My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoyed about 90% of this book. Some of the beginning parts I could have written myself. I found it to be a fairly well-researched and very well-written book. I did like that he focused not just on the major religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), but also on the slightly less popular, although equally well-known (Hinduism & Buddhism) and even some rather obscure ones (the Cargo Cults & John Frum worshippers of the South Pacific). There’s even a large section on the depravities of secular leaders such as Hitler, Stalin & Mussolini.
There are a lot of good points regarding the relationship between religion and fear of/contempt for women. Almost all religions have restrictions about what women can & cannot do – especially during their menstruation when they are UNCLEAN! It is interesting and depressing that so many religions blame women for the problems (Eve, all that tempting we do with our evil bodies, etc.) but then simultaneously feel the need to shelter us from harm because we are so delicate! I hate the madonna/whore attitude.
I am not sure I would actually call myself an atheist. I’m definitely a secular humanist, though. I think that religion (of all types) generally does more harm than good. If you look at the horrors & depravities in the world, so many of them are caused by religion, started by religious institutions, covered up by the same religious institutes, or, even when not directly influenced by religion (I’m looking at the Nazis here), quietly supported by religious institutes.
It’s easy to say that’s all in the past (for the Christians – many of whom would blame the Muslims for all religious strike now-adays), but just because there are no modern Crusades doesn’t mean that there aren’t depravities.
The part that I appreciated the most was the pointing out that it doesn’t take religion to be a moral human being. My morals might be different than yours, but yours are probably different than the Catholic’s down the street, or the Buddhist in NYC.
An argument I’ve actually heard is, “well if you don’t have religion, what’s keeping you from going out & doing whatever you want?” All that makes me do is wonder if that’s what you would do? Is fear of hell/retribution/an angry god the only thing keeping you from knocking over the convenience store down the street, raping the cashier, killing the security guard and setting the whole thing on fire? Really? Because I actually find it pretty easy to get through my day without killing anyone and with a clear conscience.
There were parts of the book that I did find infuriating. It seemed to be a great concession for Mr. Hitchens to admit that there were some good believers out there. Knowing quite a few people who I would call spiritual as opposed to religious, I know that just as a lack of religion doesn’t make me amoral, neither does a professed belief in god (or some higher power) make a person a gibbering, immoral idiot.
I object to religion being used as an excuse to legislate ANYTHING. The 10 Commandments are not the reason we shouldn’t murder. Argue that something is immoral according to your religious code does not mean that your code should be codified into law, it just means that you shouldn’t participate in whatever you find immoral. Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get gay married. But don’t tell other people that they, with a differing moral code, cannot get gay married. Unless you come up with a valid reason that has nothing to do with religion (like, every time there’s a gay wedding, five bald eagles die, or the Ozone hole gets larger, or kittens lose some cuteness), there is no reason to argue.
So – in summary: a well-written book that I would urge everyone to read (regardless of your religious views – or lack thereof). There are definitely some infuriating areas, and things I didn’t agree with, but it was informative, entertaining, and mostly right.