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Ch. 1: Putting It Mildly 
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Post Ch. 1: Putting It Mildly
God is Not Great

Ch. 1: Putting It Mildly



Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:31 pm
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Please use this thread to discuss the first chapter.



Mon Mar 02, 2009 6:13 pm
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I like Hitchens. He is a good literature man, which endears him to me right away. He is a top-notch essayist. It's hard to imagine a more eloquent, and at times wicked and wickedly funny, spokesman for atheism.

I have to say that I haven't been able to reconcile his attack on religion in Chapter 2 (I've read about a third of the book), with an attitude he shows in this first chapter. I noticed this, too, with Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. And that is that he reveals a certain affection, respect, even love for some of the products of religion: his old teacher and churches, for example, and also art, music, and literature. This is not so surprising for a humanist, but thinking of the next chapter's refrain of "Religion poisons everything," I become a little puzzled. Maybe I'll work this difficulty or someone can help me.

But he hits all the points that he needs to in this introductory chapter. He has his objections neatly bundled into four. Religion:
1. "wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos
2. "that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism,:
3. "that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression"
4. "that it is ultimately grounded in wish-thinking."

Other statements he presents as basic are that atheists:

5. do not belong to a faith, "our belief is not a belief."
6. are a diverse bunch who freely disagree with each other
7. are as open to "wonder, mystery, and awe" as anyone (but are likely to seek it from more awe-inspiring sources than religion offers)
8. have no problem living ethically and may well be more successsful than those who follow religious precepts
9. need no "machinery of reinforcement" to get through the day--consisting of praise, prayer, pilgrimmage
10. believe that the consolation relgion offers is a false consolation

I like this:

"Past and present religious atrocities have occurred not because we are evil, but because it is a fact of nature that the human species is, biologically, only partly rational. Evolution has meant that our prefrontal lobes are too small, our adrenal glands are too big, and our reproductive organs apparently designed by a committee; a recipe which, alone or in combination, is very certain to lead to some unhappiness and disorder."

This to me locates the problem accurately, not with religious beliefs that somehow corrupt our otherwise rational selves, but in our nervous and endocrine systems which influence us to concoct and latch onto relgious and other irrational beliefs. Nevertheless, I think that religious beliefs have had a role in maintaining homeostasis during what might be called the infancy of our species. That these same beliefs have disrupted homeostasis with harmful effects is also paradoxically true.


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Mon Mar 02, 2009 8:37 pm
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Your last paragraph rings true for me. When you mention that religion had a role in maintaining homeostatis, I wonder what you envision the progress of humanity would be like without any religion. Perhaps homeostasis isn't really a beneficial trait, especially if the maintained condition includes harmful side effects.



Wed Mar 04, 2009 12:19 am
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Interbane wrote:
Your last paragraph rings true for me. When you mention that religion had a role in maintaining homeostatis, I wonder what you envision the progress of humanity would be like without any religion. Perhaps homeostasis isn't really a beneficial trait, especially if the maintained condition includes harmful side effects.

What I would hope is that the means of maintaining homeostasis with the aid of religion would be less necessary in an age where ignorance of our world, the universe, and our own bodies, and lack of freedom, doesn't need to impede us as it did when religions arose. I think it's true what you imply, that homeostasis is not necessarily an effect which, when translated from an individual level to the societal level, looks like a benefit.

Even though today we have the exception of Islam, in general the extreme devotion to religious ideas that has helped power all sorts of calamities in the past has weakened, and I think that even modern people who call themselves religious would, if being honest with themselves, admit that this is a good thing. Whether now, progress would be greater with [/i]no[i] religion, I couldn't say. I don't see an immediate reason to be categorical about religion. It has its obnoxious manifestations but these do not necessarily fall under the category of harm. And it has manifestations that appear to be, socially, beneficial.


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Wed Mar 04, 2009 8:33 am
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Post Religion: Generally Good?
Dwill -

I read this book some time past, and admit to being so eager to "join" this book club that feel compelled to write something quickly, so I hope I am not completely out of order in my response.
Paraphrasing you, you stated that "modern" religion, with the exception of Islam, has lost a great deal of the negative "energy" it has had in the past, and as a result, you put forward the idea that Hitchens is off the mark when he describes religion, generally, as a force for evil.
While it is true that Hitchens is pleasingly predispositioned to take such a position, (another book of self-discovery would be a bore,) I think he makes a fairly good case for his argument.
The basic premise he follows throughout the book, is that by dividing humanity into "us" and "them", religion predispositions people to commit all sorts of evil, and even allows them a certian leeway with themselves. (ex: Confession and absolution) Even those religions which profess to include all of mankind through some sort of theological slight-of-hand manage still to find, at the very least, a caste of "unbelievers" at least in the present...perhaps to be "saved" post-mortem by the "one true church" as the mormons do.
Despite all the good people attribute to religion, and even all the good it has done, Hitchens' makes a compelling case that these cannot make up for the fact that religion has caused unbelievable suffering and held man back, while all good qualities professed to be a result of religion are far better catagorized as a form of highjacked humanism, often bearing little resemblance to the tenents of the religion in whose name they were done.
Taking the bible, (sorry, cannot bring myself to capitalize it,) as an example: who can believe that the relgion based on this document can truely be a religion of compassion, forgivness and the brotherhood of mankind, expecially in light of the horrors of the old testament?
Hitchens takes the christian apologists to task, as well as all others, and shows how, when everything is going well, religion can be used for good, but when its tenents are endangered, or its power base in doubt, it routinely goes the route of separating the sheep from the goats.



Wed Mar 04, 2009 11:06 am
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Thanks. Your memory must be very good to give this summary of the book. I haven't read the whole thing yet. The points you summarized are ones that I have to consider as I go along. I feel there is one main knot that needs to be undone, but I have great difficulty expressing what I see as the problem. Hitchens is telling us that he is a Protestant sort of atheist and that he has fond memories of and continuing affection for some of the products of religion. Yet in Chapter 2, it's all "religion poisons everything." To say, as you suggest he later says, that anything good from religion is actually hijacked humanism is an impossible separation for me to make. All our experience of the world comes in such a thoroughly mixed form, like a solution of elements whose individual properties cannot be sensed.

We also have a severe problem to deal with that might be called....I don't know, metaphysical? All this business of what might have happened without religion, what religion prevented from happening....as if there could have been, within the confines of the times, something else to take its place? What knowledge do we have of this postulated alternate world? Would a do-over be possible at all? Questions about the nature of time and of determinism hover over this topic. I don't pretend to understand them.

What I think, provisionally, is that we arrive at places through means that we may later look back at with abhorrence. This may be the case with religion. We want to repudiate it as we contemplate the ills we can attribute to its past, not realizing that, nevertheless, it had a large part in carrying us here. I may be confused, but I have a large amount of skepticism in our ability at post-mortems dissections of history, skeptical that we can in any but the crudest way distill out the elements of the solution.


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Wed Mar 04, 2009 10:46 pm
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Post Protestant Atheism...like that
your mention of the idea of a protestant atheism is interesting and not too far off. Hitchens makes some allusion to the idea that christian religion, at least, has "progressed" from its dark ages, in the form of structural and popular re-inventions of its code of beliefs. He returns again and again to the idea, however, that despite all these improvments, religion is a flawed creation....more like its creator than it would sometimes liek to imagine.
He touches on the idea that the reformation, deaism and all those "questioning" movments of christian religous reform all moved christianity towards freethinking, atheist thought...in a way. I think an examination of modern western civilization supports this idea, at least superficially.
I can't imagine a French Revolution, or Bill of Rights, or the unwritten English Constitution without the freedom of thought that first stretched its legs within the confines of the church. That the Renaissance and the decline of the Church coincided was more than just chance....the former was dependant on the latter.
Even so - Hitchens contends that the stain of religion is somehow integral to human nature....a product of our animal condition. He seems to envision not a world without relgion, but rather a class of people, whom, by virtue of freethinking and science, are able to throw off it's chains. (At other times, however, hs seems to suggest that religion is a product of society, and not present in small children, people locked up in attics, internet addics, or anyone else removed from societal contact. I never got around that conflict.)



Thu Mar 05, 2009 4:43 am
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I have read some terrible books, but this is the topper of them all. I was VERY interested in reading what Hitchens had to say. I love to read opposing views simultaneously. I have to be honest- I could only get through 193 of the 286 pages and that was probably 100 pages of pushing myself. I have NEVER given up on a book no matter how much of a blowhard I think the author is.
But, reading this book was like reading a middle schooler's never-ending attempt at debate. This book would've been better properly titled "People are Not Great" considering that seems to be the bulk of Hitchens' argument. Basically, by showing how horrible people are that believe there is a God, in turn, God must be horrible as well. If anything, perhaps an argument could be made that people are so horrible- it is why God's mercy is so GREAT! He completely forgets the most famous atheists who have decimated millions of horrible God-Believers- Stalin, Hitler, Polpot, etc.

Hitchens comes across as angry, bitter, juvenile, and vapid. The only conclusion you can come to reading this book is that its totally irrational.
Random examples and lots of nasty words do NOT make a rational case. critic of religion who fails to accept anything good about it - anything at all - is just not living in the real world.


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Thu Mar 05, 2009 10:14 am
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Quote:
Thrillwriter
He completely forgets the most famous atheists who have decimated millions of horrible God-Believers- Stalin, Hitler, Polpot, etc.


First off… You added a person here that does not belong… Hitler was no atheist; in fact part of his great popularity was due to his religion and how he could relate it to the masses. Anti-Semitism is a purely religious belief, Look into Hitler’s speeches he continuously draws from biblical scripture.

Quote:
http://nobeliefs.com/hitler.htm
Although Hitler did not practice religion in a churchly sense, he certainly believed in the Bible's God. Raised as Catholic he went to a monastery school and, interestingly, walked everyday past a stone arch which was carved the monastery's coat of arms which included a swastika. As a young boy, Hitler's most ardent goal was to become a priest. Much of his philosophy came from the Bible, and more influentially, from the Christian Social movement. (The German Christian Social movement, remarkably, resembles the Christian Right movement in America today.) Many have questioned Hitler's stand on Christianity. Although he fought against certain Catholic priests who opposed him for political reasons, his belief in God and country never left him. Many Christians throughout history have opposed Christian priests for various reasons; this does not necessarily make one against one's own Christian beliefs. Nor did the Vatican's Pope & bishops ever disown him; in fact they blessed him! As evidence to his claimed Christianity, he said:

"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.

-Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922 (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20, Oxford University Press, 1942)


At any rate the scrutiny you level at those other nations is also one with a weak foundation, Polpot and Stalin both held irrational beliefs as dogmatic as any religion… the problems with those regimes was not too much rational skepticism.

Later


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I stand corrected. My examples were wrong. Thank you for pointing that out to me. In referencing Stalin, Hitler, Polpot, etc I was thinking of a quote by Mark Twain - "Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel."

Nevertheless, I still stand by my last paragraph.

Quote:
Hitchens comes across as angry, bitter, juvenile, and vapid. The only conclusion you can come to reading this book is that its totally irrational. Random examples and lots of nasty words do NOT make a rational case. A critic of religion who fails to accept anything good about it - anything at all - is just not living in the real world.


In retrospect, such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity that Noah didn’t miss the boat.


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Post Re: Protestant Atheism...like that
Wookie1974 wrote:
I can't imagine a French Revolution, or Bill of Rights, or the unwritten English Constitution without the freedom of thought that first stretched its legs within the confines of the church.

That's the kind of concrete illustration I could have included but didn't. What I want to suggest, further, is that only rarely, if ever, is anything in history wasted, coming to no account. Ideas can be carried forward along with religion, then lose their connection to religion and become part of our cultural heritage generally. This is a different way of looking at the record of religion than to say an opposing force had to expel it before any intellectual progress could be made. It is also different from the view that we ourselves have somehow freed ourselves, by declaration, from the influence of the religion of the past. We don't need to be apologists for religion to have an appreciation for its role in how we arrived at a current state which we preceive as more enlightened. There is a good analogy somewhere for what I'm trying to say, but I can't come up with it.


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Thrillwriter wrote:
He completely forgets the most famous atheists who have decimated millions of horrible God-Believers- Stalin, Hitler, Polpot, etc.

I get the impression you don't like the book much! :angry:

The thing to be examined about Stalin, Mao, and Polpot is whether their forcing an ideology on their peoples (which included the destruction of religion) is essentially any different from totalitarianism of any kind, including theocracy. That they wanted their countries to be atheistic is true, but the evil came from the methods they were willing to employ to enforce that, methods that are well known to Christian and Muslim rulers, to name two examples.

I don't think atheism gives anyone an automatic boost in virtue or morality. But I don't see evidence anywhere that it raises unique problems. In my thinking, which may be peculiar for all I know, the flaw does not reside in the particulars of any relgion or ideology, but in the aggressive desire to rule over all aspects of people's lives.


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Thu Mar 05, 2009 6:11 pm
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:laugh: You are correct I did not enjoy the book at all. I am not criticizing anyone for liking it. It is only my opinion. I did not care for his writing, arguments, or views.
I have nothing againts atheism. Atheists have served in the military proudly and with distinction for as long as there has been a military. Today, Military Atheists face unique challenges from without and within.
America is home to more atheists than Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, combined and doubled.
Freedom of choice is one of the things we as Americans have always been proud of having. As I believe Mark Twain said, A man is accepted into a church for what he believes and he is turned out for what he knows.
It is not the subject that I did not care for it was the writer's summations.


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Thu Mar 05, 2009 10:17 pm
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Chris has indulged us with a chapter by chapter book discussion of an apologist's text. I find that just as adequate we need to have a Devil's Advocate also discussed in this forum.
I, for the most part, am a theist, though I yield such conclusion from taste rather than reason. However many here prefer a reason-based faith, an oxymoron if you ask me, than a simple and pure choice. This book is for them to address, not me, though I shall offer my view on matters at certain points of the discussion, if one even develops...I have a knack for still-born threads.
So let's begin with Chapter 1 "Putting it Mildly".
There if first and foremost a distasteful aspect about religion that he tackles. He says:
"Why, if god was the creator of all things, were we supposed to "praise" him so incenssantly for doing what came to him naturally? This seemed servile, apart from anything else. If Jesus could heal a blind person, then why not heal blindness? What was so wounderful about his casting out devils, so that the devils would enter a herd of pigs instead?"
Three questions. The first one is even addressed by Marcus Borg ("The Heart of Christianity"), page 83, "If we think that his wisdom, compassion, courage and healing powers were the result of his divinity, then they are in a sense "not much". Even the most spectacular events attributed to him- walking on water, stilling a storm, feeding a multitude, raising the dead- are not much more than parlor tricks for someone who has the power of God." Or as I may add "God Himself". The second and third questions are problematic in relation to the assumptions of the first: Why just this or that miracle? Why, so to speak, a revolt rather than a revolution, or why just win the battle when you can win the war, the war against sickness, blindness, hunger and every other affliction of our species? Which just brings us back to Epicurus and his logical destruction of God as conceived by priests in a world besset by a variety of ills and evils of all sorts, natural and man-made.
But a bit later, page 4, he addresses the four main objections to be treated in his book:
1- "that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos"
2- "that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum servility with the maximum of solipsism"
3- "that it is both the result and cause of dangerous sexual repression"
4- "and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking."
How well he addresses all of these is questionable. One ought to enumerate some facts about the author. He is a former Marxist, which he now sees as another religion. In fact he also sees nationalism as a form of religion as well, along with anything that breathes totalitarianism. He is not above innocent belief, but he is a man of principle who calls it like he sees it and his life informs his opinions, not just any dogma blindly accepted. He judges the tree by the fruits it bears and his motives for leaving Marxim behind helps us begin to understand the objections to anything he sees that is similar to it. A book trying to answer him (like Keller) asks just how this author, Hitchens, reached the heights from which to judge all religions and all of the faithful. I hope to answer for Hitchens as well as for any other critic in the world. The critic of religion brings us the consequences of variety. Hitchens life has been colored by the encounter with the other and saw in the similarities of what was found the humanity we share rather than the common God. In our differences he found human selfishness rather than one true path among a sea of errors. He saw that all were errors because all pandered to the same ungodly brutality of tribalism and group mechanisms. He saw, like Paul, that none was righteous. Like all of us he praises some, but he qualifies it as a praise for their humanism, rather against their religions than in the fulfillment of them.


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MurdockThe Glass Bead Game: A Novel by Hermann HesseA Devil's Chaplain by Richard DawkinsThe Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph CampbellThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Moral Landscape by Sam HarrisThe Decameron by Giovanni BoccaccioThe Road by Cormac McCarthyThe Grand Design by Stephen HawkingThe Evolution of God by Robert WrightThe Tin Drum by Gunter GrassGood Omens by Neil GaimanPredictably Irrational by Dan ArielyThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki MurakamiALONE: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard Logan & Tere Duperrault FassbenderDon Quixote by Miguel De CervantesMusicophilia by Oliver SacksDiary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai GogolThe Passion of the Western Mind by Richard TarnasThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Genius of the Beast by Howard BloomAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Empire of Illusion by Chris HedgesThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner The Extended Phenotype by Richard DawkinsSmoke and Mirrors by Neil GaimanThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsWhen Good Thinking Goes Bad by Todd C. RinioloHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiAmerican Gods: A Novel by Neil GaimanPrimates and Philosophers by Frans de WaalThe Enormous Room by E.E. CummingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher HitchensThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama Paradise Lost by John Milton Bad Money by Kevin PhillipsThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan BarkerThe Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe Limits of Power by Andrew BacevichLolita by Vladimir NabokovOrlando by Virginia Woolf On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton50 reasons people give for believing in a god by Guy P. HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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