© Christian Witkin
God Is Not Great:
How Religion Poisons Everything
Twelve/Hachette Book Group
Interview conducted by Jennifer
JG: What was the
hardest part of your book to write – and why
was it so challenging?
The most difficult sections of the book to write were
those concerned with science: most especially physics
and biology. These are not areas where I have a strong
background, and I tend to argue in any event that
the case against religion was complete before Darwin
and Einstein revolutionized our knowledge. However,
the ground of contestation at present is very much
pitched as a battlefield between science and faith,
so I had to earn myself a better understanding of
things like (say) the evolution of the eye. In this,
and in other related efforts, I was hugely helped
by the work of Michael Shermer, Daniel Dennett, Richard
Dawkins and Sam Harris, who have become (I am proud
to say) my colleagues and friends in this argument.
I would therefore like to include them, and their
pathbreaking work, as my answer to question (2) as
the greatest personal debt you incurred while writing
I'd need to expand this answer by one more name, which
is that of my friend Ian McEwan, to whom my book is
dedicated. It has been conversations with him, on the
crucial difference between the numinous and the transcendent
and the supernatural, that have informed and guided
me for several years while this book was, so to speak,
JG: How long did you
work on this book for – and how much do you think
you ended up earning per hour?
When Whistler sued Ruskin for
an attack on his paintings, he was asked by Ruskin's
counsel how long it had taken him to finish one painting
and replied: six hours. He was then asked how much he'd
been paid for it and replied: ten thousand pounds. "Ten
thousand pounds for six hours work, Mr Whistler?"
"No sir: ten thousand pounds for a lifetime of
experience". I have been thinking about this book,
and amassing a library of other books on the subject,
and making notes for it, for almost twenty years but
while writing other books and doing my various day-jobs..
When I actually decided to sit down and write it straight
out, it took me most of the first six months of 2006.
So I simply can't compute how much I made per hour,
except that whichever method one might employ to make
the calculation, it would come out as more than I had
JG: What are three
of your favorite non-fiction books of all time?
Death of Liberal England. Paul Fussell's The
Great War and Modern Memory. The third volume of
Isaac Deutscher's Trotsky trilogy The Prophet Outcast.
George Dangerfield's prose-poem history
JG: Of all that transpired
after your book was published, what was your favorite
to write the essay on this disclosure. I never thought
that the old lady and I would turn out to have unbelief
I think the best moment was
the publication of Mother Teresa's correspondence, showing
that she had effectively lost her faith many years before
her death, and the invitation to me from JG: At your lowest
moment, how many times a day did you check your Amazon
rating? (Be honest!)
I can honestly say that I
never did it more than twice a day (and switched to
waiting eagerly for the weekly report from "Bookscan")
but this may be attributable partly to my technological
incompetence with anything in the online world.
Gonnerman is a contributing editor at New York Magazine.
She was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award
for Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine
Bartlett (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Photo © Nina Subin