By Zeff Davies (with files from Nathaniel Moher)
Now that Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything has been out for a few weeks, I thought it might be fun to find out exactly what kind of rabble it’s roused. That is, how are the true believers taking it? Badly, to be sure, but with what degrees of fire and brimstone have they consigned Hitchens to that particular circle of hell reserved for atheists with no modesty and bad fashion sense?
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention (sit up and take that gum out of your mouth), Hitchens uses God is Not Great to dismiss the idea of a higher being, and to pummel on anyone silly enough to believe in one. He presents early on the “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.”
Hitchens’ book follows on Richard Dawkins’ 2006 The God Delusion. Both argue that, while religion might have been useful before we had science to explain the inexplicable, it has long since become as malignant as it is absurd.
Right. Sounds blasphemous enough to me. The faithful must be girded for battle. Especially after Hitchens poured kerosene on the bible-burning bonfire by calling Jerry Falwell, freshly dead, “a vulgar fraud and crook.”
So my trusty associate Nathaniel and I ventured out onto the web. And we’re back now to tell you: righteous indignation is hard to come by these days.
Maybe it’s the failure of George Bush’s crusade in Iraq, or maybe the jihad isn’t going so well, but religious fundamentalists, and even moderates, seem to be a bit winded lately. Even self-flagellating. “We have done a terrible job of presenting our perspective as a plausible world view that has implications for public life and for education,” said one Christian Smith, a professor at Notre Dame University, when asked by an AP reporter to respond to God is Not Great. “Whatever may be wrong with Christopher Hitchens attacks on religious leaders, we have certainly already matched it in our attacks.”
All right, he’s Catholic; Catholics are very good at blaming themselves. (I speak as an ex-altar boy.) Surely the more muscular wings of Christianity will take the bait. But no. At crosswalk.com, the website of “a for-profit religious corporation dedicated to building up the Church, which is the Body of Christ” — a site selling “Yes, I am a Jesus Freak!” T-shirts — we find this, under the headline “Christopher Hitchens Finds Surprising Support from Jesus of Nazareth”:
- So why don’t the followers of Jesus communicate the grace of God more effectively? That is too often the heartbreaking shortcoming of the church. We have allowed pride and lack of understanding of the grace of God to short circuit our message.
Enough with the hair-shirts already. Won’t anyone take on this heathen?
Okay. Muslim youth. Always good for a fatwah. After all, as both Hitchens and Mark Steyn have assured us, when they’re not destroying Western values, they’re breeding like rabbits so they can ovverrun us. But at The Revival (“Voice of Muslim Youth!”) in the UK, we find nothing more than a forum post, under the topic heading “Vulgarity,” lumping Hitchens in with Rush Limbaugh as “morally decadent.” But the post dates from 2005. And it doesn’t even tell us in what way Hitchens is decadent. We expect it has something to do with that whiskey glass nailed to his hand.
The Jews? Oy. “Are these books bad for God?” asks The Jewish Week, to which Rabbi David Nelson replies: “It may be bad for religion. Whether it is bad for God, who knows?” Way too Talmudic, Rabbi.
Things picked up a bit at Christianity Today, though their book reviewer seems more concerned with separating the hip Christians from the straw-chewers: “If Hitchens wanted to learn that resistance to facing the scientific consensus on evolution is dimming among evangelicals, it would be easy for him to do so. He can surely find — and he did find — exemplars of the straw men he attacks, but he should be honest enough to say that that is what he is doing.” And we did find some stiff resistance to Hitchens in an unexpected place: a website devoted to opposing the rise of the religious right. “God Is Not Great represents little more than the disingenous posturings of a certified fraudmeister,” writes Max Blumenthal at Talk to Action, “who has openly cavorted with the most reactionary elements of the Christian right.”
But in the end we had to travel into the bowels of the internet to find what we were looking for — to the place where the divinely inspired and convinced-of-their-own-godliness go. That’s right, we went to the customer reviews section of amazon.com, where we found this contribution from R. Love:
- Why can’t you Atheists you just demonstrate your tolerance and leave the Christians alone! You claim that people should be free to believe whatever they want and yet you keep writing the very book that started this futile discussion!
If there is no absolute truth then debate is pointless!
Is this book written to prove Christians wrong! If that is the case you have failed because I still believe in God!
If you’re trying to disprove a fairytale doesn’t that mean you’re insane!
I don’t believe in the toothfairy or Santa Clause and I haven’t written a stupid book titled “There is no Toothfairy!” or “There is no Santa Clause!”
And there’s more. Ohh, there’s more. You go, R. Love. God needs you. And whether he knows it or not, so does Christopher Hitchens. Nobody’s giving him even a good round of sparring these days. And if a contrarian has nothing to be contrary to, he might just cease to exist too.