Book Review: God is Not Great

I just finished God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by the recently

The cover, from Brain Pickings. com

deceased polymath, essayist, and atheist Christopher Hitchens. I bought the book after seeing it linger on shelves and cropping up in my recommendations on Amazon.com for the past year.

It’s a systematic, caustic critique on religion that ends with a plea for secular rationalism and a “New Enlightenment,” a book bound to spur controversy.

I’m no stranger to religion. After an incident involving milk and foam cups at one pre-K, my parents moved me to Gingerbread House, a Catholic pre-K in the nearby City of Syracuse.

My dad drove our blue-green Volvo each day, past the gutted factories and black windows, beneath the low bridges etched with rusty rivulets, and past the sidewalks with tufts of grass and weedy tendrils.

Among the nap-time, craft-time, and play-time typical of most pre-Ks, Gingerbread House had prayer time. Teachers took us to a low, dark chapel with clean floors and a white flame incased behind red glass. A crucifix hung in the front. Now and then, the stories of the Bible cropped up in conversation.

My memory is hazy, but Gingerbread house must have hit something. My mom said I dragged her to the chapel once, and as we stood in the silence, I shushed her and pointed to the crucifix.

“That’s God,” I whispered.

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The Ticking is the Bomb Review

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The Ticking is the Bomb, as seen on Amazon.com

I propped open The Ticking is the Bomb by Nick Flynn while sitting on my bed in a Zen Monastery, day two of a spiritual pilgrimage. It’s an older book, coming out in 2012, but a teacher recommended it.

The day started just before 5 a.m., when some monk jangled a handful of bells outside the door. At the time, I imagined he took a sadistic joy in it.

“Hey, here’s a crammed group of exhausted travelers—how can I give a good start to the day?” he probably thought. “Loud bells!”

Rubbing my head, I greeted the others with a nod.

Night still drenched the windowpanes in reflection as we entered the meditation hall. I crossed my legs into a half-lotus and a bell pitched the space into silence, broken occasionally by the rattling radiator or the rasp of a stuffy nose.

I wrestled with my thoughts for the next hour or so. The rest of the day blurred as we moved from one lecture to another and a silent work call. I stayed in the kitchen, cracking 160 eggs for a massive casserole.

Thirteen hours after waking up, I was choking on Zen. Flynn’s tense prose challenged the backdrop of silence that permeated the day. But I needed it.

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