Humanism Ireland • No 110 • May-June 2008

The Portable Atheist
Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, ed. Christopher Hitchens, 2007 • Da Capo Press • £10.99

William Harwood

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READING OF hostile reviews and comments of books disproving religion by Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins leaves no reasonable doubt that the writers of such alleged rebuttals are not sparking on all neurons. There are four kinds of godworshippers: the stupid, the ignorant, the insane, and the intestinally challenged. No one who has read any of the foregoing authors can continue to plead ignorance. Godworship survives and thrives by the promulgation of Big Lies. There is the Big Lie that a god exists and has revealed its existence, even though all such claims have been traced to the same Tanakh, Bible and Koran that also assure their readers that the earth is flat. There is the Big Lie that religion has, historically, done more good than harm, even though it has been the cause of ninety percent of all manmade evil for at least 3,000 years. There is also the Big Lie that many prominent nontheists have converted to religion on their deathbeds. One sixth of the human race, meaning one quarter of all believers, are so terrified of the inevitability of death that, without the mind-deadening opiate of an afterlife belief, they would have to be institutionalized and diapered. Since they are convinced that terror of the Christian Hell would compel them to become believers if they were not already brainwashed, they project their pathological cowardice onto the educated, and pretend that nontheists must also react to imminent death by turning to Mother Goose (or equivalent) in the sky. Hitchens makes clear that such stories about Charles Darwin are unmitigated lies. Similar lies have been perpetrated about Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein.

Not all of the authors Christopher Hitchens brings together in The Portable Atheist agree with all of the foregoing. Some argue that the sane, intelligent and educated should say nothing to offend that nice Mr. God, much the way Americans in 1940 and 1941 considered it politically incorrect to offend that nice Mr. Hitler. Some think the Western World should have caved in to Muslim demands that the democracies criminalise free speech and refuse to allow Mohammad to be subjected to the same satire and ridicule that is considered acceptable when its target is Jesus or Moses. Presumably, since they want to emulate Neville Chamberlain, they think that his policy of appeasing an earlier terrorist was the prudent thing to do. In response to nontheists who “have relinquished belief only with regret,” Hitchens asks (p. xxii), “who wishes that there was a permanent, unalterable celestial despotism that subjected us to continual surveillance and could convict us of thought-crime, and who regarded us as its private property even after we died? How happy we ought to be at the reflection that there exists not a shred of respectable evidence to support such a horrible hypothesis.” An early satirical questioning of the logic and sanity of religion can be found in the Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám: “Did God set grapes a-growing, do you think, And at the same time make it a sin to drink?” John Stuart Mill lived at a time when admitting irreligious views was so dangerous that his essays on the subject were not published until after his death. Among his observations (p. 59): “Such is the facility with which mankind believe at one and the same time things inconsistent with one another … that multitudes have held the undoubting belief in an Omnipotent Author of Hell, and have nevertheless identified that being with the best conception that they were able to form of perfect goodness.” From Mark Twain (p.116): “There is much inconsistency concerning the fly. In all the ages he has not had a friend, there

has never been a person in the earth who could have been persuaded to intervene between him and extermination: yet billions of persons have excused the Hand that made him – and this without a blush. Would they have excused a Man in the same circumstances, a man positively known to have invented the fly? On the contrary”. Albert Einstein (p.155): “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.” Bertrand Russell (p.184): “If ‘Sin’ consisted of causing needless suffering, I could understand; but on the contrary, sin often consists of avoiding needless suffering.” Carl Sagan (p.231): “If we say that God made the universe, it is reasonable to then ask, 'And who made God?'” Charles Templeton (p.286): “The Bible says that ‘the Lord thy God is a jealous God.' But if you are omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, and creator of all that exists, of whom could you possibly be jealous?” Richard Dawkins (p.305): “The four doomed flights of September 11, 2001, were Gerin Oil [anagram of religion trips: all nineteen of the hijackers were high on the drug at the time.” After listing the names of 138 gods, H. L. Mencken wrote (pp. 144-146), “All were theoretically omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. And all are dead.” Among more than forty other writers excerpted are Charles Darwin, Daniel C. Dennett, Sam Harris, Penn Jillette, Karl Marx, Salmon Rushdie, Michael Shermer, and Victor Stenger. Every chapter in this book is a powerful argument for the imbecility of religion. The downside is that the arguments are comprehensible only to readers who are sane. And the one thing the Soviet Union ever got right was its recognition that incurable godworshippers are not sane.

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