Christopher Hitchens has been abundantly blessed for attacking God.
His outrageous and entertaining book, “god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” has become a major bestseller and earned its sardonic author more than a million dollars, according to a recent estimate by the Wall Street Journal.
For any sophisticated religious believer, this powerfully popular work represents a maddening combination of stimulation and sloppiness, erudition and ignorance, provocation and puerility.
The sly distortions and grotesque errors that appear in every chapter of his work demonstrate the author’s carelessness and arrogance. In one especially appalling example (on page 100), Hitchens writes of “the pitiless teachings of the god of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all.” He thereby ignores the most celebrated commandment in the Five Books of Moses, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), identified by Jewish sages (and in Matthew’s Gospel by Jesus himself) as the very essence of the Hebrew Scriptures. Hitchens also fails to acknowledge the innumerable Old Testament injunctions to show loving-kindness and mercy in dealing with widows, orphans, strangers, and the poor. Whether one imputes these teachings to God or to Moses, they hardly qualify as “pitiless” and most certainly emphasize “human solidarity and compassion.”
Beyond its factual errors and obvious misstatements, “god is not Great” (Hitchens makes a point of never spelling the word “God” with a capital “G”) provides a frequently primitive and juvenile characterization of religious belief. Near the conclusion of his book he suggests that “religion offers either annihilation in the name of god, or else the false promise that if we take a knife to our foreskin, or pray in the right direction, or ingest pieces of wafer, we shall be ‘saved.’” This breezy dismissal obviously misrepresents Christianity (with most denominations considering a relationship with Christ more important to salvation than consumption of magical wafers) but also misses the entire thrust of Judaism, which never mandated circumcision for non-Jews nor limited a share in the afterlife to members of the House of Israel.