The charge of (literary) elitism: Hitchen’s on God is not Great

I have been reading Christopher Hitchens’ popular book, God is Not Great. I must say, that I quite thoroughly enjoyed the book and thought that there are some particular strengths of it which may be construed as weaknesses, depending on the nature of the reader. This led me to have a certain realisation. Hitchens writes, perhaps, in a way that presumes too much of the reader. This is not a work written for accessibility, or in other words, it presumes a certain level of readingand educ ation, as well as, oddly enough, a knowledge of pop culture.

I find it quite odd how some books I think that few of my immediate peers would actually be able to understand certain references. I recently read Anderson’s ‘Free’, and in that, there are a lot of references to social networking, open source initiatives and bascially, very geeky things like google reader that most people will be baffled about.

Regarding the case of Hitchens, I think a more serious case can be made. I feel that it excludes a certain kind of reader, and I feel that, if a reader has already accomplished tasks like reading Hume, one really doesn’t need to read why ‘God is Not Great’. In other words, the aim of the book is to not preach to the ‘converted’, but convince a non-antitheist audience.

I have a certain fear of this book, that it is parasitic on other arguments and works. However, another take on this is that Hitchens knows the ‘other side’, namely, the arguments of his opponents, and he knows his Biblical exegesis quite well. I find a lot in common in my intellectual and literary sentiment. The namedropping involved in Hitchen’s book is part of his eccentric writing style and, given that he is not an academic but a journalistic writer, it is more a sign of pride than self-indulgence.

I find it unfortunate that Hitchen’s critics attack on the basis of ad-hominem. Hitchens does not deserve this, especially because there are lots of elements in his book that are unique, non-parasitic and signify that he is not trynig to be exclusive in rallying out old arguments and rehash. Hitchens, for instance, talks of his contact with the Sai Baba cult and how he is recognised as a minor prophet by Sai Baba followers (this is a particularly sad story, yet funny and disturbing at the same time). Hitchens also, through his journalistic pursuits has an interesting story about Mother Theresa which says more about the people trying to beatify her than any kind of religious insight whatsoever.

I did some homework on Hitchen’s bgraphy and it looks like any ignorant reader would find it easy to make an ad-hominem argument against him. Hitchen’s was part of a Trotskyist group and a writer for a socialist publication, and then he is later associated with having ‘far right’ views, like the support of the Iraqi invasion (which is quite an interesting perspective on the issue). I find myself quite liking Mr. Hitchens, and the fact that he is terribly knowledgeable for a man who wrote for Vanity Fair.


One thought on “The charge of (literary) elitism: Hitchen’s on God is not Great

  1. Interesting to hear a positive spin on Hitchens… I myself have been less impressed with him. I found his attack on Mother Theresa, which was published in Newsweek, to show a shocking lack of understanding for the life experience of believers, confusing doubt for disbelief. I was horrified at his suggestion that it was “a pleasure” to murder Muslims (albeit terrorists). On the whole, I have taken quite a dislike to the man, which has helped me get over my issues with Dawkins, who seems merely naive in comparison.

    But these days I have settled into a comfortable space whereby atheistic evangelism is simply amusing, rather than causing me to get angry. As someone who was bullied by atheists at school I have always had difficulty with people who are trying to convince me that atheism is a superior way of life to other religious positions, but now at least I enjoy the irony. 🙂

    What modern atheism needs, and soundly lacks, is a proponent who can proselytise atheism on its strengths (does it have any?) and not by attacking religious belief. If the argument *for* atheism is merely the arguments *against* other religions, then atheism would seem to have less to offer than agnosticism, which avoids all the extreme belief systems equally.

    (In this regard, let’s not forget that prior to the September 11th terrorist attacks, the majority of suicide bombers were atheists – specifically, members of the Marxist-influenced Tamil Tigers, who pioneered the concept of suicide bombing. This doesn’t mean that every atheist is a terrorist, but it does show that any belief system can be dangerous when it is allowed to become fanatical).

    On the whole, I see in Hitchens a demagogue making money from hate-mongering and disrespect of other people’s belief systems. This, to some extent, is the image he has cultivated for himself, and has subsequently profited from. With this in mind, it’s certainly interesting to hear that ‘God Is Not Great’ is a good read. I doubt I will give it a go, but I appreciate getting a different perspective on the man all the same.


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