Thursday, March 12, 2009

god is not Great, Chapter 2: Religion Kills

Alright, today we move on to Chapter 2 of god is not Great, Christopher Hitchens' literary rant against religions of all stripes.

Chapter 1 gave us a good background of our author, while chapter 2 brings some of his charges that "religion poisons everything" home even further. early in the chapter he addresses an interesting question that was asked of him by Denis Prager: He was asked if he was in a strange city in the early evening with a group of people approaching, "would (Hitchens) feel safer, or less safe, if (he) was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting." His emphatic no, demonstrated through the window of Hitchens' personal experience and knowledge was well played, and gave a good idea of why he feels as he does about religion. He goes through lists of places where such an experience could be more dangerous than any regular potential murderer.

He also cites numerous examples of where problems were only exacerbated by religious fervor, and particularly fundamentalism in various areas of the world. He uses mostly the obvious examples, such as Israel and the Middle East, as well as Pakistan and India. I don't particularly disagree with him on any point he made here. Without religious hatreds India would probably still be one country, and Israel would probably have been able to resolve its issues with its Muslim neighbors.

That's where I somewhat start to disagree though. Yes, they probably could have reslved things. But while religious fervor is certainly the largest thing spurning these conflicts onward, it is by no means the only one. There's also a cultural problem, which is simply an issue where the divergent cultures are not terribly compatible. What becomes a real problem though is deciding exactly how much of these cultural differences are religious in nature, which Hitchens I believe does insufficient thought on.

Regardless, Hitchens points out these commonly known religious issues, but also delves into other religious conflicts closer to home. As I've mentioned previously Hitchens is a friend of Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, and target of his very own fatwah; one of very few (public) attempts for a government head to put a hit out on a foreign national. Multiple people who have worked with Rushdie have died simply by association, and yet around the world the most vocal religious leaders have sided with the Ayatollah Khomeini, or said (effectively) that he should have expected it. Not, that it was reprehensible, and completely overblown, but basically that if he gets killed for it he shouldn't be surprised.

Here, once again, I agree but i don't. The (very real) threats against Rushdie were very clear, and very dangerous. They were a complete abuse of power, and barbaric in their intention, and fundamentalist in their making. That said, Hitchens has a clear Bias, claiming Rushdie as a friend. Yes, religion was absolutely the motivation for the hit called, and that is absolutely unacceptable. At the same time, free speech is a dangerous thing and we need to be ready to take the consequences of what we write. But a novel should never be grounds for murder. There should never, in fact, be any grounds for murder. Religion does exacerbate things, and has caused much death and strife in the world.

In all, this chapter was very interesting, and had alot of good interpretation. I wish Hitchens used more sources in his writing and had other opinions to cite, but one has to realize that this book is basically an opinion piece, not a researched academic paper. For what it is, I am enjoying it immensely.

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