The title of this book is enough to cause a range of emotions in deist, agnostics and atheist. Next to politics, religion is a subject which unites or divides, sometimes through the use of extreme violence. Today, when we think of religious fundamentalism, images of Islamic radicals readily come to mind causing us to forget that extremism exist is nearly every religion known to man. In the United States, most deists are followers of monotheistic faiths. Others are followers of polytheistic faiths and the remainder could be classified as agnostic, spiritual or even atheist. Those who are atheist remain firm in their belief that God does not exist. But for deists, God does exist and is present all around us at all times. But what if is there is no such thing as God? Believers will find the mere mention of such a concept preposterous. But in all fairness, no one has ever come back from the dead to tell humanity what really happens when we die. Furthermore, non-believers point to the world’s many ills as proof that an all-loving God is nothing more than make-believe. Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) wrote at least thirty books, some of which like this, addressed religious faith. Here, he takes on God and puts forth his argument that religion itself is the cause of many of the world’s ills. One look at the cover will cause some to claim blasphemy and write Hitchens off as doomed and demented soul who surely found out when he died, that God does in fact exist. Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, the book is a good discussion on the effect religion truly has on our lives.
In the book, Hitchens does not focus on one religion solely, he addresses multiple religions as he makes his argument. He is clearly well-read and by his own admission, grew up in a Christian childhood. His career has taken him to all parts of the world where he was able to examine other faiths up close. And the arguments he makes in the pages of this book are thought-provoking and it would extremely difficult for even the most ardent believers to ignore the many problems with religion that Hitchens discusses. As a believer, when you think of your faith, it is seen in a positive light. It helps people, gathers them together, provides answers and gives a sense of purpose. But was that always the case and is religion even necessary to have all of the things that we seek through it?
There are thousands of gods worship throughout the world. However, the most dominant religions are mainly monotheistic. Jesus, Yahweh and Allah have claimed billions of followers world-wide. Hinduism also claims a large number of followers who pray daily to the many Gods that are worshiped. In parts of Iran and the Middle East, Zoroastrianism is still practiced. Exactly when each of these religions developed is lost to history. Science tells us that man existed for thousands of years and that the planet is at least a four billion years old. That forces the question, did God create man or did man create the Gods? Furthermore, are Gods even necessary to live a full and purposeful life?
Hitchens pulls no punches in this book and makes his point clear that he truly believes religion poisons everything. However what he does not do is tell anyone to give up their faith nor does he attempt to belittle anyone who believes in the Gods that he mentions. And although he does believe that a world without religion would be better, he is mature enough to understand that some will continue to believe in the only religion they have ever known. Atheists are often thought to be vile and vicious beings who want to rid the world of religion. The opposite is usually the case. Hitchens, like Richard Dawkins and others who have made a case against religion, is very rational and in no point in the book, does he use rhetoric to incite any type of violence or force anyone to become an atheist overnight. Clearly, the decision to no longer believer or remain in the fold is up to the individual. But what he does do, is provide examples from history of why he believes religion plays a negative role in society. The book is a journey from mankind’s earliest known relationship with God all the way to the present and the growing numbers of people in the United States who have no religious affiliation at all.
I believe that is fairly obvious that in order to read this book an open mind is needed. And I also believe that those who do purchase the book are either unwavering believers curious to see what Hitchens says and others who no longer believe or are on the path to living religion free. We all have to find our own path in life but if we need an honest and critical examination of the role of religion in society, this is a good place to start.