November 2012 Bookshelf
The Cousins family hasn't been to Tuckernuck Island in 13 years. Birdie, the matriarch of the family, feels its time and she couldn't be more right. She takes herself, Tate and Chess - her two daughters, and her sister India out for a month of living on the rustic island that the family home has been on since the 1930's. (And just in case you are wondering, Tuckernuck does exist and people do live on it in the summers!) Each woman needs to unplug from life in their own way and Tuckernuck Island is the way and place to do it. As they live out the slow and unplugged days on the island they each find answers, forgiveness, healing, and renewal in their lives and even with each other. By months end they are reluctant to go back to civilized life but do so with new found fortitude.
I found myself insanely jealous that they had the chance to do this! Although it is a fiction novel in characters, story lines, etc it is not a fictional island and I found myself wishing for a month on this island. This jealousy and wishing probably lends to my 4 out of 5 stars. However, Hilderbrand writes pretty good novels anyway so it was at the very least a 3 out of 5 without my wish to live on that island for a month. This means she did her job well. She described life on Tuckernuck so realistically that it engaged at least this reader to want to go there. The island greeting for residents and visitors is "Life is good!" and indeed when we can unplug from our lives we find that it is good as we take the time to explore and engage in introspection. As Hilderbrand has done in her other novels she develops her characters appropriately, meaning not over the top with too much info or not too vaguely with not enough info. The reader is able to feel like they know the character enough to sit down and have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with them if they were to come to life. Parts of Hilderbrand's stories are always semi-predictable but isn't that partly why we keep coming back to an author? The Island was a enjoyable read for me, I sure don't regret picking it up. Hildebrand's other books remain on my "to-read" list.
The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning
I've been staring at this book on the shelf for literally YEARS. I figured it was time. The past few years God has had me on a personal journey of grace, mostly learning how to receive it. I had a Pastor tell me once that I couldn't give grace unless I first received it. I disagreed then and I still do. Several people, the majority of people, in my life who know me well watch me extend grace while struggling to accept it. But something happened a few years back. I dove headlong into a deep depression and was caught by surprise. It was through that season of depression that God and I began to work out this struggle with his grace that I have. Because of his grace I can say I am thankful for that season. Part of my depression in that season was because I was bedraggled, beat-up and burnt up and out by the church. The woundings I have received at the hands of believers had finally done me in. I needed space. So I began a journey that continues to this day and this book has always intrigued me because of its title. Because of my journey not a whole lot of this book was a new revelation to me nor filled with new ideas. Overall it confirmed to me that God's grace is indeed overwhelming in our lives.
I haven't read Manning before and I found his writing a bit difficult to follow. Another reviewer said he got redundant and perhaps that was my problem with getting through the book. At one point I literally fell asleep while reading, that has never happened. This is a sign, to me, that Manning's writing isn't as engaging as I (apparently) need it to be - especially when discussing a topic like Manning was.
I take a couple of issues with some points in the book but grace has also taught me not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater". *grin* Those issues I believe strongly about but they aren't worth dissecting here. Overall the book was worth reading if nothing else for God's confirmation in my own life of this faith walk he has me on.
Okay I confess, I first looked at this book because of the cover. It has a coffee cup! Of course it caught my eye! And in the case of books I actually hold to the theory that you should judge a book by its cover. All that said, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. The writing was good but wasn't super spectacular, it was the the story line that drew me in.
Sara Beth's "mid-life crisis" was relate-able to me. After losing her mother unexpectedly and a late life pregnancy surprises her she feels a little lost. Those things I can't relate to but I can relate to feeling a little lost in my life and finally coming to a place where things need to change or else an implosion is going to happen.
Sara Beth probably didn't go about her "crisis" the right way but that's not surprising. When we've finally had enough we end up not thinking too clearly and just reacting to that lost feeling. When she does resurface she has some fence mending to do with her husband and best friend. I think that DeMaio probably accurately portrayed Tom (husband) and Rachel's (best friend) reactions to Sara Beth's disappearance correctly but I struggled with their lack of understanding toward Sara Beth. I felt like they made it a very selfish thing, as if Sara Beth set out to hurt them purposely. That frustrated me but perhaps that's only because I could relate to that kind of response as well (not from husband and best friend though, thank goodness!). But understanding eventually comes as you always hope it will.
DeMaio's first novel is a good, solid story about a woman who has turned 40 and experienced loss and surprise and doesn't know what to do with her life. She explores the transformation we go through as we age and experience life. If we don't transform then something is wrong, we should all be changing as we grow older. I really enjoyed this book!
I needed a light read in the midst of a heavier non-fiction book and national drama (also commonly referred to as the election). This fit the bill. And just because it was a lighter read doesn't mean Walsh didn't tackle some weighty heart matters. But somehow everything about the beach makes even the weighty things seems easier to manage. Maybe it's the salt air.
Regardless. Campbell Carter's mom has just passed away and left Campbell with some large and looming questions. Questions such as: who is my dad? who are these people in these pictures found? etc. In order to find the answers to these questions Campbell finds herself in Sweethaven, a little lake/beach town where her mom spent summers growing up. But Sweethaven holds more secrets than Campbell realizes and she is taken on a journey of discovering her mom and hopefully the identity of her birth dad. Aid comes to Campbell through her mom's old childhood friends who have their own regrets and memories to work through.
In this novel Walsh tackles the topic of forgiveness in several different forms, through several different kinds of relationships. Forgiveness is a tough topic for any of us to face.
Walsh writes well enough. It's not writing that I am gushing about but I certainly didn't feel like I wasted my time, it was a good book. Good enough that I added her other two Sweethaven titles to my "to read" list.
It isn't that Shirer writes poorly but her topic is best suited to a new believer in Christ than those that have been around for a while and have been growing in knowledge of God. Unfortunately I was bored reading this book. The premise is good, the topic is good but Shirer's delivery of it, for me, was dull. It was a lot of what I have heard many, many times before. Certainly there is a place for this book but if you are a believer in Christ and have been for many years this book may be "more of the same". That being said, if you are a believer of Christ for many years but are still drinking the milk rather than chewing on the meat then this book will be good for you.
Shirer uses the book of Jonah as her proof text for discussing the interruptions that happen in our lives. Jonah is a very appropriate example and provides us with many lessons to learn from. The overall message of the book is don't despise the divine interruptions, see them as divine opportunities.
A classic that I am finally getting around to reading! Something must have gone seriously wrong with my schooling as I wasn't ever assigned this classic book to read in my years of education. So I've taken it upon myself to read some of the books considered classics and I started with the perennial favorite Treasure Island.
Young Jim Hawkins displays for his fans bravery - sometimes stupidly but it always works out. It is a fast paced tale of Jim and a crew of men - mixed in their dispositions - seeking out the lost treasure on the island they soon dubbed Treasure Island. As it always goes in tales like these treachery occurs but bravery prevails.
My month of reading ended with a back to back read of the Hitchens Brothers.
One is, or rather was as he died in December 2011, an atheist and the other is a former atheist who found faith in God.
My decision to read these two books come from a curiosity that I'd like to satisfy. In the past few years my path has crossed with more than one atheist and I don't understand their arguments or where they are coming from. So in an effort to at least know what they are talking about I chose to read the following two books. I chose the titles because I thought it would be interesting to read from brothers on opposite ends of this extremely controversial subject. I've been told that in order to understand modern atheism I really should read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. While I may do that to grasp an even wider understanding of the atheist views I feel that after reading Christopher Hitchens book I at least have more of an idea where the atheist gets his/her arguments from. Peter Hitchens wrote his book as a response to his brother Christopher's. They also, famously, debated religion in 2008 - which was the first and last time they did so.
A friend, upon learning from this blog post that I was going to read these two books, played devils advocate and asked if I would be able to read Christopher Hitchens book without bias. My answer was this, "No, of course not." Once someone has a belief that is grounded and buried deep within them it is rather difficult if not near impossible to dig up that belief. I am biased toward my beliefs just as atheists are toward theirs. Just as I will read books from them with a bias so they will read books about faith with their own bias. The times I have seen people move away from their beliefs to the very opposite ones is when there is an insecurity in them about the belief(s) they are espousing.
If you are someone without faith and doesn't believe in the existence of God don't get too excited that I read these brothers. *wink* I didn't read them because I doubt in the existence of God or in faith, I read them because I feel the need to be able to understand those I know who have chosen disbelief over belief.
The following is my review of each book separately. These reviews differ from my normal ones given the topic. These reviews are also given with great thought but I assure you they are still incomplete in thought, something I recognize. I do not claim to have any or all of the answers but I do think I have valid observations to add to the discussion, even though they are not new ones. (The reviews are also rather lengthy - don't say I didn't warn you!)
(copyright 2007, first edition)
Chapter 1: Putting It Mildly
While I am sure that there is more to Hitchens story in regards to his disbeliefs in religion and God, the couple of examples he provides don't make much sense to me. I read them and re-read them and still just end up scratching my head and saying, "Huh, well okay then." Some are literal born skeptics and I believe Christopher Hitchens would fall into that category.
In this chapter he lays out his arguments for anti-religion. On page 4 he proposes four irreducible objections to religious faith. In addition to those four objections he also notes on page 6 the hypocrisy of people of religious faith.
This is not a new argument, the hypocrisy. And it is a poor argument. I give it no notice nor do I think very many others. The hypocrisy argument is overdone and dried out. I can't even give it any more attention than what I just did. However, as is shown over and over again throughout the book he is entirely blind to his own hypocrisy.
As for Hitchens four irreducible objections I, of course, disagree that they are irreducible. There are a variety of arguments out there that diminish the confidence of such points. Do I know the source of all the opposing arguments? No I don't (however I suspect Josh McDowell's resource Evidence that Demands a Verdict would serve as a very solid source for opposing Hitchens arguments among other works) but I do know they exist in forms and dialogues different from Hitchens but still opposing all the same.
Hitchens number three objection seems to be a big issue with atheists. Number three is: It [religion] is the result and cause of dangerous sexual repression. Time and time again throughout the rest of the book Hitchens brings up sexual examples. It leads me to think that at the core part of what the atheist is seeking is license to engage in sexual encounters without constraint. Well of course who wouldn't want that? But history has a long record of the damaging effects of lack of constraint in the matter of sex. If one is okay with engaging in short term pleasure that may end up with long term consequences then consider seriously Hitchens arguments in this area. Otherwise I see them as dangerous to consider and practice.
As I read between the lines of Hitchens disbeliefs I interpret that he bases them on religion that is man made not on who God really is and what he is really all about. His examples would include the Dark Ages, Reformation, WWII, etc.
He relies heavily on science, as it seems a lot or most atheists do. (I have not yet understood how they believe science came to be. Did science just appear or was it created somehow? It had to exist prior to any life so that it could create the life.)
The development of civilization has been retarded by religion in Hitchens opinion. I don't follow his thoughts on this at all. Civilization has continually improved and developed upward, at times the progress has been slow but there is always an upward trend. I don't recall that he expanded on this thought too much but it really made me scratch my head in confusion.
As anyone, in my opinion, would expect he is a strong believer in evolution and therefore bases a lot of his thoughts about the human race on this viewpoint. When faced with the question, "What about evil?" his answer is that evolution has made the human race evil. He cites the combination of too small prefrontal lobes, too large adrenal glands, and "mish mashed" (my words) designed reproductive organs. I assume he is inferring that the hormones produced or not by his examples cause evil. With my limited knowledge of the human body I seem to recall that science has proved that the body is a mystery and while proportions don't seem to make sense they actually do all work together perfectly so the body functions in harmony. So his citations of "too small" and "too large" and "mish mashed" don't scream "you are evil" to me. In fact, that argument doesn't really make sense at all.
Earlier in the chapter he admits that he was an insufferable little intellectual by age 13. I believe this by the way he writes and his tone toward those of opposing views. He engages throughout the book in what I call "intellectual name calling". He's too well spoken to call people stupid most of the time so he instead name calls with intellect. He starts that practice here in chapter 1 by stating that those who have religious beliefs belong to the infancy of our species. In other words, mine actually, those who believe in anything other than a mutated species are stupid.
While he cites all religions he is the most vocal about those of the protestant faith than others and calls his atheism a protestant atheism. (pages 11-12) He holds to a self-deceived notion that people of faith don't leave him alone but he leaves them alone. You Tube him and I think you might see evidence to the contrary. Google him and you should also see evidence to the contrary. He does not, and his brother points this out as well in his own book, leave people of faith alone.
As chapter 1 wrapped up these are the observations I had: He is as egocentric as he claims people of faith are. He is deluded by his intellect. He is as hypocritical as he claims religion is. He claims he has no religion but he does - it is science. As the book continues that becomes much more clear.
Chapter 2: Religion Kills
Hitchens begins this chapter with the blanket statement that religion kills morality. While I suppose that was the foundation of this chapter the notes I took on his major points don't lead the reader there, that point he attempts to prove in other chapters but not this one.
On page 16 he makes a personal observation that religious faith doesn't make people happy. He observes unhappiness among those with faith, according to him. Certainly there are people of various faiths who are unhappy, however, I see his observations as a generalization. A wide, sweeping generalization that focuses in on the minority and applies what is observed to the majority. I know a large number of people of faith and unhappiness is not how I would characterize the majority of them. And I know better than to make a sweeping generalization of the majority based on the minority.
In conjunction with his statement that religion doesn't have enough confidence in its own preachings to allow coexistence between different faiths he cites many religious wars as examples to defend this statement. He believes that religion poisons our faculties of discernment. I'm assuming he means that since our discernment abilities are impaired by religion we engage in religious wars. Because I am not educated enough in the history of religious wars I can't speak to that but I can speak to the belief that people of faith have impaired discernment. I have, as you might expect me to say, witnessed the opposite. I have seen faith increase the discernment of people when they allow their egos to be diminished to the appropriate size. It is, most often, our inflated egos that lead to wars that make no sense. Inflated egos are the cause of much conflict and turmoil in this world.
Addressing the virgin birth of Christ Hitchens goes on to cite several virgin born deities as "proof" against religion (although I would argue he is actually trying to prove the evangelical/protestant faith the most null and void of all, he had already admitted his atheism is mostly focused on that faith in particular). Here is my rebuttal to his citations. Is it possible, at all, that those other virgin born deity stories came about as a way to create an alternative to Christ? Meaning, is it possible, at all that those stories are false in order to cast doubt upon the belief in God? I would think that the only reasonable answer to this query is yes, it is possible. There is little to no evidence to support all the other virgin born deities whereas there is much to support that of Christ.
On page 31 he claims he respects other opinions yet he clearly does not. His tone and arguments make it very clear that he does not respect any opinion that differs from his own. He continues to practice "intellectual name calling" which also lends to my opinion that he clearly does not respect others.
Chapter 4: A Note on Health, to Which Religion Can Be Hazardous
Citing several religious fanatics he makes a blanket statement that "all" religious people believe in natural remedies rather than use of medications for preventable diseases, etc. Again he is applying an observation about the minority to the majority. He is citing these examples as partial proof for his statement in chapter 2 that religions kills morality. The "all" is the problem with his arguments. When you make such sweeping generalizations you abandon a population of people who may seriously listen a little more to what you are saying. For example, "all" doesn't include me. I am a strong believer and advocate for immunizations (despite the several controversies that pop up about them) especially in third world developing countries where very preventable things can wipe out an entire culture if not protected against. I also am an advocate and see the reality of providing condoms for use in the same developing nations where the men have a problem keeping it in their pants! I get that. I support that. So when I hear/read the "all" for his statement I turn away from anything further he has to say because his use of "all" is very pompous.
On page 47 Hitchens says, "....to this day one of America's most respected 'divines'...." and goes on to name a man. Timothy Dwight. Um, who? I have never, and I do mean never, heard of him. I had to Google the man and I still didn't recognize him or his claims to fame. I don't believe he is as well respected as Hitchens claims him to be. I'm willing to bet that most, if not all, of my friends who believe in God have never heard of him either. In my opinion, this is an example of Hitchens going on his own "witch hunt". I believe it also proves my thoughts on bias in my introduction prior to this review. Nobody is obviously without bias.
We return in part of this chapter to Hitchens 4 irreducible objections, specifically (again) number 3. His observations have led him to believe that religion makes sex dangerous. But his arguments to prove this statement seem to indicate that no belief (religious) make sex dangerous. To engage in sex (often and without constraint and apparently with whomever), as he seems to campaign quite vocally for, freely has been proven dangerous to the health of people (STD's, AIDS, etc). No belief system gives the person permission to engage in the sex Hitchens campaigns for, and therefore is what makes sex dangerous. There is no need, it seems, for self-control in the atheist life. When self-control is suggested "religion" is cried.
The rest of the chapter is kind of a mish mosh of topics thrown in and discussed very briefly. His examples of fanatics consist of the minority not the majority of any faith. Pages 54-55 shows he has a misunderstanding of the role of the woman in the Bible. If I, as a woman, am not offended by the role I play within the context of scripture then I feel he possibly misunderstands. I don't need Christopher Hitchens taking up the cause for women. I'm willing to guess that other women would agree with me on this. And then in pages 56-61 he suddenly brings up the topic of end times (according to the Bible) and "discusses" the theories out there. It didn't fit in with the rest of the chapter and so I felt like we had rabbit trailed the topic at hand quite significantly.
Chapter 5: The Metaphysical Claims of Religion Are False
In my opinion his religion and god became clear in this chapter. His religion is science/evolution and his god is Darwin.
Chapter 6: Arguments from Design
Let us suppose evolution is true - who/what prompted its beginnings? Is it no more ridiculous to believe life comes originally from a pile of muck struck by lightening (and where did that lightening originate?) than to believe in a Creator?
So the universe is magnificent but humans - complex in their creation - are clumsy, failures, and incompetent in body? (pg 85) Science, but only in one of its forms, is the religion Hitchens espouses.
Page 96 (last paragraph) I take issue with his remarks. He asserts skepticism and discovery (his stance being his kind of discovery is 100% accurate and all other kinds are stupid and void) have freed believers from the burden of having to defend God and faith. I disagree. Skepticism and his form of religious discovery have led to the need to defend because of the intellectual name calling and hypocritical defensive attitudes of the atheists.
Chapter 7: Revelation: The Nightmare of the "Old" Testament
Hitchens takes issue with the 10 commandments, which isn't a surprise. Numbers 4-10 are moral based and yet he dismisses them. This seems to prove my observation that a lack of belief in God leads to lack of morality. A direct contradiction to his statement in chapter 2 where he asserts that it is religion which kills morality.
On page 102 he uses the word "humbly" in regards to himself. This is irony at its finest. Hitchens is anything but humble.
Chapter 8: The "New" Testament Exceeds the Evil of the "Old" One
In the first full paragraph on page 115 Hitchens discusses the New Testament. He is wrong in his statements. There is much convincing and verified evidence of the new testament. He has chosen to disregard it.
"So, then, let the advocates and partisans of religion rely on faith alone, and let them be brave enough to admit that this is what they are doing." (page 122) Two things come to mind when reading this chapter and finishing it with this sentence. The first is I think most people of faith, at least of protestant faith, would readily admit they rely on faith. Secondly, okay we people of faith can admit that but will you then be brave enough, Mr. Hitchens, to say that you practice a religion as well? Science is your religion and the god you serve is Darwin.
Chapter 11: "The Lowly Stamp of Their Origin": Religion's Corrupt Beginnings
The chapter begins with a quote from Freud and as I read it I had some continuing thoughts and observations. Hitchens and those he chooses to quote and cite are guilty of ascribing to the whole what a small percentage does. Just as I am guilty of doing the same thing with them or other groups who differ from my opinion. This ascribing to the whole leads to unbalanced perspectives, false assumptions, discriminatory judgments, etc. I am aware of my tendency to do this - they seem unaware of theirs.
On page 156 he scoffs at Adam's fall. He claims it is impossible to obey the order God gave Adam regarding the eating off of trees. What is impossible to obey about "eat of all the trees except this one"? This is not impossible. I don't think I even have to be a believer of God to think this is not impossible! It is only impossible for those who don't think exercising any sort of self-control or self- discipline is necessary.
Chapter 13: Does Religion Make People Behave Better?
As I noted in my observations in chapter 4 Hitchens presents a grossly unbalanced perspective - examples - to support his views. He ignores all together the examples that would be opposite what he cites. He leaves no room for any other view but his own. In my opinion this is the sign of a closed mind not an open one as he claims to have.
Chapter 14: There is No "Eastern" Solution
At the top of page 200 Hitchens mocks the bowing down to bones and ancient relics. I had to read this section a couple of times to make sure I understood what he was saying. First of all, I'm not sure what bones and relics he believes we are bowing down to but I can't think of any personally. And then secondly I found his statement regarding this to be so hypocritical I laughed out loud. Agnostics and atheists have their own sacred bones that they bow down to unashamedly and without reservation. Dinosaur bones! They revere any bones found that may end up supporting their beliefs. (And conveniently dismiss any bones found that lead away from their beliefs, which those bones have been found - many more have been found to argue against their beliefs rather than for their beliefs.) So to mock others for doing what he and other atheists also do is blatantly hypocritical.
He is very unfair in many, if not all, of his arguments. He says there is a huge lack of reason among people of faith that he uses as his reason for arguments he doesn't consider valid. Surely he has to know that sweeping generalizations like his don't convince many people and in fact turns off a lot.
Chapter 15: Religion as an Original Sin
The majority of protestant believers (at least the ones I know) believers do not believe they are absolved of their responsibilities because of the sacrifice of Jesus. (page 211) The idea, to me, is preposterous and doesn't even make sense so I'm unsure where he gets this idea outside of observing a small minority who may behave as he claims. Again, I believe he has committed the crime of ascribing to the majority what truly only the minority can claim.
Chapter 16: Is Religion Child Abuse?
Hitchens continues to assume that religion is excluded from reason. But I know of too many people who used reason to be led into faith not the other way around. Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel are just two, there are many more, who were committed to not believe and yet when they applied reason they found they could nothing other than believe in the existence of God. I understand that Hitchens may very well dismiss these two examples of mine as pish-posh but I would expect nothing less. He seems unable to accept any argument that has validity but does not match his own.
The examples of gross abuse at the hands of religions comes up. It is wrong to assume that the majority agree with the minority on matters of abuse that get exposed. I, and everyone in my circles, are just as disgusted and disturbed as Hitchens when matters of abuse are exposed.
Chapter 17: An Objection Anticipated: The Last-Ditch "Case" Against Secularism
In the first paragraph on page 240 Hitchens applies another sweeping generalization to believers. He applies the word "believers",equal to the word "all" in this case, to the perspectives on the Pope. But this believer, and all the ones I know, do not bend to the authority of the Pope, nor do I believe he is the vicar of Christ on earth. This, in my opinion, brings up an important point that I have briefly mentioned but haven't expanded on. Hitchens and many, if not all, atheists equate religion and God. Yet they are very different. Very. I, too, do not believe in religion. I think religion stinks. It has committed horrible atrocities. But God. God has not. Religion is man-made. Atrocities attributed to God should not be, they should be placed at the feet of where they belong - religious fanatics who claim to be operating as God's messenger yet they clearly are not. The acts they commit, condone, and dream up are not God's - they are man's evil, man's desire to be in control, man's selfishness. It is true that religion, not God, on the whole has much to apologize for but it does not mean there is no God or it does not mean that God has given permission and approves of the atrocities. God cannot, should not, be equated with religion.
On page 247 Hitchens quotes Freud in an attempt to prove that the believer chooses belief in God because they have a fear of death and/or wishful thinkers. One, just because you quote someone doesn't make it true - there must be evidence to back that up. Two, for me personally, Freud is flat-out wrong. I do not believe in God and follow him because I have fear of death or am a wishful thinker. I have no fear of death and am not a fanciful person that engages in wishful thinking. There have been times when believing in God and following him has been hard, that isn't something that follows the model of wishful thinking. And yet I continue to believe because I have been able to separate God from religion and I have personal experience that supports my beliefs in the existence of God.
Hitchens considers religion to be totalitarian. (page 250) Considering what I said above I would agree. Religion may be but God is not. Just because a man who has obvious need for control and domination says he is acting on behalf of God it doesn't mean he is. This is simple logic to apply. There must be evidence to back the claim up and if one looks closely at the dictator who is making such claims it is easy to see God is not speaking into any of their actions.
Secularism itself is a religion, I don't think this is that hard to see, understand, or recognize and secularism seeks to become totalitarian as well.
Chapter 18: A Finer Tradition: The Resistance of the Rational
Halfway through the first full paragraph on page 255 Hitchens asserts that religion must be maintained through ignorance and superstition. Even though I have already explained that I believe there is a very big difference between religion and God (faith) I know that Hitchens and those who agree with him don't see it that way. So he would most likely argue that faith also needs to be maintained through ignorance and superstition. I do not have a faith that is maintained through ignorance (I believe that proof of that is held in my willingness to explore the views opposite of my own because I seek to understand at the very least) and certainly not through superstition. I know that it is perhaps considered superstition to believe that Christ died and then rose again to life but there has been too much evidence to point that it actually happened for me to view it as superstition. I know people will disagree with me on this but that's okay, I expect it. *grin*
Another moment of hypocrisy presents itself on page 255 in Hitchens discussion of Socrates. It is hypocritical to believe that Socrates existed when there is no evidence (per Hitchens himself) to prove it but not to believe Jesus did when there is actually much evidence to prove it.
"All he [Socrates] really 'knew', he said, was the extent of his own ignorance. (This to me is still the definition of an educated person.)" (top of page 256) I take issue with this bold claim of Hitchens. I believe time and time again when people of faith (and I am specifically referring to those of protestant faith because that is the religion Hitchens most often is referring to) admit they do not know an answer to a question (i.e. admitting the extent of their own ignorance) they are mocked and treated with derision not, as Hitchens claims, treated as an educated person who still has answers to seek out.
In the small paragraph on page 256 Hitchens points out that Socrates teaches us how to argue two things that are of utmost importance. His second thing is "the dogmatic faithful can easily be outpointed and satirized by one who pretends to take their preachings at face value." He says this with confidence that he does not belong to the group he labels as the "dogmatic faithful" and yet I see that he very much does. Atheists are just as dogmatic in their disbelief as those they criticize who do have belief. He proves his closed mind once again by stating that the "preachings" of the believers can be outpointed and satirized. A truly open mind will not stoop to satire and "one upping" opposing views, opinions, and beliefs. There can be a difference of opinion and beliefs and perspective without satire and pompous "outpointing". They ask to have their opinions taken at true face value and not pretend (as he says above one should do with faith beliefs) but yet refuse to extend to people of faith the same courtesy. Instead, it appears, it is perfectly acceptable and expected that any belief that includes faith should be taken under consideration for pretense and the purposes of satire. But should people of faith attempt to apply that same logic to their disbeliefs "foul" is cried. This is hypocrisy rearing its ugly head once again. Hitchens seeks to expose hypocrites but it seems that who he is really exposing as a hypocrite is himself.
Chapter 19: In Conclusion: The Need for a New Enlightenment
We finally reach the end of Hitchens thoughts on religion and why he sees it as a poison to everything. As he has shown in the previous 18 chapters his main argument with religion is that he equates it to God. In my opinion he would do well to separate the two and apply some logic to which is which.
"In point of fact, we do not have the option of 'choosing' absolute truth, or faith. We only have the right to say, of those who do claim to know the truth of revelation, that they are deceiving themselves and attempting to deceive - or to intimidate - others." (pages 277-278) But. *grin* But by claiming that he knows for absolute fact that God doesn't exist isn't he also making the same claim to truth of revelation that he accuses people of faith do? He goes further and reprimands people of faith for claiming truth of revelation yet he also engages in the same practice with his absolutes. At this point I expect the hypocrisy, the double standards. Extreme intelligence apparently is unable to see and recognize the hypocrisy so evident. I, as a person of faith and not religion, am usually fairly sensitive to when I am hypocritical and I am receptive to seeing it when others point it out to me when I've missed it. I attribute my sensitivity to it to my faith beliefs, otherwise I don't believe that I would ever notice it in me. My faith beliefs and my morals that come from those have helped me to be a better person which includes recognizing and acknowledging the times when I act in hypocritical ways, etc. A person who chooses disbelief over belief in God has no such compulsions and so it is easy for me to see why they cannot, indeed I think they do not want to, see their hypocrisy and double standards. It is too convenient of a reason to say that too small prefrontal lobes and too small adrenal glands that must combine and produce an "evil" in me through hormones (or whatever those "flawed" lobes and glands do) is the excuse and reason for my poor behaviors. What a convenient out for those who don't want to be held accountable for character etc. If we all claimed that we are evil because it is how we are made up then what would be the reason and need for courts of law to uphold justice? Wouldn't we all just have to accept the evil that is produced in all of us? The society, without a moral guide, would never have lasted this long. What keeps a society from totally disappearing is there is always a remnant of those who fight for morality, which seems to be most often based on faith - not religious - beliefs.
Acknowledgments (yes I literally read the entire book!)
"....life and wit and inquiry begin just at the point where faith ends...." (page 286) Huh. (Yes a statement so ridiculous as this one produces a one word grunt response.) This is so blatantly false and biased and unbalanced that I have to say it again. Huh. Many many many people who are believers of God and have faith are full of life, wit, and possess inquiring minds. If Hitchens truly can't (couldn't) see this then it is because the cloud of skepticism impedes true sight and perspective. To make such a statement is to have one last shot at "intellectual name calling" and one last dig. It smacks of being threatened that there are those out there who just may be able to have a fulfilling life and not hold to Hitchens disbeliefs.
(copyright March 2010, ePub edition)
It is no secret that Peter Hitchens book is a response to his brother's. In beginning to explain how and why he chose to not believe in God initially he says this, "I had some good reasons for refusing some of it. My mistake was to dispense with it all, indiscriminately." (ePub location 79/2783) What a good point. To "throw the baby out with the bathwater" is a common mistake we make when examining anything that includes beliefs. We commit the crime I accused Christopher Hitchens of, ascribing to the majority what only a minority may do. This is to dispense with all indiscriminately.
Hitchens, in his reflections, sees that he was, as was his brother, schooled in a counterfeit religion. This led to his dispensation of it as he grew older. But he says that this counterfeit religion can be detected and rejected while it still leaves the genuine truths of Christianity undamaged. (ePub location 79/2783) It is these genuine truths of Christianity that eventually drew this Hitchens brother back to belief in God and faith. Using Christopher Hitchens argument of lack of reason employed in people of faith, Peter Hitchens boldly states that it was reason applied combined with experience that convinced him of the existence of God.
Just in this introduction alone does Hitchens address the very observations I had made in reading his brother's book. Observations about the hypocrisy of atheists when it comes to being open minded to opposing opinions. Peter Hitchens boldly put into words what Christopher would not. That Christopher Hitchens "claims to loathe believers." (ePub location 89/2783) This I think is obvious from his tone but, at least in his book, he never outright admitted it. Peter also seems to have an understanding that to answer with thunder, fury, or scorn as he brother does is to hurt the arguments instead of defend them.
Because Hitchens was an atheist himself he comes from a place of understanding both sides. This allows him to speak honestly and forthrightly about each side. He is able to confidently point out the flaws in the atheists arguments as well as their dispositions. He aptly points out, "Their refusal to accept that others might be as intelligent as they, yet disagree, leads them into many snares." (ePub location 100/2783) He then goes on to explain how he sympathizes with them because he, too, has been at the place of having others disagree with his views and he has been forced to re-examine his own beliefs. He explained what happens when his beliefs are challenged and I found his explanation to be spot on with the way it has felt for me when I have been challenged on particular beliefs. He ends the introduction with his reflections that the techniques employed by atheists, "hot and stinging techniques, occasional profanity and the persistent impatience and scorn", did not end up convincing him of anything he was trying to convince others of. (And I doubt that his techniques ended up convincing others as well.)
Chapter 1: The Generation Who Were Too Clever To Believe
Hitchens starts off his rebuttal book by telling the reader that in the spring of 1967, when he was fifteen, he set fire to his Bible and burned it up. While he hoped for a great dramatic show of his disbeliefs it ended up being a disappointment to him and it did not burn up all the way as he hoped. He calls himself a "braggart sinner" and goes on to outline for the reader his rebellion against not just religion but against most things.
He speaks of opinions. We all have them, this cannot be denied. What we don't seem to be able to accept is that others don't share ours and difference of them are allowed. He asserts, "This blatant truth, that we hold opinions because we wish to, and reject them because we wish to, is so obvious that it is too seldom mentioned." (ePub location 209/2783) It is a valid point he makes about opinions. We create our reasons for beliefs (i.e. opinions) and then we search out the evidence to support them instead of the other way around - allowing evidence to create our opinions. So because that is our tendency we dismiss those who have different opinions than ours, even when the evidence presented invalidates our opinions. Our pride keeps us in bondage to poorly formed opinions. This attitude seems to be more prevalent in the lives of those who disbelieve, that is not to say that some believers don't behave this way as well. But the majority of believers that I personally know are ones who seek to know and understand both sides of the arguments in order to have well-rounded opinions. Another excellent point Hitchens makes is the personal reasons one has to hold on to beliefs or disbeliefs. Both religious apologists and atheists, and all those in between, have personal reasons for holding on to their opinions. Usually it is those personal reasons that feed the behaviors.
Chapter 2: A Loss of Confidence
The chapter holds not much note worthy, it is a continued outline of his own personal immersion into disbelief and the reasons why. There is one observation I thought worth commenting on. For those who do not hold to belief in God or practice of faith there is a commonly held opinion that our morality is only sustained by custom and inertia, not by any deep attachments or understanding, and so has no ability to withstand the sneering assault of the modern age. (ePub location 394/2783) It is true that Hitchens states this in regards to the changes he observed happening in his home country in the the 1960's. However, the observation still applies today. The morals I choose to live by and practice (or attempt because certainly I am not successful all of the time) are because of understanding what would be the consequences of not adhering to them. Let us use the topic atheists most like to use when discussing morals, sex. I have an understanding that if I engage in sex without constraint, without thought to what the sexual act means emotionally, without regard for others then there are consequences that I haven't dreamed up or created but that have been noted and are real. There are consequences that even the non-religious cannot ignore nor deny. They are very visible - from abortion and the emotional havoc that plays on its participants, to the STD's that are aquired by lack of constraint, to relationships being damaged by betrayal, etc. Without morals to help me avoid these pitfalls I am in trouble, as are you. These morals are not because of customs and/or inertia but because of understanding and a deep attachment to health and well-being emotionally as well as mentally, and for me spiritually as well. Religion does not kill morality as Christopher Hitchens proposes. Instead it provides a guide for health and wellness and it is practiced precisely because of understanding (or to use Christopher Hitchens favorite word, reason) and a deep attachment to a fulfilled life which comes by or through, partially, health and wellness. Peter Hitchens as he rediscovered faith and God found this to be true as well.
Chapter 5: Britain's Pseudo-Religion and the Cult of Winston Churchill
While Peter Hitchens relies on the history of his home country, Britain, for his examples I find that they mimic those of what happened in America as well. So when he brings up near the end of this chapter how the Church/Christianity has confused patriotism with God I perked up. I have very similar thoughts and was curious to see what he had to say about it. When America makes claims, as I believe Britain has as well, that God is most interested in their sole victory I cringe. It is one of the reasons atheists mock believers, and in this case I think it is justified. As Peter Hitchens notes (ePub location 876/2783), "The Christian church has been powerfully damaged by letting itself be confused with love of country and the making of great wars." It is perfectly okay to love the country you are born in and reside in, it is absolutely recommended to thank those who fight to protect its freedoms, it is unquestionably good to pray for God's protection but please don't make our nation a thing to be worshiped Many people I know have equated Christianity and national pride! They are not the same and should not be equated, to do so is to engage in idol worship. The Church needs to get their thinking back in line with God's perspectives or they will continue to be guilty of idol worship and they will continue to be treated derisively by those who do not claim God. We give those who don't have faith and belief fodder to feed on when we continue in this idol worship.
Chapter 7: Rediscovering Faith
(The Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden)
Through just living life, enjoying his pleasures and ambition, Peter Hitchens began to lose faith (pun intended) in his disbeliefs. He was beginning to understand that the secular faiths he was practicing were false. He found himself suppressing his loss of faith in a Godless universe and in his loss of faith in humanity's ability to achieve justice. (ePub location 1121/2783) And yes, I believe he uses the word "faith" purposely for even atheists practice faith - it's just not in God. As he outwardly was expressing his beliefs had not changed there was a stirring going on inside of him. Indeed it was a process and he remembers very little of it but he knows the tide was turning in his life. And then he found himself standing in front of Weyden's "The Last Judgement" in Beaune, France. It was in a split second that he realized he would be among the damned if there were to be damned. He says this about that moment, "No doubt I should be ashamed to confess that fear played a part in my return to religion. I could easily make up some other, more credible story. But I should be even more ashamed to pretend that fear did not. I have felt proper fear, not very often but enough to know that is is an important gift that helps us to think clearly at moments of danger." (ePub location 1159/2783) Surely even those that disbelieve know that there is a healthy fear and unhealthy fear. The kind Hitchens describes in this section is that of healthy fear. It helped him to stop and clarify the contradictions he was experiencing between his secular faiths and that of faith in God. He goes on (ePub location 1170/2783), "Fear is good for us and helps us to escape from great dangers. Those who do not feel it are in permanent peril because they cannot see the risks that lie at their feet." This reminds me of those people who literally cannot feel pain, something in their nerve endings doesn't work. So they are in constant danger of physical harm. They live a life of severe burns, bone breaks, etc because of this problem. Those who do not heed or acknowledge fear that their conscience pricks them with are in peril of living a lifetime of danger, not that of physical danger (although I can think of several physical dangers that one is in danger of when fear of conscience isn't heeded) necessarily but of emotional, mental, and yes spiritual danger.
Hitchens ends this chapter with the observation that Christianity is threatened with a dangerous defeat, secular forces are more confident than ever. He asks, "Why is there such a fury against religion now?" He surmises the answer, which falls in line with his brother's opinions on religion and its poison on society, is that Christianity is the "principle obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power." (ePub location 1280/2783) Hitchens explains his reasoning in Part 2 of his book.
Chapter 8: The Decline of Christianity
Christianity's defeats and reversals have been aided by such notable events as the Reformation, the Enlightenment and bold claims of modern science, and the self-inflicted damage during wars in which it allowed itself to be recruited to opposing sides. For example, the Civil War. Lincoln noted how absurd it was that both sides of the war were seeking the aid of the same God against one another. (ePub location 1291/2783) Indeed, while there has been external forces against the existence of God the believers haven't done themselves any favors by invoking the name of God in man-made issues and preferences. These invocations have bolstered the atheists stance on religion that is useless and without morals.
A dangerous trend has started and it is that of Christianity being replaced, with caution and gradually, by a religious neutrality. The danger in this religious neutrality is that because of its cautious takeover most miss it and succumb to it unknowingly. Only the truly committed notice what is happening. (ePub location 1379/2783) The complacency has led to confusion, divisiveness, and intolerance within the ranks of Christianity. "Into this confusion and emptiness the new militant secularists now seek to bring an aggressive atheism." (ePub location 1389/2783) If Christianity is in a decline, and it is, then it is partially at the hand of believers.
Chapter 9: "Are Conflicts Fought in the Name of Religion Conflicts about Religion?"
The irreligious (as Peter Hitchens calls those with no belief or faith in God) love to use the argument that "conflicts fought in the name of religion are necessarily conflicts about religion." In saying this "they hope to establish that religion is of itself a cause of conflict." This is a popular argument the atheists use, in fact it is the main point of Christopher Hitchens book. Because of that Peter chooses to address it here in his own book as a rebuttal. There is a hypocrisy in this argument the atheists use and Hitchens describes it here, "....man is inclined to make war on man when he thinks it will gain him power or wealth or land." (ePub location 1393/2783) Of course, the atheists reject this argument except in cases where it applies to their particular interests. And where their interests usually lie is with the political left, and the left sympathize with some factions and groups that do start wars in the name of religion except it is really in the name of self-power. (ePub 1401/2783) A recent example of a war that is couched in religion but is in fact about the fight for power is the conflict in Northern Island between the Protestants and Catholics. The conflict is not really about the presence of Christ, the validity of the feast of Corpus Christi or even the authority of the Bishop of Rome. If it were about those things then we would hear about those on the news rather than what we do hear about - a "classic tribal war". And tribal wars are always about power - power over the people and over the land. "The processions and funerals of each side were dominated by secular symbols - black berets and combat fatigues - not by holy images or the godly singing of mighty psalms." (ePub location 1410/2783) If I, nowhere near the intelligence of most, can see through this so-called religious war and see it for what it is, and God has nothing to do with it, then I am surprised that the atheists choose not to see it as well. Instead they choose to grab at the surface excuse for the war to bolster their argument.
You also see the hypocrisy when factions of religions fight each other yet unite at particular times to fight for a political objective they actually agree on. If religion trumps then it would not be set aside in favor of politics which is the religion of man's power. Hitchens provides the conflict in Lebanon as example for this. The Sunni and Shia Muslims united in order to fight the Christians, but it was not for religious reasons they fought. It was for power. (ePub location 1410/2783)
Hitchens, who is far more knowledgeable than I will ever be on these matters, asserts that when the irreligious say "religion" they actually mean Christianity, for that is their real target. Christianity is the only belief that threatens the disbeliefs of atheists. No other belief challenges atheists. (ePub location 1470/2783) The reason for this, explains Hitchens, is because Christianity "stubbornly persists in the morality, laws, and government of the major Western countries." (ePub location 1481/2783) What is the issue with the Christian God? The issue is that He and the life He asks of His people is not the ideal society to exist in, it is a threat to secular utopianism. "....the Bible angers and frustrates those who believe that the pursuit of a perfect society justifies the quest for absolute power." (ePub location 1481-1491/2783) Again we arrive back at the core issue, power. Man's quest and thirst for power has become an obstacle to rational thinking. Utopians believe the ends justify the means and that morality is relative but those beliefs are threatened, in their eyes, by the concepts of sin, conscience, eternal life, and of divine justice under an unalterable law. Because the utopian cannot get around these defenses they seek to destroy Christianity so their quest for power and control is realized. (ePub location 1491/2783)
What is baffling, according to Peter Hitchens and I would agree, is the insistence that regimes like Soviet Communism are not linked to atheism, materialist rationalism, and most of the other causes that the New Atheists support. In fact, the Soviet Communism movement "used the same language, treasured the same hopes, and appealed to the same constituency as atheism does today." (ePub location 1522/2783) Atheists neatly sidestep this link to atheism with the classification of the Soviet regime as "Stalinist". But this is a convenient out for atheists. While they ask us to reconsider many things, Hitchens asks them to consider honestly "which questionable causes and regimes they have made excuses for in this age, and consider the possibility that utopianism is dangerous precisely because of its supporters are so convinced that they themselves are good." (ePub location 1532/2783) It is widely known that the Soviet movement was utopian in its desires and was blatantly anti-God.
Chapter 10: "Is it Possible to Determine What is Right and What is Wrong Without God?"
This chapter discusses another argument against religion, faith, and the existence of God. The irreligious believe that we can determine what is right and wrong without God. In other words, we can have morality without God. But without God we humans "can in a matter of minutes justify the incineration of populated cities, the mass deportation - accompanied by slaughter, disease, and starvation - of inconvenient people, and the mass murder of the unborn. I have heard people who believe themselves to be good defend all these things and convince themselves as well as others. Quite often the same people will condemn similar actions committed by different countries, often with great vigor." (ePub location 1558-1566/2783) It seems obvious, for you read that and you know it to be true, that we ourselves cannot determine right or wrong. We need a higher power to help us find the way.
It is a mistake to take pithy sayings, that certainly have kernels of truth in them, and force them to be absolute moral codes to follow simply to avoid the existence of God. Atheists like to take morals that God places on his people and pick them apart to serve their purposes. For example, Christopher Hitchens says that to love your neighbor as yourself is impossible to follow. He claims it is too extreme and too strenuous to be obeyed. (ePub location 1576/2783) However, there are too many examples to refute this claim of his and Peter notes many examples as he continues his case. I myself have seen how people love their neighbors more than they love themselves especially in times of natural disasters or tragedy. How the atheist cannot acknowledge these examples is beyond my understanding. If we, as a society, follow the path of denying an absolute moral code we will unravel. We will begin to act in even more egocentric ways than we already do. The shift is already happening in America as we no longer respect our elders, we have no regard for the disabled, sick or elderly, and make excuses for our selfish ways.
Following a moral code that is not of our making but of a higher one is difficult, no believer I know would (or should) say otherwise. It is a sad fact of human nature that we give up rather than attempt the "impossible." But as Peter Hitchens says, "....we are far better for trying than for not trying, and we know there is forgiveness available for honest failure." (ePub location 1597/2783)
Will an atheist do great deeds at a high cost to themselves personally? Possibly. But the greater possibility is that a believer in God who follows a moral code set for them will do those deeds. In fact, there are many examples to support that. Societies forget that it takes many small acts of kindness, charity, and honesty to keep the society moving upward. Should those cease it will be because the atheists with their claims that we can decide right and wrong without God will have convinced enough people. (ePub location 1597/2783)
If we rely on our sense of right or wrong where is the obligation to follow through? There is no such compulsion to follow it. Morals are what makes us better not worse. But if it were true that we make them up on our own then do we also make up our own accountability to follow them? And who says we have to follow that which we make up? "....the price that may sooner or later have to be paid for presuming that God does not exist and then removing him from human affairs." (ePub location 1683/2783) The decline that can happen in a society who chooses their own way is an expensive price to pay.
Hitchens provides interesting insight in the question, "why do atheists want there to be no God?" by citing from a book, The Last Word, by Thomas Nagel, a professor of philosophy and law at NYU and "no friend of religion". Some of Nagel's comments on the question are interesting and insightful. Here is an atheist who, refreshingly, doesn't engage in polemic behavior but "....recognizes the possible attractions to the intelligent mind of the religious explanation rather than denouncing all religious belief as stupid." (ePub location 1677/2783) Nagel's comments are honest and I appreciated his willingness to apply reason to both sides of the argument. He chooses the high road and allows for intelligence to be present in those who have opposing views.
Chapter 11: "Are Atheist States Not Actually Atheist?"
The chapter begins with a request from Hitchens that both sides, Christianity and atheists, concede that persecution has happened at the hands of misunderstood religious beliefs and Godless regimes. I have no problem conceding this point for I agree. This is more difficult for the atheist to concede because "utopia can only ever be approached across a sea of blood." (ePub location 1710-1718/2783) Hitchens continues his thoughts on this by citing examples of Godless regimes that are even in practice today and yet it has been a long time, a very long time, since Christians have last burned, strangled, or imprisoned others for alleged errors of faith. "By contrast, those who reject God's absolute authority, preferring their own, are far more ready to persecute than Christians have been and have grown more included to do so over time." (ePub 1718/2783) If we look closely at the revolutions that have happened throughout history it is easy to see that "terror and slaughter are inherent in utopian materialist revolutionary movements....what, then, do we gain by rejecting God and worshiping ourselves instead?" (ePub location 1728/2783)
What dictators like Stalin and Kim Sung (of North Korea) did understand was the power of religion over the human mind. And so they both chose not to use religion to sustain their regimes. They both hated faith in God so much that they instead destroyed it [so they thought] and supplanted it with a humanist cult that put all power on them to exert, including worship of them, that was bound to die out, unlike true religion/faith. (ePub location 1748/2783) They sought to destroy what cannot be destroyed. Faith in God has withstood every persecution and attempt at annihilation it has encountered. Because Stalin and Kim Sung were utopian idealists they created human idols out of themselves because they believed in the "ultimate goodness of themselves and the unchallengeable rightness of their decisions." (ePub location 1758/2783) They set themselves up to be the higher power and higher law. And if people disagreed then they were defective. When we set ourselves up as idols we also set ourselves up for fear of rivals. This leads, in part, back to the topic of morality. Stalin and Kim Sung chose to ignore there is a God and chose what they believed was right and wrong. Their version of morality hasn't worked out so well for them or for their countries. "Atheism is a license for ruthlessness, and it appeals to the ruthless" is how Hitchens wraps up this part of the chapter. (ePub location 1800/2783)
The chapter concludes with Hitchens putting to words the intolerance of the modern atheism movement. They are on a mission to remove choice from our lives. They say they are campaigning for choice but they are not, they are campaigning for an end to choice. In doing so they have "adopted a mocking and high-handed tone of certainty, sneers at its Christian opponents, and states, or implies, that they must be stupid." (ePub location 1812/2783) I have personally witnessed this among those I know who have moved into atheism. They have employed the language and behaviors of the above description. It is disappointing to say the least. It hints at insecurity in their beliefs when they stoop to such behavior. The other "dirty secret" to the atheistic secular movement is that they are principally a political movement and they are attempting to remove any last traces or hold that Christianity has on moral law, power, or ethics. This creates a domino effect throughout all of society and invades the privacy of citizens. "Secularism disingenuously disguises this restless reformism as a desire to be 'left alone' by the religious. The religious would in fact happily leave atheists alone if not constantly under pressure to adapt their actions to atheist norms." (ePub location 1822/2783) No truer words could have been spoken. I have never given much, if any, thought to atheists until recently when they started such a vocal campaign and began to insert themselves into my world.
Chapter 12: Fake Miracles and Grotesque Relics
One of the atheists main arguments against religion is the frenzy that is created around miracles, or what people perceive as miracles, today as well as in the past. For example, today anytime somebody (usually a woman) claims to see the face of Mary Mother of Jesus on their toast, stove top, etc there is a frenzy of misplaced worship that occurs. This is born from man-made religion not God. I can almost see God doing a forehead smack and wondering when *we* are going to get it. This kind of "miracle" invites the mocking of atheists. The other kind of miracles, ones of physical healing, that also invite the mockers are the ones that are so blatantly set-up for the purposes of manipulation, usually to get money from people already living paycheck to paycheck. Again, these "miracles" are man-made religion not God. Not only do I see God doing a forehead smack with this particular practice but I believe he is grieved that some of His creation chooses to engage in deceit and invoke His name into it. Now, on to the actual book. :) Peter Hitchens actually doesn't even touch what I just discussed but it felt like the right time to bring it up in light of what he does discuss in this chapter.
Hitchens relies heavily on the history of the Soviet Union for his examples. He has been criticized for this but I find it to be no more overused than the examples his brother used. Having lived in Moscow during the last few years of the Communist regime Hitchens is able to provide some first-hand observations whereas I believe Christopher Hitchens was relying all on historical texts. (Don't quote me on that, I may be wrong. I just don't recall that Christopher had any actual first-hand accounts to add.) So that being said...
If one is to discuss fake miracles and the like then you must use the very recent example of one of the biggest fake miracles staged in history. "....the claim that Soviet Russia was a new civilization of equality, peace, love, truth, science, and progress. Everyone now knows that it was a prison, a slum, a return to primitive barbarism, a kingdom of lies where scientists and doctors feared offending the secret police, and that its elite were corrupt and lived in secret luxury." (ePub location 1844-1853/2783) While all this was going on, while the Soviet Russian society was in a downward spiral of moral and civil decay those who chose not to have belief in God or have faith kept blinders on so they did not have to truly see what the lack of belief in God and what choosing your own morals actually looked like as it played out. They chose to be deceived. "The more educated and enlightened they were (by their own judgement, anyway), the more likely they were to be fooled." (ePub location 1853/2783) Now, which of the two "miracles" seems the more dangerous to you? Seeing the face of Mary Mother of Jesus on a piece of toast or a society that starves, murders, persecutes, and practices injustice toward its people in the name of "unity" and "progress"? As Hitchens says, "Faith in the myth of progress can be just as strong as faith in God, though not necessarily so kind in its effects. At least the belief in miracles sometimes produces genuine cures. Lying about Leninism [the Soviet Communist Regime] only abets murder and oppression." (ePub location 1863/2783)
Today's atheists, whether they see it or not, come from a long line of utopians. So far every dictator that has tried to force a society into a utopia state has failed. These days the idea of utopia isn't widely talked about and today's atheist isn't sure where things will end up. Clinging to beliefs, and therefore, faith in the ultimate utopian society they feel emboldened to look down upon those who don't agree. And again, their hypocrisy rises to the top. As Peter Hitchens points out, they hold tightly to science and believe that what it cannot explain doesn't need explanation. But this is a double standard. While they believe they should be able to "get away" with their beliefs that no explanation can satisfy, they don't allow those with opposing beliefs to use the same excuse. They demand that all of the opposing beliefs have explanations that satisfy. Do they really not see the double standard here? Or do they not want to see it? (ePub location 1903/2783)
Chapter 13: Provoking a Bloody War with the Church
Hitchens simply provides examples of how the Communist regime set out to systematically weed out Christianity and destroy all places of sacredness. He notes that its main purpose was to denounce and defame Christianity and to replace it with their regime, set up to mimic a religion. We would do well to make note, it is bound to be repeated in the not to far off future.
Chapter 14: The Great Debate
Addressing the chapter his brother wrote, "Is Religion Child Abuse?" Peter Hitchens makes an interesting observation that exposes his brother's double standard. Christopher Hitchens says this, "We can be sure religion has always hoped to practise upon the unformed and undefended minds of the young, and has gone to great lengths to make sure of this privilege by making alliances with secular powers in the material world." To which Peter Hitchens, rightly, responds, "Does he [Christopher] realize that he is here describing Soviet Communism?" (ePub location 2297/2783) Indeed! In fact any regime that sets itself up as the ultimate authority begins with the children because the chance is greater to indoctrinate them the younger they are. Soviet Communism published a magazine for teachers that included articles about how to push the regime agenda and weed out Christianity! (ePub location 2099/2783) So if one is to cry "child abuse" then one has to look to the agendas of regimes.
Christopher Hitchens also states that religion seeks to become totalitarian (to which I agreed because I define religion as man-made and do not believe it equates with God). Were that true, and when societies have picked up a totalitarian form of government, "....either the church has been forced into such arrangements [making alliances with secular powers] through Concordats and suffered as a result, or it has been brusquely ordered from the schools and loaded with restrictions designed to undermine domestic religion and indeed attack the family itself." (ePub location 2308/2783) Well. If religion is the one seeking totalitarian societies then they have some more studying on how to go about that, so far they haven't been successful but man, hungry for power, has been. So I now take back my agreement with Christopher Hitchens that religion is seeking out this form of government. Not even religion is seeking this out, but power hungry men most certainly are. I recently watched a sci-fi series called "Firefly". It's description on the back cover of the DVD set says it is set in a time when a totalitarian government is in power. As I watched it I didn't think religion looked a lot like that model but I did think it looked a lot like what men like Stalin, Kim Sung, and others have tried to pull off. No I do not believe religion has tried to become totalitarian.
Looking back again at the "child abuse" charges Christopher Hitchens levels against religion...Peter Hitchens points out an interesting agenda of the atheist movement in regards to labeling religious education "child abuse". He doesn't call it an agenda but I would. I would say that it is very intentional, those words. I say that because as Hitchens says, "To use the expression 'child abuse' in this context - of religious education by parents or teachers - is to equate such education with a universally hated crime. Such language prepares the way for intolerance and, quite possibly, legal restrictions on the ability of parents to pass on their faith to their children, just as they are increasingly restricted in disciplining them." (ePub location 2319/2783) Hitchens puts into words what has been a niggling feeling of mine, there is an agenda. "The use of this claim that religious instruction is a form of child abuse in an argument for atheism is propaganda, not reason." (ePub location 2340/2783) And this agenda that the atheists are seeking to create is one in which they hope to see religious instruction can be regulated and perhaps prevented by law. (ePub location 2361/2783) Mind you, people of religious faith, by and large, do not restrict the atheists from teaching their own children their beliefs but yet they want to restrict those of religious beliefs. This is yet more proof of the atheists unwillingness to leave people of religious faith alone. On a very elementary level I have to ask the atheist, "Why so threatened?" If none of what religious people believe is true then why so threatened? To restrict any parent, believer or atheist, of passing on to their children what they believe - most especially when the children ask the parent what they believe and why - "....has the stench of totalitarian slander, paving the road to suppression and persecution." (ePub location 2351/2783) Hitchens asserts, as do I, that parents have the right to bring up their child with whatever beliefs they choose. Would the atheists extend the same courtesy to those of religious faith?
Peter Hitchens points out that this is not just speculation on his part but that Richard Dawkins is very explicit about his own intolerance about religious education. So while nobody seems to actually be willing to call this charge an agenda, it is. Dawkins leans on psychologist Nicholas Humphrey's for his support of removing this freedom from our society (but of course atheists will be free to teach their children whatever they want, it is just believers that will be restricted). In an article Dr. Humphrey's wrote for Amnesty International he argues to free children from religions. He says that freedom of speech should still be fought for except in the case of religious speech. He specifically states that parents have no right to teach their children "moral and religious education." Who then does? Indeed Dr. Humphrey's asserts it is society's responsibility to teach the children. (ePub location 2372-2382/2783) Does he believe this because he arrogantly believes himself to be right and everyone who holds opposite views wrong? Who is to say who is right and who is wrong? Again we see that the religious aren't making these outlandish claims and proposing these extreme ideas, it is the atheists - the irreligious. They cannot leave the religious alone, but we are perfectly happy to be left alone and to leave them alone. The case against the atheists is building, they have the issue with the religious not the other way around as they claim.
Returning to the argument that we are capable of choosing right and wrong apart from any higher power Peter Hitchens says, "The League of the Militant Godless had [indeed has] done their work too well. In the names of reason, science, and liberty they had [indeed have] proved, rather effectively, that good societies need God to survive and that when you have murdered him, starved him, silenced him, denied him to the children, and erased his festivals and his memory, you have a gap that cannot indefinitely be filled by any human, nor anything made by human hands." (ePub location 2447/2783) He goes on to query, "Must we discover this all over again?" and his answer, which I agree with given the trends, is "I fear so." This new and intolerant utopianism is seeking to drive out the remaining traces of Christianity from the laws and constitutions. To drive Christianity out from the family. To remove freedom of choice except, of course, when the choice is in favor of the atheist beliefs. To do this will require a powerful police state, think totalitarian. This state will abandon penal codes (especially in cases of narcotics), abolish marital fidelity, increase indulgence, continue to lower the age of consent for sexual matters which will eventually bring criminal acts of sexual nature closer to legal (ePub location 2330/2783). (ePub location 2457/2783) Do any of those sound like a morality that strengthens a society or tears it apart? It will be the Christian churches who will be the last hold outs but they won't hold out for long. They won't be able to because they have allowed themselves to be infiltrated by secular liberalism, they are now full of uncertainty and indifference. Their complacency is what weakens their ability to hold out. (ePub location 2457/2783) While the Church flounders and weakens the rage against God strengthens. "The Rage against God is loose and is preparing to strip the remaining altars when it is strong enough." (ePub location 2466/2783)
Peter Hitchens ends his book in Grand Rapids, Michigan where the debate with his brother took place. Among his final thoughts he says this about his brother, Christopher, who died in December 2011. "....I have the more modest hope that he might one day arrive at some sort of acceptance that belief in God is not necessarily a character fault - and that religion does not poison everything." (ePub location 2518/2783) As far as I know Christopher Hitchens did not come to that concession in his last days of life, he seemed to remain "bricked up high in his atheist tower, with slits instead of windows from which to shoot arrows at the faithful, and he would [indeed it seemed he couldn't] find it rather hard to climb down out of it." (ePub location 2508-2518/2783) A life that does not include some concession is indeed a hard life to live I think.
My final thoughts:
Before reading Christopher Hitchens book I read some reviews of it on my favorite website GoodReads. The majority of reviewers were those who agree with Hitchens disbeliefs. Yet, even though they agreed with him, they found him to be an ass. An arrogant, self-important, intolerable man. I found that to be interesting. A friend of mine said that she felt he was purposely abrasive in this book. He himself admitted he was an insufferable intellectual. I believe this is true of him and I believe he was rather proud of it. I think it pleased him to be so intolerable. If you want to win people over to your side of an argument the path is not paved with arrogance and the like. If anything Hitchens hurts the cause he fought for.
Additionally, I eventually felt like hitting my head against the wall over his repetitive and drawn out examples of fanatics and religious wars. Enough already, we get the freaking point! His arguments circled around and around the same kind of examples. I was longing for new and fresh examples even if I wasn't going to agree or understand their validity.
Upon finishing Christopher Hitchens book I was curious to read Peter Hitchens book and how he would argue against his brother's viewpoints, especially since he once held to them as well. I began Peter's book as soon as I finished Christopher's so that all arguments would be fresh in my mind.
Peter Hitchens has the same prolific vocabulary as his brother did. But he uses it differently. He is just as brilliant as his brother in the art of writing. But he uses it differently. Notably missing is the arrogance that colors every word Christopher Hitchens wrote. And yet I can see that when Peter was still in the culture of atheism and sneering at all those who did not hold to his beliefs that he was just as much of an ass as his brother. If there is ever an example of how religion (i.e. faith) improves the disposition of one it would be with Peter Hitchens. It is obvious that because of his belief in God and his faith that he now practices, or attempts to, self-control over his churlish personality. Self-control is not something the atheist believes is necessary. Oh they will never say that but read Christopher Hitchens book and that becomes rather evident.
The brothers certainly differ on their approaches to their arguments. Peter went into great detail and depth on one particular regime whereas Christopher pulled from many. Peter's read more like a history novel and Christopher's was more like a textbook.
I certainly don't regret reading either book, although I may regret the reviews I gave in terms of length of time! It took me almost as long to write reviews as it did to read the books. And by now, if you have gotten this far you may be regretting it as well - haha! I've been asked by a few people if my mind changed any, if indeed did my bias alter after reading specifically Christopher Hitchens book. As I stated above (way way way above) in my intro to these two books, I wasn't reading either book expecting a changed mind. I am secure in my beliefs. This is still the case. I can certainly concede to some of Christopher Hitchens arguments yet my concessions aren't based on his arguments but rather the reality behind them. What is the reality? God is not religion, religion is man-made. I follow God, not religion. So in the name of religion have atrocities happened? Yes, to this Christopher Hitchens and I agree. Where we do not agree is God being involved in those.
I did learn quite a bit from reading both books and I am very glad I read them back to back. (I literally did. About a half hour after finishing the first I picked up the second.) I've chosen not to rate either book with the stars because to do so would be elementary given my reviews and how does one rate, with stars, books of this nature?