Saturday, September 8, 2007

God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens, And 2 Cents.

I've been reading Christopher Hitchens latest work, God Is Not Great, and thought I'd share my own perspective on the work so far. I went out and bought his book after watching a debate between himself and Al Sharpton over it. What immediately struck me about Christopher's stance was just how limited it actually is. I mean, don't get me wrong, it is wildly entertaining to hear someone tear down institutionalized religion. And I do indeed side with Christopher, 100 percent, on what I would consider the painfully obvious, religion's presently needless existence and its destructive nature, but the inquiry into what is true seems to stop there for Mr. Hitchens. Now what? His book relies heavily on his own accumulated knowledge and the knowledge of those before him, particularly in the science and humanities departments. Knowledge is obviously his weapon of choice, and it is an excellent one, as far as it goes. And although he believes the world would be better off without religion, I concur, he seems to admit we will probably not live to see that day. Fair enough.

Furthermore, he has definitely done his research and systematically drives his point home with example after example of each particular religions failures, oversights, shortcomings, brutality, and downright lies. But do we really need a 300 page book to point out the obvious? And this really brings me to one of my main points, although highly entertaining his view takes the reader no where. "God is not great," agreed. "Religion poisons everything," why yes, it does. And...? Maybe the book is written for those who continue to refer to the dark ages of their mind for guidance and light but what about those who see through religion as easily as seeing through a perfectly polished glass window? This work seems to take the first step, the easiest step, and then takes a break. I'd like to pick up, if I may, where I feel Mr. Hitchens has 'taken a break.'

First of all, maybe Christopher's intention is only to entertain, get people talking around the water cooler. Who am I to judge. But if he intends to give us more than mere entertainment he has failed, in my humble opinion, to do so. Although he does a great job in dictating what religion is and is not, he doesn't seem to grasp how most of the 4.8 billion or so religious people on this planet today would not perceive themselves as relating to their religion, much less God, in the way he has presented it. Now, I am by no means defending these people, simply pointing out a phenomena that is far more significant and interesting than anything Christopher points out in his diatribe on religion. That is the ability for an individual to seemingly separate themselves from anything, including an aspect of themselves or their own, long held to, belief. For example, a Catholic can still call themselves a Catholic, feel as if they are a Catholic, see the world through Catholic eyes, and yet not adhere to the way Christopher portrays Catholicism. Right? I could simply say, 'yes, some Catholics are that way, but not me, I'm this way.' So, you see what happens? Instead of dropping Catholicism, I simply create an artificial divide in my own mind and remain Catholic. I suppose many have done just that while reading his book, if they have, in fact, read it. So, this internal separating mechanism highlights a still further shortcoming of Christopher's view, that there is an objective world that isn't influenced by me, the subject. He seems to almost imply that if someone were to drop their belief in God they would see the same world he currently sees. Never mind the fact that he, himself, views the world through the filter of his very own acquired knowledge of it. This idea in an objective world that each individual would join once the poison of religion was excreted from their veins is just more of the same fairy tale thinking that religion is built upon. The way you see depends upon the knowledge you look through. The knowledge you hold influences the way you perceive and, therefore, what you perceive. There's no actual division between the subject and object.

Instead of directly seeing and inquiring into the subject/object relationship, whose foundation is belief itself, all belief, including, in part, his own 'non-belief,' Christopher bases his entire book solely on an object of many peoples particular belief, religion. Concentrating on the object of belief creates a blindness to the movement of belief itself, as well as the subject who believes, both being far more significant and powerful than any particular object itself. I like how he attempts to sidestep his own involvement by stating on page 5 of his book that he and his co-thinker's "belief is not a belief." Really? Maybe not in the way he is narrowly defining belief but when you look at these human issues from a broader perspective his stance is most certainly a belief. This stance depends upon the knowledge he has stored in his brain. Knowledge strengthens the belief in a separate subject independent of the objectified world around it. You, therefore, begin to think the way you see is right and the way someone else sees is wrong, for you belief the knowledge you are privy to has no relationship with the way you perceive the world. In other words, you believe the world is objectively "there" and you are subjectively "here" and the information in your head only informs you about that "objective" world, but doesn't influence it. Is this so? Have you looked into it Mr. Hitchens? Science has. Science quite clearly states that the observer of an experiment effects the observed experiment, and I know you know that. But you do not seem to apply that fact when it concerns the relationship between the one who beliefs (observer) and the world their belief takes shape within (observed). If you did you would naturally see a far more fundamental truth than any you put forth in your book. The poison runs far deeper than any particular form it takes.

In other words, you're naturally overlooking the fact that belief itself distorts the brains ability to function clearly and therefore it only makes sense that one would have to discover the nature and movement of belief, within themselves, in order to be free of distortion and disease. If not, you are simply adding knowledge to a pile of already accumulated knowledge that contradicts the knowledge that came before. This process creates no lasting change except increased conflict and defensive reaction within the recipient. In other words, all the knowledge in the world does not penetrate the organizing principle of knowledge itself, which is belief. But, then again, maybe you have just transferred your faith in God to a faith in knowledge and therefore must defend it and ignore all less in order to remain the identified somebody you believe yourself to be.

One must put down the battle between beliefs in order to pick up the inquiry into the nature of belief itself. Part of that nature of belief is the ability to separate oneself from any threat. Like I stated earlier, if I'm Catholic and you threaten Catholicism, I simply separate myself, my belief, from the Catholicism you define. But I don't change!!! And so, like I said, if your intention is to entertain, you have done so, splendidly. And I enjoy your entertaining knowledge on the nature of the religious belief. But if your intention is to have some greater effect I'm afraid you have not gone far enough yourself for that. You must dive deep into the mechanics of the self-serving brain that seeks security through manufacturing belief in order to touch such possibility as radical change. I would never deny that you may have had a breakthrough insight when you were young concerning the nature of God and religion. That it was all made-up, all man-made, self-created from the infancy of a frightened species, but your reliance on the knowledge you've acquired to expose this myth has actually hardened the cause of the myth-making machine itself. I'd love to have an ongoing discussion with you about such matters, but I'm afraid I will have to resort to writing more about you, your book, and this subject matter on my own. I thank you, however, for the near endless fuel supply.