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"What man has put together . . .,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Gebundene Ausgabe). . . let no man put asunder." The recent spate of books challenging the hegemony of religions have received much notoriety and no little calumny. From Sam Harris, through Daniel Dennett to Richard Dawkins, 09 September 2001 generated a renewed interest and analysis of why people murder for religion. All are agreed that while the attack on the World Trade Towers was shocking, it was hardly new or novel. Christopher Hitchens has produced the latest of these investigations. His analysis reaches beyond the three giant monotheistic faiths to demonstrate religion is a man-made power exercise. As such, it is subject to re-evaluation and revision. With a journalist's verve, underpinned by a rage at the hypocrisies and deceptions religions have effected on the "faithful", he calls for his readers to confront their beliefs. Such a confrontation, he hopes, will lead to a new Enlightenment.
At the outset, let us concede the book is poorly titled. Hitchens doesn't challenge the idea of deities, although he insists that since religion is humanly devised, then the gods have no real substance. Therefore, he wastes no words on metaphysical or theological contentions stating otherwise. His focus is on the practices of religions, which are simply a means for certain individuals to exert power over credulous adherents. His concern is to establish what is "true" and to contend with those who declare they are in possession of "Truth" - two very distinct concepts. It's not "god" nor what is "true" or not that concerns him, but human behaviour in the name of "faith" and how we react to those practices. He doesn't chide the laity for blindly following the dictates of their religion's officialdom. He does, however, think church "leaders", of whatever stripe, be held accountable for their actions. And if those actions are a violation of their own religion's precepts, then no excuse can be granted. Worse, if the actions are justified as divinely ordained and are themselves unjust, then those rules need closer scrutiny. If they have no basis, then there is no reason to sustain them. As human-contrived concepts, they must be judged in human terms.
Chronicling how the various religions have manipulated facts and misled believers, he notes that the earliest religions came at a time when "nobody had the smallest idea of what was going on". Now that we are better informed about life and the cosmos, there is no need to sustain the idea of a metaphysical force underlying them. The "Arguments from Design" have no substance, nor does any form of "revelation". Instead, religion is the major force in dictating human behaviour. The three "great monotheisms", Hitchens notes, declare humans depraved and abject sinners. This status allows them to be easily manipulated in a variety of ways. Religion, he says, dictates that it has the sole guide to human behaviour. Its roots and its practices, however, demonstrate that stance is false.
Hitchens thoroughly demonstrates how religion is a sham and its leadership frauds. Why, then, does it sustain itself? He fails to address this question. Even the skimpy source list at the end offers no clues to what might be going on in the human mind to allow the sort of control mechanisms religions dictate and enforce. Even Eastern "mysticism", that purported escape from the dogmas of Western monotheism, offers little consolation. Indeed, its own practices fare no better under his scrutiny. He shows how it also poisons the life of those turning to it by allowing the same sort of controls monotheism uses. It simply shifts the responsibility from a deity to a Dalai Lama. His failure to note how cognitive science has demonstrated how "mysticism" results from simple sensory deprivation is an unfortunate lack. Some explanation of this type of experience might have given his readers an understanding his narrative doesn't offer. While all of Hitchens' challenges to religion are valid, the book remains incomplete. That's regrettable given his ability to communicate. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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