist Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011) in which he criticises religion. It was published by Atlantic Books in the United Kingdom as God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion.



Chapter One: Putting It Mildly

  • Why, if God was the creator of all things, were we supposed to "praise" him for what came naturally?
    • p. 3
  • If Jesus could heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness?
    • p. 3
  • In the very recent past, we have seen the Church of Rome befouled by its complicity with the unpardonable sin of child rape, or, as it might be phrased in Latin form, "no child's behind left."
    • p. 4
  • Evolution has meant that our prefrontal lobes are too small, our adrenal glands are too big, and our reproductive organs apparently designed by committee; a recipe which, alone or in combination, is very certain to lead to some unhappiness and disorder.
    • p. 8
  • I shall simply say that those who offer false consolation are false friends.
    • p. 9
  • Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did.
    • p. 10
  • The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.
    • p. 11

Chapter Two: Religion Kills

  • The level of intensity fluctuates according to time and place, but it can be stated as a truth with its own marvelous claims and sublime assurances. It must seek to interfere with the lives of nonbelievers, or heretics, or adherents of other faiths. It may speak about the bliss of the next world, but it wants power in this one. This is only to be expected. It is, after all, wholly man-made. And it does not have the confidence in its own various preachings even to allow coexistence between different faiths.
  • p. 17
  • A week before the events of September 11, 2001, I was on a panel with Dennis Prager, who is one of America's better-known religious broadcasters. He challenged me in public to answer what he called a "straight yes/no question," and I happily agreed. Very well, he said. I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching. Now—would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting? As the reader will see, this is not a question to which a yes/no answer can be given. But I was able to answer it as if it were not hypothetical. "Just to stay within the letter 'B,' I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance."
  • p. 18
  • "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise. When his mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." Yes, and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danaë as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother's flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis. The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Isis. Mercury was born of the virgin Maia. Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia. For some reason, many religions force themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street, and even the Koran treats the Virgin Mary with reverence.
    • p. 22–23
  • Bombai also used to be considered a pearl of the Orient, with its necklace of lights along the corniche and its magnificent British Raj architecture. It was one of India's most diverse and plural cities, and its many layers of texture have been cleverly explored by Salman Rushdie—especially in The Moor's Last Sigh—and in the films of Mira Nair. It is true that there had been intercommunal fighting there, during the time in 1947-48 when the grand historic movement for Indian self-government was being ruined by Muslim demands for a separate state and by the fact that the Congress Party was led by a pious Hindu. But probably as many people took refuge in Bombay during that moment of religious bloodlust as were driven or fled from it. A form of cultural coexistence resumed, as often happens when cities are exposed to the sea and to influences from outside. Parsis—former Zoroastrians who had been persecuted in Persia—were a prominent minority, and the city was also host to a historically significant community of Jews. But this was not enough to content Mr. Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena Hindu nationalist movement, who in the 1990s decided that Bombay should be run by and for his coreligionists, and who loosed a tide of goons and thugs on the the streets. Just to show he could do it, he ordered the city renamed as "Mumbai," which is partly why I include it in this list under its traditional title.

Chapter Three: A Short Digression on the Pig

  • Nothing optional - from homosexuality to adultery - is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate.
    • p. 40
  • As Shakespeare put it in King Lear, the policeman who lashes the whore has a hot need to use her for the very offense for which he plies the lash.
    • p. 40

Chapter Four: A Note On Health, To Which Religion May Be Hazardous

  • A modern believer can say and even believe that his faith is quite compatible with science and medicine, but the awkward fact will always be that both things have a tendency to break religion's monopoly, and have often been fiercely resisted for that reason. What happens to the faith healer and the shaman when any poor citizen can see the full effect of drugs and surgeries, administered without ceremonies or mystifications? Roughly the same thing as happens to the rainmaker when the climatologist turns up, or to the diviner from the heavens when schoolteachers get hold of elementary telescopes.
    • p. 47
  • Scientific critics of religion such as Daniel Dennett have been generous enough to point out that apparently useless healing rituals may even have helped people get better, in that we know how important morale can be in aiding the body to fight injury and infection.
    • p. 47
  • I pose a hypothetical question. As a man of some fifty-seven years of age, I am discovered sucking the penis of a baby boy. I ask you to picture your own outrage and revulsion. Ah, but I have my own explanation all ready. I am a mohel: an appointed circumciser and foreskin remover. My authority comes from an ancient text, which commands me to take a baby boy’s penis in hand, cut around the prepuce, and complete the action by taking his penis in my mouth, sucking off the foreskin, and spitting out the amputated flap along with a mouthful of blood and saliva.
    • p. 49
  • The Vatican, and its vast network of dioceses, has in the past decade alone been forced to admit complicity in a huge racket of child rape and child torture, mainly but by no means exclusively homosexual, in which known pederasts and sadists were shielded from the law and reassigned to parishes where the pickings of the innocent and defenseless were often richer. In Ireland alone — once an unquestioning disciple of Holy Mother Church — it is now estimated that the unmolested children of religious schools were probably the minority.
    • p. 51
  • Hindu child brides in India are flogged, and sometimes burned alive, if the pathetic dowry they bring is judged to be too small.
    • p. 51
  • The Shia fundamentalists in Iran lowered the age of "consent" to nine, perhaps in admiring emulation of the age of the youngest "wife" of the "Prophet" Muhammed.
    • p. 51
  • Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.
    • p. 56

Chapter Five: The Metaphysical Claims of Religion Are False

  • Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody — not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms — had the smallest idea of what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge. Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion [...].
    • p. 64
    • Cited by Richard Dawkins in Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science (Bantam Press, 2015, p. 269).
  • Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.
  • One may choose to call that "god" even if one does not know the precise nature of the first cause.
    • p. 71
  • The brilliant Schiller was wrong in Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans)] when he said "against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain." It is actually by means of the gods that we make our stupidity and gullibility into something ineffable.
    • p. 77

Chapter Six: Arguments From Design

  • Since human beings are naturally solipsistic, all forms of superstition enjoy what might be called a natural advantage.
    • p. 74
  • Of the other bodies in our solar system alone, the rest are all either far too cold to support anything recognizable as life, or far too hot. The same, as it happens, is true of our own blue and rounded planetary home, where heat contends with cold to make large tracts of it into useless wasteland, and where we have come to learn that we live, and have always lived, on a climatic knife edge. Meanwhile, the sun is getting ready to explode and devour its dependent planets like some jealous chief or tribal deity. Some design!
    • p. 80
  • When the bones of prehistoric animals began to be discovered and scrutinized in the nineteenth century, there were those who said that the fossils had been placed in the rock by god, in order to test our faith. This cannot be disproved. Nor can my own pet theory that, from the patterns of behavior that are observable, we may infer a design that makes planet earth, all unknown to us, a prison colony and lunatic asylum that is employed as a dumping ground by far-off and superior civilizations. However, I was educated by Sir Karl Popper to believe that a theory that is unfalsifiable is to that extent a weak one.
  • Though it is true we are the highest and smartest animals, ospreys have eyes we have calculated to be sixty times more powerful and sophisticated than our own and that blindness, often caused by microscopic parasites that are themselves miracles of ingenuity, is one of the oldest and most tragic disorders known to man. And why award the superior eye (or in the case of cat or bat, also the ear) to the inferior species?
    • pp. 82–83
  • Religion, it is true, still possesses the huge if cumbersome and unwieldy advantage of having come "first."
    • p. 96

Chapter Seven: The Nightmare Of The Old Testament

  • In particular, it is absurd to hope to banish envy of other people’s possessions or fortunes, if only because the spirit of envy can lead to emulation and ambition and have positive consequences.
    • p. 100
  • Is it too modern to notice that there is nothing about rape, nothing about the protection of children from cruelty, and nothing about genocide? Or is it exactingly "in context" to notice that some of these very offenses are about to be positively recommended?'
    • p. 100

Chapter Eight: The "New" Testament Exceeds The Evil Of The "Old" One

  • I shall again defer to a finer writer than myself and quote what H. L. Mencken irrefutably says in his Treatise on the Gods: "The simple fact is that the New Testament as we know it is a helter-skelter accumulation of more or less discordant documents, some of them probably of respectable origin but others palpably apocryphal, and that most of them, the good along with the bad, show unmistakable signs of being tampered with."
    • p.110
  • One recalls the governor of Texas who, asked if the Bible should also be taught in Spanish, replied that "if English was good enough for Jesus, then it is good enough for me." Rightly are the simple so called.
    • p.110
  • Maimonides described the punishment of the detestable Nazarene heretic as one of the greatest achievements of the Jewish elders, insisted that the name Jesus never be mentioned except when accompanied by a curse, and announced that his punishment was to be boiled in excrement for all eternity. What a good Catholic Maimonides would have made.
    • p.111
  • Their multiple authors — none of whom published anything until many years after the Crucifixion — cannot agree on anything of importance. Matthew and Luke cannot concur on the Virgin Birth or the genealogy of Jesus. They flatly contradict each other on the "Flight into Egypt," Matthew saying that Joseph was "warned in a dream" to make an immediate escape and Luke saying that all three stayed in Bethlehem until Mary's "purification according to the laws of Moses," which would make it forty days, and then went back to Nazareth via Jerusalem. (Incidentally, if the dash to Egypt to conceal a child from Herod's infanticide campaign has any truth to it, then Hollywood and many, many Christian inconographers have been deceiving us. It would have been very difficult to take a blond, blue-eyed baby to the Nile delta without attracting rather than avoiding attention.)
    • p. 111
  • The Gospel according to Luke states that the miraculous birth occurred in a year when the Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered a census for the purposes of taxation, and that this happened at a time when Herod reigned in Judaea and Quirinius was governor of Syria. That is the closest to a triangulation of historical dating that any writer even attempts. But Herod died four years "BC" and during his rulership the governor of Syria was not Quirinius. There is no mention of any Augustan census by any Roman historian, but the Jewish chronicler Josephus mentions one that did occur — without the onerous requirement for people to return to their places of birth, and six years after the birth of Jesus is supposed to have taken place.
    • p. 112
  • Jesus makes large claims for his heavenly father but never mentions that his mother is or was a virgin, and is repeatedly very rude and coarse to her when she makes an appearance.
    • p. 116

Chapter Nine: The Koran Is Borrowed From Both Jewish and Christian Myths

Like many but not all of Islam’s principal sites, Mecca is closed to unbelievers, which somewhat contradicts its claim to universality.
  • Islam is at once the most and the least interesting of the world's monotheisms. It builds upon its primitive Jewish and Christian predecessors, selecting a chunk here and a shard there, and thus if these fall, it partly falls also.
    • p. 123
  • Like many but not all of Islam’s principal sites, Mecca is closed to unbelievers, which somewhat contradicts its claim to universality.
    • p. 136

Chapter Ten: The Tawdriness Of The Miraculous And The Decline Of Hell

  • Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence.
    • p. 143
  • I have interviewed some of the hundreds of thousands of people who claim to have had direct encounters with spacecraft, or the crew of spacecraft, from another galaxy. Some of these are so vivid and detailed (and so comparable with other depositions from other people who cannot have compared notes) that a few impressionable academics have proposed that we grant them the presumption of truth. But here is the obvious Ockhamist reason why it would be utterly wrong to do so. If the huge number of "contacts" and abductees are telling even a particle of truth, then it follows that their alien friends are not attempting to keep their existence a secret. Well, in that case, why do they never stay still for anything more than a single-shot photo? There has never been an uncut roll of film offered, let alone a small piece of a metal unavailable on earth, or a tiny sample of tissue. And sketches of the being have a consistent anthropomorphic resemblance to those offered in science fiction comics. Since travel from Alpha Centauri (the preferred origin) would involve some bending of the laws of physics, even the smallest particle of matter would be of enormous use, and would have a literally earth-shattering effect. Instead of which — nothing. Nothing, that is, except texts and shards that are available only to a favored few.
    • p. 144
  • Those who desire to certify miracles may wish to say that such recoveries have no "natural" explanation. But this does not at all mean that there is therefore a "supernatural" one.
    • pp. 147–148
  • When the debris settled on Ground Zero, it was found that two pieces of mangled girder still stood in the shape of a cross, and much wondering comment resulted. Since all architecture has always involved crossbeams, it would be surprising only if such a feature did not emerge. I admit that I would have been impressed if the wreckage had formed itself into a Star of David or a star or crescent, but there is no record of this ever having occurred anywhere, even in places where local people might have been impressed by it.
    • pp. 149–150

Chapter Eleven: Religion's Corrupt Beginnings

  • Jesus, it is true, shows no personal interest in gain, but he does speak of treasure in heaven and even of "mansions" as an inducement to follow him. Is it not further true that all religions down the ages have shown a keen interest in the amassment of material goods in the real world?
    • p. 158

Chapter Thirteen: Does Religion Make People Behave Better?

  • Millions of people would have mindlessly starved to death if his advice had been followed.
    • p. 183: On Gandhi
  • To believe in a god is in one way to express a willingness to believe in anything. Whereas to reject the belief is by no means to profess belief in nothing.
    • p. 185
  • Children who have felt cruelty know very well how to inflict it.
    • p. 188

Chapter Fifteen: Religion As An Original Sin

  • The Gospel story of the Garden of Gethsemane used to absorb me very much as a child, because its "break" in the action and its human whimper made me wonder if some of the fantastic scenario might after all be true. Jesus ask, in effect, "Do I have to go through with this?" It is an impressive and unforgetable question, and I long ago decided that I would cheerfully wager my own soul on the belief that the only right answer to it is "no."
    • p. 211

Chapter Sixteen: Is Religion Child Abuse?

  • Nothing proves the man-made character of religion as obviously as the sick mind that designed hell, unless it is the sorely limited mind that has failed to describe heaven — except as a place of either worldly comfort, eternal tedium, or (as Tertullian thought) continual relish in the torture of others.
    • p. 219
  • The museums of medieval Europe, from Holland to Tuscany, are crammed with instruments and devices upon which the holy men labored devoutly, in order to see how long they could keep someone alive while being roasted. It is not needful to go into further details, but there were also religious books of instruction in this art, and guides for the detection of heresy by pain.
    • p. 219
  • If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.
    • p. 220
  • The shedding of blood — which is insisted upon at circumcision ceremonies — is most probably a symbolic survival from the animal and human sacrifices which were such a feature of the gore-soaked landscape of the Old Testament. By adhering to the practice, parents could offer to sacrifice a part of the child as a stand-in for the whole.
    • pp. 223–224
  • Billion of dollars have already been awarded, but there is no price to be put on the generations of boys and girls who were introduced to sex in the most alarming and disgusting ways by those whom they and their parents trusted.
    • pp. 227–228

Chapter Seventeen: An Objection Anticipated

The connection between religion, racism, and totalitarianism is also to be found in the other most hateful dictatorship of the twentieth century: the vile system of apartheid in South Africa.
  • It is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than Nazis or Stalinists.
    • p. 230
  • What is a totalitarian system if not one where the abject glorification of the perfect leader is matched by the surrender of all privacy and individuality, especially in matters sexual, and in denunciation and punishment — "for their own good" — of those who transgress?
    • p.231
  • Those who invoke "Secular" tyranny in contrast to religion are hoping that we will forget two things: the connection between the Christian churches and fascism, and the capitulation of the churches to National Socialism.
    • p. 242
  • The idea that a group of people — whether defined as a nation or as a religion — could be condemned for all time and without the possibility of an appeal was (and is) essentially a totalitarian one.
    • p. 250
  • The connection between religion, racism, and totalitarianism is also to be found in the other most hateful dictatorship of the twentieth century: the vile system of apartheid in South Africa. ... Racism is totalitarian by definition: it marks the victim in perpetuity and denies him, or her, the right to even a rag of dignity or privacy, even the elemental; right to make love or marry or produce children with a loved one of the "wrong" tribe, without having love nullified by law.
    • p. 251

Chapter Eighteen: A Finer Tradition: The Resistance Of The Rational

  • Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.
    • p. 266

Chapter Nineteen: In Conclusion: The Need for a New Enlightenment

  • Religion has run out of justifications.
    • p. 282
  • All postures of submission and surrender should be part of our prehistory.
    • p. 285
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