God is Not Great - an Appraisal  - Chapter 4


This is the Chapter 4  Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great.

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Chapter 4: A Note on Health,

to which Religion can be Hazardous




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.43-45 On the hindrances to the polio campaign by some religions    Link below


P.45,46 Restrictions on family planning & two faced attitudes by some religions   Link below


P.46,47 Conflicts of religion with medicine and science   Link below


P.48,49 Aids, homosexuality and sex generally   Link below


P.49,50 Ancient circumcision practices   Link below


P.50 Female circumcision   Link below


P.51 JWs, Mormon and Islamic abuses    Link below


P.52 Three conclusions about religion:     Link below

  • it is man made
  • ethics and morality are independent of faith
  • religion is immoral


P.52,53 Religion and mental disorder    Link below


P.53,54 Sexual function & dysfunction    Link below


P.54 The Design Aspect     Link below


P.54,55 Holy books and abuses of women    Link below


P.55,56 Teachings of the past   Link below


P.56-61 Religions that relish the end     Link below




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General Comment


This is a meaty chapter that deserves a lot of thought and a lot of attention. So much of what the author says is true and irrefutable, as much as the Church might prefer it not to be so. There is a lot here about Islam and indeed other faiths, and I leave to them what their defence should be.


Much of what is referred to in this chapter has little or no relevance to modern Christianity – although some does – and the value of the chapter therefore becomes, not only a denouncing of wrong attitudes, practices etc. but a lesson in how to become people who are not constantly defensive but willing to learn.


Having said this, there are a number of issues where comments in the chapter flow, not only out of the author's general hostility towards religion, but out of his materialistic, hedonistic and even anarchistic mentality. The comments in the next section will explain that.


The title of the chapter, “A Note on Health” is thoroughly misleading. This is a full-blown essay and well worth reading.




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Specific Comments


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


P.43-45 On the hindrances to the polio campaign by some religions. This is an account of how Islamic figures in some countries have hindered the work of polio vaccinations. None of us in the West would in any way defend that. Possibly, to be fair to Islam as a whole, I suspect that this is a nationalistic, cultural thing exercised by religious extremist leaders, and little to do with the basic tenets of the faith, as is much that goes on in Middle Eastern and African countries.


P.45,46 Restrictions on family planning & two faced attitudes by some religions. The Roman Catholic Church's deep unhappiness at any form of family planning is the first issue here, again, one which many of us outside of the Catholic Church would not agree with. Defensive leaders, whether they be religious or political, often make foolish comments in their desire to counter an unwelcome trend. Such a thing demeans the individuals, not God, of whom they become poor representatives.

The second issue is of Islamic authorities, especially in Indonesia, Pakistan and Iran, some of whom are clearly both short sighted and even two faced.


P.46,47 Conflicts of religion with medicine and science. In what is written in this section, the reference to religion's monopoly being a cause of opposition to medicine and science is, I believe, only a half truth limited to religions of the past or of the present Middle East.

I am also certain that some of the opposition to science by those of us in the faith community, is simply because atheistic scientists have moved from the area of fact into the area of speculative naturalistic philosophy which is godless by presupposition (See our appraisal of The God Delusion CLICK HERE).


P.48,49 Aids, homosexuality and sex generally. The references to homosexuality being objected to by faith communities because it is not seen in nature, is an inaccurate conclusion. The objection is because the Bible very clearly declares it to be ‘unnatural'.


Surely one of the primary objections of homosexuality is that it is a refusal or inability to mature (which is what all my books on psychology told me). Teenage boys, at least, clearly go through a male-orientated phase, but healthy development means that is left behind and heterosexual outlook on life develops to enable there to be partnering and continuation of the human race. The misuse of sex is a secondary but important issue also.


The argument of ‘design' that is mentioned in this section suggests that homosexuality is part of natural design. This is a very poor argument because on the same basis we would have to argue that self-harming is part of ‘design', alcoholism and drug addiction are part of ‘design' and even, taking it logically further, adultery, rape, murder or whatever are part of ‘design'. This very poor argument for any particular form of behaviour, to suggest that ‘if you can do it, it's all right, because it's part of ‘design'. This is the logical and harmful conclusion when you remove any ethical basis, particularly that recommended by the Manufacturer (Creator).


P.49,50 Ancient circumcision practices. Never having heard of this before, I suspect that this was a rare practice, limited to a small group of Hasidic fundamentalists. Weird and fortunately rare. No excuses.


P.50 Female circumcision. Abhorrent, to be totally denounced by all of us.


P.51,52 JWs, Mormon and Islamic abuses. Ditto


P.52 Three conclusions about religion. If you define religion as the practices of mankind to worship supposed deities, then each of these three things could be true. If you distinguish the Christian faith from this definition and define it, as it claims, to be the revelation of God by God to enable human beings to enter into meaningful relationships with Him, then:

a) it is not man made,

b) ethics are only what God decrees match His design criteria, and

c) it is totally moral.

The fact that many people say they believe this definition but actually live very differently is an indication of their fallibility and not the error of the Faith. The fact that many people do live it, indicates it is possible.


P.52,53 Religion and mental disorder. This section seems distinctly ingenuous to me. Of course there will always be those of unsound mind and who claim to be messianic figures, but there are others who claim to be reincarnations of Hitler or Stalin, and we take none of them seriously and they have nothing to do with religion. It is the comment, “But if these things can be preached under the protection of an established religion, we are expected to take them at face value,” that leaves me wondering. Where on earth is there any established religion preaching acceptance of the things he listed in the previous paragraph? It leads on to rather snide comments about Abraham. Rather than repeat myself can I turn you to the chapter on the Old Testament in our appraisal of The God Delusion. CLICK HERE


P.53,54 Sexual function & dysfunction. This is an odd section which, I suggest, is here more because the author has a ‘thing' about sex and religion than because religions do. One of his opening comments here is, “Can it be a coincidence, then, that all religions claim the right to legislate in matters of sex.

Yes, but they also legislate on a considerable number of other things as well. Why pick on sex? The reason for legislating on matters of sex, I would suggest, is that the area of human relationships is the area most prone to problems, abuses and breakdowns, and as sex is a natural part (God designed!) of such relationships, it too is prone to problems, abuses and breakdowns.

An analysis of modern society by anyone not trying to hone their own agenda will readily acknowledge this. It isn't religion, and especially not the Christian Faith, that is neurotic about sex; it is the world and the media. The comment about several states in the USA defining sodomy, is likewise ingenuous. Does the writer think that the legislative bodies of the states are Christian dominated, so that the (genuine) Christians get their way? I would suggest that the very best you might hope for there is a Christian ethos possibly, from the past, from people trying to hold onto ethical and historical values from the past. That's not to say they are wrong.


P.54 The Design Aspect. Doing a sideways slip in thinking, the author uses ‘design' as a reason for promiscuous and varied sex. He says, “Clearly the human species is designed to experiment with sex.” As we commented above, this is terrible arguing, the arguing we have come to expect from those with no moral base who appear to comment with little or no thought. The thinking here is that if you have the capability for it, it's all right. Yet these same ‘take-down-the-barriers' storm troopers would, I am sure, not say that obesity is something to be encouraged, but we have the distinct capability for it.

Above I also used the examples of excessive alcohol consumption or excessive drug use – because we have the capability to do these things. We also have the capability to steal, rape, murder and so on but, as much as they are logical extensions, I can hear the author and his like protesting that that would be harmful to others. Have you not noticed that lifting off the sexual taboos has increased the amount of abuse etc. that causes harm to others? But that is getting away from the point. The design argument is silly and thoughtless!

I also object to the little snide interjections along the way against Christianity, e.g. “Christians used to lick their lips while examining women for signs of witchcraft.” Sorry, if you are going back into the Dark Ages or Middle Ages, we are talking about an era of superstition where it wasn't devout Christians (for there were very few of them) but superstitious influential people in the community, some of whom took the guise of religious people, but many of whom weren't. Snide comments don't help the cause.


P.54,55 Holy books and abuses of women. This accompanies a further claim that religion is man-made because it is anti-women. The oblique reference to the Genesis creation and the making of man and woman takes on the world's male bias, not the Church's.

The reason given for creating woman was that man was inadequate on his own! Woman was thus an equal essential part of any balanced relationship. An examination of key women in the Old Testament (sorry that's not condescending, it's just the recognition that there was a prior (or old) covenant, and then a new one made by God through His Son Jesus Christ – silly comment!) shows quite clearly that they were respected and listened to by their men.

In the New Testament, Jesus drew women into his group of followers, and the only reason they didn't get sent out as the men did, was that the Jewish world would have been scandalised. The comment about the apostle Paul is likewise revealing ignorance and misunderstanding. Consider this man instructing men, "lay down your lives for your wives". How many millions of modern women would wish that their men would do that? This was a man who lifted women, not put them down, a man who spoke about men and women being equal in Christ. Where has the author been? Not reading his Bible obviously!

Comments about Islam, I leave to them to answer.


P.55,56 Teachings of the past. This little spat says little about faith communities and I would suggest that the teachings about sex that he speaks about, are as much about the secular world and its worries as the religious world. It's too easy to blame it all on religion. If there is a religious association it was of teachers taking the basic Biblical teaching and extending it to cover things not there discussed.


P.56-61 Religions that relish the end. Now this is a big section as you see from the page numbers and it takes us through to the end of the chapter. It is summed up by his early comment: “religion looks forward to the destruction of the world,” and explains that as “it openly or covertly wishes that end to occur.” In his early generalisations he swings at the apostles Paul and John and then mixes in the (in my mind) misguided and unbiblical Left Behind series.


If Paul did think (but didn't ‘hope') that “time was running out for humanity” it was simply because he saw the sinfulness of mankind and looked forward to a better world following this one.

To describe the book of Revelation, written by John, as “deranged fantasies” indicates that the author has never taken the time of effort to systematically go through it and see what is there. What he would find there, is what he would find in many other places in the Bible, almost a reticence within God to judge and destroy the world. That there are warnings after warnings there is no doubt. The absurdity, if you like, is that here is God offering mankind peace and order and blessing but mankind, even as we see today, rejecting it in favour of doing their own thing, causing self-harm, pain to others, injustice and who knows what else. The absurdity is that we can be so stupid and so blind. The majority of Christians would prefer to see greater opportunities for people to turn to Christ, rather than unbelievers be wiped out for an indeterminate future.

The pages that follow are a literary mishmash that cover such things as relishing death and the end, mistaken early theologians calculating the life of the earth, pouring out fear of the end and using science, and apparent death wish, the relish with which apparently religious people welcome earthquakes etc. as divine judgment, millennial sects and general misguided rumblings about the end times from a variety of misguided people. Perhaps the shortest thing that can be said is, yes, a lot of people got it wrong and continue to get it wrong, and maybe the author is included in the that last group. Time will tell.




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On this page we have:

  •  highlighted some of the key points he makes,
  •  recognised the value and truthfulness of a number of issues here, while at the same time observing bias and presupposed thinking,
  •  responded, point by point, to the points he makes.


As previously, the author rarely backs up what he says by quoting sources, but beyond that we trust in the truth of what he says here. Our comments of acceptance are on the basis of their truthfulness. It is always up to others to speak up and say that which was said is definitely not true. Until then, we rely upon his hopeful trustworthiness.


The chapter rightly speaks against:

  •  Islamic tendencies to react culturally and nationalistically against modern medicine
  •  individuals who have spoken against family planning
  •  two-faced thinking and actions by some Islamic nations in respect of sex
  •  slow take up in some Christian quarters of modern immunisation schemes
  •  ancient practices of circumcision
  •  female circumcision
  •  obscure groups withholding medicine
  •  the abuses of children
  •  scary teaching in the past
  •  those who appear to welcome a violent end to the world.


The chapter includes confused thinking in respect of:

  •  sweeping comments about religion not liking modern medicine or science
  •  writing off miracles
  •  unnaturalness of homosexuality as being part of natural ‘design'
  •  inability to see that AIDS would be less if people curtailed sex to one partner for life
  •  jumping to conclusions, again, over origins and effects or religions (esp. Christianity)
  •  misunderstandings about Abraham
  •  misunderstandings generally about the Old & New Testaments' teaching about male & female
  •  sweeping blame for Christians in the past when it was more a cultural blame
  •  a sweeping inference that all Christians relish the end times judgement.


I am aware that this chapter covers a considerable number of points and I have not covered all of them. I have sought to pick out the major points being made but I am aware (for the sake of Christians reading this) that there probably a number of points I have not picked up upon. Frankly there are too many and I would have had to have written as many pages as the author.


I believe it is important we acknowledge the rightness of many of the things the author speaks about in this chapter, and we should join him in denouncing these things that cause hurt, fear and even death in the name of superstition or cultural identity.


It is also important that we recognise the materialistic and pluralistic and naturalistic standpoint from which the author speaks, which brings, we believe, a conflict with the truth. His bias shows.



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