May 13, 2007

Jottings on Hitchens' new book

Yesterday, while sitting in a Seattle Starbucks at 6 a.m. their time (9 a.m. mine), I finished reading God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens. It's a powerful book, worthy of the attention of believers, agnostics and nonbelievers alike. A few things, still back of the envelope, that occur to me:

1) The reader will find few (if any) qualifications noting that organized religions, through their organizations, can do good as well as evil, and have on some occasions actually done so. I may misunderstand Hitchens somewhat, but if I do understand him, I think the one qualification he offers is sufficient: The good done by religious organizations is properly credited to the humanity of those running them, and not to any religious creed. Some NFL players do charitable work, but from that one can't conclude that football is a charitable game.

2) Hitchens notes something that I've been persuaded of for some time: That the religious scriptures we have are uniformly wrong about the universe they describe, contain stories for which there is no corroborating archaeological or historical evidence (when there should be--for example, Egyptian references to a Jewish exodus or slave revolt; artifacts left by the Israelites while crossing the Sinai), and appear to have been written for a particular people in a particular era, and not as universal texts have applicability thousands of years into the future. (This explains the demand for theology: Imagine a religion whose texts consisted of a few Times editorials, a policy paper from Brookings on Urban Planning, a campaign platform for a Cincinnati city councilman. Giving them some kind of intellectual coherence once they're removed from their initial purpose -- polemical documents aimed at a specific audience at a specific time -- requires a good deal of intellectual effort.)

3) There is a problem which I find rather difficult to think about, which Hitchens actually does touch on in his introduction to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. First, let me note an early, paleo ideofact post in which I expressed some skepticism on this subject, the notion that demography is destiny (as Mark Steyn sometimes says). Simply put: does natural selection favor a culture in which it is expected that women have no rights, that their fathers marry them off at the earliest possible moment to harness their reproductive potential as soon as possible, producing more boys accustomed to the inferior position of their mothers and more girls with no hope of a better life -- the system held in place by the unalterable word of God himself? Or does it favor a culture in which the pursuit of individual economic, social and other goals by both men and women take precedence, where reproduction is deferred until other goals are met, in which fewer children are born?

Religions are all phony, but perhaps the advantages they offer -- from Islam to Mormonism, from Hinduism to Catholicism -- have to do with their superior capacity to harness the female womb for the productive work of creating more adherents.

Posted by Ideofact at May 13, 2007 11:25 PM