God is not Great - How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens Twelve/Atlantic, HK$200 'Faith-based fraud' may be an apt epitaph for American TV evangelist Jerry Falwell, whose death last month gave British writer Christopher Hitchens the perfect platform from which to underscore the evils of religion. Hitchens has since described Falwell and his ilk as 'Chaucerian frauds', deriding 'editors, producers, publicists and a host of other media riffraff who allowed Falwell to prove, time and again, that there's no vileness that can't be freely uttered by a man whose name is prefaced with the word Reverend'. With his latest book, God is Not Great - How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens joins the trinity of Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett and Sam Harris in arguing that, just because a belief is sincerely and fervently held, doesn't mean it's above criticism, questioning or ridicule. Hitchens is a prolific journalist whose work appears in The Nation and Vanity Fair and who is no stranger to unpopular causes. For example, he has defended David Irving, the historian who was jailed for questioning the Holocaust. He's unwavering in his defence of the war in Iraq. In The Trial of Henry Kissinger, he makes a case against the former secretary of state for crimes against humanity, and has described Mother Theresa as 'a fraud, a fanatic and a fundamentalist' whose saintly status in the public imagination is 'the single most successful con job of the 20th century'. The Vatican asked Hitchens to help its fast-track beatification of the Calcutta nun because it had abolished the office of Devil's Advocate, 'and thus I found myself representing the devil as it were, pro bono'. A glance at the chapter headings of God is Not Great makes clear Hitchens' position: Religion Kills, Revelation: The Nightmare of the 'Old' Testament, The 'New' Testament Exceeds the Evil of the 'Old' One, The Tawdriness of the Miraculous and the Decline of Hell, and Is Religion Child Abuse? None of this is new. British philosopher Bertrand Russell made the same arguments 50 years ago: that religion 'is as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race'. Hitchens' argument is that religion is about creating God in man's image because man, being 'biologically only partially rational', is afraid of death and the dark. He has nothing against religion, per se, and would gladly leave the religious alone if 'they in turn leave me alone'. But alas, there seems a ready audience prepared to believe in God's wrath - the Great Plague of the 17th century was billed as retribution for 'sin or moral backsliding', although science now has a vaccine for the human papillomavirus. And although it's common sense that condoms will help prevent the spread of Aids, the religious right forbids their use - in effect, sanctioning punishment of homosexuals and the sexually promiscuous. Hitchens says that to accept disease 'in the name of God is no different, morally, intellectually, from sacrificing ... women on a stone altar'. That miracles are required to reinforce religious faith is proof of its inadequacy, he argues. How tawdry are burning bushes or weeping statues, he asks, when compared to photos taken through the Hubble telescope? 'How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required, to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to 'fit' with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities?' he asks. He also has quite a few things to say about guilt, whereby impossible rules and regulations are imposed, with punishment for proscribed acts and absolution of sins available at a price. The Inquisition, the witch hunts, the Crusades, and the more recent slaughter in Uganda undertaken by the Lord's Resistance Army, are theocratic shadows of the 20th-century's Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, Hitchens writes. Anticipating the inevitable riposte to this book - that some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by atheists - he quotes George Orwell: 'A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible.' Religion is not so much abolished as replaced, employing the same tactics. 'The resulting tyranny is even more impressive if it can be enforced by a privileged caste or party which is highly zealous in the detection of error'. Russell allowed in the early 20th century that Christianity 'does less harm than it used to do; but this is because it is less fervently believed'. Hitchens argues that in the early 21st century religion is no longer a plausible explanation of anything, but would still drag society back to 'the catacombs and the reeking altars and the guilty pleasures of subjection and abjection'.