God is Not Great - an Appraisal  - Chapter 13


This is the Chapter 13  Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great.

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Chapter 13: Does Religion Make People

Behave Better?




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.173-175 Dr. Martin Luther King     Link below


P.175,176 Christian reformism     Link below


P.176-178 Slave Trade & Abolition    Link below


P.178,179 Abraham Lincoln      Link below


P.179-181 Slavery again    Link below


P181-184 Emancipation of India        Link below


P.184-188 Denial of virtuosity through religion       Link below


P.188-192 Abuses within Africa     Link below


P.193 Pope John Paul II and the Church's guilt       Link below





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General Comment


This is a chapter where the author seeks to show, not just that you don't have to be religious to be good, but that actually religion has been the cause of people not being good. Indeed it is a powerful indictment – or at least it would be if it painted the whole picture.


For examples he uses those whose faith was either less than Biblical, or who moved away from faith to politics, or who used the name of Christianity to bolster their political position. It is therefore a chapter that speaks more about abuses and misuses of Christianity than why true Christian faith brings remarkable individual transformations.




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Specific Comments


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


P.173-175 Dr. Martin Luther King. Rather than consider what generally happens when a person becomes a Christian (which might have brought about a far more fruitful chapter), the author focuses initially on the colourful life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Early on is a simple comment that can usefully act as the catalyst for consideration: “slavery that…Christian churches had so warmly approved ….” Now I confess that I don't know how accurate that is, but I would suggest the following are some of the considerations to be thought about:


A Common Misconception? It was Scottish philosopher and economist David Hume, who the author is fond of quoting, who said, “I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites.” It was German philosopher Immanuel Kant who stated: "The yellow Indians do have a meagre talent. The Negroes are far below them.” I mention this simply to point out early in the discussion that the mentality that made out coloured Africans to be lesser beings, existed just as much outside the church in philosophical (which were often atheistic) circles, as inside it.


Although I am uncertain of the origins of abolition in America, in Britain the anti-slavery movement was stirred into being primarily by the Quakers and Clapham Sect, an evangelical Christian group in south London, and reports indicate such other religious groups such as Swedenborgians, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists and others were involved. For more detailed reasonig about slavery please go to Appendix 3. CLICK HERE


P.175,176 Christian reformism. In the paragraph here there is a very messed up view expressed in the following: “The cobbled-together ancient Jewish books has an ill-tempered and implacable and bloody and provincial god….” I have been reading these books, studying them and writing about them for forty years. I suspect I am better qualified than this author to critique them. Cobbled-together? You are joking!


God being described as ill-tempered? What book has this man been reading? In seven different books of the Old Testament God is described as “slow to anger”. Any reading of those and most other of the Old Testament books reveals a God who is incredibly slow to anger. Ill tempered? Not in a million years!


Implacable? I had to check my dictionary to make sure I hadn't completely misunderstood this word. No, it means “cannot be appeased.” God cannot be appeased? What is the whole of the sacrificial part of the Law about, if it isn't about putting God at rest about our failures!


Bloody? Well if you mean He destroyed the enemies of Israel who were out to destroy them for no other reason than they were God's people, yes, I'll agree bloody.


Provincial? Look back to the previous chapter where I cited many verses that show God's concern for the whole world. Making a silly sentence like this simply exposes the author for his lack of knowledge of the Old Testament.


I don't really have a clue what he is referring to in the following sentences; it is all too general. It leads on to some indistinct comments about hell that are so indistinct that, again, it is virtually impossible to make comment. For those wishing to see just what the Bible does actually say about heaven and hell, I recommend you go to that section on this site by CLICKING HERE.


P.176-178 Slave Trade & Abolition. There follows some negatives about Martin Luther King which I haven't a clue about. Sounds a bit like character assassination to me, but the point is well made that you don't have to be perfect to be a preacher – or an author making moral points. Incidentally, I think I ought to come out with it – I think the author is a hypocrite the way he keeps referring to us as 'mammals'. This is a put-down which I suppose he has to say if he can't see anything good in mankind, and yet the whole of his writing infers that certain people are wrong, confused or whatever, which implies there is right, there is truth and so on, otherwise all he says is a waste of time – but he doesn't believe that!

If you want to know why so many people have a down on atheism, it is because it is so negative and depressing. Without God declaring meaning for mankind, all evolution leaves us with is a meaningless and purposeless life - that is the logic of it. It is Christianity that declares that although we are all sinners, we have tremendous potential to be amazingly wonderful!

For further replies to his ongoing comments about the slave trade, please see Appendix 3. CLICK HERE


P.178,179 Abraham Lincoln. I'm afraid my knowledge of Lincoln (like many others if what I read is true) is sketchy and therefore as much as I'd like to, I think it better if I say nothing about this section. Apologies.


P.179-181 Slavery again . Comments here are really covered by Appendix 3. I find no evidence to support the author's claim that King's actions had little to do with his theology. It is always possible that King did drift from his faith to secular activism but the references to the FBI recordings sound dubious to outsiders, especially in the light of Hoover 's dislike of him. Not a very helpful section really.


P181-184 Emancipation of India. This is really a section about Hinduism versus Islam and as such I feel beyond the scope of my comments, which I seek to restrict to matters pertaining to Christianity.


P.184-188 Denial of virtuosity through religion. This starts with a rambling and then confused suggestion about virtue. To say that the virtuous behaviour of a believer is no proof for the truth of his belief, is true in as far that such proofs lie elsewhere. What is tragic about this whole chapter is that the author uses the atheist's standard gambit of picking on fallible men or women and decrying them instead of examining the lives of millions of men and women who have become Christians and had their lives utterly transformed for good. He could have also examined the lives of countless pioneers in medicine, hygeine, health care, education, worker protection and social care generally, who happened to be Christians and just happened to be doing what they did because of their faith - but then that would run counter to his thesis really!


Goodness outside perfection: It should be noted, and it is a shame that it needs saying, but there is no claim of perfection here, but there is a claim of people generally, as they become Christians, making a purposeful change of direction and, with the enabling of God, starting a process of change for the good. Sometimes that is a dramatic change, other times it is less dramatic. Sometimes it happens very quickly and other times it takes time. This, we need to repeat, doesn't mean these people are instantly perfect and they will still have many quirks, foibles etc. that everyone has, and it will take time for those to be changed for good. Yet, from the start, their intention is for good.


Life Transformations: Many are the accurate stories of alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes or just common criminals who, having encountered the good news of Jesus Christ, responded to it and were totally transformed, being set free from addiction, crime or whatever. There are also increasingly more numbers of those who were not in such states, but nevertheless had their lives transformed from aimlessness and even hopelessness, to purposeful, fulfilled and fruitful lives, benefiting the rest of mankind when they encountered God through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately all of these millions of people get totally excluded by the atheist when they are pontificating about those with especially large feet of clay!


Ayer v Butler : This part develops into a rebuttal of the thought that rejection of faith leads to unbridled immorality. The case of A.J.Ayer and Bishop Butler is cited and both Ayer and the author completely misunderstand (purposely?) what Butler was saying. It can be comprehensively shown that societies that abandon faith very soon are on shaky moral grounds, as our present societies in the West reveal with evidence being put forward almost on a daily basis of the breakdown of society following the abandonment of faith. It is simple and it is obvious.

On one hand the author speaks of us as mere mammals and the next tries to give us some nobility by denying what the Bible calls sin, that tendency towards self-centredness and godlessness. The proof of the pudding is in modern crime rates, and rates of family breakdown and all the ills that go with that. Yes, there may be people like A.J.Ayer (and the author?) whose lives stand shallow scrutiny and claim they are ‘good' but such people don't know themselves.


Bad priests: Along the way, the author uses another of the atheists' gambits: “When priests go bad, they go very bad indeed and commit crimes that would make the average sinner pale.” Now this gambit makes out religious leaders of a particular brand (‘priests') a potentially worse hazard to humanity than any others. I believe this is total naivety, and possibly wilful naivety, that seems to say, a) these are the last people on earth you would expect this from, and b) because of all their repressed sexuality there is a greater likelihood of them going astray.


Such a portrayal denies the thousands of priests, vicars and other church leaders who are the epitome of integrity, honesty, and purity. There is within this a failure to realise that such men are still men and they have the same struggles as any other men. While I do not think celibacy is a requirement for holiness or consecration and that it does put burdens on men that were not God imposed, I hope I have the grace enough to recognise that many of these men are very godly, very gracious and very good!


With the unleashing of restraints by our society (coming as I have previously asserted with the large abandonment of faith in society), it is no surprise that child abuse has come to the fore, both within certain parts of the Church and outside of it – and I challenge the assumption that it is more inside the church than outside it. It certainly should be considerably less and the fact that there have been, and probably will be, cases of abuse coming to light in a part of the Church, simply acknowledges the humanity of these men, who face the same temptations as those outside the church. That's not to excuse them but understand them.


Waugh: The author next cites Evelyn Waugh as a person whose “most wicked elements arose precisely from his faith” and “these deformities… arose not in spite of his faith, but because of it.” He cites this writer who happened to be a Catholic and gives a number of illustrations of his shortcomings. The only thing is that he doesn't say what Waugh actually believed. He hints at a number of things but all of them run completely contrary to traditional, historic Christian belief. A danger within Catholicism, more than any other Christian grouping I believe, is that it can be, and certainly is in many parts of the world, more of a cultural thing rather than a set of clearly defined Biblical beliefs, and I suggest that Waugh's misdoings as cited, were the outworking of a man who had cultural beliefs with very little spiritual understanding underpinning them. This is the atheist's gambit of choosing and pillorying a religious non-Christian.


Opposite goodness: To heighten the sense that religious people go off the rails, the author contrasts Waugh with Robert Ingersoll, a good atheist. No one is saying that atheists cannot be good, but if we used the same technique as the author, we would point out that many of the word's evil men have been atheists in practice.


P.188-192 Abuses within Africa. I am not sure the purpose of what follows in the accounts of happenings in Africa because he sets up his own defences for the bizarre goings on of those who would seek to put a Christian or semi-Christian face to their misdoings. Africa often appears as a continent where Christianity is used and abused in the most extreme ways possible. Tribal conflicts and cultural misdeeds have often sought to operate under a religious flag. A genuine Christian flag it has not been! To balance it, I have a number of friends who know Africa better than I do, and they maintain that Christianity has done an incredible amount of good on that continent. Little more needs be said.


P.193 Pope John Paul II and the Church's guilt. The chapter closes with cynicism. Taking Pope John Paul II as his subject, the author observes the apologies he made before his death, and observes that these are proofs of how “the Church” got it wrong and, indeed, now it has made it right by confessing these things, they are now free to continue to be infallible all over again! What he fails to observe is that the apologies concerned “organisational religion”, specifically that of the Roman Catholic Church, when faith had given away to politics.  This is really THE criticism that can be made in respect of those who purported to be examples of the Christian Faith but who managed ‘organisations' and were more concerned with political or cultural issues rather that the fundamentals of Biblical faith.




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On this page we have:

  •  highlighted some of the key points he makes,
  •  noted that this is a chapter about abuses and misuses of Christianity, using fallible human examples and examples of those who were less than good examples of real believers.
  •  responded, point by point, to the points he makes.


As I have used the word ‘gambit' a number of times in this chapter, I would like to present here in summary, the variety of atheists' gambits that appear in this chapter:

1. The “imperfect-person-example” gambit: this takes imperfect, fallible examples of apparent believers, but who turn out to be those whose faith was considerably less than traditional, Biblical Christian faith. There are a number of such characters in this chapter.


2. A “one-sided-consideration-of-historical-truth” gambit: slavery is the example of this, forgetting that the vast majority of those who brought about slavery, or who sold or owned slaves, were not Christians, and although it took a while, it was Christians who were the main people working to abolish slavery.


3. The “distorted-truth-portrayal-of-the-Bible-and-God” gambit: atheists seem to think if they repeat the same mantras about the imperfections of the Bible and of God, that will make them true. It won't and it only goes to reveal the ignorance of the author in that he is able to make such misguided and inaccurate statements.


4. The “You-don't-have-to-be-religious-to be good” gambit: no but it certainly helps. The biggest failure of this chapter is its very approach, to examine the thesis through a limited number of failures, instead of looking at the millions of ordinary people whose lives have been utterly transformed for good.


5. The “Christians-aren't-perfect” gambit: this suggests that because people are seen to be less than perfect this therefore questions the whole thesis of Christianity. It simply reveals the atheist's lack of understanding of what Christianity is all about, which is God making bad people good, and which involves both a crisis and a process.


6. The “Religious-people-go really bad” gambit: to suggest that religion sometimes is the cause of men going bad and when they do go bad they are worse than other bad men. “Religion” may do, but genuine Christianity does not. If you don't know the difference please go to other parts of this site to see what they are. Particularly you may find Appendix 7 useful - CLICK HERE


7. The“Church-has-got-it-wrong-in-the-past” gambit: this highlights the failures of organised religion in the past. What it fails to realise is that although the examples are correct, they are not examples of ordinary, everyday Christianity, but of organisational, often politically motivated religious bodies of the past, all of which are far from the original intentions of Jesus Christ. The poor examples of Christianity and the forms of organisational abuse, should not detract from the fundamental truths of the Christian Faith.


It has thus been a chapter that uses bad examples to come up with bad conclusions, but which are far away from the truths of the Faith.





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