God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Welsh, Jim, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything Christopher Hitchens. New York: Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA, 2007.
There is most certainly a demonstrable market these days for books concerning religion and its excesses and its discontents, especially books about jihadists and Moslem terrorists in a paranoid America fraught with fear; so it is not at all so surprising that maverick journalist Christopher Hitchens might risk a possible fatwa against himself by using a title that proclaims "God Is Not Great," contrary to what a terrorist might declare before immolating himself to praise his Creator of choice. Hitchens comes not to praise Him but to bury Him. So, is that an act of courage, or simply insanity? At the very least, Hitchens earns points for courage. Hitchens is an iconoclast who attempts to knock Mother Teresa off her canonical pedestal (see, e.g., 45-48) after having already attacked Henry Kissinger as a war criminal in another nasty little book. More recently, he even took on Harry Potter, beloved of all devoted little readers; but if even God is not great, can the Rawling's junior wizard hope to come out much better?
Christopher Hitchens is a flip-flopping champ among journalist who have worked both sides of the political street-now you see him in the pages of The Nation, now you do not-but he certainly knows how to get attention, like a chimp at the zoo, who throws pooh at you to get your attention and rile you up. He is an in-your-face provocateur, as likely to insult as to inform. Some will read him because they will be amused by his reckless invective. I recently approached Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy as an optimistic agnostic, hoping to be illuminated, and I was not disappointed. I lowered my expectations for God Is Not Great, however, since Hitchens is more a bare-knuckled polemical street fighter, not a scholar given to illuminating manuscripts. An accomplished sophist possessed of rhetorical tricks, Hitchens is a master of outrageous opinions, as when, for example, he refers (110) to The Passion of the Christ as "a soap-opera film about the death of Jesus ... produced by an Australian fascist and ham actor named MeI Gibson." Readers of this book may also expect to find violations of taste, as when Hitchens writers of the Church of Rome (41) "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.'" In this instance both sense and syntax are strained for shameless cynical humor. Understandably, some Roman Catholics may not exactly find it hilarious. Others may be outraged.
Perhaps to the book's advantage, the bile is somewhat balanced. Catholics and Jews both become objects of ridicule, as when (on 111) Hitchens gives a Jewish perspective on the Crucifixion, when he cites Maimonides as describing "the punishment of the detestable Nasarene heretic as one of the greatest achievements of the Jewish elders," insisting "that the name Jesus never be mentioned except when accompanied by a curse," and announcing "that his punishment was to be boiled in excrement for all eternity," then exclaims: "What a good Catholic Maimonides would have made! …