Monday, April 20, 2009

god is not Great Chapter 13: Does Religion Make People Behave?

As is fairly obvious fromt he chapter title Hitchens this time discusses the issue of morality in relation to religion. Of course, anyone reading this is likely to already agree with Mr Hitchens that religion does not incite morality. Hitchens makes a very good case against the morality of religion in this chapter, and it is probably his strongest argument.

He uses this chapter to discuss several personages and groups as examples in support of his thesis. Dr. Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, the Christian, but Muslim backed LRA, and the Rwandan genocide's catholic supporters.

In the cases of the individuals he shows that their good acts were never founded on religion so much as raw morality, and particularly in the example of Dr. King how the religious allusions he used were from a religion that in innumerable instances had been used textually to oppose exactly what his goals were. This of course creates an inconsistency wherein the religion cannot be right on all sides, and someone is immoral either way.

He exposes Gandhi as a hypocrite in his passifism, feeling somewhat justly that he was perfectly content to let the Japanese do his fighting for him. At the same time Gandhi's efforts to keep India village based, and his status as a Hindu Mahatma directly hurt the ability for India to remain one nation after the British occupation ended. It seems a good argument from Hitchens that religion has a tendancy to color our morality and often make things acceptable that normally would not be, including slavery, inquisition, torture, and murder.

Perhaps the nastiest case he discusses is the genocide in Rwanda where, while the Vatican was likley not complicit, the Catholic population and clergy had served as aiders and abetters to horrific genocide.

It is of course important to note that Hitchens does not make the argument that relgions do not do any good. He does however heavily lean to imply that they don't do any good that could not, or would not, be done without them. And there I certainly agree with him. One of religion's most powerful aspects is by far its ability to take perfectly good people and make them capable of the atrocious.

Perhaps my favorite recounting of Hitchens in this chapter, and maybe the most telling was his brief discussion of a debate between A.J Ayer and a Bishop Butler where after a comment of Ayer's notes he sees no good reason to believe in god the bishop replies that he could not see why ayer did not lead a life of "undridled immorality." This of course speaks volumes about how this bishop feels he would act did he not believe in god, and says nothing that makes Ayer in any way immoral by fiat.


  1. I agree with Hitchens on this pretty clearly. I really try to be skeptical and not say "me too" about something just because it supports my position. On this however I have no argument. The Catholic church so often has such a strong following on the wrong side or both sides of any conflict, that it is unable to take a moral position. It is limited to cheerleading, opposing abortion and picking on gays.

  2. In general I like Hitchens, but I think I've been pretty fair. This chapter is definitely one of his strongest. I actually have noticed that the more time and words he's put into a chapter the better it has been overall.