The Rage Against God

Book Review: “The Rage Against God” by Peter Hitchens

In the names of reason, science, and liberty they [have] 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 memory, you have a gap that cannot indefinitely be filled by any human, nor anything made by human hands…. [Yet] A new and intolerant utopianism seeks to drive the remaining traces of Christianity from Europe and North America. This time, it does so mainly in the cause of personal liberation, born in the 1960s cultural revolution, and now inflamed into special rage by any suggestion that the sexual urge should be restrained by moral limits or that it should have any necessary connection with procreation. This utopianism relies for human goodness on doctrines of human rights derived from human desires and – like all such codes – full of conflicts between the differing rights of different groups. These must then be policed by an ever more powerful state…. Inevitably, it is the Christian churches who are the last strongholds of resistance to this change. Yet they are historically weak, themselves infiltrated by secular liberalism, full of uncertainty and diffidence” – Peter Hitchens .[1]

Peter Hitchens’ The Rage Against God, subtitled, How Atheism Led Me to Faith may very well be one of my top ten favorite books. It is a book I have an urge to read again almost every year. Peter Hitchens is the brother of the now deceased “militant” atheist Christopher Hitchens. Peter was himself once a staunch atheist, but has since returned to belief in God and Christianity.

Hitchens begins the book by underscoring his youthful (1960s, of course) “rebellion against everything I had been brought up to believe.”[2] As he was English, he rebelled against everything an English gentlemen was expected to be. He grew up in a world where the older generation (parents, teachers, etc.) had been through the depression, the Blitz, the war, and who were then enjoying simple, laid-back, “conventionally dull”[3] lives. “Perhaps it was because they had brought us up too kindly, convinced in the post-war age that we should not endure the privation, danger, and strict discipline that they had to put up with, so we turned arrogant. I certainly did.”[4]

What else contributed to his rebellion? Well, for one, the failures of the older generation. He recounts incidents involving lies and moral failings of politicians. He began to see through the veil of world politics and began to believe that the government manipulated conflicts on the world stage. He saw an older generation that seemed married to militarism as well as religion. He saw a “church, associated with discredited authority and supplanted by an increasingly social (as opposed to individual) conscience and social gospel.”[5] Finally, he saw that those running the universities failed to stand up and rebuke the 1960’s student rebellions on campus.[6]

But he confesses he also had ulterior motives for his rebellion and rejection of God.

“I spotted the dry, disillusioned, and apparently disinterested atheism of so many intellectuals, artists, and leaders of our age. I liked their crooked smiles, their knowing worldliness, and their air of finding human credulity amusing. I envied their confidence that we lived in a place where there was no darkness, where death was the end, the dead were gone, and there would be no judgment[7]…. It certainly didn’t cross my mind that I had any low motives for it. Unlike Christians, atheists have a high opinion of their own virtue.”[8]

Certainly he enjoyed being a rebel. He enjoyed throwing off the moral restraints of society and Christianity. He convinced himself that God was not the basis for morality, but that “Enlightened self-interest was the evolutionary foundation of good behavior.”[9] However, he admits, he often rejected “enlightened self-interest” when his feelings or desires preferred a different course, one at odds with a wiser course of action and behavior.[10] As an atheist he replaced the faiths of childhood (God, the church, parents, patriotism) with faith in self, humanity, science, and socialism (dreams of utopia).

But the web of life and events is amazing and intricate, and several things brought Peter Hitchens back to Theism and Christianity: “My reasons had been profoundly personal, to do with marriage and fatherhood – a cliché of rediscovery that is too obvious and universal, and also too profound, private, and unique to discuss with strangers.”[11]

What else lead him back? Beauty[12] and art, more specifically his love of music, architecture, and even his encounter with one particular centuries old painting, a painting that seemed to speak to him where he stood and made him think of guilt, judgment, and hell. “No doubt I should be ashamed to confess that fear played a part in my return to religion,” he writes. “I could easily make up some other, more creditable story. But I should be even more shamed to pretend that fear did not.”[13]

“I have felt proper fear, not very often but enough to know that it is an important gift that helps us think clearly in moments of danger…. I have felt it outside a copper mine in Africa, when the car I was in was surrounded by a crowd of enraged, impoverished people who had decided, with some justification, that I was their enemy….. I felt it when Soviet soldiers fired on a crowd rather near me, and so I lay flat on my back in the filthy snow, quite untroubled by my ridiculous position because I had concluded, wisely, that being wounded would be much worse than being embarrassed…. Fear is good for us and helps us to escape from great dangers.”[14]

But another major part of his return was the destruction of his atheistic faith in humanity, science,[15] socialism, utopia, etc. This occurred in his life as a reporter living abroad and traveling the world. Through his firsthand experiences, he witnessed different malignant societies, especially ones that were not based on Christianity, or ones that had long ago abandoned Christianity. For a time he lived in the Soviet Union, the heart of godless communism, where almost two generations before, Christianity and God had been squashed by the powerful militant atheist elites. He experienced Mogadishu, Somalia, prior to and just as American forces were arriving. Having been to these places, having seen the erosion of morality, family, community, decency, having seen the rule of law replaced by the rule of the powerful and the rule of the gun, and then having returned to Britain only to find a much more secular, atheistic, jaded, uncaring, and indecent society than that of his childhood, he realized how quickly societies can deteriorate into anarchy and despotism. He realized that in the West it was anti-Theism, something he had very much been a part of for many years, that was trying to destroy the foundations.

“Only one reliable force stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. One reliable force forms the foundation of the concept of the rule of law. Only one reliable force restrains the hand of the man of power…. the Christian religion has become the principle obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for power.”[16]

Throughout the rest of the book he dissects today’s Western societies, from its Leftists to its educational systems,[17] all the while countering arguments that Atheists like his brother are making. (For instance, he argues against claims that morality can exist without God in an excellent chapter entitled “Is it Possible to Determine What is Right and What is Wrong without God?”) Hitchens then walks us through some brief anti-theistic histories of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union, North Korea, even the French Revolution; thus we see the direction society moves in when it decides that there is no God, when it destroys or outlaws the church, and when mankind tries to set up its own rule of law and morality. He essentially asks, “Don’t the Atheists realize the consequences of their actions? We’ve seen it time and time again in recent history.”

“I should have thought that those who are serious about their unbelief would be relieved by this logic and glad to concede it. If they know, or are reasonably certain, that there is no ultimate authority and no judgment issuing from some unalterable law, they are instantly and quite extraordinarily free. But this freedom is available to monsters and power-seekers as it is to advanced intellectuals dwelling in comfortable suburbs. And that leads to the state of affairs correctly summed up by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who in 1933 proclaimed… that ‘The Fuhrer, and he alone, is the present and future law of Germany.’ Alas, he was absolutely right, and Adolf Hitler himself had to be destroyed before that law could be cancelled.”[18]

Hitchens argues against his brother here, saying that if Theists must be saddled with the things that religion has done wrong, then Atheists cannot help but be saddled with the things that anti-theist societies and regimes have done. (His brother tries to say that there is no connection.)

“But atheists cannot bear to look their faith’s faults full in the face. They cannot even admit that their dogmatic insistence that there is no God is in fact a faith, though they cannot possibly know if they are right. Their belief, apparently, is not even a belief. And so the escape clauses come thick and fast. [They say that if] atheism in practice appears at any point to have bad consequences, that is because it took on the character of religion. So this murder, that massacre, that purge just do not count. If religious people do good things with good consequences, that is because they are really atheists without knowing it.”[19]

I find the book completely fascinating, since its written by someone who was once “on the inside” of the militant anti-theist circles. I found his histories particularly enlightening. (And it is especially interesting to read, once again, of how leftists in the West ignored the atrocities of Stalin’s Soviet Union because of their blind faith in what man-without-God could accomplish through socialism.) Lastly, I find the book produces in me a strange nostalgic longing for an older Britain which, of course, I never experienced.

I conclude with this extended quote, which I think summarizes well his entire book, thesis, and belief:

The current intellectual assault on God in Europe and North America is in fact a specific attack on Christianity – the faith that stubbornly persists in the morality, laws, and government of the major Western countries. Despite the self-conscious militancy of some of the anti-theists against Islam, they rarely encounter organized Islam in their own countries, and are sensibly wary of challenging Islam on its own ground, and seldom debate with Muslim spokesmen (who are not interested in discussing an issue they believe to be closed). Their hostility to Islam as a ‘threat to our way of life’ is a result of their late realization that it might, if it became powerful, menace the license in sexual and other matters that their cause has won, thanks to the weakness of Christianity in its former domains. The God they fight is the Christian God, because he is their own God, as I explain above. But what is it they have against the Christian God?

God is the leftists’ chief rival. Christian belief, by subjecting all men to divine authority and by asserting the words ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ that the ideal society does not exist in this life, is the most coherent and potent obstacle to secular utopianism,. Christ’s reproof of Judas – ‘the poor always ye have with you’ – when Judas complains that precious ointment could have been sold to feed the poor rather than applied to Jesus’ feet [John 12:1-8], is also a stumbling block and an annoyance to world reformers. By putting such socialistic thoughts in the mouth of the despised traitor-to-be Judas, and by stating so baldly the truth known to all conservatives that poverty cannot be eradicated, the Bible angers and frustrates those who believe that the pursuit of the perfect society justifies the quest for absolute power.

The concepts of sin, of conscience, of eternal life, and of divine justice under an inalterable law are the ultimate defense against the utopian’s belief that ends justify means and that morality is relative. These concepts are the safeguard against human power. Now, that conflict is made sharper still by the alliance between political utopianism and the new cult of unrestrained self, unleashed into Western world by Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich, by Alfred Kinsey and Herbert Marcuse, promoted by the self-pitying anthems of rock music, and encouraged by the enormous power of ‘progressive’ education in which so many cultural revolutionaries work. The last of these – by refusing to teach the previously accepted canon of literature, history, and philosophy, by attempting to turn Christianity into a museum-piece, and by abandoning the concept of authority – has left advanced societies entirely disarmed against intellectual assaults they could have once repulsed with ease. These influences were the real driving force of the 1960s social, sexual, and moral revolution that now seeks to destroy the last remaining restraints on its victory.[20]

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’ The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger   and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill…. Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him’” (Psalm 2, NIV).

(This original version of this column was previously published on another, now defunct, web site.)

[1] Pages 213-214 of The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan.

[2] Ibid, page 17.

[3] Ibid, page 25.

[4] Ibid, page 29.

[5] Ibid, page 119.

[6] I find it interesting that the book Slouching Toward Gomorrah, Judge Robert H. Bork pointed to the university faculty and administrations’ failures to quash those student rebellions and takeovers as a major tipping point in the decline of America. When the older generation, out of fear, or out of lack of their own firmness of belief and conviction, backed down from the students, then rebellion, relativism, immorality, etc., won.

[7] “I actively loathed anything that suggested the existence or presence of death” (The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan , page 51).

[8] Pages 24-25 of The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan.

[9] Ibid, page 20.

[10] The dilemma facing every single human being—that every person violates his or her own moral code, revealing the deep, inherent flaw within us all—that we have an inability to follow any code or set of laws, even our own!.

[11] Page 92 of The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan.

[12] I think this is along the lines of C.S. Lewis’ constant theme involving “joy”, the beauty of different things that enrapture us, and, in his thesis, point us on towards something, or Someone, behind nature. This is Lewis’ theme in one of his best and most famous essays, entitled The Weight of Glory, as well as the main theme of his autobiography Surprised by Joy.

[13] Page 103 of The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan.

[14] Ibid, page 104.

[15] As this column is about to follow a particular course, I certainly did not want to ignore his comments about his “loss of faith” in science; thus I footnote some of it here: Peter Hitchens writes, “The Christian conservatism of my schools did not protect me from the rather Victorian faith in something called ‘science’ that was then very common. Perhaps this is because Christianity was not implied in every action and statement of my teachers, whereas materialistic, naturalistic faith was. The faith did not require any great understanding. Mainly, it was just an assumption, a received opinion we all accepted….. The fact that the ‘laws’ dealt with in this subject are all accounts of what did happen, rather than rules about how things should happen, was passed over in silence. Why and how were silently but inextricably confused. The use of the majestic word ‘laws’ curiously turned the mind away from the speculation about whose laws they might conceivably be or why they might have been made. Science, summed up as the belief that what could not be naturalistically explained was not worth talking about, simply appropriated them…. But I should stress that I was not actually taught these articles of the materialistic faith, let alone the arguments that continue to rage around them. I was simply given the impression by adults that these things were the case, and that all this was settled forever. It was the faith of the faithless age…. I was quite shocked when I later discovered the true state of affairs. They did not know half of the things they claimed to know” (pages 46-48 of The Rage Against God). “These days I know, with complete certainty, that there are a number of things about which I have no idea, nor does anyone else”(page 47 of The Rage Against God).

[16] Pages 112-113 of The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan.                                                                                                                     

[17] The key in atheist regimes is to keep the parents from giving religious instruction to their children, children belong to the state, their education belongs to the state, because the secular atheists know that if they can get into the children’s heads and hearts before the parents, then religion can be killed off; after all, when the older generation is dead and gone, the younger generation now has no further ties to the past or to religion, it belongs to those who trained them and now rule over them. “[In] a de-Christianized society, the state still has to rely on the childhood indoctrination of millions of citizens for a large part of its authority” (pages 183-184 of The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan). He argues that Atheist parents are free to raise their children as atheists. He may disagree with it, but it is their right. “In return, I ask the same consideration for religious parents. However, the new anti-theism is emphatically not just an opinion seeking its place in a plural society. It’s a dogmatic tyranny in the making” (page 206 of The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan).

[18] Page 148 of The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan.

[19] Ibid, page 155.

[20] Pages 134-135 of The Rage Against God, copyright 2010 by Peter Hitchens, published by Zondervan.

"Rescued, ransomed, and saved because of the love of God the Father, through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, thanks to faithful preachers and teachers of the Word, attained by the perfect life and merit of Jesus the Messiah, His substitutionary death and physical resurrection from the dead. Completely undeserved and gifted to me." The author would label himself a Christ follower, an Evangelical Christian with strong Reformed beliefs. He loves discussing and debating the two "taboo" subjects: Politics and Religion. He tries to read and listen to a minimum of fifty books a year and realizes that no matter what topic or genre, whether Bible, theology, Christianity, history, biography, philosophy, political, social commentary, pop-culture, or even fiction, they all tie together in the spider's web of worldview. His favorite authors are C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, James R. White, Gregory Koukl, R.C. Sproul, J. Gresham Machen, G.K. Chesterton, J. Budziszewski, and Peter Kreeft. He loves Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Voddie Baucham, Paul Washer, and Dwight L. Moody. He enjoys watching the YouTube channels of John Cooper at Cooper Stuff, Doug Wilson at Blog and Mablog, Alisa Childers, Allen Parr at The Beat, and Melissa Dougherty. His hobbies are generally reading and writing, music, hiking, and laughing. He has been writing songs/lyrics since the age of eight and has played in a few Christian Rock bands. He has written poetry, several biblical studies over the past decades, and has one finished book manuscript entitled, “Shaken Faith: When God Has Let You Down”. He has also written for the now defunct Examiner website as the Philadelphia Christian Perspectives Examiner. He wishes he could write some fiction.

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