I know the scriptures are the writings of humans without the benefit of modern scientific educations. I know they have been translated and edited by humans for thousands of years. I am not a literal believer. Therefore, the rather obvious lack of scientifically verifiable content in holy books does not surprise me at all.
Hitchens claims (page 8) that religion has retarded development of civilization. On what evidence? None that I could find. The very fact that all societies and great civilizations of the past have been infused with what many of us judge to be irrational spiritual belief seems to argue for the benefit of religion for their survival and spread. If religion retards civilization, one would expect non-believing societies, free from religious retardation, to have been most successful. Can anyone cite an example? History proves the opposite!
Hitchens relates how he was asked by Dennis Prager if, approached by a bunch of men on a dark evening in a strange neighborhood, he would be less worried about his safety if he knew they were coming out of a prayer meeting. He spouts (page 18) a litany of cities (Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, ... "and that is only the B's") where, during certain times in recent and ancient history he would be less confortable if confronted by men exiting a religious meeting. Hitchens lives in Washington, DC and spends most of his time away from home in New York, London, Los Angeles, and so on. What would any honest person's answer be to that question?
He goes out of his way to trash both Mother Teresa (page 145+) and Ghandi (page 182+).
Hitchens was a Marxist before he lost his faith in that hopeless cause. He supported Trotsky who was exiled and later murdered by Stalin. One wonders if Hitchens would still be a Marxist had Trotsky turned the tables and eliminated Stalin.
Based on experience of loss of faith in Marxism, he laments (page 153) the pain he knows his book is inflicting on the religious faithful. I wonder if he is simply jealous of their faith? Like a kid whose balloon has popped, he savors the experience of popping everyone else's balloon.
He misquotes Rabbi Hillel, one of our most influential Jewish scholars, claiming Hillel stated the Golden Rule in the postitive version (page 213): "Treat others as you wish to be treated." In fact, even the slightest research would have shown that Hillel used the negative version favored by most Jewish scholars. Hillel wrote: "That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."
He has an entire chapter entitled "Is Religion Child Abuse?" and concludes it is much worse (page 217) "'Child abuse' is really a silly and pathetic euphemism for what has been going on; the systematic rape and torture of children ..." He cites cases where children have indeeed been abused by priests of various religions, but that is an argumentative trick. If some Englishmen rape and torture children would it be right to say English civilization is all about rape and torture of children?
In a Comment to a previous Topic I noted Hitchens's reaction to what he calls "Hannukah" (he can't even spell it wrong the "right" way "Hanukkah" as major media do :-(
"Hannukah" is, in his words, a "vapid and annoying" holiday where "the Jews borrow shamelessly from Christians in the pathetic hope of a celebration that coincides with 'Christmas'".
Sorry it annoys Hitchens, but our grandchildren and children and fellow Jews northwest of Boston were anything but "pathetic" a couple weeks ago as we joyously lit the Chanukah candles and consumed more than our share of latkes. In a multi-generational recognition, Vi and I and our family had the honor of lighting one of the candles at a multi-congregation event in Chelmsford, MA.
The Maccabees, the heros of our Chanukah story of religious freedom, were, according to Hitchens, "forcibly restoring Mosaic fundamenalism against the many Jews .. attracted by Hellenism." In doing so, they sired "the stench of Calvin and Torquemada and bin Laden ... a poisonous branch that should have been snapped off long ago."
Hitchens apparantly believes it would have been better for monothesim to have been wiped out by Hellenists in 165 BC because that would have prevented the excesses of Christianity and Islam!
Again, on what historical basis can that claim be founded? The Maccabee revolt was in response to the Syrian Greek effort to replace our monotheistic God with their pantheon of gods. To that end, the Temple in Jerusalem was forceably Hellenized. The success of the Maccabees restored a more traditional Judaism to that area, made the Greeks and later the Romans more tolerant of religious diversity in their empires, and set the stage for the later development of Christianity.
Would western civilization have been better off with a pantheon of Greek gods?
I think the case is clear that western civilization is an amalgam of Judeo-Christian and Greek/Roman civilizations and each of those components makes it strong. Had the Judeo-Christian element been left out, I think eastern civilization and religion (i.e., Ghengis Khan) might have wiped us out. Would the world have been better off? I don't know. However, Hitchens seems to hate western civilization so much that he might prefer whatever would have followed from a Mongol success.
On the positive side (at least for me as a Pantheist) he notes Leslie Orgel's comment (page 84): "... evolution is smarter than you are." (Orgel was an associate of Francis Crick, DNA pioneer.)
He also writes (page 165) "... people can be better off believing in something than in nothing, however untrue that something may be."