The Internet has been flooded with obituaries to Christopher Hitchens today, since the news of his death. One of the so-called ‘New Atheists’, his book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, upset lots of religious people and delighted many fellow atheists. True, he was exceptioanally gifted with the written and spoken word (there are some examples in the Guardian), and wrote lots of thought-provoking copy for Vanity Fair, among other publications, but I wasn’t a fan, especially because he thought that invading Iraq was a good idea, regardless of the consequences – who were mostly civilian.
If an easy target like Christianity could be destroyed solely with words, Christopher could have done it. However, the main effect of his witty attacks on religion was to delight other atheists, not to persuade believers of the error of their ways. It’s untrue that “religion poisons everything”. That’s far too simplistic and ignores the many examples of good things that religious people have done. Philanthropists like Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker, achieved social reform long before the introduction of the Welfare State, for example, and religious people still do good without evangelising or proselytising.
Mary Warnock, interviewed by Laurie Taylor in New Humanist, said,
I find Dawkins’ simple-minded view of religion very difficult to take. It pays no proper attention to the history and tradition of religion. It says that religions have done nothing but harm but that is manifestly not true. He omits all the good things, the education, the cathedrals, the music. All that’s disregarded.
Maybe Hitchens wasn’t simple-minded, but he was guilty of the same error. Babies and bathwater?