God is Not Great - an Appraisal  - Chapter 2


This is the Chapter 2 Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great.

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Chapter 2: Religion Kills




Page Contents






Chapter Content


Please note again, we have designed these pages in the following form – Chapter Content, General Comment, Specific Comments & Conclusions – so that those who are simply interested can see in this first ‘Content' part the gist of what is in this chapter of the book. However, if you are impatient to see our assessment of what is being said, you can use the links and drop down to see how it applies to each paragraph here. Please do eventually go to the end though, and read the final ‘Conclusion' section that applies to this chapter.


P.15,16 Benign Creator and unhappy subjects . A good description of how things actually are, followed by the equally valid question, “Why does such a belief not make its adherents happy?” He recounts the celebrations he has experienced in many Christian churches which reflect this state of belief. Link below


P.16 Greek Orthodox Archbishop & Jewish rabbi. These are cited for their failures. Link below


P.17 The Crusades briefly mentioned. Link below


P.17 Evangelism and power-seeking associated in his mind. Link below


P.17 Divorce, the Irish Republic and Divorce laws. Mother Teresa shown in an apparently bad light. Link below


P.18 Dennis Prager and a question about feeling safe if faced by group coming from a prayer meeting. Then follows six places beginning with B where this happened to the author. Link below


P.18 Belfast – Irish sectarianism Link below


P.19 Beirut – multi-faiths being used for political purposes Link below


P.20 Bombay – nationalistic Hinduism Link below


P.20-22 Belgrade – nationalistic sectarianism Link below


P.22-25 Bethlehem – quibbles about virgin birth in face of lack of violence, but past history references and references to Israel-Palestinian conflict Link below


P.25-27 Baghdad and Iraq invasion Link below


P.27,28 Concluding comments Link below


P.28-31 Salman Rushdie's death sentence Link below


P32-35 New York & 9/11 . Comments (apparently) of conservative Christians & government officials' religious comments. Link below


P35,36 A final illustration Link below




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General Comment


There is much in this chapter with which we would like to agree. In fact it is a funny thing but I was put in mind of the political parties who claim the opposition has stolen their policies. The author relies on his worldwide travels to provide illustrations of injustice and inhumanity in the name of religion. If he feels bad about it, from my reading of the Bible I would say that God feels far more strongly about it than he does!


Having said that, and my specific comments will reflect this more, I believe that the whole of this chapter is actually misguided and lacks understanding. In the previous chapter I quoted Keith Ward's comment in Is Religion Dangerous? about religion and intolerance. If I may add a further quote of his here:

“My conclusion is that all human beings, religious or not, are prone to evil. Human beings are dangerous, and anything they believe or do will probably go terribly wrong at some point…. Religion does not lead to corruption. Human nature leads to corruption. If we let human beings into our religion, it is going to get corrupted.”


I would also want to expand on this quote by noting that it is patently obvious that the names of religious groups have been taken by a variety of nationalistic groups around the world and through history, as a means of drawing the faithful into conflict.


We also need to emphasise something of what we said in the first chapter about world religions being different from the uniqueness of Christianity and them being answerable for their own failures. There is a very real difference between world religions and Christianity.


One final comment: At one particular point the author quotes a well-known leader. I have checked his quote and he is wrong. That leaves me troubled. How many other misquotes are there here?





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Specific Comments


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


P.15,16 Benign Creator and unhappy subjects. Here is a good description of how things actually are, followed by the equally valid question, “Why does such a belief not make its adherents happy?” He recounts the celebrations he has experienced in many Christian churches which reflect this state of belief.

The description at the beginning of the chapter is exactly how it is. Unfortunately that is not a description that most world religions go along with! The author goes on, in the next paragraph, to testify to the celebrations that match this belief that he has experienced in many Christian churches.


P.16 Greek Orthodox Archbishop & Jewish rabbi. These two men are cited for their apparent moral failures. Religion should create people working to be good, but this side of death they will always some skeleton in the cupboard, hopefully only minor, but sometimes not so. Major things disqualify; minor things create humility. Not an excuse, just an observation.


P.17 The Crusades briefly mentioned. I suspect that if we took any of the leaders of the crusades alongside modern believing Christians, they wouldn't stand up very well. Perhaps some of them weren't Christians (in the real sense) at all. A lot of superstition and bad teaching or even lack of teaching, abounded in those days (and today?). Not excuses, just an observation. For more on this look at Appendix 2 – Church and History. CLICK HERE.


P.17 Evangelism and power-seeking associated in his mind. Of course Christians who believe they have found something wonderful will want to share it. Politicians want to share with everyone; why shouldn't faith-filled believers who believe they have something infinitely more wonderful? If you don't like it you can either turn off the TV, shut the front door, or simply say, “Can we talk about something else?” I don't have a problem gracefully turning politicians away from my front door. Why should the author? And power-seeking? What's that all about? OK, it may be in some big churches or denominations in America , but most church leaders I know, realise what a burden it is being a leader, not what a power position it is!


P.17 Divorce, the Irish Republic and Divorce laws. I think most of page 17 is meant to be a knock against Mother Teresa. So here was a little lady who almost achieved sainthood in most people's eyes for working in the slums, a staggeringly graceful lady I'm told.


So she happens to believe that divorce is not something to be easily given away? Easy divorce has been a primary means of social disintegration in Western societies in recent decades and we are reaping the fruits of it, as anyone working in local communities knows. Yes, there will always be bad situations such as the wife-beating drunk husband, but wouldn't it be better to have legislation and social help to sort him out rather that totally deprive the kids of a dad?


So Mother Teresa acted in a political manner to seek to bring about an outcome she felt concerned about? Thousands of other activists do the same. So she had the grace to accept that Diana lived in a different culture where divorce was already available? That doesn't sound like a rich girl, poor girl divide, much more a pragmatic acceptance of the situation. One situation was about holding a society together (as perceived) and the other was about gracefully helping an individual.


P.18 Dennis Prager and a question about feeling safe if faced by a group coming from a prayer meeting. What actually gets lost in the author's argument and the illustrations that take up a large part of this chapter, is the simple assumption that Dennis Prager made about the good behaviour he expected from a group of Christian men from his country.

His question clearly supposed that in his country you would have nothing to fear from such a group. I can think of hundreds and hundreds of Christian men that I have met and would feel totally confident meeting in a group on the streets. However, and this is where the author is ingenuous (not ingenious!) because he will know that in many cities in the States and elsewhere you would feel distinctly unhappy about seeing a group of men together in the evening on the street – and the odds are (and you know it) that there is nothing religious about these men. In what follows, this is a canny bit of arguing by distorting the truth and avoiding the obvious implications which actually shows up Christianity in the West in a favourable light!


P.18 Belfast – Irish sectarianism! Yes, here was a whole society that got dragged into a violent morass. Yes, it leaned on Catholic authority versus Protestant freedom to bolster it up and accentuate it horribly, yet without doubt it was a political, nationalistic foray from the outset and at the ending. Please note that it was “Catholics” versus “Protestants”, NOT Christians versus Christians. This was probably one of THE classic examples in the last century of using religious labels to ferment upheaval. I don't actually believe that there was anyone wielding a gun or any other weapon of violence, who had a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ – though I don't expect the author or any other atheist to believe and understand that.


P.19 Beirut – multi-faiths being used for political purposes. I think all else that has been said about attaching religious tags to political situations applies here. Not much else to say.


P.20 Bombay – nationalistic Hinduism at work. Knowing some Christians in Bombay who have been persecuted, I can understand this one.


P.20-22 Belgrade – nationalistic sectarianism at work. My understanding of this is that this is the equivalent to the Irish problems.


P.22-25 Bethlehem – This was a funny section. It was as if the author couldn't find anything to quote about Christians and violence at Bethlehem, so went into quibbles about the virgin birth. The fact that there are stacks of such beliefs around the world shouldn't detract from the real thing. The comments there about the crusades pick up my comments from page 17 above. The following discussion about Israel and the Palestinians is clearly, from those in the know, a political and nationalistic issue rather than a religious one. My sources tell me that a large percentage of Israel is non-religious. it is obvious, however, that religion is used to bolster the cultural and social conflict. It shouldn't be, but it is.


P.25-27 Baghdad and Iraq invasion. My understanding of the Iraq situation was that Saddam Hussein played the religious card whenever it suited him. Perhaps Iraq more than most religious or even semi-religious countries helps the slogan, ‘religion has poisoned everything' but I think that is an issue for Islam to answer.


P.27,28 Concluding comments. His acknowledgement that there were some good religious leaders but it wasn't religion that made them good, is a prejudged position simply taken because it suits him. My comments about those who purport to be religious adherents but are in fact secularists, bears more on his comments here. Most of us would agree at the outset that the failure of religious leadership to condemn violence is ‘disgusting'. That may be a rather simplistic conclusion though which might bear considerably more thought and comment by those who knew the details more fully.


P.28-31 Salman Rushdie's death sentence.   I can but agree with his sentiments in this section.


P31-35 New York & 9/11. The difficulty, I have found with this section, is that I am not sure how accurate it is. It speaks of the occurrence of 9/11, comments of the attorney general and the president, and then later by two conservative Christian (I believe) spokesmen. My question over accuracy arises in what follows because there comes a somewhat derogatory series of comments about Billy Graham, a man who has been known over the years for his integrity (not perfect I'm sure!).


Particular reference was made to a sermon he gave at the National Cathedral in Washington where, “His absurd sermon made the claim that all the dead were now in paradise and would not return to us, even if they could.” Later he added, “And there is no reason to believe that Billy Graham knew the current whereabouts of their souls, let alone their posthumous desires. But there was also something sinister in hearing detailed claims to knowledge of paradise, of the sort that bin Laden himself was making on behalf of the assassins.” Now I bother to detail this because it highlights a particular problem, what the Bible calls the blindness of ungodly men (and the author by definition is).


Now the reason I say this and raise this query is that I looked up the text of this sermon on the Internet and the appropriate bit reads, “And many of those people who died this past week are in heaven right now. And they wouldn't want to come back. It's so glorious and so wonderful.” Now you may think it insignificant but the key word that is different to that portrayed by the author is the word, ‘many'. This throws a totally different light on what was being said, from what the author wrote was said. I have incidentally, as a response to these comments in this chapter carefully read that sermon through. To describe it as absurd shows a callous blindness to the gracious pastoral concern that was being so well expressed in a manner not designed to upset any other belief system. Staggeringly good for a man well over eighty years old!


It appears a tiny mistake but it actually reveals a tremendous prejudice that is unable to hear just what is being said, and so twists and warps it to sound like something totally different. Because, sadly, this atheistic author is so blinded by his rage, he is unable to see the simple truth of what Billy Graham was actually saying. His claim that ‘many' of those who died would be in heaven, is a simple acknowledgement that on average somewhere between 40 and 50% of Americans claim to be Christians. This would suggest that possibly, working on averages, a little over one thousand Christians joined their Saviour that day. He explained why they would not wish to return: “It's so glorious and so wonderful” and he said that on the authority of the Bible. If you don't want to believe it, that's your choice, but Billy Graham was simply explaining Christian belief on the basis of the Bible. Absurd? Perhaps the author is not so gracious as he tries to make out!


I have to say that the tone and inaccuracy in this section completely undermined any credibility he appeared to have and I'm not even going to bother to comment on any more in that section which could be equally suspect. One thing I have observed over many years watching the media, even on one occasion being at an event that received national coverage, is that not only are there often inaccuracies in reporting, but there is also slanted and biased reporting so that apparent truths told are, in fact, very different from what actually happened. It's a sad fact of modern life.


P35,36 A final illustration. The illustration at the end of the chapter about seeing a bunch of coloured track repairmen is a good point but still completely evades the implications of the original question.





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On this page we have:

  •  highlighted some of the key points he makes,
  •  made general comments about how religion can get taken over for other purposes,
  •  responded, point by point, to the points he makes.


The bulk of this chapter is taken up with personal anecdotes from around the world showing how religious groups fight. It comes in answer to a question asked about how he would feel meeting a group on the street in the evening, coming home from a prayer meeting. It purposely ignores the assumptions of the questions that such a group in the United States would be likely to be peace-loving Christians with whom you would definitely feel more secure than with the average gang on the street at night!


There is little to dispute about the general information that is given about the various conflicts around the world except the primary and most basic one, which is that such conflicts mostly don't come from religion but from those who use religion for their own ends. The use of fundamentalist extremists to make such points is a common tactic used by atheists who don't realise that they have their own extremist followers who equally shame them.


We have commented already that there needs to be a distinguishing between Christianity and other world religions. Especially where the extremists of any faith culture resort to violence, there needs to be a disassociating from it – and that by the bulk of the faith community. Failures by individuals do not annul the general faith beliefs; it merely shows the truths of the doctrines of sin.


Sadly the apparent façade of mildness is dented by some inaccurate reporting and clear biased commenting. Again, as in the first chapter, comments are made about individuals or groups, but they are not backed up with viable examples and therefore lack some credibility.




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