God is Not Great - an Appraisal  - Chapter 17


This is the Chapter 17  Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great.

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Chapter 17: An Objection Anticipated: The Last-Ditch

'Case' Against Secularism




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.229,230 A Defence Needed   Link below


P.230-232 Totalitarianism   Link below


P.232,233 Appealing to Orwell – knowledge of the totalitarian state Link below


P.233 Calvin defamed – totalitarian theology? Link below


P.234,235 Sleight of Hand – The God that Failed Link below


P.235-241 The Vatican & Hitler Link below


P.241,242 Japan Link below


P.242,243 Einstein Link below


P.243-247 Stalinism Link below


P.247-249 Albania & North Korea   Link below


P.250-252 Anti-Semitism, Apartheid and Zionism Link below





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General Comment


This is a long 23 page chapter where language seems to be used to suit the author's purposes and elements of history twisted to suit his agenda of defaming religion. His objective, you are led to believe at the beginning, is to face and answer the case against notorious secular and atheist regimes. However that is far from what happens in this chapter. Instead of denouncing those godless regimes and their acts of evil, he simply points out how the church has so often sided with these regimes. 'Guilt by Association' should perhaps be the subheading of this chapter.


What he does well in this chapter, often I suspect without realising it, is to distinguish between Christians and human, so-called Christian Institutions, viz. the Catholic Church. What he also fails to do is recognise that the Catholic Church is only a part of the Christian Church worldwide, and many of us inside the Church have just as many concerns as those outside it.


Initially it is often a difficult chapter to follow. The content is clear but the objectives are often not. However, after ploughing and re-ploughing it, it has to be conceded that he makes many good points which the church worldwide would do well to consider




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Specific Comments


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


P.229,230 A Defence Needed. There is an odd start to this chapter where the author seems to concede that he cannot definitively prove a list of things, some of which (one wonders) is because he is ill-informed and jumps to wrong conclusions anyway, e.g. “transparent fables”, “man-made imposition”, “enemy of science and inquiry” etc. He concludes, “I can most certainly claim that religion is now fully aware of these criticisms”. Er, yes, we were before you came along!


However he moves on to acknowledge that there may be a case to defend, that says atheistic regimes have been worse even that religion-based ones. Before he moves in to give an answer he says that religious people now say they are no worse than Nazis or Stalinists. Wherever did he get that from? Please don't put me or traditional, Bible-based Christianity anyway near the same bracket as Nazis or Stalinists! To speak of loving, caring, truth filled Christians in the same bracket is seeking to besmirch by association but I have to tell you that there is NO association. In what will follow he will show how religious institutions have sought appeasement with totalitarian states, but that is a far cry from individual Christians with deep concerns about the wrongs of those regimes.


P.230-232 Totalitarianism. He defines totalitarian states as those “which demand that citizens become wholly subjects and surrender their private lives and personalities entirely to the state, or to the supreme leader”. He then goes on to suggest that historically such states have been bound up with religion. This is definitely guilt by association! But note that it isn't states motivated by religion but states or despots using religion. So this is a very far cry from traditional Biblical Christianity that I referred to above. This is using superstition as a political weapon. This first section here is actually a condemnation of despots, not of religion. To consider the difference between totalitarian regimes and totalitarian religion, please CLICK HERE and go to Appendix 4


He moves from totalitarian states that were despot led, to more modern states that were dogma led.


P.233 Appealing to Orwell. George Orwell is well known for his deriding totalitarian states and so he quotes him as saying that “A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy.” Now a theocracy is usually defined as a state governed by God or by God through His priests. Orwell uses it to mean a state where the leaders are seen like gods. Thus Stalin or Mao were virtually worshipped. The author sets up a totalitarian state as one that subjugates its people, and then he goes on to say that's what early religion did. However he doesn't give any examples, so I think it is a highly questionable premise. If he has Israel in mind here, a careful examination of the practices and life of Israel, compared with surrounding nations, will reveal a tremendous freedom in Israel in comparison with those others.


Orwell at School: He moves on to the state controlling even your thoughts and he refers to Orwell being forced to learn that you are guilty even if you don't know it. He refers to a school Orwell went to run by “Christian sadists”. Now this is a reference to Orwell's essay entitled Such, Such were the Joys, about his experience of bed wetting at a public school, in which he comments, “It was possible, therefore, to commit a sin without knowing that you committed it, without wanting to commit it, and without being able to avoid it.” Although religion played a part in the lives of many such people of that time leading public schools, it was a very different thing from what we know of as Christianity today. To portray these people as ‘Christian sadists' is to write off, in the eyes of the author at least, every head master who used the cane. That this man may have been a sadist is debatable and lacks understanding of the public ['private' in the USA] school system (of which I am not an admirer). If he was a sadist, a better description of him might have been, “a sadist with religious leanings” and that order reveals the reality.


P.233,234 Calvin. He brands John Calvin as a totalitarian leader after having declared, “it is not possible, in the religious totalitarian vision, to escape this world of original sin and guilt and pain. An infinity of punishment awaits you even after you die.” His target, that soon follows is that of “election” which he clearly does not understand. Generally, as he carries on, he implies that all religion is totalitarian. To again see a useful distinction, please go to Appendix 4  CLICK HERE


The doctrine of election: We need to pick this up in passing. This is the doctrine that says every person who becomes a Christian is ‘elected' by God. For instance: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4). The apostle Peter explained it as follows: “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. (1 Pet 1:2). Some have taken the subject of election to mean that God chose who He fancied and they and only they can become Christians. Yet the texts we have just quoted suggest that God looked into the future and knew who would respond to the news about Jesus and thus knew who would follow Him. These are the ones, He knew, would become Christians. In this sense He chose them on the basis of their response.


Calvin demeaned: The author describes John Calvin as “a sadist and torturer and killer who burned Servetus.” In an interesting Internet article, J. Steven Wilkins in Calvin vs. Servetus points out that:

a) Servetus was the only person put to death in Calvin's lifetime and

b) that Calvin's role in his death was purely as an expert witness at his trial for heresy,

c) Servetus was given the chance to leave Geneva and refused it,

d) it was the authorities who decided to burn the heretic and

e) Calvin appealed for his death to be the more humane beheading but his appeal was refused.

Rather a different picture than the one painted by the author!


Following the author's revulsion at Calvin presumably because of, though not explicitly stated, his teaching on election, the author moves on to decry others who teach similar things which he puts under the umbrella of totalitarianism.


P. 234,235 Sleight of Hand – The God that Failed. But then he writes about a 1950's book, The God that Failed, describing it as “the great anti-totalitarian anthology of the twentieth century”. Another reviewer described it so: “The God That Failed is a classic work and crucial document of the Cold War that brings together essays by six of the most important writers of the twentieth century on their conversion to and subsequent disillusionment with communism.” The ‘God' that is referred to in the title is thus Communism which was uncritically worshipped by many until they came to see its evil.

In some bizarre twist of logic the author exalts Bertrand Russell for forecasting its downfall before even these disillusioned 1950's writers, and chastises Christian socialists and others who hailed communism as something great. You can call them what you like but 'Christian' was not the first thing that comes to mind. The early part of the twentieth century was not known for strength of faith. In an incredible sleight of hand the author whisks our attention away from the folly of atheistic totalitarianism to the folly of some religious people (and they are no more than that, which means little) who in a confused bout of well-meaning pandering, couldn't see through it all.


P.235-241 The Vatican & Hitler. In the pages that follow there is, I presume, an accurate description of the part played by the Vatican throughout the 30's and 40's of last century in respect of Hitler. I think what took place then is analogous to the foreign policy stance of the USA, that you side with the lesser of two evils, even if that is a less than perfect dictator! In the eyes of many of us that is less than righteous. It is human leadership struggling with the presence of evil and seeking, often wrongly, to take a path of appeasement in order to try to find a path for survival.


Faith versus Institution: What we noted in the general comments above, we need to repeat here. Many of us who are Christians are deeply disturbed at the turning of faith and local churches into an institution, whether that be the Catholic Church or world-wide protestant denominations. These institutions take on a form that is akin to the structures found outside the church and, to many of us, these are forms which hinder the work and expression of God and portray a form of Christianity that is far from that found in the Bible.


Quality of Faith: I think it is also worth noting that the spiritual quality of faith or church life has varied throughout the past two thousand years. The first half of last century was not, for example, a time when faith was strong and the Bible adhered to firmly. When there have been those times, then the life and example of the church has been a light to the rest of the world. When it is not like that, then the church gets known for accommodation and appeasement, neither of which can be defended. The best that can be said is that even though the Institution may have been strong – and wrong – there were always those, who the author acknowledges, who stood firm for righteousness and suffered for their stand. Similarly even in times of weakness of life in the church, there have always been some voices raised for righteousness, even if they were disregarded by the majority. To consider this further in Appendix 2 - Church & Histroy - please CLICK HERE


P.241,242 Japan. There is a brief chiding of churches for not denouncing of the cult of god-king, and all that came about in the last World War at Japan's hands. Crazy it may appear to the rest of us in the world, but then there are crazy beliefs (religious and otherwise) in the West today. I suspect the churches remained silent because they believed that saying anything wouldn't do any good. Diplomacy is not known for purposely upsetting other national leaders! A bit is a silly section really.


P.242,243 Einstein. A minor debate follows about Einstein's intentions but as they were never totally clear I am not joining in the discussion. A page filling section.


P.243-247 Stalinism. As part of his ‘sharing the blame' approach, the author quietly nails the Greek Orthodox Church in passing, for supporting the Czar. I'm not sure how real that was, but if it were true it's just another example of imperfect men struggling to cope in the face of terrifying power. The churches in China are linked to Western influences according to the author, yet my reading of Hudson Taylor says that was often only a tenuous link. What I do know is that the real church in China today is largely underground because the atheistic Communist State only allows token religion in public.


Confused Struggles: The passages that follow speak of State manipulation and puppet churches, with the State often trying to replace religion with political worship. I think a point that is missed in such discussions is that although such religious leaders struggled to cope with such totalitarian power arrayed against them, the truth was that they did have a belief system and sought to uphold it, even if sometimes they didn't do it in a good way. References to Liberation Theology remind us that theologians have struggled to apply the basics and take them on to meet the needs of the world. They may have been confused and they may have been wrong, but they were nevertheless struggling to find truth and a way through the evils of this world.


P.247-250 Albania & North Korea. With the passing reference to Albania comes a recognition that most of the world does have a tendency to worship something. North Korea is cited as a supreme example of a terrible situation based on the oppressive regime of a god-head of state. Following a brief reference to the Unification Church there is a sideways swipe that suggests that “faith must to some extent be blind”. This is the limit of the author's knowledge. So he has come across unthinking Christians but that doesn't mean that faith has to be blind, for many of us who are sincere, thinking, intelligent Christians have given considerable thought to all the alternatives and found them wanting. For further comments on his ongoing comments about subjection to God, please see Appendix 4.CLICK HERE


P.250-252 Anti-Semitism, Apartheid and Zionism. I think nothing in these passages requires further comment than we have made above.





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On this page we have:

  •  highlighted some of the key points he makes,
  •  noted that the author's goal in this chapter has been to cover up the misdeeds of totalitarian atheistic states by showing how the inadequate church (particularly the institutional church) has collaborated with such states
  •  responded, point by point, to the points he makes.


Perhaps the key points of this chapter might be:

  •  the author's inability to distinguish between the misdeeds of institutional religion and the faith of individuals
  •  his willingness to tar everyone in the ‘Church' with the same brush
  •  his confusion mixing up totalitarian states with so-called ‘totalitarian' religion
  •  his confused and inaccurate descriptions of John Calvin and his teaching
  •  his shifting blame from totalitarian states to religion
  •  his inability to assess why church and state were blurred in the war
  •  his blurring of truth and untruth in respect of the role and place of religion in varied places around the world, and inability to show how religion was often used or manipulated by the state.


Whereas the first page suggested that we would be considering the guilt or otherwise or secular or atheistic states, the author neatly sidesteps the issue and with professional sleight of hand turns our attention again and again to religion.


Obviously his objective is to muddy the image of religion but all he does is highlight what many of us know already, that once you institutionalise religion you have something to defend, which becomes very difficult when the power base of society is a hostile totalitarian and (often) atheistic regime.


Once or twice the good reputation of individual Christians is referred to, but a much more balanced piece of writing would have pointed out that considerable numbers of Christians have both stood against such regimes and died for their beliefs doing it. However, why let the truth spoil a good story!




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