I am finally finished Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great. Hitchens concludes his book with a couple of chapters in defence of atheism. He anticipates religious responses such as the evil of secular or atheist regimes such as Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union. One thing I will say in Hitchens’ credit is that at least he did not try and claim Hitler was a Christian, something I hear from time to time. But Hitchens does not really defend the reputation of atheist regimes. Instead, he just turns around and accuses churches of cooperating with these regimes and so again the proof is really about religion’s evil. Except, all that Hitchens has really proven is that people, religious and atheist, are evil and are capable of committing horrible crimes. There is no reason to suspect if atheism was the dominant worldview that things would be better and good reason to suspect they would be worse.
In his chapter “A Finer Tradition: The Resistance of the Rational,” Hitchens provides a short history of the development of atheism. I will admit that I found this chapter interesting. However, Hitchens casts his net widely. He includes people who seemed to believe in God or confess as a Christian because they at least took a stand against the church (usually the Roman Catholic Church). His reasoning is that if there had been no pressure to conform, many of these may have ended up admitting to be atheists. That is a pretty big assumption.
Overall, how did I find this book? Christopher Hitchens does indeed have a quick wit and is a talented writer. He knows how to turn a phrase and can take any position he disagrees with and ridicule it without effort. If a person is beginning with the hatred of religion or is hoping for a reason to hate religion, they will like this book. If a person hates only one religion (such as Christianity), this book may help you broaden your interests and hate the rest of the religions.
But if you are starting with an open mind looking for the truth, you will not find it here. Hitchens does not demonstrate that religions poisons everything. If anything he shown that humanity poisons everything, including religion. Hitchens does not interact with all of the good things religious people (of all traditions) do for the world. All he shows is that he can find bad examples in every religious tradition. I found the book disappointing… in a way. I am at the beginning of reading a number of atheist books with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris up next. The historian in me hopes that these other authors will do a better job but the Christian in me hopes they will fumble as much as Hitchens has.
I sometimes hear people say that Adolf Hitler was a Christian. Therefore, the atrocities of Nazi Germany are another example of the evils of Christianity. But is it true that Hitler and the rest of the Nazi leadership were Christians? Here are some things to think about:
“It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness.” – Adolf Hitler
“The Fuehrer spoke very derogatorily about the arrogance of the higher and lower clergy. The insanity of the Christian doctrine of redemption really doesn’t fit at all into our time.” – Joseph Goebbels
For a very informative look at the Nazi attitude toward the church, see Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer, pp. 165-75.