The Rage Against God

I am back to work again. After a few days away from work, after a few days of rest and relaxation, today I am back in my office to complete an academic marathon I have set for myself to finish this summer. This marathon includes a lot of reading and a lot of writing.

A personal note about my vacation. Many years ago, I set out to visit all 50 states. As of last week, I had visited 46 states and I was four short to complete my tour of the United States. Last week I visited the 47th state. Now, I have only three states which I have yet to visit: Alaska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. So, my goal is to visit these last three states next summer.

During my visit to Minnesota (the 47th state on my list), I had the opportunity to read a very interesting book. The book, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) was written by Peter Hitchens.

The name Hitchens should be familiar to readers of my blog. Peter is the brother of Christopher Hitchens, the author of god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Although I have never reviewed Christopher Hitchens’s book, I have mentioned him several times in different posts in which I discussed atheism.

The Hitchens brothers were devout and militant atheists who tried to convince people everywhere that religion was destructive and faith in God was something that should be rejected and abandoned. And yet, in their deep involvement in promoting atheism, Peter became a believer and his brother Christopher continues to proclaim that there is no God.

It is amazing how atheism works in the lives of people. When people deny the existence of God and try to live a secular life devoid of God and of a compass that can guide them in life’s most important decisions, they accept their own view of reality as the basis upon which to make moral decisions and criticize those who accept God as the foundation of ultimate authority.

Peter’s book begins by describing his descent toward atheism and his involvement with communism. He then describes what brought him back from the edge of the abyss into a life of faith in which God became an important factor in his new life. He then addresses the three failed arguments of atheism. It is this second part of the book that was of great interest to me.

However, an issue that all readers of the book want to know is the answer to what Peter said in the subtitle of his book: “how atheism led me to faith.” Before I mention how Peter came to faith, let me say a few words about his journey to atheism.

When Peter was fifteen years old, he set fire to his Bible to demonstrate his break with religion and his rage against God. This is how Peter described that event:

“At that moment I knew–absolutely knew–that it was the enemy’s book, the keystone of the arch I wished to bring down. I knew that there was no God, that the Old Testament was a gruesome series of atrocity stories and fairy tales, while the gospels were a laughable invention used to defraud the simple” (p. 18).

To Peter, to be free from the demands of the Bible was to be free from absolute rules, to be free to do anything he wanted to do, to be happy, to be himself. As an unbeliever, his conscience would dictate what was right and what was wrong. As he wrote: “Enlightened self-interest was the evolutionary foundation of good behavior” (p. 20).

But notwithstanding his effort to declare that he was an unbeliever, that there was no God, one thing Peter could never completely remove from his life was the awareness that all people will die someday and that maybe, just maybe, death is not the end of everything. Whenever he saw a church, he recognized the unsettling message it brought to his life: “the inevitability and certainty of my own death” (p. 101).

It was when visiting the Hotel-Dieu in Beaune and contemplating The Last Judgment, a religious painting by Rogier van der Weyden, that his rediscovery of faith began. In that painting Peter saw the realities of the afterlife: the reality of judgment, the consequences of unbelief, and the final destination of the ungodly.

Confronted with the reality that people will be judged for their actions, Peter feared and trembled “for the things of which my conscience was afraid (and is afraid)” (p. 104).

Peter’s experience with the reality of death and the afterlife reminded me of the words of Robert Ingersoll, the great atheist, on the occasion of the death of his brother. On two previous posts (here and here), I wrote what Ingersoll said when confronted with the death of his brother (read Ingersoll’s words by reading the two posts above).

It is in the reality of death that we can see a crack in the walls of atheism. The reality of death and the awareness that there is life here and life beyond becomes a faint light that begins to shine in the dark hearts of atheists.

After recounting his descent into atheism and his rediscovery of faith, Peter addressed the “three failed arguments of atheism.” These three arguments are presented in the form of three questions:

1. “Are conflicts fought in the name of religion conflicts about religion?”

2. “Is it possible to determine what is right and what is wrong without God?”

3. “Are atheist states not actually atheist?”

I am not discussing each of these questions today. However, I want to make a few comments on question two. Peter said that one of the biggest problems of atheism is the inability to concede that “to be effectively absolute, a moral code needs to be beyond human power to alter.”

The fact is, that when left to themselves, human beings can justify the destruction of cities, the slaughter and starvation of inconvenient people, “and the mass murder of the unborn” (p. 141). He wrote: “In their attempt to argue that effective and binding codes can be developed without the deity, atheism often mistakes inferior codes of ‘common decency’ for absolute moral systems.”

I enjoyed reading this book because it offers hope to people who are struggling with the problems of faith and religion. Peter’s descent into atheism and his rediscovery of faith clearly shows that there is hope for people who live apart from Christ, people who do not know the promises God has made, who live in this world without God and without hope (Ephesians 2:12).

Peter concludes his book with a few words about his relationship with his brother Christopher. He said that his brother “has bricked himself up high in his atheist tower” shooting arrows at the faithful, finding it “rather hard to climb down out of it” (p. 217). Peter’s hope for his brother is that “he might one day arrive at some sort of acceptance that belief in God is not necessarily a character fault–and that religion does not poison everything.”

If Peter was able to come out of darkness into God’s wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9), if he was able to ascend from the depths of atheism into the realm of faith, then we know that there is hope for Christopher Hitchens and for every atheist who is willing to open heart and mind to the light that is shining in the darkness of their atheism (John 1:9).

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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12 Responses to The Rage Against God

  1. >Amen and Amen. I've had an occasion to hear Peter Hitchens in interviews and discussions. It's interesting that I have heard that he and his brother, Christopher, were estranged for years and have found a way to come to a reconciliation by Peter becoming a believer. That's what I love about God, God can fix and and all parts of our lives. Without Jesus there truly is nothing worth living. I also plan to read Peter Hitchen's book.

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  2. Philipa says:

    >With respect your arguments fail completely and do not provide any reason or logic against Christopher Hitchens's argument against religion. The most awful things have been done in the name of religion.You say: "I enjoyed reading this book because it offers hope to people who are struggling with the problems of faith and religion. Peter’s descent into atheism and his rediscovery of faith clearly shows that there is hope for people"Peter Hitchens's 'faith' rests on seeing a picture whilst on holiday with his future wife does it not? Hardly the profound struggle against atheism you depict. So rather than fighting against 'the keystone of the arch he wished to bring down' he was on a pleasant holiday with a female bedmate wasn't he, saw a painting and thought he'd best get some repenting in quick, just in case. Hardly a damascene moment then. Peter Hitchens likes the Anglican religion because it is English and suits his world view – he sees it as a socio-political tool to force the world he wants, including the condescending and misogynistic attitude towards women. And it's endorsed by God (allegedly), how convenient is that?!He offers no hope whatsoever to people struggling with faith. Is it really Christian for an ageing bigoted narcissist to seek the endorsement of God for his prejudices? No, but it is not unusual. However, such a 'journey' from precocious and privileged public schoolboy to arrogant pompous hack does not offer any real hope for those struggling with faith. None at all. You see, all it means is that as a boy Peter did what he liked, and as an adult he still does what he likes. Only now he cherry-picks bits of the Bible when convenient and ignores you and says he isn't a theologian when it isn't.No hope. Not from Peter Hitchens.

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  3. >Marcus,As believers, we know that people can change and become believers even though they were severe critics before. The Apostle Paul is a good example.Paul was anti-Christian and he persecuted the church and the believers. But one day he experienced Christ in his life and he also became a believer. This is what happened to Peter Hitchens and this is what can happen to people who today are doubters.Life changes when we live that life with God.Claude Mariottini

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  4. >Phillipa,Your criticism of my post should be addressed to Peter Hitchens. He is the one who left atheism to become a believer.You may not accept the fact that Peter's change is real, but I believe him when he said that he is now a believer.His acceptance of God shows that there is hope for others and even though you may not agree, Peter's acceptance of theism is an evidence that atheists can change and turn to faith again.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  5. Philipa says:

    >That is NOT what happened to Peter Hitchens, you are assuming too much, Sir. Peter Hitchens merely considered the real possibility there might be a day of judgement and thought he'd better look after himself. Nothing more. He himself admits it was no damascene conversion. It was merely self-interest. And however much you try to ignore the fact isn't going to change it. So it was written!

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  6. >Philipa,We may agree to disagree, but this is not what Peter said in his book. He calls himself a believer, he talks about following Christ,he talks about prayer and reading the Bible. If these are not the actions of a believer, then nothing is.Claude Mariottini

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  7. Philipa says:

    >Claude, if I may call you that, it seems our replies clashed and I answered your reply to Marcus. Allow me now, Sir, to thank you for reply to me. However I disagree with your statement that I should address my facts to Peter Hitchens as he is already aware of them, he wrote them. He may call himself a believer but what does he believe in? I think that's important. Does he believe in Cranmer more than Christ? If Mein Kampf was translated by Cranmer, Donne et al into the most beautiful poetic verse would PH be a Nazi? Style over content. If he believes he may be judged when he dies then that's simply an acknowledgemnt there may be a God, it doesn't mean he's a Christian. He goes to evensong because he likes the music, thats aesthetics, that's not true faith in Christ. He objects to sharing the Peace and the rest of his behaviour demonstrates my earlier points. Being a Christian, Claude, is not about what you say, or what you claim, it's about what you do. And his actions are not the actions of a believer. I object to any faith in a deity, being usurped by men or women to endorse their own agenda. I believe Peter Hitchens does this. And when he's not doing that he's an arrogant horrid nasty bully who is willing to hurt, lie and persecute, even a child, to facilitate his own dominance. Like you I assumed all the nice things before I read more. Read more. I don't think he'd persecute you. You can fight back. I've noticed he prefers picking on vulnerable women. That's the kind of 'true believer' he is. What a man!!What would Jesus do? Consider Luke 7:36. Perhaps Jesus wouldn't comment on your blog like I have, but then people listened to him, he didn't have to. He had to be crucified. Thanks for letting me comment on your blog, I appreciate it and hope you will consider my argument. I don't want to be crucified to show the truth of it. I guess I will if the oh-so-Christian Hitchens have their way. But people who join the 'Christian Club' like some pompous conservative club and use the fact as some elite social membership is just plain wrong. Sadly there are a lot of 'em about. Bless 'em. And Peter Sutcliffe thought he was on a mission from God didn't he?Incidentally: there are men who talk about love and regularly beat their wives. It's not about what you say, it's about what you do. What did Jesus do?

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  8. Philipa says:

    >So sorry: Luke 7:36-48You may like to have a look at Hitchwatch, there are some good religious arguments there from time to time. And there's a particularly savvy Christian commenter that keeps us on our toes 🙂

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  9. >Philipa,You can call me Claude.Philipa,Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. I do not know PH and I do not know how he lives or how he behaves in private and in public. Therefore, it is possible that you know him better than I do.Whether PH is a true Christian or not, only God can say because only God can judge the heart. If PH is afraid of judgment day, he will soon face it. And on that day, the righteous Judge will decide whether Peter’s words are true or whether they are just empty words. Jesus once said: “ On judgment day many will say to me, 'Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.' But I will reply, 'I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God's laws.'” (Matthew 7:22-23). This applies to Peter and to everyone else who claims to be a Christian.I will check Hitchwatch.Claude Mariottini

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  10. Philipa says:

    >Thanks, Claude. Wise words. Thank you.

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  11. Philipa says:

    >Dear Claude, I have written a new blog post with a religious dimension, although essentially political, and I would be so glad if you'd pop by and take a peek. The Catholic commenters keep me on my toes and are a very welcome addition if you would look at the comments? Your comments would be very welcome, especially on the OT. Thanks, tis here.All best..

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  12. Pingback: To Pray or Not to Pray | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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