Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens, brother of famous new atheist Christoper Hitchens, has written a moving, lyrical and clear-sighted memoir of his journey from atheism to Christian faith. He has debated his brother publicly and takes this opportunity to clarify and elaborate on his arguments against the atheism espoused by the new atheists.

Peter Hitchens is a journalist who writes for the Mail on Sunday and a distinguished author, broadcaster and sometime foreign correspondent who lived for three years in Moscow during the fall of Communism in that country.

One of the best features of this book is that it is written by someone deeply concerned about politics and not by a philosopher concerned with highly abstract, logical arguments for or against the existence of God. As a result, this book deals with the "So what?" question of what difference belief in God makes for politics, ethics, culture and human life.

I have thought for years that the difference between the atheism of the 18th century Enlightenment and the 20th century movement dubbed "the New Atheism" is that the older movement was really about epistemological and metaphysical questions while the newer one is really about politics. The New Atheism is part of the "long march" of cultural Marxism through Western institutions by which the socialists hope to undermine the resistance of Western civilization to the imposition of Marxism collectivism on a free people. Peter Hitchens' book confirms this hypothesis and fortifies my conviction that the New Atheists must be confronted on the level of morality and politics and not merely on the level of logic and philosophical debate. As a former Marxist himself, he is familiar from the inside with the role atheism play in Marxist thought.

Peter Hitchens trenchantly goes after those who claim not to be supporters of the Soviet Union even though they are Marxists and attempt to evade responsibility for the historical incarnations of their creed. Here is a passage which serves as a sample of his attack:
Any student of gullibility among the intelligent and worldly should study first of all the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb on the Soviet Union. Their perfectly enormous book Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? purports to be a respectable and carefully researched account of the USSR under Stalin. Its picture of a rational paradise of human progress is so wholly and completely false and can now be shown to be so at every turn by libraries full of records and by mountains of human skulls. Yet, on publication in the late 1930s it was generally regarded as a respectable work of scholarship and research. It is a sore shame that its authors did not live to see their work thoroughly shown up for what it was, a mass of self-deceiving lies. These lies served a filthy despotism, but perhaps more importantly encouraged the rational, materialist intellectuals of free nations in dangerous delusions, which still trouble us.

In realizing this we need to remember that the Webbs were not themselves revolutionary Marxists or even former Tortskyists, but gentle Fabian social democrats, believers in lawful, democratic process, in the inevitability of graduallism, honorable in their personal dealings, honest according to their own lights. They were kind to their domestic servants, modest in their lives, studious, responsible, and serious, by no means stupid or ill-educated or personally callous. (p. 167)
That such people could be unwitting dupes and enablers of some of the greatest evils the world has ever seen is surely a clear lesson to those who think that it is harmless to dabble in a little bit of fashionable leftism without taking the whole materialist, collectivist system seriously. Peter Hitchens admits that he himself was one of those "useful idiots" and "fellow travelers" who helped undermine Western civilization from within and his conversion represents hope for all those blinded by socialist ideology.

No one needs to learn this lesson more urgently than the typical liberal Protestant clergyman who likes to fancy himself a social democrat while functioning as an apologist for Marxist ideas that are antithetical to the theological, philosophical and political underpinnings of Western civilization and who has never met a left-wing policy he did not like. Such people undermine the faith from within and are the most dangerous heretics around simply because they appear to be so genuinely concerned about the poor and so kindhearted.

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