by MICK LLOYD-OWEN & r & God Is Not Great

by Christopher Hitchens

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne might be tempted to judge this book by its cover -- or its author -- without turning a page. The subtitle is particularly disarming: "How Religion Poisons Everything." There is little ambiguity as to what's in store: a litany of evils and absurdities spawned by man's irrational religious impulse, as catalogued by an intellectual atheist who once said that "all religious belief is sinister and infantile." The decision to read this book or avoid it, however, shouldn't be based on the author's forthright labeling nor his reputation as a hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking iconoclast who does not mince words. It is full of interesting footnotes from history, memorable quotes and incisive observations. It is exceptionally well written and argued. Perhaps most surprisingly of all -- considering the weighty subject matter -- is that it's funny. Even the staunchest believer must chuckle as he winces his way through Chapter Three: "A Short Digression on the Pig; or, Why Heaven Hates Ham."

Christopher Hitchens' career as a journalist has taken him to some 60 countries, bringing him into personal contact with all of the belief systems he castigates. (Few are left unscathed.) Now an American citizen, Hitchens was born a Brit and still writes like one, so when you read the word "stupid," repeatedly, you can amuse yourself by hearing it as "stew-pid" with an English accent.

Predictably, Hitchens chronicles the long history of abuses and atrocities committed by religious states, then turns his attention to an analysis of metaphysics, arguments from design, and knowledge by divine revelation. (Did you know that an alternate, Syriac-Aramaic translation of the Koran promises sweet white raisins as the reward of martyrdom in paradise, rather than virgins?) Just as predictably, and with equally irreverent humor, Hitchens discourses upon "The Tawdriness of Miracles" and argues that all religion is rooted in a primitive era of the development of human consciousness.

Concluding that God Is Not Great, the author pleads for a revival of Enlightenment values to which humanity owes far more, in his estimation, than it does to any god.

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