God is Not Great - an Appraisal  - Chapter 10


This is the Chapter 10  Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great.

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Chapter 10: The Tawdriness of the Miraculous

and the Decline of Hell




Page Contents






Chapter Content


Use the links and drop down to the comments if you would like to see each comment applying to each paragraph here.


P.139,140 The age of miracles seems to have died out   Link Below


P.140,141 The tawdriness of so many weird and wonderful ‘miracles'   Link Below


P.141 The odds for miracles    Link Below


P.142 Miracles and Magic    Link Below


P.142,143 Resurrection and the New Testament    Link Below


P.144   Dubious press reporting and UFOs    Link Below


P.145-148 Sainthood, Mother Teresa, the Catholic Church and Malcolm Muggeridge   Link Below


P.148-150 Natural Disasters & human desires for answers    Link Below


P.151-153 The author's experience of Marxism; a passing fad    Link Below




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General Comment


This is a pretty harmless chapter in that it casts around with generalities from history and says much that we would probably agree with. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, it jumps to a variety of questionable conclusions and misses a variety of points and for this reason alone is worthy of our attention.


A small point in passing: it's all about the miraculous and nothing about hell. The title is definitely inaccurate. Perhaps he changed his mind along the way. We will need to confront the subject of miracles if we are to have any real understanding here.




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Specific Comments


Again we look at the specific points we have observed in the ‘Content' part above


P.139,140 The age of miracles seems to have died out. Because the author goes backwards and forwards in this subject, it might be easier if we made some generalisations all together here at the beginning of the chapter, that we might refer back to in subsequent points.


a) Miracles Happen. If we accept the definition touched on later, that a miracle is a change in the natural order, then I am utterly convinced that they do happen. Apart from a variety of things I could cite in my own experience, if I thought it of value, I have friends who have travelled abroad, friends who I would in no way describe as gullible, who have witnessed first hand, for days on end, particular healing ministries where the ‘impossible' happened before heir eyes. I remember a young Christian on a trip I was involved in, in the interior of Sarawak, who prayed for a blind person and the blind person saw. Without going into the details that I checked, I have no question of the reality of what happened.


b) You can't turn on miracles. If, as Christians believe, miracles occur at the hand of God, then you are talking about a person and not a machine or mechanism. Thus the demand for miracles is a futile demand.


c) Miracles can be counterfeited. As much as I believe in the power of God, I must believe in occult powers, especially in the light of limited demonic experience in this country, and wider occult experiences abroad. Thus I have no problem with accepting that Pharaoh's magicians could counterfeit or copy the early miracles performed by Moses. It is interesting to note that after a while he was moving in a realm beyond them.


d) Miracles are virtually impossible to believe in unless you've been involved. I accept that it is almost impossible to believe in the impossible unless you see it with your own eyes. By definition, a miracle goes against what is naturally possible. My friends, who I referred to above, said that their biggest difficulties for the first three days was in getting their minds to catch up with what their eyes were seeing. It is almost impossible to ‘prove' that something was a miracle, unless you have just witnessed it, and even then, sometimes, it is difficult to know if it was a specific act of God, or whether it was the way God had designed the body to act.


e) Healing ‘miracles' can happen naturally. I fully accept that sometimes the human body seems to completely reverse the natural downward trend in an illness, apparently without cause. However, it is a wrong assumption to say that therefore all such ‘miracles' are just the way the body works. When a cancer has been completely eradicated, when ulcers are completely removed, or when a cripple is made completely well, all immediately in answer to brief prayer, I'm not sure the point of debating the issue.


I know of all of these experiences and many more. When there is total transformation, a total reversal of the natural, then it is only the stubborn anti-God brigade that wants to debate the issue. To this list I would also add the matter of raising the dead. The sceptic says, “Well of course they weren't dead,” but when a doctor certifies that pulse and heart beat have stopped and have stopped for over an hour, and someone comes and commands life in the name of Jesus and the person immediately gets up, you've really got to have a degree in scepticism to reject the evidence. As I have commented about prayer before, I agree with a friend who used to say, “Well, all I know is that when I stop praying the coincidences stop happening.”


f) Present day miracles aren't needed for Christian faith. As much as I am convinced that God does intervene in His world when He deems it right, neither I nor any person in my church ‘need' miracles today to believe. Our faith is built on the historical evidence of the Bible and specifically of Jesus Christ.


g) Superstitious ‘faith' looks for miracles. Around the world there are indeed some weird and wonderful things that go on. I don't pretend to understand them all by any means.  I, and most Christians that I know personally, do not go looking for miracles. I am sure there are counterfeits (see above) and I am sure there a natural explanations and I am equally sure there are miracles. Where ‘faith' is weak, and in certain parts of the world where, I believe, Christian faith appears as a form of religion without the reality of it, it can often be akin to superstition, and superstitious people look for ‘good miracles' to bolster their weak and often fearful beliefs. That has nothing to do with genuine faith.


h) Human beings look for meaning in natural disasters. Although this may not fit exactly in the definition of a miracle, I believe there is a natural tendency to look to put blame for a natural disaster. Does God bring natural disasters? Yes, I'm convinced that sometimes He does. I feel more comfortable with the thought that He does in that He has designed this world to work in certain ways and that does include the existence or reality of spiritual powers (which I think the occult around the world reveals). Where sin is especially prevalent that, I suspect, opens up the way for ‘natural upheavals' to occur, but I still also believe that sometimes He specifically brings such things, to bring a people to its senses (which such events manage to do like few other things.) As for blaming God for such things because of specific sins, such as the downward moral spiral witnessed by specific practices that run contrary to God's design laws in the Bible, the bigger issue is why isn't the church being a voice that spoke long ago and stopped this downward spiral. Judgement is something every human being has to face on death. The Christian faith is all about how that judgement need not be feared. Jesus himself was loath to attribute disasters as a form of blame. See Luke 13:1-5. The call is for all to repent, not just those of some of the more obvious and blatant sins.


P.140,141 The tawdriness of so many weird and wonderful ‘miracles' . A general chunter here about myths of history. Odd use of the word ‘levitation' which has a completely different meaning to the usual word ‘resurrection' which applies more in the Bible.


P.141 The odds for miracles. Rather an inappropriate use of the word ‘likelihood' in a section that speaks about the odds of a ‘miracle' being supernatural or of being a delusion. See my note above about the impossibility of believing.


P.142 Miracles and Magic . An explanation (at least I think it is) of some ‘blood-on-hands' type miracles as clever magic. He might be right, but it might also be occult counterfeit stuff.


P.142,143 Resurrection and the New Testament. Here he goes back to this strange reference to the professor who came to see that not all the Bible should be there – or at least that is how the author tries to spin it. The same comment applies to the very end of Mark's Gospel as applies to that covered at the end of two chapters ago with the woman caught in adultery. The fact that there are such notes in the Bible adds to the integrity of the rest. Observe the emotively demeaning words that this author uses when referring to the raising of Lazarus: “Jesus managed it twice…” This makes it sound like a big effort, which for God it is not! The comments about Lazarus and Jairus seem rather silly: “nobody seems to have thought it worthwhile to interview either survivor.”


Jairus's daughter & Lazarus : In the case of Jairus's daughter she had been a little girl at the time and her father would have naturally protected him from prying minds. Lazarus could have become a sightseeing feature if the whole upheaval involving Jesus' death hadn't have happened within weeks of his being raised from the dead. It is likely that he died some time in the next forty years because each of the Synoptic Gospels grant him ongoing anonymity and it is only John, who writes much later, who mentions him, because now probably he was dead. There are plenty of people today who have near death experiences, but mostly anything they say about the experience is soon forgotten. There is really little to say about it.


The resurrected bodies: As to the reference to the resurrected bodies at the moment of Jesus' death, Matthew 27:52,53 reads, “ The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people .” Now if that seems weird to you, it is maybe that it does because you don't believe Jesus is who he said he was, God's unique Son, God in the flesh. What is strange about Matthew's account is that no explanation is given, which actually adds to the authenticity of it. If Matthew was making up a myth he would have explained why such a thing happened, but he doesn't. It is only when we see this in the light of subsequent teaching, that we see this incredible event (see above about difficulty in believing miracles) revealing the incredible effect of Jesus' death on history.


Subsequent teaching said that when Jesus died on the Cross he took all our sins so that whoever would come to God through him would receive eternal life and so, after physical death, would be raised up in heaven with a new body (as the author later comments upon). Yes, this account is narrated in the same matter of fact way as the earthquake and no great deal is made of it. It just happened. Which is why no further comment is made, and the reality is probably that these resurrected bodies were then taken by God afterwards back to heaven.


Future resurrected bodies: The apostle Paul taught, “ So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body .” (1 Cor 15:42 -44).


Jesus' Resurrection: Some very unclear writing follows, but it is clear that the author has never really thought through the resurrection accounts. A number of years ago, a solicitor by the name of Frank Morrison set out to debunk the resurrection story, but the more he did so, the more he realised that it was a true account. He thus wrote Who Moved the Stone , which has probably been one of the most thorough and comprehensive books on the subject. If you would like to read an extract of this book in note layout, then please CLICK HERE.


P.144   Dubious press reporting and UFOs. The author moves on to denounce his own profession of journalism for distorting reports in the press. On the few occasions I have been in a position to check press accounts with what I knew happened, I would have to agree with him. He uses this to lead us into ponderings about UFOs for which I have no comment as they seem to have little relevance to the subject of God.


P.145-148 Sainthood, Mother Teresa, the Catholic Church and Malcolm Muggeridge . Very soon he moves on to a lengthy section about sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Honesty compels me to say I don't understand the Catholic Church's idea of creating special people, unless it is simply to honour them for their great lives. It does seem, however, that it must be an attempt at bringing glory to God through the miracles he worked in certain people's lives, a somewhat questionable idea because glory is never given in Scripture to men or women, only to God, and it does seem that ‘saints' do get a lot of unwarranted homage! The tricky bit is that ALL Christians in the New Testament are called ‘saints' meaning simply a holy person, which is what all Christians are, a matter of status, not quality, please note.


That Mother Teresa was an amazingly good woman I have no doubt. Did she shine with holy light or was it Kodak paper. Nobody knows, to quote the author from earlier on. It could have been either. It's a silly thing to argue about. As the author could have suggested, that one illustration was not what made her special. If anything it demeans her.


P.148-150 Natural Disasters & human desires for answers. For this part see my comment (h) above.


P.151-153 The author's experience of Marxism; a passing fad. The chapter closes with the author recounting his own past beliefs about Marxism and some quotes from Trotsky to show his foresight. I think in some strange way the author tries to link his abandoning Marxism for reality as a plea to believers to abandon their beliefs, not realising that they Christian faith actually has the best description of the plight of humanity that is found anywhere – and the answer to that plight. Fleeing from that as the author does, is fleeing from reality.





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On this page we have:

  •  highlighted some of the key points he makes,
  •  identified this as a fairly harmless chapter, if a little wandering, with the usual misunderstandings, although a number of valid points about superstitious practices around the world and possibly fake miracles,
  •  responded, point by point, to the points he makes.


Considering those points, we have:

  •  laid out 8 general points about miracles, through which to view the rest of the chapter,
  •  noted some inappropriate uses of language,
  •  questioned his use of a theology professor and his negative language,
  •  explained
    •  why the silence from Jairus and Lazarus,
    •  the probabilities of the resurrected bodies at Jesus' death,
    •  the basic teaching on resurrected bodies
    •  Jesus' resurrection.
  •  agreed with him over media inaccuracies
  •  questioned why there are references here to UFOs
  •  largely agreed with him over the subject of sainthood
  •  pondered over his strange accounts about Marxism
  •  refused his concluding plea.


An interesting chapter, but mostly because it makes us think again about the subject of the genuineness of some miracles.





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