Monday, April 13, 2009

god is not Great chapter 11: Religion's Corrupt Beginnings

Interestingly, halfway through the book we get to the origin of religion and the problems that spring from it. In all, this chapter was very telling, and struck a chord with me in particular because it discussed my own erstwhile denomination, the Mormon church. Additionally in this chapter he discusses two other modern religious phenomena, those being the Pentecostal Marjoe, and the "Cargo Cults" of Melanesia.

Anyone who has read The God Delusion should already be familiar with the ideas of the cargo cults and the ease in which religions can create themselves in the right situations. Hitchens demonstrates how easily in this case primitive superstitions and a simple lack of understanding regarding how something works can even over a short amount of time result in a full blown religion around such. What is terribly striking about this, of course, is the difficulty it takes for them to give up that belief once it has been shown to be a fraud, which Hitchens rightly points out, and is certainly telling as far as other, more mainstream religions are concerned. The age of thsoe religions may make their beginnings less transparent and certainly a bit more mysterious, but that doesn't mean, by any account that there is some real difference between them in their initial formation.

Hitchens next addresses the issue of Marjoe, the Pentacostal youth who was abused into preaching by age four. Hitchens goes on to explain that he finally rebelled and even later showed exactly how miracles and such are created for the unwitting observers. Its an obvious case of group encouraged delusion when the preacher admittedly knows its a fraud and demonstrates its a fraud, but people believe anyway, mostly because they want to. Marjoe is a case of showing how the charismatic movements in Christianity are absolutely corrupt, and despite even one of their own showing how its done publicly and on film they still prosper and profit off the donations of ill informed dupes.

Then, of course, Hitchens addresses the Mormons. The demonstrably man-made Book of Mormon has spawned a religion spanning the world and around ten million followers. Joseph Smith, the founder, was as most know, a polygamist as well as a con-man from his youth, but apparently was a good enough con-man to get people to believe his religion despite its obvious flaws, and his previous criminal convictions.

The benefits to Smith are obvious. He got tithing money for doing essentially nothing other than reinforcing the religious propaganda he started, and making a strict social structure with him at the top. He got multiple wives due to his so-called "revelations" from God, much to the consternation of his first wife Emma. Smith even referred to himself as a new Muhammed, showing a great cunning and understanding of exactly what his intent was from the outset.

All in all the Mormon section of the chapter packs the greatest punch as well as the most pages. And its easy to see why. Of all the religions that have arisen in modern times perhaps only scientology could lay claim to greater corruption and transparent falsehood. That said, while Hitchens does demonstrate ways in which religious movements arise, he doesn't demonstrate a universally binding necessity for corruption.

This is of course the problem with the really hisorical religions, like Judaism and Christianity where we cannot pin a single founder, and lack a good history of the events surrounding the rise. Christianity, and to a lesser extent Islam suffer from the same issues in criticism.

All said, the chapter supports the hypothesis that religions are parasitic, but whether they poison everything by their very existence may be a bit of a stretch.


  1. When I was (nominally) a Christian and I found out what Mormons believe, I laughed myself silly. "They believe what?!"

    Then I crossed over into admitted atheism and realized that what I used to believe really wasn't that much wackier- there was just less evidence to disprove it.

  2. Honestly? There are sections of the Mormon faith that to me makes alot more sense than Christianity. Mostly the lack of any Hell. Well, they have a hell but it is reserved for those who have actually seen the lord and denied him, i.e a very small number.

    Its all alot of bunk, but I can certainly say I appreciate a deity who doesn't get off on torture the way mainstream Christianity does.