Possessed by demons? Satan got ya? Who ya gonna call?

Well, you might start with your local Catholic church.

The Vatican has recently ordered bishops to form teams of priests in each diocese trained to fight demonic possession.

However, it has not been confirmed that the Pontiff also plans to renounce Galileo and re-establish the Church's belief in the geocentric model of the universe.

Vatican Exorcist-in-Chief, 82-year-old Father Gabriele Amorth announced the new initiative.

"Thanks be to God, we have a Pope who has decided to fight the Devil head-on," he said.

"Too many bishops are not taking this seriously and are not delegating their priests in the fight against the Devil. You have to hunt high and low for a properly trained exorcist.”

He said that Benedict XVI wants to restore a prayer seen as protection against evil that was traditionally recited at the end of Catholic Masses. The prayer, to St Michael the Archangel, was dropped in the 1960s by Pope John XXIII.

The Vatican is particularly concerned that young people are being exposed to the influence of Satanic sects through rock music and the Internet

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines exorcism as:
(1) the act of driving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things, which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liable to become victims or instruments of their malice; (2) the means employed for this purpose, especially the solemn and authoritative adjuration of the demon, in the name of God, or any of the higher power in which he is subject.

In 1999 the Vatican issued its first update to the exorcism ritual since 1614 in an effort to bring the church up to date with modern science and urged church-approved exorcists to consult with modern medicine where needed. At the time it was made clear that belief in the devil was not optional. Belief in Satan is a tenet of the Catholic faith.

Modern medicine asserts that the behaviour of those termed “possessed” by the unsophisticated and superstitious is caused by identifiable physical and mental conditions. Prominent among them is Tourettes Syndrome (TS). Initial symptoms of this malady are involuntary facial “tics,” grimaces and upward eye rolling progressing to spontaneous vocalizations such as throat clearing, grunts, growls, shrieks and barks.

About 60% of TS cases exhibit verbal outbursts of sexual, scatological or blasphemous nature. “Forbidden” sexual, aggressive or sacrilegious thoughts intrude – all the symptoms portrayed so convincingly by actress Linda Blair in the wildly popular 1973 William Friedkin film “The Exorcist” based on William P. Blatty’s novel of the same name. (of which more in a moment)

Other possibilities are epilepsy, schizophrenia and migraine.

Psychological issues like low self-esteem and narcissism can cause a person to act out the role of "possessed person" in order to gain attention. According to sociologist William Cuneo in his study “American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty” a remarkable increase in reported cases of supposed demonic possession and a resulting demand for exorcism was observed after the release of the Friedkin film.

Successful exorcisms where the patient is “cured,” and there are some, are said to be the result of a placebo effect.

With all the scientific evidence regarding the physical and psychological causes of “possession,” why then the current emphasis on traditional possession and exorcism by Benedict XVI?

It appears that Benedict XVI, a conservative cleric if there ever was one, may be attempting to slow or even halt the movement to a more liberal and contemporary church initiated by Pope John XXIII with Vatican II in 1962.

He is said to be a firm believer in the existence of evil ever since he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the oldest Vatican department that deals with promoting and safeguarding Roman Catholic beliefs.

Also, statistics show that the Church is losing membership (and priests) in industrialized countries. In order to maintain numbers it must seek recruits in those areas where the population is still susceptible to magic and superstition – Central and Latin America and particularly in Africa where witchcraft, spiritual possession and exorcism are already established as part of folk religion.

In the meantime, you may want to make sure that your neighbourhood priest has his crucifix, bible and aspergillum at the ready. Just in case you have to call him.

Barry L. Bayerstein – Dissociative States: Possession and Exorcism
Barry L. Bayerstein - Neuropathology and the Legacy of Spiritual Possession

Update: According to UPI, either the Vatican is doing a complete about face or the good Father Amorth has a few mea culpas in his future.

Vatican denies exorcist expansion

Published: Dec. 29, 2007 at 9:33 AM
VATICAN CITY, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- The Vatican is denying reports it plans to install more exorcists around the world so possessed people can get help quickly."Pope Benedict XVI has no intention of ordering local bishops to bring in garrisons of exorcists to fight demonic possession,'' Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters in Rome Friday.

On Thursday, the Roman Catholic Web site Petrus said the pope planned to install more exorcists in every diocese next year and reintroduce a prayer during mass to St. Michael the Archangel, believed to be the prime protector against evil, The Telegraph in Britain reported Saturday.

Paolo Scarafoni, a priest at Vatican University who teaches how to recognize and expel Satan, said exorcists increasingly are in demand because devil worship has become so common, reported ANSA, the Italian news agency. "Priests are being bombarded," Scarafoni told ANSA.
© 2007 United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

The Islamist War on Muslim Women

While I normally much prefer to post original material to The View from Here, I feel strongly that the following op/ed piece from The Boston Globe deserves a much wider audience than it may be receiving locally. My thanks to Jeff Jacoby for his permission.

The Boston Globe, USA
Dec. 23, 2007
Jeff Jacoby

The “Quatif girl” won a reprieve last week. On Dec. 17, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah pardoned the young woman, who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison after she pressed charges against seven men who had raped her and a male acquaintance in 2006.

Two weeks earlier, Sudan’s president extended a similar reprieve to Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher convicted of insulting Islam because her 7-year-old students named a teddy bear Muhammad. Gibbons had been sentenced to prison, but government-organized street demonstrators were loudly demanding her execution.

In January, Nazanin Fatehi was released from an Iranian jail after a death sentence against her was revoked. She had originally been convicted of murder for fatally stabbing a man when he and two others attempted to rape her and her niece in a park. (Had she yielded to the rapists, she could have been flogged or stoned for engaging in nonmarital sex.)

The sparing of these women was very welcome news, of course, and it was not coincidental that each case had triggered an international furor. But for every “Qatif girl” or Nazanin who is saved, there are far too many other Muslim girls and women for whom deliverance never comes.

No international furor saved Aqsa Parvez, a Toronto teenager, whose father was charged on Dec. 11 with strangling her to death because she refused to wear a hijab. “She just wanted to look like everyone else,” one of Aqsa’s friends told the National Post, “and I guess her dad had a problem with that.”

No reprieve came for Banaz Mahmod, either. She was 20, a Kurdish immigrant to Britain, whose father and uncle had her killed last year after she left an abusive arranged marriage and fell in love with a man not from the family’s village in Kurdistan. Banaz was choked to death with a bootlace, stuffed into a suitcase, and buried in a garden 70 miles away.

More than 25 such “honor killings” have been confirmed in Britain’s Muslim community in recent years. Many more are suspected.

There has been no storm of outrage about the intimidation and murder in Basra, Iraq, of women who wear Western-style clothing. Iraqi police say that more than 40 women have been killed so far this year by Islamists; the bodies are often left in garbage dumps with notes accusing the victims of “un-Islamic behavior.”

By Western standards, the subjugation of women by Muslim fanatics, and the sometimes pathological Islamist obsession with female sexuality, are unthinkable. Time and again they lead to shocking acts of violence and depravity:

In Pakistan, a tribal council ordered a woman to be gang-raped as punishment for her brother’s supposed liaison with a woman from another tribe.

In San Francisco, a young Muslim woman was shot dead after she uncovered her hair and put on makeup in order to be a maid of honor at a friend’s wedding.

In Tehran, a father beheaded his 7-year-old daughter because he suspected that she had been raped; he said he acted “to defend my honor, fame, and dignity.”

In Saudi Arabia, the Islamic police prevented schoolgirls from leaving a burning building because they were not wearing headscarves and abayas; 15 of the girls died in the inferno.

The president of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, a renowned center of Islamic learning, described the proper method of wife-beating in a television interview: “It’s not really beating,” Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb explained on Egyptian television. “It’s more like punching.”

When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996, the repression of women was among their first priorities. They issued a decree forbidding women to leave their homes, with the result that work and schooling for women came to a halt, destroying the country’s healthcare system, civil service, and elementary education.

“Forty percent of the doctors, half of the government workers, and seven out of 10 teachers were women,” Lawrence Wright observed in “The Looming Tower,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Al Qaeda. “Under the Taliban, many of them would become beggars.”

Women are not the only victims of this rampant misogyny. Mohammed Halim, a 46-year-old Afghan schoolteacher, was dragged from his family and horribly murdered last year - disemboweled and then dismembered - for defying orders to stop educating girls.

All these are only examples - the tip of a dreadful iceberg that will never be demolished until Muslims by the millions rise up against it. As for the rest of us, we too have an obligation to raise our voices. It took a worldwide outcry to spare “Qatif girl” and Nazanin. But there are countless others like them, and our silence may seal their fate.

On Trial - Freedom of Speech in Canada

Canadian Muslims are using Canada’s democratic principles to further their own non-democratic agenda.

Responding to complaints by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and the British C0lumbia Human Rights Tribunal have launched proceedings against author Mark Steyn and Maclean’s Magazine over an excerpt from Steyn’s book “America Alone” which appeared in the magazine.

The “offending” article can be read here.

According to the CIC, the article was “flagrantly Islamophobic” and “subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt.”

Flagrantly Islamophobic? Based on demographic studies, the article forecasts a number of possible results - some of which have already begun to become apparent - of the declining world population of those with Western values while the same studies show that the Muslim population is skyrocketing.

“Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children."

That Islam has a non-democratic agenda is clear and has been expressed quite succinctly by many Muslim leaders including Libya's Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.

“There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe -- without swords, without guns, without conquests. The fifty million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades."

This is exactly Steyn’s contention.

As for "hatred and contempt," one has only to open a newspaper or turn on the television news to quickly realize that Muslims the world over are doing a superb job of bringing hatred and contempt upon themselsves. Nothing Steyn writes could make a more negative impression.

The problem lies not with Steyn or Maclean’s. The problem lies with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The mandate of the CHRC is not to prosecute hate crimes. It was originally set up to investigate complaints regarding infractions of laws regarding unfair employment and rental practices etc. based on race or colour. That the Commission sees the CIC’s complaint as having merit and has accepted it is absurd. Nonetheless, should they stupidly go through with the case and convict Steyn, the conviction will no doubt be overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada on appeal as a violation of section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Freedom of Expression.

Even the 1985 conviction of the infamous anti-Semite and holocaust denier Ernst Zundel for publishing “a statement or tale, namely, "Did Six Million Really Die?" that he knows is false and that is likely to cause mischief to the public interest in social and racial tolerance, contrary to the Criminal Code." was overturned by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Charter.

All this is not to say that we should ignore Steyn's situation. The use of hate and human rights laws to stop honest comment regarding any identifiable group is a perversion of the law’s intent. Protests regarding the CHRC action should be lodged in the strongest possible terms with the Prime Minister, Members of Parliament as well as the Human Rights Commission itself. Freedom of expression is too precious a right to ignore.

Karma and Other Nonsense

The inevitability of death, as well as the possibility that there is no afterlife, are difficult pills for most of us to swallow. As a result, we look for evidence, no matter how unsubstantiated, that this is not the case. Complying with consumer demand, every religion contains teachings of a life after death, be it in paradise with 72 virgins, in heaven with mom and dad and the puppy you had when you were ten or in nirvana, a state of ultimate bliss. (Whatever that is.)

It’s unfortunate that current criticism of religion in this regard is limited almost entirely to the three Abrahamic religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Certainly, Eastern beliefs are fair game, or should be, and offer much that deserves to be criticized.

Karma, for example, as a tenet of four major Eastern faiths - Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, is well worth examining in the light of reason. As a former devout Tibetan Buddhist, my opinions are possibly not unbiased, but do have the advantage of coming from first hand experience.

The word “karma” means action and while there are some differences in the concept of karma between the four traditions, the basic idea is the same. Our actions create our life, past, present and future, making us each responsible for our own life and its effects on others. Religions that incorporate reincarnation, and Buddhism is one of them, believe that karma affects not only this life but future ones as well. However, this does not represent an endorsement of predestination in Buddhism. It is possible to improve regardless of one’s past with the ultimate object of paying off one’s karmic debt and, as a result, being freed from the “endless round of birth and death” Samsara.

Therefore, if you were born with a hideous deformity, into an abusive family situation or suffer a terrible accident etc. - cheer up. It will only affect you for life and besides, you must have deserved it for some negative karmic action committed in a past life. Remember, you’re paying off your karmic debt. (Hmm, I wonder who’s keeping score? Sam Harris’ cosmic accountant, perhaps.)

The concept of karma is intimately connected to that of rebirth. Tibetan Buddhism teaches that depending on our karma at the moment of death we end up in one of six states of rebirth or realms – deva (god), asura (demigod), human being, animal, hungry ghosts (unable to enjoy food or drink) and hell being (subject to incredible suffering – burning, freezing, being continually hacked to pieces etc.) Some interpret these as mental conditions only, while more fundamental believers see these as actual situations. Either way, the prospects are terrifying.

Some would like to believe that we live in an ultimately just and fair universe. Good people are rewarded, though perhaps not it this life – the bad guys get their comeuppance. The vector through which this moral equilibrium functions is karma. This is wishful-thinking. There is no evidence that the universe is just or fair and no rational reason that it should be.

Two years ago I questioned an on-line Tibetan Buddhist discussion group regarding the karma of the 225,000 people who died in the Dec. 26, 2005 Asian tsunami plus that of the millions left destitute. The answer – this was a result of group karma! All these unfortunate people had the same karma. No doubt this warped reasoning can be extended to account for the deaths in the 9/11 World Trade Centre attack and other disasters as well.

Think about it. The sheer idiocy of this concept is mind boggling.

Clearly, karma is another irrational religious belief offering nothing of substance.

The Deadly Face of Muslim Extremism

Two courageous Muslims who have it right. Let's hope this serves as a wake-up call to the danger in our midst.

Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan,
National Post
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The tragic death of a Mississauga, Ont., teenage girl -- allegedly at the hands of her own traditionally minded Muslim father -- has sent shock waves across the world. Canadians are justified in raising concerns as to whether this is a sign of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in their own backyard.

Aqsa Parvez, a sprightly 16-year-old, beloved of her friends and peers at Applewood Heights Secondary School, was only trying to be herself, was only wishing for a normal adolescence amid Canada's rich cultural mosaic. Her father has now been charged with murder, and his son with obstruction, while a young life has been snuffed out -- likely in the name of honour and Islam.

Radical Muslim men consider themselves ultimately responsible for the conduct of the womenfolk. This outlook is rooted in a medieval ethos that treats women as nonpersons, unable to decide for themselves what they should wear, where they must go and what they must accomplish in life. If their conduct is seen as contravening this austere religious outlook, they are invariably subjected to abuse.

The hijab in particular has become a thorny issue among Muslim families. It has been elevated as a sort of "sixth pillar of Islam" among militant sects. Young teenage girls are often lectured over the virtues of the hijab by their family members. Once they hit puberty, compliance is deemed a non-negotiable religious requirement.

Yet none of this is actually mandated by the Koran. The Qur'an, while speaking generally of modesty in dress and demeanour, falls short of specifying the details of that modesty. Scripture also makes allowances for non-compliance of religious edicts if the environment is not conducive to their observance.

The Qur'an exhorts compassion upon parents, caretakers and guardians of young girls. Yet some families instead exhibit a strict conformity to doctrine and dogma, which in turn leads to violence, bigotry and intolerance of alternative understandings of faith.

There is much discussion in Canadian society about the religious freedoms of those who choose to wear the hijab. We hear relatively little about the oppression of young girls who make the opposite choice. Seldom is their oppression from within their own community, or even their own family, cast as a human rights issue.

If convicted, Aqsa's father and brother must be handed the strictest penalty available under the law. As for the imams and clergy of Canada's mosques, who constantly berate young women for not wearing the hijab or snub them for "violating Islam," they need to reflect on the consequences of their sermons.

Consider, as an example, the Montreal mosque that recently posted on its Web site a warning to the effect that if young girls took off their hijab, they could end up getting raped and having "illegitimate children." Other proffered risks included "Stresses, insecurity and suspicion in the minds of husbands" and "instigating young people to deviate towards the path of lust."

As if the threat of rape and the fear of illegitimate children were not enough, these pre-teen girls were told that if they took off their hijab, they would cease to be Muslims: "By removing your hijab, you have destroyed your faith. Islam means submission to Allah in all our actions." Little wonder then, that Canadian girls walk away from sports tournaments rather than remove their hijabs.

Muslims need to stand up to this sort of emotional and religious blackmail by imams who spread the competing agendas of Saudi Arabia and Iran into Canada. Young Aqsa Pervez's death cannot be reversed. But in her memory, we can at least challenge those whose message leads to rage and madness.

-- Tarek Fatah is author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, to be published by Wiley & Sons in March, 2008. Farzana Hassan is author of Islam, Women, and the Challenges of Today. Both are members of the Muslim Canadian Congress (mcc@muslimcongress.ca).

The New Atheists

If you’re a reader of books, and likely even if you’re not, the term “New Atheists” immediately brings to mind four names, that of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett and Christopher Hitchens. Books by all four have appeared at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list – a remarkable achievement in a country where 80% of the population claims to believe in God. Over the past two years, through their books and personal appearances, sometimes together, they have made a withering attack on religion and religious belief.

Sam Harris, a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and holder of a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of California, started the assault with the 2004 publication of “The End of Faith – Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason” written in response to the World Trade Centre attack of 9/11/2001. Citing several pages of violent quotations from the Qur’an as evidence, Harris contends that, rather than the result of Islamic extremism or the anti-American sentiment prevalent in the Middle-East at the time, 9/11 was at heart a product of the inherently violent nature of Islam itself and the Muslim belief in the virtues and consequent desirability of martyrdom.

Christianity does not get off lightly in “The End of Faith.” Harris devotes an entire chapter to the horrors of Christian history – the Inquisition, the witch hunts, anti-Semitism – “some of the terrible consequences that have arisen, logically and inevitably, out of Christian faith.”

For Harris, moderation in religion “offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence… Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance… By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray both faith and reason equally.”

“Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.”

Thus begins Harris’ second book “Letter to a Christian Nation” in which he sets out and brilliantly succeeds “to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.”

Harris’ website is located at: http://www.samharris.org/

More from Sam Harris is available at:

Because of his aggressive and sometimes acerbic dismissal of religion and its beliefs, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is often seen as the leader of the “new atheist” movement. Certainly, he gave the atheist message renewed impetus plus, as a highly respected scientist and writer, additional legitimacy with the publication of his controversial “The God Delusion” in 2006

For those unfamiliar with Dawkins, his description of the God of the Old Testament from chapter two of the book as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” will give some indication of his attitude and style.

While agreeing that it may be impossible to prove with certainty the existence or non-existence of God, Dawkins is not among those who subscribe to Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA assertion – that religion and science are non-overlapping magisteria. He believes that the religion and faith are fair subjects for scientific investigation.

From this perspective, with reason and wit, he proceeds to destroy arguments for God’s existence, assess the probability of His existence (much less than 50%) and examine the roots of religion and morality. He makes short work of the argument often posed by the religious “We need God in order to be good.”

In much the same manner as Sam Harris, Dawkins also presents a litany of absurdities and horrors resulting from both Christian and Muslim beliefs.

Of particular concern to Dawkins is the forcing of religion on children by their parents, a practice which he feels approaches abuse. “It is their privilege to decide what they want to think, and not their parents’ privilege to impose it by force majeure.” He finds it “grotesque” that young children are labeled as Christian or Muslim. “A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents”

"I doubt that religion can survive deep understanding. The shallows are its natural habitat. Cranks and fundamentalists are too often victimized as scapegoats for religion in general. It is only quite recently that Christianity reinvented itself in non-fundamentalist guise, and Islam has yet to do so (see Ibn Warraq's excellent book, Why I am not a Muslim). Moonies and scientologists get a bad press, but they just haven't been around as long as the accepted religions. Theology is a respectable discipline when it studies such subjects as moral philosophy, the psychology of religious belief and, above all, biblical history and literature. Like Bertie Wooster, my knowledge of the Bible is above average. I seem to know Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon almost by heart. I think that the Bible as literature should be a compulsory part of the national curriculum - you can't understand English literature and culture without it. But insofar as theology studies the nature of the divine, it will earn the right to be taken seriously when it provides the slightest, smallest smidgen of a reason for believing in the existence of the divine. Meanwhile, we should devote as much time to studying serious theology as we devote to studying serious fairies and serious unicorns."

Richard Dawkins’ website may be accessed at: http://richarddawkins.net/

Using a much softer approach than both Harris and Dawkins, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett of Tufts University attempts to demonstrate that religion is a natural evolutionary development in the human animal and, as such, can and should be made available to scientific investigation. In his book “Breaking the Spell” (2006) he examines the question of how ideas, religious and otherwise, are developed in the first place and why some individuals devote their entire lives to furthering the interests of an idea.

He claims the spell that must be broken is the taboo against scientific inquiry into the nature of religion even at the cost of breaking a more serious spell – the enchantment of religion itself.

Dennett examines religion as a biological and cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection similar to, and possibly concurrent with, the development of language. Borrowing from Richard Dawkins “The Selfish Gene” he also discusses the possibility of religion as a meme – an idea that persists solely for the purpose of self replication. Any benefits accruing to humans, and there are some, are accidental.

His most popular concept and one that is repeated over and over again in discussions on atheism is that of “belief in belief.” For example, many of us believe in democracy and recognize that the security of democracy in the future depends critically on maintaining the belief in democracy.

He observes that more people likely believe in the belief in God than actually believe in God.

“Belief in belief in God makes people reluctant to acknowledge the obvious: that much of the traditional lore about God is no more worthy of belief than the lore about Santa Claus or Wonder Woman.”

“The belief that the belief in God is so important that it must not be subjected to the risks of disconfirmation or serious criticism has led the devout to ”save” their beliefs by making them incomprehensible even to themselves.”

In considering the pros and cons of religious adherence, Dennett observes that it does seem to provide some health benefits, “but it is too early too say whether there are other, better ways of delivering these benefits, and too early to say if the side effects outweigh the benefits.”

Daniel Dennett’s Tusk University website is located at: http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/incbios/dennettd/dennettd.htm

More from Daniel Dennett can be found at: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/daniel_c_dennett/

Author, journalist and literary critic Christopher Hitchens is the most recent and arguably the most articulate writer to condemn religion in all its aspects. In his “God is Not Great” (2007) an obvious allusion to the Muslim takbir “Allāhuh Akhbar” usually translated as God is great, Hitchens brings an historical and highly literary perspective to the discussion.

In the chapter entitled simply “Religion Kills,” he enumerates a number of crimes perpetrated in the name of religion, many of which he has observed personally – the “troubles” of Northern Ireland – the persecution of non-Hindus in Bombay in the 1990’s – the anti-Muslim “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia – the present sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite in Baghdad.

Anyone familiar with Hitchens’ work knows that he is as master of sarcasm. A typical example occurs in the chapter on “Arguments from Design:

“There is a central paradox at the core of religion. The three great monotheisms teach people too think abjectly of themselves, as miserable and guilty sinners prostrate before an angry and jealous god who, according to discrepant accounts fashioned them either out of dust and clay or a clot of blood. The positions for prayer are usually emulations of the supplicant serf before an ill-tempered monarch. The message is one of submission, gratitude and fear. Life itself is a poor thing: an interval in which to prepare for the hereafter or the coming – or the second coming- of the Messiah.

On the other hand, and as if by way of compensation, religion teaches people to be extremely self-centred and conceited. It assures them that god cares for them individually, and it claims that the cosmos was created with them specifically in mind. This explains the supercilious expression on the faces of those who practice religion ostentatiously: pray excuse my modest and humility but I happen to be busy on an errand for god."

Thus, through nineteen chapters, with great skill, Hitchens ridicules and denounces religious faith of all persuasions both Western and Eastern.

More recently Hitchens has introduced and edited a new volume “The Portable Atheist” which contains selected writings from some of the “old” atheists such as Hobbes, Spinoza and Hume as well as more contemporary works.

Hitchens’ website containing writings on a number of subjects including religion can be found at: