Sunday, March 8, 2009

god is not Great Chapter 1 Putting it mildly

Ok, so here we are at chapter one of the book, and in all fairness its very cursory and says very little as far as content goes. It starts by giving an explanation of Hitchens' background as a youth in England, as well as his early atheism, although he did not know it as such. He was in fact a more than competent scriptorian, and like all students in England at that time went to a religious school.

In all, there was very little of note to this section other than that Hitchens clearly did not become an atheist due to any kind of negative experience or trauma. It was, to him (so he implies) a natural conclusion to come to.

He saw the entirety idea of worship and subservience as ridiculous, and completely unwarranted. This is one of those points on which Christians differ most heavily from atheists, beyond the whole belief in a god. Atheists in general view the biblical God as something of an egomaniacal tyrant. Even were he to exist, and even if he created us, many atheists, myself included, believe that the list of immoral, unjust, and sadistic actions of this God completely preclude him from being worthy of worship. But I digress.

Hitchens mentions various things which he declares atheists find abhorrent, listing thngs such as sacrifice and rtual, and such materially wasteful things. I actually have to dispute this as a bit too much of a generalization as there are atheists like myself who find ritual a fascinating and often beautiful thing, even if we find the actual action serves no purpose and is just a living anachronism.

He goes on to mention that there is some magnificence in the bodies of apologetic works citing Blaise Pascal of the eponymous wager as an example while countering with what he considered a dull writer in CS Lewis. Both interesting choices considering how much fundamentalists today adore Lewis' works (despite a false trilemma in his most famous argument) in apologetics, and how commonly dismissed Pascal's wager is (and was eventually by Pascal himself) by today's skeptics and seekers. (For those not familiar with the wager it is basically thus: I lose nothing by not believing in God and acting accordingly and could in fact gain everything by obeying his laws. Poke holes at your leisure). That said he does target them both as absurd and goes on to give examples of absurdities in religious belief from Aztecs to modern monotheists. In all the list is minor and far from comprehensive, however this being the equivelant of an introduction I expect more further in.

The most biting complaint he lists for the chapter though are his targeting of surety. The idea that someone knows with absolute certainty that God exists, and most particularly that if one does exist it is -their- God. He notes that nobody knows, and nobody can know, which admits a bit of agnosticism to himself, but I agree no atheist of a rationalist bent should ever consider themselves 100% scientifically sure of the non existence of God. On the same vein it would also be the height of arrogance to claim the opposite.

He closes with an interesting statement that he "would not prohibit it even if (he) thought (he) could." He does not believe that while we yet have questions that is even a possibility. I'm not sure agree with him, but I agree with the sentiment and look forward to seeing how things continue forward. His thesis at this point seems to be that as he quotes last in the chapter and uses as the book's subtitle, that "religion poisons everything."

We'll see if and how he elaborates on this point when I get to Chapter 2: Religion Kills.

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