Fri 20 Aug 2010
I picked up Peter Hitchens’ book The Rage Against God a couple days back and read it in one sitting. Hitchens is the brother of famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, and while his book is not meant to be a point by point counter to his brother’s God is Not Great, it is nonetheless meant as a general rebuttal to popular atheism. Still, as he is clear, he is “neither a theologian nor even a Bible scholar,” and so his arguments are fundamentally autobiographical and/or journalistic in nature.
Which is probably why I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I might (and on this, I apparently differ from media on both the left and the right who have generally given very positive reviews). The book is divided into three parts: 1, “A Personal Journey Through Atheism”; 2, “Addressing the Three Failed Arguments of Atheism”, and 3, “The League of the Militant Godless”. The first section, which takes up more than half the book, is an autobiographical account of how he had become a militant atheist (even burning his Bible on the school ground at the age of 15) to eventually re-embrace Christianity; an interesting testimony on, as the book’s North American subtitle puts it, “how atheism led me to faith”. The second addresses three arguments of atheism: 1, that conflicts which are purportedly religious are always actually about religion; 2, that coherent morality can exist without reference to God; and 3, that atheist states are not atheist.
The third subject is where Peter Hitchens shines, and it is on this subject that his readers will find him most insightful. Drawing on his own experiences in the USSR and well-researched knowledge of its early history, he demonstrates that the Soviet system was fundamentally atheist at its core (not “religious” as Christopher Hitchens repeatedly attempts to suggest). In doing so, he demonstrates that the actions taken by the “League of the Militant Godless” (an organization in the Soviet Union devoted to wiping out religion) were directly in line with the Soviet Union’s purpose. In the process, he demonstrates that some of today’s extremist atheists (such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkings) are advocating positions worryingly like those enacted in the USSR (for example, the argument that parents should not be allowed to teach their children anything about religion until they are 18). The consequences of enacting such laws would lead inevitably, Peter Hitchens suggests, to the destruction of human rights and the increase of suffering (which demonstrably happened in the USSR – a true atheist state).
The book is a generally good read, but if you’re looking for standard apologetics it may not be the book for you. But for what it is, it is a welcome, intelligent addition to the pro-religion/anti-religion debate so popular in the present era.