Wednesday, April 8, 2009

god is not Great Chapter 9: The Koran is Borrowed

After a bit too long of a break due to losing track of my copy of god is not Great I'm back to reveiw chapter 9 taking me up to about halfway through the book. This time we look at what Hitchens describes as both "the most and the least interesting of the world's monotheisms."

Hitchens, in his usual style, beigns by targeting the weakest points of Islam. He alludes to the previous two chapters in noting that because of how much Islam borrowed from its elder siblings, the failure of them to be valid contributes directly to a failure of Islam. He even goes so far as to compare the supposed annunciations of the virgin Mary and Muhammed specifically as both "unverifiable and unfalsifiable."

An interesting comparison Hitchens makes is between the resistance of all three of these monotheistic traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to having their scriptures translated into the common languages of various nations. The Torah by tradition is still hand written almost exclusively in Hebrew when for liturgical use(although Hitchens notes that many, if not most, of the rituals have been abandoned) the Koran is still considered only correct in Arabic. The only one of these three that has broken out of the linguistic stasis is the Christian scripture, and the largest denomination, Roman Catholicism, only stopped doing Latin exclusively in the 1960's.

He provides an amusing anecdote of a discussion he had with someone in Washington DC where a man bemoaned the fundamentalist muslims who were (and still are) vexing the US. Hitchens gave his explanations and noted there was more proof for Muhammed than Jesus, and his acquaintance threatened him with violence.

Whether the story is true or not (and I don't see hwy he would make it up), it does illustrate well how touchy religion is. Islam in particular is reactive and much too often violent. It was born in violence, and thirved on conquest for the first few centuries of its existence after all. But if a Christian cannot withold threat of violence in defense of his own faith, how could he not expect the same of a believer in another faith?

Our author does make one claim that is of probably the most importance in the entire chapter: All three books, the Tanakh/Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Koran each have one common problem, that being that they were all penned significantly after the events they allude to take place, or, in the case of the Koran, significantly after they were said to have been recited. By this problem, none of the three have a good claim of authority. Each makes some claim to the divine, but none have the hard evidence needed to prove it. The Christians claim eyewitness writers of the gospels, but they were written decades after the events, and the claims of apostolic authorship are dubious at best. The Jewish scriptures claim to discuss events from well before they were written, and the evidence for their original writing dates indicates likely centuries after when they claim. The koran, worst of all three, claims it was passed on perfectly orally before finally being written down.

He concludes the chapter discussing how religions like Islam stifle inquiry regarding the religion itself, particular in these days of much greater scientific understanding where we can examine the claims more accurately. Hithens posits that this is most likely a fear of being proven wrong, which would be insurmountably detrimental to the faith.

All said, it was an interesting chapter. Perhaps his best of the three holy book chapters. He supports his thesis well, and makes many good points. All in all it was quite worth reading.

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