As a teacher/editor with an “advanced” degree in religious studies, I was intrigued by the sudden popularity of Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great (Twelve Books, 2007) a couple years back. I bought it as soon it was available and read it cover-to-cover after a morning out picking strawberries.
Reading Hitchens’ analysis I found myself nodding my head quite a bit; he scores a substantial number of points on which various religions should plead “guilty.” And while I found many of his arguments persuasive, part of me still wonders if perhaps religion, that most ancient of cultural forms, has not had at least some positive impact on humankind. In the most basic sense, our civilization would not be here to critique religion if religion had not been an impetus to get our civilization to begin its motion towards today’s civilization. Black and white are not in the palette of serious religious studies.
For the scholar of religion, however, Hitchens should be required reading. Sometimes we have to stare hard into the face of the facts of what our object of study has become and wonder, with Samuel F. B. Morse, “what hath god wrought?” Religion bears the mark of Janus, and scholars of religion have to pay attention to what people are saying about it.