Thursday, April 23, 2009

god is not Great Chapter 15: Religion as an Original Sin

In chapter 15 Hitchens takes four key points of doctrine and tradition in religions and explains in his view and experience why these are "not just amoral, but positively immoral." These four points are quoted as follows:

  • The doctrine of blood sacrifice
  • The doctrine of atonement
  • The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
  • The imposition of impossible tasks and rules.

In the analysis of blood sacrifice Hitchens largel discusses the Judeo-Christian scriptural blood sacrifices of animals, but is quick to also discuss the ghastly story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. By Hitchens' view, whether the sacrifice was stopped before it occured or not, it does not change that such orders from a tyrannical deity do not make for a good rationale for worship. I, myself, in fact find the very concept repulsive, when the presumed intent of the story is to inspire faith and trust in God.

All in all this section was less than it could have, and probably should have been, ironically because it focused so heavily on the most well known religions. It could have benefitted gretly from a discussion of the infant sacrifice of Carthage for example, or perhaps the ever so common Aztec human sacrifices (although he mentions them under atonement). Blood sacrifice of both humans and animals is in enough religions that 2 pages is insufficient coverage in my opinion.

As he hits on atonement it is clear that it is mostly targetting the Christian traditions. He discusses the very immorality of vicarious redemption, which I agree is absurd. Nobody can take responsibility away from someone, and as Hitchens would probably say, it would be immoral for someone to ask, and immoral for me to accept. He rails rightfully against the idea that we are all as humans responsible for the torture and subsequent crucifixion of the mythical son of God, and that to require us to atone for this, and the "original sin" of Adam is like the proverbial situation of god making one sick and then telling him to heal himself. It is absurdity in the highest degree. Hitchens also takes the opportunity to take a bit of a shot at the Christian tradition of blaming the Jews for Christ's execution.

Let me pull away at that point, because it never made sense to me. The Christians (traditionally), both Catholic and Protestant (don't kid yourself Ray) have historically blames the Jews for the crucifixion. The crime of deicide. But looking deeper, what they're really saying is the Jews fulfilled Christ's purpose on Earth, since without his crucifixion he a. wouldn't have been the sacrifice he was purportedly intended to be, and b. could never have resurrected which, according to Paul is what the entirety of their faith hinges on. So, they blamed the Jews for giving them their religion. How grateful.

Onward to Eternal Punishment and Impossible tasks. I've personally discussed the absurdity of eternal punishment for temporal crimes many places, but Hitchens doesn't really delve into that. What he does do, however, is beat up on pascal's wager a bit for good measure, mention ways religions have profited from people terrified of damnation (i.e temporary brothel marriages in muslim countries, and papal indulgences) and then discuss the issues of Judeo Christian law that impose impossible restrictions on people.

He starts with the most obvious, the commandment not to covet. This is of course, as we all know, impossible. This goes also for the common argument of, "have you ever lusted?" that some evangelists love so well. If you make the rules impossible of course its impossible to meet the standard. Its a similar situation in Buddhism that I feel Hitchens is remiss in not mentioning. One of the biggest points of the philosophy is overcoming and rejecting all want, which is pretty much impossible.

This is, again, actually a very good chapter with some regrettably big flaws. It could benefit significantly from more research and historical understanding, as well as a broader religious view. While the focus on the most commonly known religions is important to the book's accessability, if your thesis is "religion poisons everything" a better universal case needs to be made.

From here, Hitchens actually segues directly into his next chapter, which is also a favorite topic of Dawkins': Is Religion Child Abuse? Should be an interesting review.


  1. Of course it's as impossible to defaith someone as it is convert someone, but I may have actually accomplished that.

    A fundy was giving me the usual Comfort line of "look, jesus took the punishment for you!" I asked if they had more than 1 child. They said yes. I asked them if they ever punished one child for what the other did. They said no. I asked why. They said it wouldn't be fair. I said, "and?" and the discussion abruptly ended.

  2. Yes well done PF, either you convinced them something was wrong, or their head assploded from all the cognitive dissonance.