I few thoughts on Christopher Hitchens’s “God is Not Great”: this book has a more current affairs focus than the other atheist blockbusters by Dawkins and Harris. His style is fairly humorous with many asides. Some of them, while probably correct and funny, are really ad hominem and are not relevant to the issue being discussed. The core of the book is similar to the early debates on this blog – score counting on how many atrocities were committed in the name of religion or atheism. Hitchens appears to conclude that both sides are capable of going good and bad. He adds that followers of religion are more evil but put that thought to one side for a moment. In a realist sense, this is damning enough for religion’s case: if religious people behave no differently to non-religious people then religion loses is claim for morally improving people.

Hitchens’s approach to arguing against the religious view is limited because Hitchens keeps his scores of good and bad acts to determine if religion is harmful – as if “good” and “bad” were real things. But from within the ancient religious point of view, having thousands die as part of a crusade is “good”. Today, we call that “bad”. The point is if the labels of “good” and “bad” are subjective, we can’t meaningfully call religion “bad” or if we do, we can only mean “religion is distasteful to me”.

This use of ethics in some ways falls into the moralizing trap that religion is also guilty. Calling something “good” is again setting up an unalterable standard imposed without choice. Admittedly there a few contemporary moral standards I agree with. But to assume any good or bad is static goes to the very core of what makes religion, well, “bad” – or at least incompatible with an evolving culture.

If I seem rather harsh, I could say some nice things: being based on current affairs, it is more original than simply rehashing the ancient arguments. Being able to say something original in this ancient debate is very difficult. Hitchens references the usual skeptical classics but does not reproduce them. That is good for a jaded reader like me!

Anti Citizen One