Home » Answering the Critics » Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great (Answering the Critics #1)

Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great (Answering the Critics #1)

The main idea Hitchens presents throughout God Is Not Great is the question “If God is good, how can his followers do evil things?”  Indeed, Hitchens raises an interesting question here.  We all have examples of people who claim to be religious, who claim to be moral, who claim to believe in a good god, who also end up doing something evil.  So Hitchens raises the question, “If God is great, how can his followers do evil things?”  The implied answer to Hitchens question is the title of his book-god is not great.

Isn’t Hitchens jumping to conclusions here, though?  Might there be any other number of reasons why people who claim to follow a good god do evil things?  Right off the top of our head we might offer the suggestion that not all those who claim to be following God are truly following God.  I may claim to be following God but if I do evil things, then I’m not actually following God.

Imagine that we are on a road trip, and I am driving while using a road map.  Now, while I claim to be following the road map, we get lost.  Hitchens’ assumption, it seems, would be that there was something wrong with the road map.  The other possibility that we are highlighting here, though, is that there is something wrong with the driver.   Maybe I read the map wrong.  Maybe I lied about following the map.  We need not assume the problem is with the map.  The much greater possibility is that there is something wrong with the driver.  The same is true with God.  If someone claims to be following a good God and yet they do evil, we need not assume there is something wrong with God.  The far likelier possibility is that there is something wrong with the one doing evil.

Another problem with God Is Not Great is that there are many instances where Hitchens’ information is simply inaccurate.  One glaring example of this is when Hitchens writes, “…religion teaches people to be extremely self-centered and conceited.”[1]  Of course, it would be impossible for me to defend all religions everywhere from this statement (and it is a bit naive of Hitchens to pretend that he could prove this to be true of all religions everywhere!), so let me defend it from a purely Christian point of view.

Let’s quickly analyze some of the broad teachings of Christianity.  For instance, what are the first commands God gives humanity?  To be fruitful and multiply, and to tend the garden.  Basically, God’s first command is to take care of what He’s given us.[2]  Does this teach humans to be selfish?  One would tend to think that good stewardship of community property would make someone less selfish, not more.  What about the Ten Commandments?  Maybe those teach us to be selfish.  Do you remember what they are?  Commands like “Do not steal”.  “Honor your mom and dad.”  “Do not lie.”  “Remember to rest on the Sabbath Day and to keep it Holy.”  “Do not commit adultery.”[3]  This is not selfishness.  These are commands to care about others.

Perhaps the selfishness that Hitchens is thinking of is more explicit in the New Testament.  Let’s examine one of the greatest Christian teachings—the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is a quick summary of the Sermon, which takes place over 3 chapters: “Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the peacemakers…If your right eye offends you, pluck it out…You have heard it said ‘Do not commit adultery’, but I tell you, don’ t even look at a woman with lust…You have heard it said ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I say to  you ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”[4]  Again, where is the selfishness?  Let’s look at one last story.  The Pharisees are planning to trap Jesus by asking him to choose which command of Moses is the greatest.  Do you remember Jesus’ response?  The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  The second greatest is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.[5]  These two, Jesus says, are the greatest commandments.  Love God and Love your neighbors.  This is, by definition, the very opposite of selfishness.  There is no other way to say it: Christopher Hitchens is simply wrong when he says “religion teaches people to be extremely self-centered and conceited.”[6]  Other religions may do this, but Christianity most certainly does not.

As inaccurate as Hitchens’ last claim is, it only gets more ridiculous.  In the midst of discussing the Old Testament, Hitchens begins to mock parts of the Ten Commandments—most specifically, the command against coveting and envy.  Hitchens comments on this commandment by saying “If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts, he should have taken more care to invent a different species.”[7]  In other words, if God doesn’t want us to covet, then he shouldn’t have made us a kind of species that covets.  Of course, from the Christian point of view, He didn’t make us a kind of species that covets!  From a Judeo-Christian worldview, the reason some people covet is because of the sinful Fall in Genesis chapter 3, not because God created us this way.  The problem is not that God created us poorly.  The problem is that we humans have marred what God created perfectly.   So to Mr. Hitchens’ comment “If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts, he should have taken more care to invent a different species” I must reply, “He did!”

One has to wonder if Mr. Hitchens has even read the first three chapters of the first book of the Old Testament, which he claims to be criticizing.  A simple reading of the first three chapters of Genesis, which in most versions is less than 3 pages, would show that with this comment, Hitchens has moved from the simply inaccurate to the absurd.  We could go page by page and list Mr. Hitchens’ inaccuracies and errors, but suffice it to say that the main ideas of God Is Not Great do not hold water.

[1]Hitchens, p.74

[2] Genesis 1:28-30

[3] Exodus 20:1-17

[4] Matthew 5

[5] Mark 12:28-31

[6] Hitchens, p.74

[7] Ibid. p.100

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