Monday, June 11, 2007

Book Club Review: God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens


After missing last month's meeting, I made it to this one for a very lively discussion of Christopher Hitchens' latest book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Read about it on Wikipedia here:

There is no shortage of commentary on Amazon or anywhere else about this book, so I need not recount its basic premise. It is the most recent in a series of critiques of religion in the line of works by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Victor Stenger.

What original can I say about this book? I suppose not much. I am not in Hitchens' "target audience" in that I am not a religious believer, so there was no hope in making me question my own faith. Yet, I couldn't see how a religious person would be motivated to read this book.

I appreciate the conscious-raising that outspoken atheists are doing right now, yet I feel like the term "atheism" is meaningless. Everyone is an atheist with respect to Zeus. Well, Mr. Deity believes in Zeus, but besides him, we are all atheistic regarding some particular "god". It makes no sense to broaden the question by expanding the definition of "god" to be a "higher power" or "a supreme intelligence", because you always run into the same questions that result in an infinite regress.

While nothing in this book strikes me as startling or new to my mind, he made some observations about the ascendancy of Islam and how it has yet to undergo a major "reformation", which is of course common knowledge, but he also brings up Karen Armstrong's A History of God and her assessment of Islam's place in history as the last of the "revealed" religions and how it could be seen as restoring confidence to Arabs who may have felt that revelation had come to the Christians and the Jews, but not yet to them.

Hitchens said that Mohammed was prone to getting revelations at opportune times, and one of the club members tonight mentioned the "God center of the brain", which made me think of V.S. Ramachandran's work with temporal lobe seizures and how his work was mischaracterized by the press as providing evidence for a "God center".

In the following two video clips, Ramachandran speaks with a patient with brain damage who begins to have extreme religious feelings and cosmic feelings of unity with all things, seeing even a grain of sand as important as his father standing next to him. He even harassed his neighbors by proclaiming himself to be God!

Dr. Ramachandran has done some amazing work with patients with brain damage. Visit Ramachandran's Notebook to learn more about his work and how he has helped many people with his creative thinking and problem solving skills: 

What is very interesting in this first video is about how the young man feels a lot of pain over very distant events and wrongs to other people.

Related Recent Books:

Daniel Dennett:

Sam Harris:

Richard Dawkins:

Victor Stenger:

Other Related Books:

Karen Armstrong:

V.S. Ramachandran:

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