To rail and rage against the existence of God is to invariably fall back on trusting one's own instincts for what is right and wrong. In "The Rage Against God", The British journalist and Christian apologist, Peter Hitchens, has produced a very clearly-argued exposé on the futility of atheism as it played out in his life on the road to Christianity. As a once-confirmed Trotskyist, Hitchens grew up choosing to discard the religious and cultural values of a traditional society in favor of those reflecting a modern secular-based statism. As the twentieth century progressed, with some of the most daring of social experiments in remaking society, the need for God disappeared in both his and his brother's lives. The presence of God as a supreme being and first cause became an irritant that got in the way of human progress towards the ever elusive Utopia. Hitchens sees his early denunciation of God as a direct reflection of society's growing dependence on materialism and reason to explain earthly existence and define ultimate purpose. He spends considerable time tearing apart the argument that atheism, by default, is a safe and reasonable position to take. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because it denies the absolute authority of God, atheism must then try to supplant God in order to be socially accepted. Included in this autobiography of sorts is significant mention of an earlier time when, after a stint in the Soviet Union as an acclaimed journalist in the 1980s and 90s, he saw the need to recognize God's supreme place in his life. The increasing despair of broken-down society, as evident in Britain and Russia, convicted him of the world's total inability to consistently make things right or better. He, like the society he grew up and worked in, needed God more than ever in order to come to grips with an eternal purpose. Marrying the secular with the religious just doesn't cut it. Creating gods out of humans is nothing short of phony idolatry as seen in some of the great political myths of the times such as the worship of great men like Churchill. This is a book that allows the historical record to speak for itself as to how far we have strayed from the path of common sense and spiritual dependency in our relativistic urge to seek something better. Though I have a grudging respect for the rapier-sharp wit of his brother, I like Peter's more subdued analytical approach to getting at the heart of the matter: our failure to recognize God's judgment of our sin nature.
This isn't a clinical, precise argument about anything, which is why I can understand Peter Hitchens' reluctance to publish (if I understand his comments in the afterword correctly). This isn't going to end anybody's arguments, but it does provide a powerful argument in one sense nonetheless. It's an argument from a life lived and what is capable of being lived out in real life versus the fantasies professed by those with an axe to grind. From that perspective, this book is fantastic. It provides a reality check to those who don't see the connection between communism's excesses and atheism. That was always a fantasy anyway, and Hitchens provides a useful kick in the rump to that sort of nonsense. Time will tell if today's atheists are really that much of a threat - judging by how many of them are just old white guys, the real threat is likely more subtle and insidious. The rage of today's atheists may be the rage of a dying breed - a breed that thinks absolute truth exists in a godless world.
on October 15, 2010
Peter Hitchens book is a thoughtful, compelling and artfully written story of one man's journey from atheism back to faith. If you are expecting the acerbic, antagonistic wit of the elder brother Christopher Hitchens then you will be disappointed. Peter Hitchens writing is a gentle and fluid movement through an age of great change in the western world as seen through the eyes of his own life. There is a great appeal to twentieth century western history as Hitchens weaves a tale that shows the slow and steady march of the west away from Christianity and the not coincidental increase in its own corruption and increasing moral failure. Do not be mistaken, Hitchens is not writing an apology for Christianity and is often quite critical of certain decisions churches and Christians have made which seem to have hastened its own abandonment. Nevertheless what he does provide is a clear and personal account of some of the reasons for the abandonment and how it has led to the state the western world finds itself in now.
The book reads very quickly but is not an encyclopedic listing of why God is good and atheism is bad. Rather, Hitchens writes of an atheism born out of immature arrogance and a Christian faith reborn out of an increasing awareness that atheism was neither fulfilling nor honest.
The book would make an excellent book club selection and is sure to generate loads of discussion, especially as a counterpoint against Christopher Hitchens thoroughly well written book God is Not Great. I highly recommend it. Please note, whether you are an atheist, agnostic or faith-based person you will find this book enjoyable and insightful if for no other reason than it was written by a man raised in the same household, by the same parents and in the same cultural environment as the western world's leading and loudest atheist voice today.
on October 12, 2010
Peter Hitchens is writing to balance the extreme atheist positions of his brother. He is successful to the extent that he does not attempt to address Christopher's argument in a systematic way. Referring to him on occasion, he writes a parallel text explaining the experience of moving from an atheistic youth to what is apparently orthodox Christianity.
Having myself converted from a Fabian socialist, and atheist background to a state I describe as Christian, I am clearly sympathetic to his cause. However, I am far from orthodoxy. It is the step from acceptance of the truth (the good) of essential Christian teaching, the valuing of the Christian tradition, and the importance of Christian community, to a belief in the historical accuracy of the virgin birth, the miracles, the ascension into heaven, and a personal God (who chooses to answer some prayers but not others in a random and cavalier manner defined by the devout as a 'mystery') that baffles me. Hitchens does not claim to have been saved (converted) in a glorious moment, so even that uninspiring explanation is not given.
The book is part autobiography - I would have enjoyed more - and part rejection of atheism. It is well written and easy to read and likely to appeal to others who have a complex relationship with Christianity.