• TheMadFool
    2.7k
    I'm a quarter-way through the book ''God is Not Great'' by the celebrated and late Christopher Hitchens.

    In it Hitchens tries to make the case that religion is ''bad'' for almost everything - science, progress, peace, ethics, children, women, you name it and religion is a negative influence.

    Hitchen condemns all the religious, even those who have the weakest feelings of sympathy for the holy, as deletorious to, what he probably thinks, to healthy humanism and scientific inquiry.

    He thinks and claims that religion is an infantile fantasy, used or abused by those with vested interests to oppress and deny useful knowledge to the people.

    He even presents evidence that the holy books of the monotheistic triad of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are poor works of questionable authenticiy and, worse, contain divine commands to commit genocide, torture, rape, etc.

    How does one fit the above picture painted by Hitchens with the general conception that religion is good?

    Hitchens also talks about how ridiculous it is to consider that the holy books are to be read metaphorically and not literally. How do we know when a passage is literal or metaphorical? When it suits our needs?

    All in all, he presents a grotesque image of religion and he doesn't seem to be completely off the mark and that scares me.

    If you ask me, I think nothing ever is a total failure. Religion may have a black spot or two or too many for Hitchens, but what of its all important message that goodness is great and evil is condemnable?

    So, what do you think?

    Religion poisons everything?!
  • Christoffer
    120
    All in all, he presents a grotesque image of religion and he doesn't seem to be completely off the mark and that scares me.TheMadFool

    Why does that scare you? Because you are religious? Or because you fear the consequences of religion in our world? I think the latter has already been established throughout all of mankind's history.

    For anyone who dives into the mechanics of religion, both in society and in terms of human psychology will agree with most of what he says. The last stand of religion against rational ideas is that it holds people under moral guidance that atheism doesn't have, which is only a true statement for apologists, not atheists. I seem to remember a study that showed that the number of crimes in more atheistic communities is less than in religious ones.

    Religion is a very attractive source of answers about life and I would argue that if you aren't a person who's generally thinking about life and the world in any rational ways, you tend to lean against anything mystical and fantastical as your source of truth. In the end, it skews perception and there's a high risk of people taking advantage of this to fit their agendas. If you are susceptible to even accepting fantasy as truth you will most likely be very susceptible to manipulation, therefore any type of manipulation is easier done through the process of religious belief. Even in totalitarian societies that weren't built on a religious foundation, like Communist Russia and Nazi Germany, the mechanics of those societies are very much religious in nature.
  • Inis
    145
    Even in totalitarian societies that weren't built on a religious foundation, like Communist Russia and Nazi Germany, the mechanics of those societies are very much religious in nature.Christoffer

    Sure, Communism sought to destroy religion and commit genocide on an unimaginable scale, because it was religious in nature. Is the sort of absurd position people advocate.

    For anyone who dives into the mechanics of religion, both in society and in terms of human psychology will agree with most of what he says. The last stand of religion against rational ideas is that it holds people under moral guidance that atheism doesn't have, which is only a true statement for apologists, not atheists. I seem to remember a study that showed that the number of crimes in more atheistic communities is less than in religious ones.Christoffer

    You mention irrationality. If you know anything about the history of science, you will know that the big-bang was discovered by a Catholic priest, and that the entire atheist theoretical physics community sought to deny it. Let's not forget that Newton was deeply religious and according to the French, Lamarck discovered evolution, and was religious.
  • Rank Amateur
    907
    Christopher Hitchens.TheMadFool

    Is to philosophical discussions of theism, what Donald trump is to productive discussions on governance. Both are entertainers and salesmen.

    That is also pure opinion and very bad philosophy by the way.
  • Christoffer
    120
    Sure, Communism sought to destroy religion and commit genocide on an unimaginable scale, because it was religious in nature. Is the sort of absurd position people advocateInis

    Are you saying that the mechanics of making Lenin and Stalin into deity-like figures, following hard doctrines and mantras to make enemies of those who think differently from the regime, isn’t religious in its mechanics? I hope you understand what it is I’m talking about here. Religious mechanics aren’t confined to faith in the supernatural, the mechanics are the mechanics of manipulation and humans ability to stick to answers when in positions of having no other answers.

    You mention irrationality. If you know anything about the history of science, you will know that the big-bang was discovered by a Catholic priest, and that the entire atheist theoretical physics community sought to deny it. Let's not forget that Newton was deeply religious and according to the French, Lamarck discovered evolution, and was religiousInis

    This is in no way a counter argument to what I said. You take a section of history and decisions of people as an argument against the points I made. This is just a fallacy.
  • AJJ
    98
    So, what do you think?

    Religion poisons everything?!
    TheMadFool

    Schools, hospitals, homes for the aged and infirm, foundling homes, orphanages, shelters for the poor, alms houses, medical missions, charitable aid societies, plenty of beautiful art and architecture. So no, not everything.
  • Inis
    145
    Are you saying that the mechanics of making Lenin and Stalin into deity-like figures, following hard doctrines and mantras to make enemies of those who think differently from the regime, isn’t religious in its mechanics?Christoffer

    It is true that Communism's approach to apostasy is similar to some religions, but in a European context, there are no religions like that. There are of course religions that are coercive in other ways, but the fact remains that if Orthodox Church was anything like Communism, used the same techniques, then it could have resisted it.

    Religious mechanics aren’t confined to faith in the supernatural, the mechanics are the mechanics of manipulation and humans ability to stick to answers when in positions of having no other answers.Christoffer

    Fine, but do you want to live in a safe, cohesive, high-trust, high-care society? If you do, then what is your plan? The best known method is to have a common set of values that are expressed in your society's institutions, myths, and rituals.

    But in your defence, Communism does have those things, so perhaps the distinction is between values that are natural to your genetics and the genetics of your society. A religion that has evolved along with a society in a natural way, will not be in conflict with it.
  • Rank Amateur
    907
    By some definition, communism, Presbyterian, Muslim, Tao, catholic, satanism, etc, etc, etc. are all religions. I am not sure there is a human being on the planet who is not a follower of some religion broadly defined. Perhaps we should narrow in what we mean by religion before condemning it as the root of all evil.
  • Arkady
    713
    Let's not forget that Newton was deeply religious and according to the French, Lamarck discovered evolution, and was religious.Inis
    Yes, and the theory of evolution and religion have lived happily ever after since then... :smirk:

    (BTW, saying that Lamarck "discovered evolution," is a gross simplification of the history, at best. No one person "discovered" evolution, including Darwin.)

    Having said that, I do think that the relationship between science (and reason generally) and religion may be a bit more nuanced than Hitchens proposes. While I enjoyed his work (including God is Not Great), such sweeping statements as "religion poisons everything," are IMO hyperbolic. Words such as "all," "always," and "everything" are of little value in intellectual discourse: very little is absolute, and there are almost always exceptions or borderline cases.
  • Tzeentch
    173
    There's nothing inherently wrong with religion. However, when it is coupled with certain human behavior it can become dangerous.

    The first instance of this is when religion is coupled with power structures, which will inevitably lead to religion being corrupted by those who are in power and wish to remain there, or even expand their domain.

    The second instance is when it is coupled with the fact that on average humans do not respond well to uncertainty, and belief is almost always uncertain in nature. A common response is to zealously attempt to convince as many persons as possible that one is in fact not only certain, but one is also right. When faced with resistance there is much kicking and screaming, and in more archaic times also violence.

    The zealot may claim to only want to help the other uncover the truth, but a feigned arrogance together with a total lack of the respect of the other's viewpoints reveals the true intention behind his actions; to compensate for a lack of certainty, by trusting the age old principle of 'repeat something enough times and it becomes the truth'. It's exactly for this reason that I don't hold men like Christopher Hitchens in particularly high regard.

    The problem lies with humans, not with religion. Then again, it is also particularly human to be looking for the problem outside oneself, instead of within.

    Are you saying that the mechanics of making Lenin and Stalin into deity-like figures, following hard doctrines and mantras to make enemies of those who think differently from the regime, isn’t religious in its mechanics?Christoffer

    Doesn't this support a hypothesis that this behavior while usually attributed to religion, has nothing to do with religion?
  • Inis
    145
    Yes, and the theory of evolution and religion have lived happily ever after since then...Arkady

    Well, both the Church of England and the Catholic Church have declared evolution and big-bang to be compatible with their beliefs.

    Also it is instructive to note that according to Catholic doctrine, faith is unnecessary. The truth may be achieved through reason.

    But of course, I am conveniently ignoring the persecution of Galileo, as atheists must ignore the many cases of corrupt atheist science.
    Having said that, I do think that the relationship between science (and reason generally) and religion may be a bit more nuanced than Hitchens proposes. While I enjoyed his work (including God is Not Great), such sweeping statements as "religion poisons everything," are IMO hyperbolicArkady

    Hitchens was political. His aim was to undermine Western society by attacking the institutions that might oppose what he wanted most - war in the Middle East.
  • DingoJones
    401


    You should finish the book first, as many of your and other peoples issues are addressed by the end.
    It is not meant as hyperbole, he makes the case that religion poisons everything it touches, that even any good works it does is tainted and if the poison (religion) is removed we would be better off.
  • Arkady
    713
    Well, both the Church of England and the Catholic Church have declared evolution and big-bang to be compatible with their beliefs.

    Also it is instructive to note that according to Catholic doctrine, faith is unnecessary. The truth may be achieved through reason.
    Inis
    Even if this somewhat sanitized picture of the relationship between Catholicism and evolution is true, it does not tell the whole story. For one thing, even just restricting our view to Christianity alone, evangelical Christians and their Protestant cohorts generally are much less hospitable towards evolution than are Catholics.

    But of course, I am conveniently ignoring the persecution of Galileo, as atheists must ignore the many cases of corrupt atheist science.
    I don't impugn your posts for their omission of Galileo. Not every discussion of science and religion must mention him.
  • Inis
    145
    I don't impugn your posts for their omission of Galileo. Not every discussion of science and religion must mention him.Arkady

    It's a shame Lysenko rarely gets a mention, though.
  • Rank Amateur
    907
    Just an aside -

    Also it is instructive to note that according to Catholic doctrine, faith is unnecessary. The truth may be achieved through reason.Inis

    I am pretty catholic and I don't think that is actuate. Faith plays an immense roll in Catholicism, what the church does say, is there is no conflict between faith and reason. To me Thomas Merton said it best

    “Reason is in fact the path to faith, and faith takes over when reason can say no more.”
  • DiegoT
    313
    but what of its all important message that goodness is great and evil is condemnable? -It can be argued that´s one the worst parts about religion: the reification of good and evil as objective realities, and not context-related subjective appraisals of given actions and processes, in relation to the current state of the values of a person or collective.

    Hitchens is right in many things he said about religion; however, the definition of religion he applied was very restrictive, and only accounts for what I personally call book cults in the Age of Piscis, from the Bible to Puranas and all literal literary idolatries in between. Many of these books are good readings; but none of them deserves a cult and much less, to see Reality through their strange lenses.

    However, the phenomenon of Religion is much larger and complex. So much so, that Religion is not really optional for human beings: it´s inherent to Man* and to have a soul. Social groups that don´t follow literary or superstitious religions, still need religion; they just don´t call it so. All the rituals, symbols, foundational myths, special days, family meals, parades and walks in the park with the dog are religious in nature and required for the functioning of social bonds, social institutions and personal balance. But Hitchens apparently preferred to call "religion" just to literary cults; and among them, pseudo-monotheistic religions such as Christianism or Judaism and personality cults such as Islamism. Might it be he was really unaware of basic understandings of religion in Sociology and Anthropology?

    *Contrary to what feminists say due to their ignorance, the use of "Man" to refer to human kind is not "sexist" or "discriminatory". Man was used to refer to humanity in the English language before it was used to refer to males of the species; and it comes from an Ancient root that also gave us Manu, the first man (the first people) in Hindu stories. Man is therefore a proper way to refer to both men and women when you only want to speak of "all people belonging to the hu-man species".
  • Arkady
    713

    Actually, I've seen Lysenko discussed in a number of sources. Carl Sagan, arguably one of the most prominent advocates for scientific reason in the latter 20th century, has written about Lysenko as a paradigm example of ideology prevailing over dispassionate analysis of scientific data, and the oft-catastrophic consequences of unreason run amok (especially when it's backed by a powerful, autocratic state).

    One of my favorite quotes is Feynman's "nature cannot be fooled," and, though he was talking about the Challenger space shuttle disaster, it could apply equally well to Lysenko's crackpot genetic ideas.
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    Why does that scare you?Christoffer

    To think that so many people were misled by few and that this, if nothing, deception is an instrument of manipulation by those who are rich and powerful is frightening.

    I'm not religious (I wish I were) but if I were I'd be devastated to realize all that I believed in was a lie. It's like waking up after having been in a deep coma for, say, 30 or 40 years.
  • DiegoT
    313
    curiously enough, one of Lysenko´s pals, A.I. Oparin, gave us in 1936 the Coacervate Theory that is very important I believe to understand the transition between mineral and biological evolution, and possibly to help Carl Sagan´s ex-wife explain how first eukariotic cells came to be. So even in the darkest places sometimes there is light...
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    That is also pure opinion and very bad philosophy by the way.Rank Amateur

    Have you read the book? He cites many authorities on varied subjects from religion to science. I believe he's done his homework on the subject.

    He makes sense and if his claims were true then it's a damning report on religion.

    However one fallacy he's most likely, not that he does, to commit is that of oversimplified cause which is basically cherrypicking those bits that confirm his prejudices.
  • DiegoT
    313
    he should be mentioned every single time we hear "feminist science" or "post-colonial science", or "gender studies."
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    Schools, hospitals, homes for the aged and infirm, foundling homes, orphanages, shelters for the poor, alms houses, medical missions, charitable aid societies, plenty of beautiful art and architecture. So no, not everything.AJJ

    Could these be done to serve a vile purpose? To become centers of religious indoctrination and produce an army of fanatics?

    Perhaps God isn't the problem and neither is the messenger at fault. It's the church and its gang who resort to underhand tactics and spoil what is actually good.
  • Rank Amateur
    907
    meant my comment was opinion and bad philosophy not his book
  • AJJ
    98
    Could these be done to serve a vile purpose? To become centers of religious indoctrination and produce an army of fanatics?TheMadFool

    If that’s your line then what you have there is a conspiracy theory, where everything that opposes the view that the religion in question is malign is taken as an attempt at trickery, that therefore supports the theory. It’s entirely circular.

    No one seriously denies the failings of the various churches, but it doesn’t follow that the religion they espouse can be described as poison.
  • Jake
    1.1k
    So, what do you think?TheMadFool

    Hitchens was a very skilled troll, may he rest in peace where ever he is now. I admired his skill, being a bit of a troll myself. But he did sometimes seem to take himself a tad seriously. Thank God I never do that! :smile:
  • Athena
    273


    Christianity is not compatible with democracy and for me that is a huge problem. The US used to have education for good moral judgment and that is essential to our liberty and democracy manifesting a good life. Coming from Greek philosophy, the foundation of our democracy, a moral is a matter of cause and effect, and the more their philosophy leaned on math and science, the less important their gods as controlling powers, became.

    But the atheist also have it wrong. The Greeks preserved a notion of universal law and our technologically smart society seems to think it is fine to act like the selfish gene, put one's self first and deny any need to consider anyone else or even the planet. We have turned technology into some kind of god that will resolve all problems, no matter what we do. Both atheist and religious folks ignoring universal laws.

    We must get back to education for good moral judgment and that is learning how to think, not what to think. Basing our decisions on how we feel about this or that, instead of what we know about this about that, is deadly. We must stop acting like the selfish gene. Being ruled by feelings instead of knowledge. However, we must not ignore feelings....

    All holy books have good advice about being better humans. They all contain the high points of human wisdom or they would not have been reserved. The bible says things like we should forgive people their debts in 7 years. This does not apply to 30 year contracts, but we might apply it to debts that were not an agreed on contract? Giving a person a clean start is one of the most humane things we can do for each other. It boosts the spirit of love and I think that is important. Our spirit (how we feel) is perhaps more important than facts because what we think and do is very much about how we feel.
  • Jake
    1.1k
    Is to philosophical discussions of theism, what Donald trump is to productive discussions on governance. Both are entertainers and salesmen.Rank Amateur

    Yea, what he said.

    Still, we should salute Hitchen's rhetorical skill, he was no slouch at an activity all of us are engaged in here, typically with considerably less ability.

    What would have hooked me on Hitchens is if he had later wrote a book making the other side of the case. I saw him more like an attorney making a passionate case for his client rather than a true believer. A good attorney should be able to work any side of an argument, and I would have enjoyed seeing him triumph in that way. Oh well, not enough time, never enough time...
  • Jake
    1.1k
    Reason is in fact the path to faith, and faith takes over when reason can say no more.Rank Amateur

    Or, when reason can say no more, reason faces that reality and embraces not having anything else to say, and explores the new realm it has discovered. And anyway, one can always say a great deal about not having anything else to say. Don't ask me how I know this. :smile:
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    You should finish the book first, as many of your and other peoples issues are addressed by the end.
    It is not meant as hyperbole, he makes the case that religion poisons everything it touches, that even any good works it does is tainted and if the poison (religion) is removed we would be better off
    DingoJones

    The way Hitchens writes the first few chapters leaves nothing to the imagination about the rest of the book.


    As advised I'll finish the book. Thanks
  • DingoJones
    401


    Yes, if you are expecting him to soften up or change the tone you will be disappointed. I merely meant that he addresses the counter-arguments and concerns that have been raised.
  • TheMadFool
    2.7k
    If that’s your line then what you have there is a conspiracy theory, where everything that opposes the view that the religion in question is malign is taken as an attempt at trickery, that therefore supports the theory. It’s entirely circular.

    No one seriously denies the failings of the various churches, but it doesn’t follow that the religion they espouse can be described as poison.
    AJJ

    Ok. That's sensible but is it true? Is Hitchens doing nothing more than hatching a conspiracy theory?

    What of his ''evidence''?

    Religious apologists, as far as I can see, can't deny his findings. All they can do at this point is to defend themselves obliquely. If Hitchens says ''the Bible is not authentic'' they will have to reply by saying something like ''the Bible isn't to be read literally'' since Hitchens is right and so can't be refuted.
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