Tuesday, April 21, 2009

god is not Great Chapter 14: There is no "Eastern" solution

For the entire book to this point Hitchens has focused almost entirely on the monotheistic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. At this point he takes the opportunity to try and demonstrate that the eastern religious traditions are no better, particularly targeting Buddhism. 

What makes this an interesting chapter is how different Hitchens' focus is in his writing. While discussing the monotheisms he was very harsh (often justifiably) to the doctrines and scriptures as well as the acts of the adherents. This time, however there is basically nil as far as discussions of offensive or questionable doctrines, replaced by what I see as largely exceptions to the rules. Case in point, Hitchens writes about a clearly corrupt Buddhist retreat where the guru was encouraging wealthy attendees to give up their worldly posessions (to "the monastery" of course) and posting a sign saying "Shoes and minds must be left at the gate." Now, to be fair, Buddhism does encourage these things, but not to assuage the greed of its proponents. That will of course never stop the truly enterprising from abusing their flocks and fleecing to their heart's content. 

Buddhism also gets quite its share of flak from the Japanese atrocities justified by it in a kind of Imperial cult Mahayana Buddhism. Whether this could be seen as a Buddhist movement creating a nationalistic furor, or a nationalistic furor infecting the local Buddhist sects is largely irrelevant; Buddhism was still used as an encouragement to violence and conquest no less deplorable than the Crusades or any Jihad. 

But sadly this is where Hitchens ends the chapter. It would have been interesting had he gone into Confucuanism, or Taoism (having discussed Hinduism with Gandhi), but he doesn't, and that's a bit disappointing to me. He's trying to make a case against religion as a whole, and he targeted three western religions, but in depth thus far only one eastern religion. His coverage of Hinduism is brief and discussed only one man's usage of it. This chapter really could have been much more. 

Admittedly, I agree with Hitchens' premise, but I do not think his writing sufficiently represents his goal. I realize it is nearly impossible to sufficiently cover every possible religion available, but in this case, more should have been done to paint a broader, if still imperfect picture. 


  1. I would argue that Buddhism doesn't encourage people to do things for the same reasons that western religions do; Buddhism isn't motivated by the belief in a God, per se. That being said, there's a lot of history out there of all kinds of modes of thought and belief not living up to what they preach. People will abuse any system, if they feel that what they get out of that abuse warrants it.

  2. While I wouldn't call Buddhism atheistic it certainly doesn't fit a general theistic mold. As far as expectations and motivations I generally agree with you. Hitchens actually delves significantly into them in Chapter 15 which I hope to do writeup on this week. Buddhism is a very difficult religion to accept when you look past the surface on its professed requirements. Of course, to be fair, superficically most religions are good in that respect, but after digging under the surface there's a lot of questionable material. The monotheistic traditions are (in my opinion) the worst in that respect, but none are really immune.