Zondervan, 2010. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)
Atheist Christopher Hitchens has just released his memoirs, which has generated a lot of interest. His brother Peter has also released his story, but much of the media seems uninterested in the book. Perhaps it is because Peter has moved on from atheism to Christianity.
A largely secular mainstream media just does not know what to make of such conversions. It is happy to promote Christopher’s rage against God, but less willing to push a book which repudiates atheism and celebrates God’s existence.
In this brief volume Peter recounts his early turn toward atheism, and his later turn back to God. In it he also takes on the ongoing atheism of his brother. Although this is certainly a case of a house divided, it is not a polemical attack on his sibling’s unbelief, but a plea for some realism and rationality in this important debate.
The first half of the book recounts his own story, and how he became a devout atheist and Marxist in his teenage years. His story is in part a mirror image of what happened to Britain. From a great nation it has faded into obscurity, with a loss of saving faith and a loss of face-saving.
He tells how his generation largely abandoned religion, preferring instead the supposed liberation of atheism. He mentions how for twenty years he hardly ever met a religious person, and how all his peers shared in his unbelief. He is honest enough to admit that his rage against God was all about the elevation of self and hedonism.
He quotes a character in a Somerset Maugham novel: “He could breathe more freely in a lighter air. He was responsible only to himself for the things he did. Freedom! He was his own master at last.” This was the joy of his new-found atheism.
His experience of freedom was really antinomianism. Says Hitchens, “There were no more external, absolute rules. The supposed foundation of every ordinance, regulation, law, and maxim … was a fake.” He continues, “I did not have to do anything that I did not want to do, ever again. . . . I could behave as I wished, without fear of eternal consequences.”
This ‘liberation’ from moral law was supposed to mean freedom, but as he explains, all he did was move into bondage of self and sin. He went on a bender, indulging in debauched and debased rebellion. Shaking his fist at God meant living like a totally self-absorbed hedonist.
His story is the story of countless post-war Englishmen. A large abandonment of religion was coupled with a wholesale embrace of sensuality, irresponsibility and selfishness. The radical rebellion of the 60s was simply the fruit of this widespread rejection of God, authority and law.
But just as I too was once a part of this counter-culture, and now I look back in shame and despair at what I helped to unleash, so too Hitchens. He recalls his path back to God, and how he now regrets the libertinism and nihilism that his generation inflicted upon a once great nation.
He notes how his peers saw his return to God as incredulous, inexplicable. A person today can embrace any cause and engage in any activity, and we are supposed to celebrate this. But dare to affirm the Christian faith, and all hell breaks loose.
When he was a Trotskyite, celebrating the tyranny of Soviet Communism, he was seen as clever, hip and cool. But now that he realises what an abysmal police state the Marxist vision really was, and how a return to God is our only real hope of freedom and meaning, he is treated as a pariah and outcast.
And of course his famous brother is one of these voices of misotheistic hatred. Blaming religion for all our ills is a reckless and foolhardy charge to make, but the atheist fundamentalists do not bother with actually making this case with hard evidence.
Indeed, as Peter shows, the atheistic regimes of the last century have been the real sources of death, bloodshed and barbarism. Yet his atheist brother cannot bring himself to see this. Thus Peter spends a number of chapters recounting the horrors of atheistic communism, and the dystopian brave new world that was the Soviet Union.
And he notes that all secular utopians must end up in the same way. By seeking to bring heaven to earth and create the new man, but without the help of the only one who can make this possible, we only end up enslaving ourselves. And that is why the secularists so hate Christianity.
They know it is the one thing that stands in the way of their coercive utopianism. Says Hitchens, “The Christian religion has become the principle obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power.” Indeed, because he lived in the Soviet Union for several years, he witnessed firsthand the cruelty and ugliness of state-enforced utopianism.
And he sees it all happening again in England and the West. As we abandon God and moral absolutes, the raw power of the state emerges. The vacuum created by the dethroning of God does not last long. It is soon filled by false claimants to the throne.
“Only one reliable force stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. Only one reliable force forms the foundation of the concept of rule of law. Only one reliable force restrains the hand of the man of power.” It is Christianity which offers a check against this power-worship, and acts as a brake on the rush toward the deification of man and state.
And Hitchens demonstrates how so many atheists are at the same time strident leftists. The dictatorships of last century clearly confirm this, but it continues unabated today. “God is the leftists’ chief rival. Christian belief, by subjecting all men to divine authority and by asserting in 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.”
With the widespread rejection of Christianity, all we have left is the power-hungry Muslims and the power-hungry leftists battling for supremacy. Both reject the message of Jesus as they seek to pursue their power grabs. Indeed, the “Bible angers and frustrates those who believe that the pursuit of a perfect society justifies the quest for absolute power.”
Peter is amazed that his brother has not yet grasped that “Utopia can only ever be approached across a sea of blood” and that “Atheist states have a consistent tendency to commit mass murders in the name of the greater good”. Indeed, “terror and slaughter are inherent in utopian materialist revolutionary movements”.
Hitchens concludes his book by mentioning a public debate he had with his atheist brother in 2008. He was pleased that it remained a rather civil affair, but his brother shows no signs of abandoning his atheistic faith. Yet he takes some hope: Christopher has abandoned his chain-smoking, which in itself seems to be quite a miracle.
If he can make this move, then perhaps he can also make a move concerning the object of his faith and devotion. Peter has made such a move, with telling results, and it is hoped that his brother will as well. In the meantime, what we have here is yet another atheist who has bit the dust.
There has been a steady stream of such conversions out of unbelief. Undoubtedly many more are yet to come. And as a result, many more books such as this will emerge. He concludes with these words: “On this my brother and I agree: that independence of mind is immensely precious, and that we should try to tell the truth in clear English even if we are disliked for doing so.”
Peter has certainly done that here, and his atheist detractors will as usual unleash their venom and hatred on him for daring to think independently, and for his apostasy from the religion of militant atheism. Well done Peter. We await your brother following suit.