Christopher Hitchens, a self-described antitheist (which he says differs from an atheist in the way that “a person can be an atheist and wish that belief in God were correct”, while an antitheist “is someone who is relieved that there's no evidence for such an assertion.”) has written a book, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”, in which the contents are every bit as blasphemous as the titles suggests. In the book, Hitchens deconstructs religion and religious beliefs, contending that religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children and sectarian”, and that accordingly it "ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” In this paper, I will examine three of his more prominent claims in the book: that religion, specifically the Abrahamic religions, is historically linked to scientific ignorance, that religion attracts power hungry individuals who use its qualities of tribalism to oppress the rights of women and minorities, and that religion is detrimental and abusive to children both mentally and physically.
Hitchens makes the argument that the Abrahamic religions all have their origins in a time when humankind was still largely ignorant of what we now know and even take for granted as scientific law, and that as the years passed on, religion has consistently stood in the way of scientific advancement, much to the detriment of the rest of society. As Hitchens puts it, “Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody…had the smallest idea what was going on…Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion.” Hitchens points to the case of Copernicus’ heliocentric theory and the man who championed it, Galileo Galilei, and how he was persecuted for his beliefs, and found guilty of heresy and sentenced to indefinite imprisonment by the Catholic Church.
In a more recent example, Hitchens points to what is now famously referred to as the “Scopes Monkey Trial”, a legal case from 1925 that was deliberately staged in which a high school biology teacher was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which made it illegal to teach evolution in public schools. Despite the proceedings being something of a circus that was designed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the trial sparked an anti-evolution movement, with 13 states, in both the North and the South, considering some form of anti-evolution legislature in response to the trial and the “science vs. religion” argument surrounding it. Hitchens goes on to talk about how, up through to the time of his writing in 2007, the credibility of evolution was still an issue among Christians and therefore in American politics, despite there being a fairly overwhelming consensus in the modern science world that the theory of evolution is indeed credible. On this issue, I assess that Hitchens makes many valid points. As we saw in this past 2012 election cycle, evolution is still largely balked at and belittled in the evangelical Christian and “creation science” communities. These are the same people who contend that global warming is a myth. At this point, with the breadth of information on evolution available to the public and the consensus opinion among scientists worldwide that evolution is a sound theory, to deny evolution on the grounds of religious belief is to be willfully ignorant. In that aspect, Hitchens is spot on with his criticisms here. Another major point of contention for Hitchens is the way the Abrahamic religions have historically treated women, oppressing them and treating them as lesser beings, subjecting them to persecution for lacking “modesty” and not allowing them a voice. Hitchens suggests that this is due to power hungry men using their positions as religious leaders as a