In a recent review of Christopher Hitchens’ book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything in Commonweal, Eugene McCarraher has splendidly and devastatingly critiqued this poorly-informed and overrated addition to the latest litany of militantly athiest manifestos littering the top seller lists in bookstores around the U.S. McCarraher, always an excellent writer and social critic has delivered the best critical review of this genre of evangelical atheist books since Terry Eagleton’s fabulous flagellation of Richard Dawkins.
Aptly titled “This Book is not Good”, McCarraher beautifully slices through Hitchens’ clumsy polemic with surgical precision. I highly recommend his review.
Here’s the last three paragraphs of McCarraher’s review:
Hidden inside the inflated prose of Hitchens’s PR flackery is a conceit common among the educated classes: namely, that the demise of religion would usher in a new age of fearless, democratic cerebration in which each of us would “think on one’s own.” Hitchens’s paean celebrates a secular moral imagination sketched in terms of professional and managerial expertise. Defining the good life for us all in word and image, the business and technical intelligentsia comprise a cultural elite, a rival clerisy whose rhetoric of Science, Progress, and Enlightenment can mystify as effectively as did the bell, book, and candle of the priesthood. In particular, our modern notion of “Progress” has the most beguiling account of an eschatology that never ends.
Hitchens insists that he and his secular allies “do not require any priests, or hierarchy above them,” that they “need no machinery of reinforcement,” and that “sacrifices and ceremonies are abhorrent to us.” In case he hasn’t noticed, the corporate elite has constructed the hierarchy, along with a machinery of reinforcement it shares with the nation-state. And Hitchens’s uplifting predictions about the God-less future are most savagely belied by the catastrophe in Iraq, where the bogus distinction between religious and secular violence can be seen in all its ideological duplicity. While pointing to the sanguinary unreason of “fundamentalists,” the war’s advocates have offered up the lives of thousands in sacrifice to a future of Market and Democracy. An Iraqi killed by a U.S. Marine is just as dead as if she were dispatched by a jihadist. Both Hitchens and the jihadist would contend that her death is part of a larger struggle between the forces of light and darkness. To a Christian, she’s a victim of libido dominandi, whatever the discursive camouflage; to Hitchens, she’s the collateral damage of enlightenment.
So enough about the sweetness and light that await us when the gods are finally dead. The war in Iraq, like the history of the twentieth century, demonstrates that secular values provide no inoculation against credulity, madness, and butchery. Conferring a sacral aura on the market and the nation-state, secularism is a parody of religion, and its acolytes can no longer lay claim to the patent on reason and enlightenment. Blinded by the radiance of imperial righteousness, and willing to bless carnage in the most dubious of crusades, Hitchens no longer merits our attention or respect, especially on matters regarding the good life and the just city. If you doubt me, read this book.