A Brief Book Review (with quotes)

The following paragraphs are quoted from Christopher Hitchens’ book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (capitalization as printed by the author). I discovered this book at my local library, and found it to be a very interesting read. The author is a staunch atheist, so I disagree with him there, but his overall look at religion was both intelligently written and fascinating to read. I would highly recommend reading it (if you are an open-minded person and not one to have your feelings easily hurt, as he is not “nice” at times), particularly the chapters on the Old and New Testaments. I typed out these particular sections (all italics are the author’s), but would have liked to type out the whole chapters he wrote on the Old and New Testaments – they were that good.

“Ask yourself the question: how moral is the following? I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgive me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.
Let us just for now overlook all the contradictions between the tellers of the original story and assume that it is basically true. What are the further implications? They are not as reassuring as they look at first sight. For a start, and in order to gain the benefit of this wondrous offer, I have to accept that I am responsible for the flogging and mocking and crucifixion, in which I had no say and no part, and agree that every time I decline this responsibility, or that I sin in word or deed, I am intensifying the agony of it. Furthermore, I am required to believe that the agony was necessary in order to compensate for an earlier crime in which I also had no part, the sin of Adam. It is useless to object that Adam seems to have been created with insatiable discontent and curiosity and then forbidden to slake it: all this was settled long before even Jesus himself was born. Thus my own guilt in the matter is deemed “original” and inescapable. However, I am still granted free will with which to reject the offer of vicarious redemption. Should I exercise this choice, however, I face an eternity of torture much more awful than anything endured at Calvary, or anything threatened to those who first heard the Ten Commandments.”
~ pg. 209-10

“This pathetic moral spectacle [previously he was discussing a Catholic pope who was luring in youths to his festival by claiming to resolve their sins if they came] would not be necessary if the original rules were ones that it would be possible to obey. But to the totalitarian edicts that begin with revelation from from absolute authority, and that are enforced by fear, and based on a sin that had been committed long ago, are added regulations that are often immoral and impossible at the same time. The essential principle of totalitarianism is to make laws that are impossible to obey. The resulting tyranny is even more impressive if it can be enforced by a privilged caste or party which is highly zealous in the detection of error. Most of humanity, throughout its history, has dwelt under a form of this stupefying dictatorship, and a large portion of it still does. Allow me to give a few examples of the rules that must, yet cannot, be followed.
The commandment at Sinai which forbade people even to think about coveting goods is the first clue. It is echoed in the New Testament by the injunction which says that man who looks upon a woman in the wrong way has actually committed adultery already. And it is almost equaled by the current Muslim and former Christian prohibition against lending out money at interest. All of these, in their different fashion, attempt to place impossible restraints on human initiative. They can only be met in one of two ways. The first is by a continual scourging and mortification of the flesh, accompanied by incessant wrestling with “impure” thoughts which become actual as soon as they are named, or even imagined. From this come hysterical confessions of guilt, false promises of improvement, and loud, violent denunciations of other backsliders and sinners: a spiritual police state. The second solution is organized hypocrisy….”
~ pg.212-13

“In any case, one may choose to be altruistic, whatever that may mean, but by definition one may not be compelled into altruism. Perhaps we would be better mammals if we were not “made” this way, but surely nothing could be sillier than having a “maker” who then forbade the very same instinct he instilled.”
~ pg. 215

“It is not possible, in the religious totalitarian vision, to escape this world of original sin and guilt and pain. An infinity of punishment awaits you even after you die. According to the really extreme religions totalitarians, such as John Calvin, who borrowed his awful doctrine from Augustine, an infinity of punishment can be awaiting you even before you are born. Long ago it was written which souls would be chosen or “elected” when the time came to divide the sheep from the goats. No appeal against this primordial sentence is possible, and no good works or professions of faith can save one who has not been fortunate enough to be picked. Calvin’s Geneva was a prototypical totalitarian state, and Calvin himself a sadist and torturer and killer, who burned Servetus (one of the great thinkers and questioners of the day) while the man was still alive. The lesser wretchedness induced in Calvin’s followers, compelled to waste their lives worrying if they had been “elected” or not, is well caught in George Eliot’s Adam Bede, and in an old English plebeian satire against the other sects, from Jehovah’s Witnesses to Plymouth Brethren, who dare to claim that they are of the elect, and that they alone know the exact number of those who will be plucked from the burning:
We are the pure and chosen few, and all the rest are damned.
There’s room enough in hell for you – we don’t want heaven crammed.
~ pg. 233


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