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I’ve mentioned Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, but never did it justice. And I won’t now. But what I will do is say that the combination of essays (most were previously published, but the material by Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali were not) and Hitchens’ Introduction and commentary makes for a fun and challenging read. And because of the format, you can read it over six months, in between the novels and other nonfiction you’re reading that require a different kind of attention.

Here are just a few of my favorite quotes:

Carl Van Doren’s "Why I Am an Unbeliever"

As to gods . . . . There does not seem to me to be good reason for holding that some of them are false and some of them, or one of them, true. Each was created by the imaginations and wishes of men who could not account for the behavior of the universe in any other satisfactory way (139).

Bertrand Russell’s "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish"

I am sometimes shocked by the blasphemies of those who think themselves pious–for instance, the nuns who never take a bath without wearing a bathrobe all the time. When asked why, since no man can see them, they reply: "Oh, but you forget about the good God." Apparently they conceive of the Deity as a Peeping Tom, whose omnipotence enables Him to see through bathroom walls, but who is foiled by bathrobes. This view strikes me as curious (184).

Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones (199).

Michael Shermer’s "Genesis Revisited: A Scientific Creation Story" is hilarious and includes:

And in the ground placed He in abundance teeth, jaws, skulls, and
pelvises of transitional fossils from pre-Adamite creatures. One chosen
as his special creation He named Lucy, who could walk upright like a
human but had a small brain like an ape. And God realized this was too
confusing, so he created paleoanthropologists to figure it out.

Just as He was finishing up the loose ends of the creation God
realized that Adam’s immediate descendants would not understand
inflationary cosmology, global general relativity, quantum mechanics,
astrophysics, biochemistry, paleontology, and evolutionary biology, so
he created creation myths

Charles Templeton’s "Questions to Ask Yourself"

Why does the omnipotent God, knowing that there are tens of
thousands of men, women, and children starving to death in a parched
land, simply let them waste away and die when all they need is rain (

And finally, Elizabeth Anderson’s "If God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted? speaks to morality and animal rights–indirectly.

I am arguing that morality, understood as a system of reciprocal
claim making, in which everyone is accountable to everyone else, does
not need its authority underwritten by some higher, external authority.
It is underwritten by the authority we all have to make claims on one
another. Far from bolstering the authority of morality, appeals to
divine authority can undermine it. For divine command theories of
morality may make believers feel entitled to look only to their idea of
God to determine what they are justified in doing. It is all too easy
under such a system to ignore the complaints of those injured by one’s
actions, since they are not acknowledged as moral authorities in their
own right. But to ignore the complaints of others is to deprive oneself
of the main source of information one needs to improve one’s conduct.
Appealing to God rather than those affected by one’s actions amounts to
an attempt to escape accountability to one’s fellow human beings

And of course, I would revise that last sentence to read: Appealing to God rather than those affected by one’s actions amounts
to an attempt to escape accountability to one’s fellow sentient beings.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for the blurbs, Mary.

    Anderson does seem to see morality as a system of reciprocal claim-making, though. I'd imagine she'd reject the inclusion of non-human animals in the moral community if she acually believes this.

    September 16, 2008
  2. Bea Elliott #

    In another attempt to square up man's moral responsibility to his fellow creatures, HSUS is launching a "Green Bible" campaign. I found it here on a "pro animal agriculture" blog.

    The animal agriculture advocates are upset of course, that the teachings of other "gods" clash with the one they summon. Their "god" that would create animals "sentient" but who also instructs man to use/kill/eat them. I'm always confounded by that "logic"…

    Anyway, I know only a few atheists, and have a world of acquaintances to convince that killing animals is wrong. I confess, I've used a few doctrines from religious teachings to bring some "light" into their views. A few years ago I would have considered myself an absolute hypocrite – but at this point I don't care… I just want them to stop killing animals. Whatever "God" addresses their concern about compassion for human and non-human animals that's the "deity" of the day.

    HSUS "Green Bible":

    "And God realized this was too confusing, so he created paleoanthropologists to figure it out". 🙂 very amusing 🙂

    September 16, 2008
  3. Bea Elliott #

    Sorry, meant to include this from The Sundance Channel:

    "New Bible Shows How God Was the Original Environmentalist —and How the World’s Most Influential Book Urges Us to Sustain Our Planet"

    "• a green subject index that includes listings of Bible passages that cover such topics as animals, caring for your neighbor, land and water;"

    So God is Green and Jesus was an environmentalist… whatever.

    September 16, 2008
  4. Ron Kearns #

    What astounds me is the assumed need for such a book in 2008 C.E., especially given that Pentecostal Sarah Palin has entered the world stage. Ms. Palin is the best visual and aural evidence needed to reject christianity and any god, anthropomorphic or otherwise.

    Thanks for the brief review and I will likely read the book for entertainment.

    September 16, 2008

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