God is Not Great - an Appraisal  - Chapter 16


This is the Chapter 16  Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great.

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Chapter 16: Is Religion Child Abuse?




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.217 Derogatory opening condemning religious teaching of children     Link below


P.218 James Joyce's example of a bad priest – fear of hell and of torture   Link below


P.219-220 Indoctrination of young minds    Link below


P.220-223 Abortion   Link below


P.223-226 Circumcision     Link below


P.226,227 Masturbation  Link below


P.227,228 Child Abuse    Link below




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General Comment


This is a difficult chapter to respond to because it is built mainly on Roman Catholicism and Judaism in history and lots of sweeping statements that seeks to tar every Christian with the same brush. Again, sadly, it appeals to extremes of belief or additions to belief to substantiate the attack on the Church from the past, and as such presents an incredibly one-sided picture, failing to point out the many good things that the church has done for children. It also makes out the Church as the main antagonist of children and completely avoids the point that abuses today come mostly from outside the Church and history shows us plenty of atheistic regimes that have indoctrinated their children in far worse ways that certain parts of the Church have done.




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Specific Comments


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


P.217 Derogatory opening condemning religious teaching of children. The three opening lines are interesting: “When we consider whether religion has done more harm than good” – not that this would say anything at all about its truth or authenticity – "we are faced with…..” In other words he is not trying to determine the truth or authenticity of religion, he's just trying to throw mud. So, please understand this chapter has nothing whatsoever to do with why, for instance, Christianity is valid, genuine and worth considering. This chapter is all about the abuses that the author can drag up.


How many children? He goes on to ask or wonder how many children have been maimed by compulsory inculcation of faith. What he should be asking is how many children have been tainted by teachings about dogmatic beliefs outside Biblical beliefs, that come either from human, organisational religion (which on occasion Roman Catholicism has been) or cultic indoctrination. That would be a valid area of consideration. No doubt there have been many children who have received teaching that is erroneous, fearful and fanciful. This needs saying and it must be clarified that these descriptions are completely different from basic Sunday School teaching of small children which focuses on Bible stories.


Secular teaching? What it should also be distinguished from is the vast amount of secular teaching that children are given which teaches them that they are insignificant, unloved and a nuisance – which is exactly what a considerable number of children in our Western societies receive directly from their parents attitudes, words and actions – which the writer does not speak about!

I also add further comment which I have made previously: anyone who teaches in church knows that children do not have undefended minds as the author suggests, for many, at a variety of ages decide to drop out of Sunday Schools and are completely unaffected by the teaching they have received. Young people can make up their minds, particularly when it comes to church, which is a far healthier place than the many authoritarian regimes of the past century and the present when children do not have the choice to reject the teachings of the atheistic state but are forced to abide by it. I suspect that numerically, the numbers today that are still under strict rule of the state, are equal to if not vastly exceeding those who attend Sunday Schools.


P.218 James Joyce's example of a bad priest – fear of hell and of torture. A favourite ploy of atheists is to take the writings of someone antagonistic to religion and quote them. It's a bad technique. No doubt there are Irish priests (and others) who, having a form of religion far that that revealed in the Bible, use fear in their sermons. It is largely an unChristlike approach to preaching. Even when Jesus was warning against hell, he was very low-key.

Organised religion is just the same as organised politics and uses similar man-made techniques and we would never wish to defend such things. However, if you want to portray the Church accurately (which our author obviously doesn't want to do) then you will also mention those vast numbers of incredibly loving, gracious and caring teachers within church who do not force learning, but simply offer it graciously, and open to question. There are no doubt some insane atheists and if we sought to portray all atheists as insane we would be using the same approach as the author does. Again, because hell is mentioned again, we would refer the interested reader to our pages on heaven and hell by CLICKING HERE.


P.219-220 Indoctrination of young minds. The subject of religious indoctrination is pursued with a sublimated suggested that it was all down to the Catholic Church. As the author pointed out that these failures of a particular part of the Church have nothing to do with the authenticity of Christianity, I won't bother to defend what cannot be defended!


P.220-223 Abortion. If you want to consider the opposing views of ethics of abortion, this rather rambling section is not for you. He starts out by making the point that the foetus is a separate person from the mother, I presume to get us to give consideration to the foetus, but not as pro-lifers might hope. To the contrary, he speaks first about how miscarriages are natures way of rejecting defective bodies. What he doesn't observe is that a miscarriage can sometimes be the result of a mother's malfunctioning body, not the baby's. Then follows some almost incomprehensible jottings about evolution, the point of which evades me.


He then speaks about prophylaxis, which my dictionary describes as preventative treatment of disease, presumably suggesting in humanists' terms, that treating unwanted babies is the same as treating diseases. I hope not! He is not clear. Perhaps it is a reference to birth control which he later moves on to. Whatever it is, it has been “opposed root and branch by the clergy.” Rather a sweeping statement I suggest, used to hit out at the church yet again. At times his position seems caring and at other times simply confusing. It is a shame that he hasn't quite the nerve to speak out against abortion on demand, or abortion as a means of family planning, which is what we now have in parts of the West.


P.223-226 Circumcision. The ramble continues to the subject of circumcision and generally sexual mutilation. This, it seems to me is largely a charge against Judaism for circumcision and Islam for female circumcision. He appeals largely to a twelfth century Jewish philosopher to make his points.


Male Circumcision: Purely from a point of accuracy, a few comments may be worth while. My understanding of Jewish circumcision was that it was required as a sign or reminder to Jewish males of their covenant relationship with God. My understanding was that contrary to what he says, he even improved the sexual experience. I have also heard secular doctors suggesting that it is more hygienic to remove the foreskin. That this is painful I don't doubt, though I have heard it suggested that the eighth day when it is required to be done is the best time to safety and comfort points of view. Any pain will not be remembered by the infant who has not memory at that age.


Female Circumcision: Just to be quite clear I, and I suspect most Westerners, Christian or not, abhor the practice of female circumcision which seems purely a requirement of men in male dominated societies, and has little to do with genuine faiths.


P.226,227 Masturbation. I have a feeling that here, as well as in some of these other areas, practice and teaching in the past has been led by those outside the church in the medical world and religious teachers have simply followed along. Today, I suspect many Christian teachers would take the same view as clinical psychologists, that masturbation in itself is not wrong, but is an indication of an inability to have self control and which, especially in the case of married men, indicates a need to attention to be given to the relationship of the married couple. I'm not going to argue over the past where I suspect ignorance and fear operated both inside and outside the church. Don't dump all the blame on the church for your own agenda!


P.227,228 Child Abuse. I'm really not sure of the point being made in the opening sentence and sexual innocence in adults being “corrosive and repulsive.” I think he must have something else in his mind but I do not find an unmarried person who decides to remain sexually innocent either corrosive or repulsive. In fact I applaud them as they stand in stark contrast to the increasing numbers of young people and older, who seem to have trapped themselves in a way of thinking that says they can only be fulfilled by frequent and regular sexual activity. Such a mentality has been the cause of increased numbers of pregnancies in the young and certainly of STDs in the younger generations particularly – and the fear that often goes with those, together with the disappointment can comes later in life when they find they have been left sterile when they now want children.


Of those I have counselled in respect of child abuse, I have never come across someone who was abused by a Catholic priest when they were a child. This is not to say that it doesn't happen but I would put money on it happening outside the church a hundredfold more than in the church, although it is the church which gets all the attention. I am not making excuses for abuses within the Catholic Church (or any other part of it) – because that cannot be defended. If the author counselled sexual offenders he might have a more charitable approach in dealing with those offenders, whether they be in the church or not. Wherever there is child abuse it is an abuse of power and equally wrong. Finally, using these sins to promote the atheists' agenda ignores the thousands of saintly, godly and utterly righteous and caring men and women of that part of the church to which I don't belong, who, if the truth were known, were purity personified and an example of what is possible to those who only know of unrestrained desire. Balanced reporting is not a feature of this book.




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On this page we have:

  •  highlighted some of the key points he makes,
  •  noted the references mainly to Roman Catholicism and Judaism in history with lots of sweeping statements, appealing to extremes and presenting an incredibly one-sided picture, failing to point out the many good people in the Church.
  •  responded, point by point, to the points he makes.


My primary objections to the contents of this chapter, and I am speaking generally here, are:

  •  the use of generalisations to apparently tar all believers with the same brush,
  •  a one-sided portrayal of church that shows only either those from other faiths, or those on extreme fringes, and misses the vast majority of good, considerate, wise teachers and carers in the Christian faith, who do not abuse by fear etc., 
  •  a one-sided portrayal of bad things that places all the blame on the church and fails to see the failures by much larger numbers outside the church,
  •  lack of clarity and balance in dealing with such subjects as abortion, circumcision, masturbation, and child abuse generally.


To say this chapter was loaded to meet the atheist's agenda would be an understatement. The objections above are real, genuine and fair. The subjects here are too important to be used politically to score points. I would like to see genuine care and concern in each of the subjects raised and for all the persons involved, instead of this one-sided, politically motivated, finger pointing tirade.




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