God is Not Great - an Appraisal  - Chapter 15


This is the Chapter 15  Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great.

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Chapter 15: Religion as an Original Sin



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.205-206 Opening Introduction     Link below


P.206-208 Blood Sacrifice    Link below


P.208-210 Atonement      Link below


P.211-215 Eternal Punishment and Impossible Tasks      Link below





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General Comment


This is very straight forward chapter with headings; very much easier to get to grips with than some of the previous often rambling chapters. That doesn't mean to say that the writer talks sense. With such clear headings one might have supposed that he was going to advance scholarly rebuttals but nothing like that follows. None of the subjects are given scholarly treatments; they merely come over as the grumblings and gossip heard across the bar in a local pub – often shallow, biased and with little foundation. Much of it seems to be a standard atheist's mantra, much of which was previously found in Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. The Brits were there first! If you think that is a harsh judgement, please read carefully what follows.




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Specific Comments


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


P.205-206 Opening Introduction. The opening paragraphs lay down the structure for the chapter and note that “these faults and crimes are not to be found in the behaviour of the adherents (which can sometimes be exemplary) but in its original precepts.” The first of these ‘faults and crimes' in his following list is “Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous,” but he doesn't deal with this as he claims he has previously done it. I'm afraid I missed that.


Creation myths: this is how he writes off any Biblical explanation and although he doesn't say it here, he has previously briefly mentioned evolution as THE alternative. To respond to that, we must ask you to go to our assessment of The God Delusion, where this highly inadequate response of naturalists is dealt with in detail. CLICK HERE


Folk Myths: again in a fairly short paragraph he reveals his complete ignorance of the rich sources of knowledge for the founding documents of the Bible. Please go to our Apologetics pages to see the detail that confounds this silly writing. CLICK HERE


P.206-208 Blood Sacrifice . The opening shots of the next of the ‘faults and crimes' simply revert back to the atheists' standard attack of taking extremists who have little or nothing to do with mainstream religion and pillory them for their idiocy. Not really worth commenting upon.


Abraham: the tirade next focuses on Abraham's ‘sacrificing' of Isaac. Rather than repeat ourselves ad-infinitum I would refer the reader to our Apologetics page 31 (CLICK HERE) about the revelation of God and the embryonic nature of Abraham's knowledge of God, together with Part 1 of Chapter 7 of our assessment of The God Delusion . CLICK HERE


Their Grave Cave: Half way down page 207 the author reverts to the ‘silly-example' strategy speaking of religious people who still kill for a plot of land in the vicinity of this unknown cave. Their behaviour has nothing to do with the “original precepts” the author said he was going to denounce, in fact nothing so far has done that! Indeed he continues by recounting various massacres but nothing is said about any Biblical references to blood sacrifice. These seem to be hints against Islam but the point is so unclear that it is difficult to know.



P.208-210 Atonement. After some rambling sentences about primitive religions and child sacrifices etc. (which, as we have previously commented, the author studiously avoided when denouncing Israel 's activity when entering Canaan) the author moves on to vicarious sacrifice. His account of Jesus' death is so noteworthy that I repeat it in its entirety:


“I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty bound to try to stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.”


Arrogance: Now as an account it is not bad. What is so awful is the total arrogance (or possibly childishness) that uses such language as “without my wishing it,” in respect of Christ's sacrifice. Whatever do the self-centred wishes of an arrogant, atheistic journalist in the twenty first century have to do with the rightness or otherwise of what happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago?


Furthermore, his assertion that he would have stepped in to prevent it if he had been there with influence, is again both arrogant and totally unknowing. He is certainly right in describing what went on as ghastly but in reality it was simply another Roman execution, of which there were many. What was terrible was the motivation behind it, but from all the derision of religion that has so far come from the pen of this writer, I would suggest that he would have been more likely to have sided with the religious authorities against this heretical young Jewish preacher than speaking up for him!


Unbiblical Guilt: In the paragraph that follows he opens up his guilt to what he has obviously heard some preacher say, that he take on the guilt and responsibility of what happened to Jesus and indeed the guilt of Adam. Now the Bible doesn't actually say that. If we are guilty (and tell me you are not), we are guilty of our own sins that have mounted up down the years, every wrong thought, word or deed. Find me the person who declares they have never thought, spoken or done wrong and I will show you a deluded imbecile. Whether these atheists like it or not, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists tell us that the biggest problem that most men and women suffer from is guilt – and not because the church has told them they are guilty; they just know they are!


Spiritual Blindness: There is in what follows a remarkable example of knowing the truth but not ‘seeing' it. Our author speaks of the purposeful way that Jesus went to Jerusalem to be crucified and the fact that those who killed him were unknowingly doing God's will and fulfilling ancient prophecies. It can only be spiritual blindness that prevents the author, who see clearly speaks about Jesus' death, from seeing the truth behind it.


The truth: Yes, listen to the apostle Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost: “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23,24). Yes, God planned it. Yes, God knew it would work out like this but it was the free will of men who acted evilly to bring it about. God never ‘made' them do it. God never makes us do wrong; we simply choose it. That's what the Bible calls sin and that's the problem we struggle with that causes guilt. It may upset atheists but one of the incredible things that happens in this world is that guilt-laden people hear of the death of Jesus Christ and, without understanding a great deal, suddenly find their guilt lifted and their lives transformed. You can scorn the death of Jesus as much as you like, but it DOES bring total transformation to those who say' “I believe,” and that transformation is for good – so don't knock it!


Judas? I sometimes wonder if atheists have a Bible of their own, with lots of “These are things to hit Christians with” in it, because it seems wherever you turn you find the same silly things being said. Richard Dawkins wrote: “Judas Iscariot has received a bad deal from history, given that his betrayal was a necessary part of the cosmic plan.”  In response I quoted the verses above and then noted: “God knew that Jesus' goodness would provoke the evil in men's hearts to rise up and crucify him or, in Judas's case, He knew that Judas's bad attitude would rise up and enable him to betray Jesus to the authorities in the middle of the night. To talk about ‘poor' Judas is a bit like saying poor Jack the Ripper.”


The Jews: This is then followed by another of those silly things I conclude must be in the atheist's Bible, the blaming of the Jews. Again Dawkins followed on with this exact same point, (rather confirming my theory!) and so I'd like to just quote again from what you'll find in Part 2 of Chapter 7 of our appraisal of The God Delusion:


“I'm sure there have been those who opposed the Jews as Christ-killers but I would suggest they simply used that tag to legitimise (in their own minds at least) their opposition. I'm sure there have been Christians in the past who have joined in that opposition and I in no way agree with that. However, the Bible suggests another reason: because they are the people of God from the pre-Christian era and God has a part for them to play in end-time history.


In pure sociological terms I suspect such opposition has been focused on the fact that they have kept themselves to themselves, maintaining their own culture, and prospering in business. Remember in an earlier chapter Dawkins himself spoke disparagingly about American Jews. Those who blame Jew-baiting on Christians forget a number of issues:  

1. The early Christian church was entirely Jewish.

2. As the early church grew to include non-Jews, one of the main areas of opposition to the church was the other Jews who refused to receive the Christ-revelation.

3. Those who blame the Jews for Jesus death are ignorant of the facts of his death.

Yes, they did arrest and try him falsely and accuse him, but it was the Gentile world, the Romans, who just went along with it and actually ended up crucifying him!  If there is Jew-Gentile guilt apportioning, then it is equal! Enough said!



P.211-215 Eternal Punishment and Impossible Tasks. The author again and again seems to almost verge on belief but not quite make it.


Ring of Truth: Under the new heading he writes about the Garden of Gethsemane , it, “used to absorb me very much as a child… and… made me wonder if some of its fantastic scenario might after all be true.” In a previous chapter we referred to a lawyer by the name of Frank Morrison who started out to disprove the resurrection story that he had heard about, but as he looked carefully into the details he came to realise that this was a true story and wrote, Who Moved the Stone. You can find an extract from that book if you want to see an example of his meticulous reasoning by CLICKING HERE.


In the middle of the last century a translator of the New Testament, by the name of J.B.Phillips, ended up writing a book by the name Ring of Truth, because he concluded that, as he worked his way carefully through the New Testament accounts, he became utterly convinced of their veracity, because there was this ring of truth about them. Many others have similarly read and similarly come to the same conclusions. However you do need to have read it through!

I think it is worth quoting from J.B.Phillips' book, Ring of truth:

So long as a man confines his ideas of Christ to a rather misty hero figure of long ago who died a tragic death, and so long as his ideas of Christianity are bounded by what he calls the Sermon on the Mount (which he has almost certainly not read in its entirety since he became grown-up), then the living truth never has a chance to touch him. This is plainly what has happened to many otherwise intelligent people. Over the years I have had hundreds of conversations with people, many of them of higher intellectual calibre than my own, who quite obviously had no idea of what Christianity is really about. I was in no case trying to catch them out: I was simply and gently trying to find out what they knew about the New Testament. My conclusion was that they knew virtually nothing. This I find pathetic and somewhat horrifying. It means that the most important Event in human history is politely and quietly bypassed. For it is not as though the evidence had been examined and found unconvincing: it had simply never been examined.


The Scapegoat: He then goes on to refer to the Old Testament picture of a ‘scapegoat' but sadly misses the point. He even picks up on the amazing picture that Charles Dickens (a Christian) wrote into A Tale of Two Cities, where one man steps in and dies in the place of another. He stumbles around, failing to accept that Jesus could possibly step in a relieve us of our guilt.


There are two things here: We believe it because Jesus was and is the eternal Son of God and only he was ‘big enough' to die in the place of each one of us. Now we may not understand either a) the love that could do that or b) the workings of it, but the second reason we believe it is that God says that is how it is and the whole of the Old Testament sacrificial system points to the same thing, that God accepts a substitute. To equate this with bribery indicates a blindness to the wonder of what is here. When, in A Tale of Two Cities, Sidney Carton steps in and take Charles Darnay's place and goes to the guillotine, bribery would be the last word to describe this act of sacrifice!


Pascal : If I didn't believe in the possibility of an atheist's Bible, I would have to accuse the author of plagiarism here because this is the third thing in a row that Dawkins raised in his earlier book we've referred to a number of times, and it was also linked to Russell's silly comment. Rather than repeat my notes there again, may I simply refer you to that part of our appraisal by CLICKING HERE. In the following, denouncing the hypocrites and frauds who have followed faith, I can but agree.


Impossible Rules? The tirade flows on to chaff about rules that the author maintains cannot be follows and starts with reference to, “You shall not covet,” as an example of how it is impossible to change ‘thinking'. Well, sadly, this is just the author's lack of knowledge and experience of the Christian life. Once you have changed the direction of your life from self-centred serving to God's-love filled living, it IS possible to have a change of thinking. I'm not special as a Christian when I say I DON'T covet. I am quite happy with God has allowed me to have. Similarly, to follow up his next example, I can look on a beautiful woman on a beach in the Summer and not desire here. That's not because I lack sexually but because I have a wife who I am totally committed to and therefore have no desire for any other woman.


I understand the two methods of dealing with these things that he suggests, but they are not the only way of dealing with wrong thoughts. Am I saying that I never have such wrong thoughts? No, of course not, but I deal with them by immediately offering them to God and replace them with 'good' thoughts. If (on occasion) I do have wrong thoughts, speak wrong words or whatever, I confess those to God and receive His forgiveness on the basis of what Christ has done. Such a process completely disarms desires etc. that might lead us astray and reduce the times that such thoughts occur. There is considerably more we could say here, but this is simply pastoral wisdom that any good pastor will convey.


Loving your Neighbour: This is the third area that the author takes up. What he misses is the truth that without God it is true that we cannot be these things, we cannot overcome. Yet millions of Christians will testify that without the mental gymnastics that the author speaks about, it IS possible to conform to these standards that he refers to - with Christ's help. It is the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer that gives them the strength to achieve these things.


Giving: His assertion on P.214 that people will not give to a perfect stranger without wanting return, simply portrays the godless and unrighteous mentality of so many for whom what he says is true. Yet Christians will often give in this manner with no expectation of return. Sorry, it happens – regularly! When you are aware of being utterly loved, it changes your entire outlook – but I cannot ask someone who has not experienced that to understand it – but it is true. When you are loved, there is no pressure to conform, but it is a natural thing to do so, because the very instructions the author has been taking such great exception to, are the very basic building blocks of civilisation which the Christian world has so often demonstrated.


Genetically determined : The same sad, old, trite atheistic excuses are trotted out as we approach the end of this chapter – we are genetically programmed! Oh yes, and the word ‘evolved' even crept in. We may have a certain genetic disposition but we can still choose how we will respond to that disposition.


Sexual Escapism: It used to be said that Christians were absorbed with sex or sexual repression, but now it is atheists. Indirect comments about masturbation are used as negative sideways comments, but we are left wondering what and why because no detail is spoken, just a vague reference to sex generally with the suggestion that that is what will follow in the following chapter. Shades of Freud about all this – and he has been dismissed by his profession too.





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On this page we have:

  •  highlighted some of the key points he makes,
  •  challenged the quality of what follows, much of it being repetitive atheists' mantra with little or no foundation,
  •  responded, point by point, to the points he makes.


Perhaps the best way to summarise this chapter is to itemise the failures under each of the headings:



  •  resorts to sweeping statements and assumes previous conclusions
  •  reveals lack of knowledge of origins of Biblical documents

Blood Sacrifice

  •  uses extreme examples that are so far from mainstream faith as not to warrant comment
  •  comments without understanding on Abraham
  •  uses silly examples to bolster his weak arguments


  •  writes arrogantly and with lack of wisdom and understanding
  •  attacks unbiblical guilt as if we uphold it
  •  reveals a spiritual blindness in his lack of understanding
  •  doesn't understand either Jesus or Judas
  •  misunderstands the guilt of those who killed Jesus

Eternal Punishment and Impossible Tasks

  •  verges on the truth but shies away from it
  •  fails to see the truth behind the scapegoat
  •  repeats silly comments about Pascal and Russell
  •  completely lacks understanding of the ability to follow God's design-rules with God's help
  •  makes negative comments but with no substance about sexual matters.


Now I almost feel guilty and unkind about my prior assessment of this chapter, but the truth is that yet again, here is a chapter that either uses extreme examples, bizarre examples or whatever, that the rest of us would agree with and say, yes, how crazy, but here they are put forward as part of the main argument – where they utterly fail! There is also commenting upon things which the author simply doesn't understand. Now I haven't a problem with people not understanding, but I do have a problem with people making silly comments based on their lack of understanding. My plea to anyone feeling slightly upset by my comments is to really research the Bible yourself so that you really know what you are talking about. This is simply a sad chapter because of the misunderstandings or lack of understanding revealed here.




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