Dennett on Hitchens

Daniel C. Dennett reviews God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, in the Boston Globe:

Hitchens_narrowweb__200x247Hitchens is an equal – opportunity embarrasser. “If Jesus could heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness?” He recounts the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as a handy bit of recent (1851) “reverse-engineering” to deflect attention from some awkward conflicts in the Gospels’ accounts of her life, and her Assumption as an even more recent bit of tinkering (finalized in 1951). The Mormons’ Joseph Smith comes in for some uncomfortable exposure, but so do Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and even the Dalai Lama. Must we really be so mean as to pull these heroes from their pedestals? Why not let them continue to grow in mythic stature, as fine examples for us all? Because, Hitchens insists, religion poisons everything. Does it really? Hitchens makes no attempt to give an evenhanded survey of both the sins and the good deeds of religion. We have been told countless times about the goodness of religion; he gives the case for the prosecution.

Daniel_dennett_2At their best, his indictments are trenchant and witty, and the book is a treasure house of zingers worthy of Mark Twain or H. L. Mencken. At other times, his impatience with the smug denial of the self-righteous gets the better of him, and then he strikes glancing blows at best, and occasionally adopts a double standard, excusing his naturalist heroes for their few lapses into religious gullibility on the grounds that they couldn’t have known any better at the time, while leaving no such wiggle room for the defenders of religion over the ages. But these excesses are themselves a valuable element of this wake-up call. They say to every complacent but ignorant churchgoer: look how angry this well-informed critic of religion is. Perhaps when you know what he has uncovered about the words and deeds of religions around the world you will share his sense of betrayal of what is best in humankind.

More here.