Not long ago, I watched a couple of those "How The Universe Works" shows, and it kinda traumatized me. In however many billions of years, the sun is going to die, and slightly before that the Earth will be incinerated, and everything that we are, were, will be, and will have built will cease to exist. I can comprehend that. Earth's only one part of a solar system in a tiny part of one galaxy of hundreds of billions of galaxies that exist in the vastness of the universe.
See? I know that someday (thankfully not very soon), Earth is a goner. But what's hard for me to comprehend is that eventually, the rest of the universe will end too. That's just mind-boggling to me. That something so vast, and so seemingly infinite, can just end
... well, it makes me almost wish that there was something more, to almost want to have faith that there is some sort of creator who set all of this in place and then breathed life into it, and who has a plan and a purpose for what it will eventually become, rather than there being nothing but a ticking clock until the end of everything.
Almost, because it's sometimes comforting in the face of the end of all existence.
But I don't. Even if I DID have that faith, that would be all. I could never be religious, because I don't believe in religion. And that is the crux of this book for me.
A little anecdote before I continue: A couple weeks ago, The Boy's family came to stay with us for a few days to visit. They are religiousy, grace-before-dinner (heh, almost typo'd 'sinner' there), "God has a plan" types, who give God credit for everything. They hit all green lights driving through town? God was with them, etc. I try not to get sucked into conversations about religion with The Boy's grandma, because she's a sweet lady who just can't see things being other than how she sees them, and she believes that she's only trying to help me "find God". I know she wouldn't understand my lack of desire to have anything to do with religion, so I just avoid the topic altogether whenever possible.
The last day of their visit, the inevitable happened and she cornered me while I was making dinner:
Her: "So, have you found a church yet?"
Me: "Umm, no... OhIhavetocheckthefoodnow... *mumblemumble*"
Her: "Oh, well you'll find one... you just have to keep trying! You know, you'd really like my church. It's the biggest in the area. We have to drive 45 minutes to get there, but I really like it because it's got gold on the windowsills and they've got their own TV and radio stations and..." (I zoned out around this point, just holding up my end of the conversation by muttering "Oh?" and "That's nice..." every time she stopped for air.)
Then: "So, why don't you go to church?"
"Oh, well... I don't believe in organized religion."
Her: "Oh, you mean like those Catholics? They are always standing and sitting and chanting at just the right times! They are really organized!"
Me: O_o "Yeahhhhh... that's not exactly the kind of 'organized' I meant..."
Hitchens' point, as the sub-title indicates, is that RELIGION poisons everything. Simply put, it's a pissing contest, winner decided by headcount (or body count, as the case may be), between groups who are each claiming that THEIRS is the Right and One True Religion... and thus intolerance and hatred and fear is born. Religions tell people that they are going to spend eternity in suffering unless they Follow The Rules... when The Rules themselves can cause immense suffering in people, from fear of eternal damnation, to circumcision (both male and female), to homophobic violence, to genocide, just to name a few. Seems like a lose/lose to me.
Organized religion seeks (and too often succeeds) to exert control over people's thoughts and behavior, imposing standards of purity that are nearly impossible to attain, even in the most pious believer. But more than that, they also insert themselves into politics, seeking to impose their particular brand of 'morality' on everyone, which inevitably leads to human rights violations and less freedom for people of all beliefs.
Religion spawns creatures of such vile ugliness and pure evil that I can't even comprehend them... And that's just the Westboro Baptist Church.
Ahh, such wholesome, joyful hatred.
I agreed with much of what Hitchens said in this book on the subject of religion, because I do think that can be toxic, but we actually differ on the faith aspect. I felt uncomfortable with some of his attitudes toward people who believe in God/Allah/Buddha/Krishna/etc, resorting to dismissive name-calling several times. I realize that this is a fine line for me to walk, because religion and faith/belief are tied so closely together. But I feel like faith/belief in and of itself is not a bad thing, nor does it make the person who holds it stupid or naive or less worthy of respect. I have no problem with faith, or belief in any God, whatever they may be called. That is an individual's decision and it's personal to them. I make no claims of knowing there is NOT a God, so I cannot say anyone who believes in one is wrong.
My issue is when faith is bound up in religion as an institution that uses it as a method of control and intolerance. That is when I feel that a line is crossed, and in my opinion, the result is far more harm than good, if viewed in large-scale terms.