Christopher Hitchens
New York: Twelve Books, 2007
288 pp.; $24.99 (cloth)

It was the British philosopher and renowned atheist Bertrand Russell who delivered the most comprehensive riposte to the theists when asked what he would say, should he find himself in a postmortem state at the gates of St. Peter. His reply (quoted by Christopher Hitchens in his new book) contains the totality of objections to religious belief: “I should say, Oh God, you did not give us enough evidence.”

What on first impression seems merely witty actually turns out to be a tremendously important meta-critique of the god concept. (I am going to follow Hitchens in lowercasing the deity, on the grounds that there is nothing to lose when one risks the wrath of a nonexistent entity.) Because of course it is not just that arguments from First Cause, Best of All Possible Worlds, Intelligent Design, World Bank of Morality, and so on, are specious and have repeatedly been proved wrong; it is equally important to notice that their speciousness, combined with a perfectly complete absence of empirical evidence for god’s existence, would inevitably lead any intelligent person to rule them out. Hence, one’s apparent arrival at the gates of St. Peter could mean only this—if I am not hallucinating, then god is an epistemological sadist. Either way, while it may be agreed that god is not great, Hitchens is (for once in his life) insufficiently aggressive—the atheist position is, in the end, surely, that god cannot be great.

Nonetheless, the militant atheist in me can only gasp in admiration at Christopher Hitchens’s rhetorical skills, when, on page four (page four!), he delivers a quadruple whammy: “There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.” You might survey that list and deduce that Hume, Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche are being summoned to duty. But no, the author tells us that he had reached these conclusions before he reached puberty, simply by thinking. And then, quite correctly noting that there is nothing arrogant about saying this, Hitchens provides the clincher: “I am morally certain that millions of other people came to very similar conclusions in very much the same way.” Well, he’s right, isn’t he?

What follows is not so much a systematic or philosophical critique of theism (for that you might try Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion) as an exercise in textual criticism that demonstrates inconsistencies in the Christian and Muslim holy texts, trots out the no-dinosaurs argument (that there are no creatures specified in the Bible that exceed the knowledge available to men at the time is in itself sufficient to lead us to reject the idea that these books are of divine origin), and makes the compelling argument that religion is a form of child abuse.

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