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How Religion Spoils Everything
Christopher Hitchens
Book Review With Commentary

Hitchens is not only fine story teller, but an accurate historian of religion. As an atheist he focuses on the bad points of religion; hence his sub-title. Our present take, is while societies everywhere practice religion of one sort or another, it is the uncommon extremists who co-opt religion (as well as other sectors of societies) for no good that are at the root of the association between Monotheism and Violence. Hitchens brings many new facts and common threads to that association. We recommend this book to all who are concerned about violence in today's world. It does not provide all the answers we need, but it is surely one brick in the wall otherwise known as the origins of violence.

Hitchens provides numerous bromides. One that could become a proverb in its own right is:

Human decency is not derived from religion.
It precedes it.

In a serious sense, this is what this book is all about. Hitchens makes the case that religions are human-made to deal with human problems. Why else are there so many, each claiming to know the only path to salvation?

For the faithful, these are fighting words. The key word is faithful. Faith pays no attention to knowledge. In fairness to our ancestors, faith was all one had to go on in the absence of knowledge. Any explanation was/is better than none.

Knowledge comes, and builds upon itself such that it doubles periodically. That doubling can be sped, slowed, or punctuated in many ways, even as it moves ever forward. The Enlightenment spawned the likes of Benjamin Franklin who moved a very real danger, an "ACT OF GOD," the fearsome lightening bolts that struck people dead and destroyed houses, from the mythos to the logos column and safety. Louis Pasteur did likewise by discovering the source of, and treatment for, disease. In later times, Einstein showed the equivalence of matter and energy--forever changing the rules of war. Similarly, Watson and Crick gave us the key to our own origins, complementing and verifying fully Darwin's theories.

Nevertheless mythology dies hard. Hitchens endorses Freud's view that "...the religious impulse is essentially ineradicable until or unless the human species can conquer its fear of death and its tendency to wish-thinking."

Hitchens provides two important examples of individuals, each in training for the ministry, where, upon deep study and thinking about what they were learning about theology and nature, changed their professions to produce earth-shaking science that changed the way we view the world. Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, between them, literally changed the character of human society. In illuminating a basic fracture in the ways we think, in providing laws that were and are predictive, in making humanity safer and more comfortable, neither avoided the problems of public acceptance. Galileo, another example, was held under house arrest for the last decade of his life for proclaiming: "Religion teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

Newton's problem with Christianity came when he discovered that the King James version of the Bible was not in total accord with the texts from which it was translated. That disappointing discovery led Newton to change his career but it did not dampen his basic religiosity. Newton's concept of God included a prime mover, one consequence of his law of inertia. Newton established a theory: The Clockwork Universe. His "clockwork universe" might be envisioned as a clock wound up by God, keeping perfect time, governed by the laws of physics, some of which he himself discovered. We can all be thankful for his career change.

Darwin started out with "Intelligent Design" in mind. He found design all right. But it encompassed all of nature, not just humans exclusively.

So it came to pass that two of the brightest minds who ever lived became logosians. This did not deter those pulling the levers of religous power; maintaining their holds on people remained easy. After all, Logos was only for the learned or independent few. Mythos remained the main-street game for the monotheists world in its fight against the advance of knowledge. On this web site, we use logos to mean logical, deducible, or observable. It has a number of other meanings, some close to mythos. Mythos is used here to mean all things that can only be taken on faith, and that are otherwise not provable.

Until mythos and logos can meet each other
in true Dialogue,
misundstandings will continue
ad infinitum.

To paraphrase Hitchens, does it not take more power to create humans through Evolution than it does to simply do so directly? Of course not, even that is enough. We do not yet know how the universe became--out of nothing. Or if there was something, how did that something come into being and transform into the universe we know?

Most likely, there will be need for both philosophy and faith for a good long time. Philosophy changes with the tides of knowledge. It remains for Religion to learn that trick.


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