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The God Damners

BETWEEN 2004 AND 2007, FIVE BOOKS WERE published in the United States attacking theism and theistic religion, and all ultimately became bestsellers: Sam Harris’s The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (Norton, 2004) and a follow-up book addressing that book’s critics, Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006); Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (Bantam, 2006); Daniel C. Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Viking/Penguin,2006); and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Twelve Books, 2007).

I read Sam Harris’s The End of Faith in 2005 and agreed with much of his polemic against religion while being far less sanguine than he about change being possible. This book had an obvious genesis in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but when the other books appeared their motivation could not clearly be traced to those events. The books of Dennett, Hitchens, and Dawkins all make brief reference to 9/11, but all involved earlier research and in some cases parts or related works had been published that predated the events of 9/11. Hitchens insists in the acknowledgments in his book that he has been writing it all his life. There was more in the air than the dust of the World Trade Center that led to these books at this time. I decided to read them to determine what they have in common and what the unique approach of each was, as well as to explore the question: why these books and why now? The answer to the last question turned out to be a startling combination of forces beginning with the attack on the homeland but also including widespread attacks on public education and attempts to usurp political power by the forces of anti-reason.

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