My life, like a lot of others, is not made up of epiphanies. It’s the continual presence of small, evolving thoughts that make the biggest changes in my perspective, rather than the cataclysmic breaks from ideology. I couldn’t tell you when I first learned about evolution, though my current interest and study is clearly the result of some early interest piqued and nurtured. Nor could I pinpoint the moment I broke my covenant with God (an agreement made by others for me, before I was able to make it). It was too gradual to know when I finally parted ways with the Catholic Church.
I used to envy those with faith, thinking that by lacking it I was lacking something else far more important (turns out maybe I just don’t have the ‘god gene’). But over the years I’ve become more comfortable letting that (Catholic) guilt go. Ultimately I’ve realized that by being an unbeliever I haven’t missed out on anything and in many ways it’s kept me above (or below or around) the fray. When the Church scandals came out I was able to feel the simple human emotions of revulsion and anger instead of loss and betrayal.
There is a stigma with admitting to atheism. People react as if you just admitted you don’t like you grandmother (personal experience talking here). There is an intense pressure to explain yourself, to say what you do believe in, as if people fear that a flood or burning bush or lightening may strike you down and they might get caught in the divine punishment cross fire.
Though I never knew who Mr. Hitchens was before this book, and I’ve learned a lot about him since I’ve begun reading it (much of which I disagree with), the words that originally hooked me still ring true:
“And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.”
There’s an atheist manifesto if there ever was one – a drop of solidarity in the sea of disparity.
But Mr. Hitchens holds no punches here. He’s not after a glowing, hand holding sing along of atheists. Religion poisons everything, he asserts. Again and again and again. His examples are filled with more political intrigue that I’ve ever seen – everything from Salman Rushdie to circumcision. I must admit I didn’t follow half of what he was talking about (particularly when he delved into Middle East politics), since Mr. Hitchens has an annoying and arrogant habit of assuming his readers know as much as he does (he doesn’t deign to stop and explain anything, though he does translate foreign phrases for you.). He might say that such awareness is a sign of my intelligence. Or he may say I’m a brainless, ignorant dolt.
This book made the best seller list, which surprises me, but probably shouldn’t. Many of those buyers are surely Hitchens’ enemies checking out his latest tirade and readying their own rebuttals (to which Hitchens would likely say – the whole world is your rebuttal). Clearly this isn’t a book you nod kindly about with your fellow passengers on the subway. I’m sure some people, like me were looking for a book on atheism, when really this is a book about anti-theism. And some people are looking for the dirty parts (to steal one of Hitchens own examples – that of old ladies reading a new dictionary to find the dirty words – or lack thereof).
Because to paraphrase Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, who summed up Hitchens argument quick nicely.
“It’s the lack of fucking isn’t it?”