A Carnival of Adolescent Petulance

In my ongoing discussions of atheism, I have in this place reviewed Christopher Hitchen’s book, God is Not Great, and now, Lord willing, I will do the same thing with his brother’s new book. That book is entitled The Rage Against God, which will release in early May here in the States. For UK readers, I believe the book is available for you all now.

This brief post is limited to the Introduction. I knew that the book would make me very happy when, in the first two lines, I encountered the phrase “carnival of adolescent petulance.”

Peter Hitchens wisely sees that it would be useless to pretend that he could write a book on this subject that would not be immediately held up against his brother’s.

“It would be absurd to pretend that much of what I say here is not intended to counter or undermine arguments he [Christopher] has presented in his own book on this subject” (p. 10).

Since that pretence would be absurd, Peter strikes the right note at the beginning. He intends to enter the public discussion we are all having about faith and culture,

ethics and atheism, and to participate in that discussion with a frank and disarming approach, straight up the middle.

The subtitle of the book is “How Atheism Led Me to Faith.” Like many others, the pilgrimage that Peter Hitchens went through is a “there and back again” story. He was brought up in the Christian faith, but it was a form of the faith that had something vital missing.

“I had some good reasons for refusing some of it. My mistake was to dispense with it all, indiscriminately. I hope to show that one of the things I was schooled in was not, in fact, religion, but a strange and vulnerable counterfeit of it — a counterfeit that can be detected and rejected while yet leaving the genuine truths of Christianity undamaged” (pp. 10-11).

As an adolescent, Peter Hitchens left behind the form without substance, and eventually returned to the substance (and the rightful form), and did so by taking the long way round.

“I want to explain how I became convinced, by reason and experience, of the necessity and rightness of a form of Christianity that is modest, accommodating, and thoughtful — but ultimately uncompromising about its vital truth” (p. 11).

Reason and experience. But the reasons cannot be skipped across the arguments like a stone, and the experience also must have some depth.

“As he [Christopher] has become more certain about the non-existence of God, I have become more certain that we cannot know such a thing in the way that we know anything else, and so must choose whether to believe or not. I think it is better by far to believe” (p. 11).

This is no blind fideism, but is rather a thoughtful interaction with the basic alternatives, and picking the one that makes sense of everything — including, incidentally, the existence of the other alternatives.

As for Christopher’s atheism, “As long as he can convince himself, nobody else will persuade him” (p. 12). This is, in my judgment, quite right, along with another observation that Peter makes about the vulnerability of the atheist. As C.S. Lewis once commented, God is very unscrupulous, and leaves traps everywhere. One of those traps is poetry — atheism can be “countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time” (p. 12).

This will be, I am convinced, a very important book.

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