Hitchens is not so great, either

There is no doubt Christopher Hitchens’s latest book God is Not Great: How religion poisons everything is a beautifully written and forcefully argued polemic against the evils of organised religion. And Hitchens is much more balanced and accommodating than Richard Dawkins’s rigid and absolute (dare I say religious?) hatred of any form of faith.

But it didn’t take long for my faith in Hitchens to be shattered. In chapter four, A Note on Health, to Which Religion Can Be Hazardous, listing a variety of forms of sexual repression in organised religion, he says:

Orthodox Jews conduct congress by means of a hole in the sheet . . .

Uh. No they don’t, Chris. That’s a myth. And ten seconds of basic research on the intertubes would have at least cast sufficient doubt in the mind of a supreme rationalist about the veracity of that claim.

OK, a minor point to be sure. But if he’s completely, verifiably and carelessly wrong about such a basic fact – one which I am very familiar with – I have to wonder how many other points in the book – of which I know less – might also be wrong, distorted or lazily, sloppily generalised.

Which, I’m afraid, makes it very hard to believe . . .

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8 thoughts on “Hitchens is not so great, either

  1. i fail to see the target audience of these books. people who are atheist won’t find it interesting, because they don’t belive in god already. and it’s hardly going to convince otherwise religious people that there is no god. for that you’d need a miracle. in fact, the only way that religious people are going to be convinced there is no god is if god himself came down and said “there is no me”. so the target audience is… those who like to say other people are wrong, and conversely, like to believe they are right, and we’re back to belief again.

  2. the most fucked part of science is that it predicts miracles can occur (search for quantum theory miracles), which (for me) somewhat defeats the purpose of scientific objectivity.

  3. Actually there are many target audiences for such books, which is why they are selling well. Despite embarrassing bloopers like this one about the Orthodox marital sheets, such books are desperately needed. In my youth, we had to rely on Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian to rally the faithless and put doubt into the minds of the faithful. I think the current batch of varied “New Atheist” books by Dawkins, Harris, Onfray, etc., is a healthy development.

  4. Yes, Hitchens was wrong about the Orthodox Chosen People humping through a hole in a sheet, but he was right about some shmuck in New York City who circumcizes babies and then sucks their penises. Such perversity makes a holy holely hump appear mild by comparison. And then there are those always fun clitoridectomies, performed because of some sadistic, nonsensical religious traditions. (Come to think of it, ALL religious traditions are pretty silly. Eat the flesh of God and drink his blood–oh yeah, THAT’S really civilized. Cannibalism, anyone?)

    Good on Hitchens and good on atheism!

  5. I realise I’m posting a comment to a four-year-old post but I just saw a great Curb Your Enthusiasm episode about orthodox Jews having sex through holes in a sheet (the episode involved Larry turning up to an orthodox Jewish girl’s house with a sheet that had a hole in it, only to be told off by the girl). I have to say, I think the practice has its merits …

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