Friday, December 7, 2012

The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens

The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens details the story of how he rejected his faith and God and ultimately came full-circle to becoming a committed Christian believer. He references, at times, the journey his brother Christopher Hitchens took as well. While they started out on a similar path, being raised nominally in church then rejecting religion, they diverged when Peter started to question the assumptions made by his fellow atheists. This led to an understandably strained relationship for most of their adulthood.

He begins with his realization that most atheists seem to be in actuality, wounded theists. That is, they believe in God, until He disappoints them. Their atheism, then, is an attempt to get back at God by refusing to believe in Him.

He then traces the roots of his own particular atheism. It began in childhood, when he fancied himself much to smart to believe in what his stodgy elders believed. He was taken in by an elite that mocked religion, dismayed at the personal failings of believers, and passionate about embracing “science” which seemed to have removed the need for God. Unfortunately, his parents and society could offer him no reasons to believe. He watched his father’s stature decline and saw his country become disillusioned by Winston Churchill after WWII and he himself, along with much of the continent suffered from the after effects of the two World Wars. Death and destruction seemed to destroy any idea that a good God existed and watched over His people. 

As an adult, he travels the world as a reporter. Seeing first-hand the devastation wrought by the godless Soviet Union. He notices the yawning gap between the powerfully connected and the rest of society. He sees the coarseness and hopelessness of a godless people. He sees there and in a stint in Mogadishu how rapidly a society that rejects God and His morals can decline. An encounter with a painting entitled “The Last Judgement” brings home the finality of those who reject God and end up in forever tortured. Suddenly coming judgement feels real and he knows he will stand before God and answer for his arrogance. 

But more than fear drives him back to his faith. He recognizes a lack in his own life of meaning. The traditions and great oaths he encounters anew as he marries and baptizes his daughter reawakens a desire for beauty and holiness. Unfortunately, he believes he has returned too late. He recognizes that his generation of godless rebels has forever changed the church he remembers. As he traces the decline of Christianity in both Britain and America, he concludes, “[they have] inherited a society with Christian forms and traditions. [They do] not know what to do with them or how to replace them. Into this confusion and emptiness the new militant secularists now seek to bring an aggressive atheism.” 

In the second part of the book, he moves away from his personal narrative to “addressing the three failed arguments of atheism.” 

The first argument of atheists points to religious wars and conflicts being about religion and therefore religion, and by extension, God, is to blame for the bloodshed. After acknowledging that sometimes, religionist have come to blows over definitively religious issues, he traces the history of other various “religious wars” to show that most are simply man waging war against man for the garden-variety reasons of wealth, power and land. While reviling the religious for the slaughters, atheists never attribute the greatest evils perpetrated in human history, those of Mao, Stalin and Hitler, to their atheism. How they cannot see the link baffles Hitchens and leads him to conclude that the real target of these wounded theists is their irrational attack on Christianity, and they are not truly open to facts. 

The second argument he debunks declares, “It is possible to determine what is right and what is wrong without God.” He points to the beauty of a standard that exists outside of human control. We humans are not naturally selfless and good. This is made all too obvious by simple observation. Without a higher law, a higher being, demanding that we “love our neighbor as ourselves” we simply won’t do it. Not for very long. He continues on, pointing out the atheists NEED for a universe devoid of God. They simply cannot fathom having to answer to something larger than themselves and have therefore believed the lie that absolute truth and morality can exist without God. 

Finally he goes after the belief among atheists that “Atheist states are not actually atheist.” Yet he counters, “Utopia can only ever be approached across a sea of blood. This is a far greater problem for the atheist than it is for the Christian, because the atheist uses this argument to try to demonstrate that religion specifically makes things worse than they otherwise would be. On the contrary, it demonstrates that our ability to be savage to our own kind cannot be wholly prevented by religion. More important still, Atheist states have a consistent tendency to commit mass murders in the name of the greater good.” Religious people believe Utopia will only come about by God’s intervention. Atheists must take matters into their own, bloody hands.

The third part of his book describes “The league of the militant godless.” He begins by comparing the “silly” beliefs of a common peasant to the huge lie swallowed by the atheists. They continue to deny the evil perpetrated by their own in the name of Communism. He documents very convincingly the absolute rejection of God by the Soviet Union as well as their subsequent horrific acts. Atheists must necessarily see the Soviet Union and the evil it produced as the result of their militant godlessness. But they must reject God in their quest for more power. “If God is not dethroned and his laws not revoked, he represents and important rival to the despot’s authority, living in millions of hearts. If he cannot be driven out of hearts, total control by the state is impossible.”

In conclusion, he states, “The League of Militant Godless had done their work too well. In the names of reason, science, and liberty that had proved rather effectively, that good societies need God to survive and that when you have murdered him, starved him, silenced him, denied him to the children, and erased his festivals and his memory, you have a gap that cannot indefinitely be filled by and human, nor anything made by human hands.”

This book is wonderfully written and argued. The prose is beautiful and transcendent. The voice of Peter Hitchens comes through in an achingly haunting manner. He writes what may be a eulogy to all that is good. His brother died an unrepentant atheist. That may be, for Hitchens, that saddest fact of all. 

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