I do not set myself up as a moral exemplar, and would be swiftly knocked down if I did, but if I was suspected of raping a child, or torturing a child, or infecting a child with venereal disease, or selling a child into sexual or any other kind of slavery, I might consider committing suicide whether I was guilty or not. If I had actually committed the offense, I would welcome death in any form that it might take. This revulsion is innate in any healthy person, and does not need to be taught. Since religion has proved itself uniquely delinquent on the one subject where moral and ethical authority might be counted as universal and absolute, I think we are entitled to at least three provisional conclusions. The first is that religion and the churches are manufactured, and that this salient fact is too obvious to ignore. The second is that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it. The third is that religion is—because it claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs—not just amoral but immoral. The ignorant psychopath or brute who mistreats his children must be punished but can be understood. Those who claim a heavenly warrant for the cruelty have been tainted by evil, and also constitute far more of a danger.
-Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great
I am four chapters into Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and probably the most surprising thing about reading this book is how much I agree with what he is saying. Now, of course, I don't agree with his larger points or his primary arguments, but it is delightful to see Hitchens take on child abuse in Rome, blood transfusion-phobia in the Watchtower, Catholic demands that condoms not be used in AIDS-destroyed sections of Africa, and radical Protestants who would rather pray over their child's dying body than go to the doctor. Hitchens takes the scattershot approach (so far) listing off all of the grievous sins of religion and then grouping all religions together as a demonstration of how bad all religion really is.
My reaction to this is twofold: My first thought is, what about religious systems which can be demonstrated not to fall under his criticisms? At no point in this book have I felt like my own beliefs have been reflected in his criticisms. Perhaps I am more influenced by modernism and rationalism than I care to admit, but in either case he has grouped all religions together, and these things must be done with more care.
My second thought is surprise that Hitchens experiences so much moral revulsion. In fact, I can honestly say that virtually every single page of this book is a series of consecutive moral judgments upon different religious systems. Certainly he is angry at the Catholic church's cover-ups of abuse, as we all are, but given what set of morality? From where did he get this system of moral values? And is it objective, such that he can actually say that, regardless the society, child sexual abuse or circumcising infant boys (he argues that circumcision is abusive) is always wrong? My suspicion is that in the end, Hitchens' morality reduces to relative conventions. But I'm only four chapters in, so maybe he'll surprise me.
Hitchens' revulsion is a great example of the Christian claim that everybody stands on the solid ground which is accounted for in the Christian worldview. Only the Christian worldview can account for all the transcendentals which underly logic, morality, induction, etc. Hitchens isn't immoral, he just can't adequately account for why he is moral while remaining consistent with his larger worldview commitments.
I'm not going to call this a series, but I will probably be periodically writing about my thoughts on this book, because I am going to continue reading it, and I know I'll share more thoughts as they come. Also, it's a little embarassing to think that Hitchens has a new book on the way, and I'm just now getting around to reading this one, which everybody else and their dog has already read. Nevertheless, I press on.