(crossposted on my site davenichols.net)
Hitchens wastes no time making his point clear with the title on the cover: God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. While he isn't quite thorough enough to completely validate his 'everything' assertion, he nonetheless assaults religious foundations throughout this book and makes a very convincing case that religion has undermined many of the very causes it claims to support.
He jumps right in by offering that 'religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism...." Following that up, he spends several chapters pointing out how religion has led to the massacre of millions and the destruction of physical structures and moral guidance.
Throughout, he argues against religion from words taken in context from the Bible, Koran, and other sacred tomes. Personally, I felt he went easy on religion on a couple of subjects where there was ample ammunition available for overwhelming argument. He seems determined to make this book accessible, however, and brevity is a key to achieving that goal.
Hitchens brilliantly consolidates his counterarguments to creationists and those who would condemn 'atheists' such as Stalin. As he points out, and has been very well presented by many others, including Sam Harris, the problem with Stalin (or any other hard-line state such as communist China or Pol Pot's 'government' in Southeast Asia) was not due to atheism, it was because those leaders replaced the position of deity with the state. Just like religion, Stalin demanded subjagation, mandated overseers of privacy and pleasure, intimidated rivals (and potential rivals) to his order, and enforced his rules with brutality. Pol Pot himself was an avowed atheist who sought to destroy anyone who might challenge his power, including the religious, the non-religious, and specifically the well-educated. As expected, Hitchens reasons, replacing the deity with a state or head of state, and following similar behavior enforcement methods as any major religion will lead one to the same attrocities and evils delivered repeatedly by the ruling religions.
It is very hard to argue with Hitchens under normal conditions, but in this book he is in his element, using his experience as a widely-travelled journalist and social commentator to provide personal anecdotes to color the narrative. He sticks to history and more empirical determinations when making his conclusions, however, which offers the reader, in the latter half of the book, reasons why skepticism and atheism were persecuted and forced to hide until only very recently. He finishes up with a call for a new enlightenment, one where religion is not allowed a seat at the table.
Those that share Hitchens' views will thoroughly enjoy this book and find loads of ammunition for their arguments (though not many new ones to those readers well versed in Dawkins, Harris and biblical criticisms). To the skeptical but unconvinced moderates, there is a lot to approach here, and Hitchens will have presented an excellent discussion in favor of religion's 'poisonous' nature. For the religious reader willing to question his/her own beliefs in order to strengthen them, there are certainly gaps in his argument they will undoubtedly notice (and to be fair, not even a 10,000 page book could completely fill those gaps). To the devout...well, they never opened the book to begin with. The closed-minded and the overly confident will find nothing enjoyable about this book. Four and one-half stars, and highly recommended.