An Excerpt from Hitchens’s The Portable Atheist

America’s new village atheist in USA Today:

Arguments for atheism can be divided into two main categories: those that dispute the existence of god and those that demonstrate the ill effects of religion. It might be better if I broadened this somewhat, and said those that dispute the existence of an intervening god. Religion is, after all, more than the belief in a supreme being. It is the cult of that supreme being and the belief that his or her wishes have been made known or can be determined. Defining matters in this way, I can allow myself to mention great critics such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, who perhaps paradoxically regarded religion as an insult to god. And sooner or later, one must take a position on agnosticism. This word has not been with us for very long—it was coined by the great Thomas Huxley, one of Darwin’s stalwart defenders in the original argument over natural selection. It is sometimes used as a half-way house by those who cannot make a profession of faith but are unwilling to repudiate either religion or god absolutely. Since, once again, I am defining as religious those who claim to know, I feel I can lay claim to some at least of those who do not claim to know. An agnostic does not believe in god, or disbelieve in him. Non-belief is not quite unbelief, but I shall press it into service and annex as many agnostics as I can for this collection.

Authors as diverse as Matthew Arnold and George Orwell have given thought to the serious question: what is to be done about morals and ethics now that religion has so much decayed? Arnold went almost as far as to propose that the study of literature replace the study of religion. I must say that I slightly dread the effect that this might have had on literary pursuit, but as a source of ethical reflection and as a mirror in which to see our human dilemmas reflected, the literary tradition is infinitely superior to the childish parables and morality tales, let alone the sanguinary and sectarian admonitions, of the “holy” books. So I have included what many serious novelists and poets have had to say on this most freighted of all subjects. And who, really, will turn away from George Eliot and James Joyce and Joseph Conrad in order to rescrutinize the bare and narrow and constipated and fearful world of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Osama bin Laden?