Well, I am sure that Mr. Hitchens is equally as controversial as Dawkins, so we shall see how quickly this review is swooped upon. (I did one on The God Delusion and had a near immediate rambling assault on Amazon.)
My biggest issue with the book is Hitchens’ reading it. I have heard him in debates and found him drolly entertaining. However, in the reading of the book, his voice fluctuates both in volume as well as in clarity. I was often forced to try and fill in the blanks of sentences lowered to a jumbled mumble. I am not sure who was at the control board during the recording, but they should have been whacking him with a pointer each time he started to slump over and talk into his shoulder.
That said, as always, I find Hitchens to be intelligent and insightful. He does cover much of the same ground that Dawkins did in The God Delusion (or vice versa, not sure whose came out first) I am also not sure the reasoning of his commentaries about disagreeing with Dawkins on the subject.
Mumblings aside, I found this book to be excellent in its airing of the histories and realities of some of the largest religions in the world. I learned quite a bit as well. I learned that Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church was jailed as a con artist and suspected of necrophilia. I was also surprised that Hitchens didn’t take issue with the Church’s habit of going through death records and baptizing segments of the deceased population regardless of their religious beliefs in life. He actually found that to be a brilliant answer to the dilemma of correcting past prejudices of not allowing blacks or others into the folds of a church (such as had been the views of the Church of LDS in the earlier days)
I was also surprised to learn that most of these religions “holy books” were delivered to illiterates and transcribed by others. This also included Joseph Smith, Mohammed, etc. I knew that was the case with the Koran. I did’t know so with the others. So, I find it hard to believe that the legitimacy of these “holy texts” are so unquestioned given the highly questionability of their origins.
He speaks at time with dry humor an insight. I smiled at his recounting of how he was more than willing to attend the Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son or a Muslim religious ceremony or any of any number of religious ceremonies for friends. However, the same respect and accommodation was never returned to him. These same friends always found it necessary to try and help to save his soul.
I think one of the most shattering chapter in the book was the one on is religion child abuse. Hitchens probably showed more emotion in this section than any other as he explained why indeed, religious indoctrination was child abuse. Especially when it came to the rituals of the genital mutilation of children. (And this was the first time I had learned that original Jewish circumcision involved the Rabbi biting the foreskin and sucking it off the child’s penis then spitting it out) Holy crap! He also gave very detailed descriptions of female genital mutilation (most of which I was already familiar with). This chapter alone is enough to deprive on of more than a few good nights sleep.
I do give Hitchen’s credit in that he didn’t just go after Christianity and its religions. He proved himself quite knowledgeable on a good many religions and drug all of their dirty laundry out into the glaring light of day to be seen for what it was without the candy coating, including the Catholic Church’s support of Hitler and the Nazis, the ethnic cleansing in Rhuanda, etc.
Additionally, he backs up all of the genocides, slavery, rape, torture and other horrors with citations from all of the holy books on when god himself commanded or approved of such things, without pausing even for a breath to add in the same comment they hypocrisy of how god can set down laws in one passage only to command his people break them in the next. I have to admit, I have also had a problem with those selfsame hypocrisies. At least most of the pagan gods painted themselves in their true colors.
Hitchens does all of this from the voice of an accomplished journalist, stating the facts as the record shows them, haunting in their stark horror. Above all, he shows that not only do we not need religion to be moral creatures. In truth, we somehow, many of us, manage to be so in spite of it.
In closing, I do have to make a comment about the music I can only assume Hitchens chose for the book. Although very pretty, it just seemed very out in left field to the content of the book. Which made me smile and giggle a few times as it gave pause between the chapters. But, if you are willing to take a stark, unvarnished look at religion, its history and its priesthood, you couldn’t find a better read. Okay, Dawkins is up there as well.