Christopher Hitchens doubts that God exists. Actually, that’s a huge understatement. Hitchens, a noted journalist and literary critic, positively disbelieves in the existence of God. And he wants to disbelieve. On a television talk show, Hitchens told NBC journalist Tim Russert that he doesn’t believe in God because he thinks there is no evidence for it, but then went on to say:
And I don’t want it to be the case, that there is a divine superintending celestial dictatorship from which I could never escape and that abolishes my private life . . . that would supervise me, keep me under surveillance in every moment of my living existence. And then, when I died, it would be like living in a heavenly North Korea where one’s only duty was to continue to abase oneself and to thank forever the dear leader for everything that we are and have.
Hitchens does not believe and says straight out that he doesn’t want to believe in God—because he doesn’t want to live under a scrutinizing divine dictatorship. But who would want to believe in a graceless, loveless, arbitrary God? Hitchens rejects a God or an idea of God that ought to be rejected.
His book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything got everybody’s attention as soon as it was published. Hitchens may not believe in a great God, but he has profited immensely from writing a bestseller about the non-existence of a great God. The book is disbelief written in language that is as big and as blunt as can be. The title says it all. It’s not that Hitchens, a thoughtful and articulate person, is incapable of nuance. But this book is so extreme that it’s hard to take his main point seriously. Anyone with half a brain would have to admit that sometimes religion poisons things—but only if it is a variety that is poisonous. It’s hardly fair to take torture in the Inquisition, radical Islamic jihad and fringe practices of ultra-orthodox Jews and say, “This is where religion will get you; this is what it is all about.” It isn’t logical or reasonable. Atheism is Hitchens’s chosen commitment—but while he may point out that many atheists and rationalists are well-behaved, he should not ignore the cruelties of the atheistic regimes of Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler. A logical interpretation of history dictates that you cannot judge Christianity (or other religions) based on their worst-case manifestations—and you cannot take some examples of good-natured, well-meaning atheists as an endorsement of the complete rejection of God.