by Christopher Hitchens
I was reading an Attwood but I left it in a cafe. Alice with the beautiful eyes who ran the cafe tried to drop it in that night but I wasn’t home. Then she moved to Adelaide. But, she left it with a bloke called Phil who kept forgetting to bring it to me and in the end it took three weeks to finally get my hands back on it (from a German backpacker called Mika who took Phil’s room when he moved to Cairns). In the meantime I had started reading a Saramago but I went into Melbourne for a weekend and forgot to take it with me so in Melbourne I started reading The Road by McCarthy but then I lost that book (found it under the car seat a week later) and in the meantime had started reading this book which I now review. I try to do one thing at a time but I consistently do four things at a time and do them all terribly.
This is a terrific book but it was totally wasted on me because I’m already an atheist. It’s the religious that need to read it, not me. I spent most of the book saying, “Yeah, that’s right!” and, “You tell ‘em Hitchy!” But he was preaching to the converted...
It did make me reflect on my own atheism though. Hitchy was able to pin-point the moment he became an atheist. I can’t. I grew up on Greek mythology and Enid Blyton and looking back, even at a very young age, say, 7 or 8, I couldn’t differentiate between myth, fiction and religion. It was all just good yarns in my child’s mind. I still remember the bloke coming to teach us Religious Instruction at Generic High in the suburbs of Melbourne. He was kind, and told some terrific stories about Jesus and I was fascinated with the crucifixion but never at any point did I consider the resurrection, for example, to be fact. I enjoyed the story, period.
To this day I don’t understand why religion persists to exist. I want the stories to remain – Genesis alone is a ripper (see my earlier review) – but I want them filed in the ‘mythology’ sections of Readings. It’s what they are. As Hitchens says rather simply and powerfully, (paraphrasing)‘Philosophy has replaced religion, just as astronomy has replaced astrology’.
It is a very even book. It covers every possible argument against the notion that God is not great, and he presents his argument intelligently and patiently. The patience itself is commendable.
Hitchens also provided two fine anecdotes which help me to explain my own atheism.
The first concerns the astronomer Laplace (1749-1827) who made a working model of the solar system, known as an ortery. The Emperor studied the ortery and asked Laplace why God was not represented, to which Laplace replied, “It works well enough without God.”
I liked this anecdote because it sums up my life. I work fine without God, without the belief in God, without a belief in any omnipotent force whether that be a deity or the Gluten Gods* that the new-age wankers present to me, like ‘the cosmos’. My life is fine without belief in an after-life or a previous life, star-signs, judgement, colour-therapy, psychics, tarot, heaven, hell, priests, fate, destiny, creation and souls. I get my transcendental states out of great art, great rooting and great all-round living. I like life. I love it. God, if he existed, would muddy my experience, as would the thought that there may be a heaven. If there was a heaven I would kill myself to get there and if there was a hell awaiting me because I killed myself, even though I’ve lived on just about every measurable level a pious life, then religion is a sham.
Nope, this it it. This life, it’s all I’ve got. Just one shot at it. The resurrection is waking up in the morning and immortality is having babies (mental note: cut hole in condom next time I get a root).
But it’s not just that I don’t believe in God, it’s that I know he doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s why I’m at peace with my life.
Hitchens also brings up a thought that I have often brought up to lapsed-religious people. I can’t find it in the book (I should remember to put markers in) but paraphrasing: Do religious people actually believe? He conceded they may believe in their belief, but do they actually believe there is a God?
If pushed, if cornered, if forced to answer honestly, I reckon 99% would say ‘no’, and they they need to read this book. I give it a B.
*Gluten God, also known as 'I Can't Believe It's Not God!' I've had countless arguments with hippies and new-agers about their beliefs in star signs and fate - fate, in particular. "It was meant to happen," they say, and I accuse them of being Christians in disguise which angers them greatly because they don't identify with any religious movement, and yet all their new-age beliefs are religious. Just like their gluten-steaks, they have a Gluten God. I made that term up. You may use it.