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Ch. 4: A Note on Health, to Which Religion Can Be Hazardous 
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Post Ch. 4: A Note on Health, to Which Religion Can Be Hazardous
God is Not Great

Ch. 4: A Note on Health, to Which Religion Can Be Hazardous

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Mon Mar 02, 2009 6:10 pm
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Skilled "rhetorical pugilist" that he is, Hitchens deals many blows to Religion in this chapter. And if he doesn't deliver a knock-out punch, he probably comes as close as any writer could. Hitchens writes in a mode of controlled outrage throughout the chapter about a kind of irrationality that, unlike the condemnation of pork, has no comic side to it.

Using children in whom to implant religious fantasies, or, much worse, on whom to satisfy criminal lusts is the worst of Religion's many offenses, Hitchens says. His key summary:

"Since religion has proved itself uniquely delinquent on the one subject where moral and ethical authority might be counted as universal and absolute, I think we are entitled to at least three provisional conclusions. The first is that religion and the churches are manufactured, and that this salient fact is too obvious to ignore. The second is that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it. The third is that religion is--because it claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs--not just amoral but immoral. The ignorant psychopath or brute who mistreats his children must be punished but can be understood. Those who claim a heavenly warrant for the cruelty have been tainted by evil, and also constitute far more of a danger."

I agree with the first two of these. The continuing problem I have with the third is what to do with the apparently obvious exceptions to it among people who today go to the churches. So far, the only answer I have is to use a separate category of religion with a small r--religion lite. Hitchens does have more to say about the current, vitiated state of religion in the next chapter, though I don't believe he directly answers the question of what's so wrong about religion lite.



Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:13 am
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I am not reading this book, so I maybe way off base, so bear with me. I can see that there are problems with religion, but are they inherent to religion or do the same problems exist with any social institution? It seems to me that one of, if not the main cause of the pain and suffering religions have caused is the individuals that are too literal in their interpretation of the religious doctrin and practices. Add to this the belief that there is only one right way and you have a recipe for pain and suffering. Isn't this also the case if you look at economic or political beliefs -- free market, communisim, socialism....I really don't see that these other forms of social institutions are any less riddled with the same problems Hitchens attributes to religion?



Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:49 am
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Saffron wrote:
Isn't this also the case if you look at economic or political beliefs -- free market, communisim, socialism....I really don't see that these other forms of social institutions are any less riddled with the same problems Hitchens attributes to religion?

Religion seems to present a bigger target than the other things you mentioned. The question is, does that indicate that religion is indeed a bigger problem, or are the other institutions or forces about equal but just flying under our radar somehow? My response right now would be that religion was more fundamental (no pun intended) than these others. It dealt with the matters that were of ultimate concern to people, and often it shaped their social institutions. (I realize that this power of religion persists today to a lesser degree.)

If people believe that their essential nature is X, that their destiny is X, or that a deity has command over them, this will influence them more strongly than will matters related to only parts of their lives, such as commerce or education.

We have seen recently where a sort of faith in the free market may have led to economic misery for many, but this example doesn't have the force that Hitchens' examples have. There is less of everything in the free market example--less conscious intent, less actual bad motivation, less directly harmful effect. But I agree that it is often hard to separate and isolate religion as the cause of inhumane acts. Other suspects can be named, too.



Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:42 am
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I am wondering if religion has become a target because over the past 200 years religion has been seperated from politial and economic systems. At some point in past they were all rolled up together. Now that religion stands alone it is easier to point to it as a culprit. It is also an institution that is available for everyone to participate in; in fact, is only powerful if people do participate. Economic and political systems can and sometimes do run by force, not willing participation. I really do not see any difference from the idea of importing American Democracy (by force if necessary) and Evangelical Christianity. The more I think about it, the more the two seem the same. The import of American Democracy is seen by many Americans as a kind of manifest destiny for the world in a simular was as the mandate some Christian groups feel they have to spread the word of Jesus.



Last edited by Saffron on Fri Mar 13, 2009 11:21 am, edited 1 time in total.



Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:54 am
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Not to be forgotten is the leap ahead that has occurred in the past 200 years in what we know about natural phenomena. Knowing something about how we ourselves got here through evolution, and discrediting belief in demons and spirits, if not in God, has also increased the target area of religion.



Fri Mar 13, 2009 11:21 am
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Saffron wrote:
I really do not see any difference from the idea of importing American Democracy (by force if necessary) and Evangelical Christianity. The more I think about it, the more the two seem the same. The import of American Democracy is seen by many Americans as a kind of manifest destiny for the world in a simular was as the mandate some Christian groups feel they have to spread the word of Jesus.
Hello Saffron, you make an interesting comment on Hitchens, given his Damascene conversion from Trotskyism to support for the manifest destiny of the Iraq war. The difference between the idea of democracy and the missionary prosletysm of Christianity is that democracy claims a more modern evidence-based pedigree. Faith involves belief in false claims such as heaven and miracles, whereas the capitalist idea of free markets has at least some evidence that it is the best way to produce economic growth. The World Bank Doing Business program has done some strong research backing the value of free markets as a goal of governance reform. I don't see any comparable research for fundamentalist Christianity. That is not to say that Christianity could not reform to become more evidence-based, as I think it could. Robert



Sat Mar 14, 2009 7:50 am
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In this chapter, Hitchens sums up religion as "Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racsim and tribalism, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience." (p. 56) What he says here is no longer true of some religion, what he later calls "optional" religion. He is speaking about the religion that until relatively recently ruled the world, and some current religion. He casts a more tolerant, if indifferent, eye on that religion that has morphed into a "nebulous humanism."

The chapter is about the hazards to health from religion. His examples are impressive, and what makes the impact greater is that he reports from the scene of some of these outrages. He also touches on religion and mental health, a topic that interests me because of my job. Hitchens uses Abraham's hallucinatory command from God to sacrifice his son as an example of psychosis that is accepted as normal when sanctioned by a major religion. Of course, any bible-believing person today would quickly denounce as a wacko anyone who claimed to commit a crime on command from God. But the ancient example he finds to be more than acceptable.

I have mixed feelings here. There definitely is a point where a person's religious yearnings cross the line to genuine delusion and psychosis. Then there are the totally "reasonable" spokesmen such as televangelists who tell us that God spoke to them. These people are perfectly sane but are simply liars. There is a large group who are neither clinically insane nor liars. They find emotional support from their religion; it might be the main thing that holds them up. I know some of these people and have an interest in their mental health. The last thing I would wish is that they got over their beliefs. Hitchens says that religion will never die out, and that he would not get rid of it even if he could. Maybe he's thinking of the need it probably always will serve.



Mon Mar 16, 2009 7:09 pm
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