Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hitchens vs. Hitchens: A Christian's Response to His Atheist Brother

Turns out that the "new atheist" Christopher Hitchens has a brother who is a professing Christian. And in a recent essay, Peter Hitchens writes movingly of his lifelong squabbles with his brother and how, eventually, they have come to a kind of peace with each other.

Along the way, Peter offers thoughts on why there is such an atheistic backlash against religion in our day:

Why is there such a fury against religion now? Because religion is the one reliable force that stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. The one reliable force that forms the foundation of the concept of the rule of law. The one reliable force that restrains the hand of the man of power. In an age of power-worship, the Christian religion has become the principal obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power.

Writing about debates with his brother, Peter offers more important food for thought:

It is striking that in his dismissal of a need for absolute theistic morality, Christopher says in his book that 'the order to "love thy neighbour as thyself" is too extreme and too strenuous to be obeyed'. Humans, he says, are not so constituted as to care for others as much as themselves.

This is demonstrably untrue, and can be shown to be untrue, through the unshakable devotion of mothers to their children; in the uncounted cases of husbands caring for sick, incontinent and demented wives (and vice versa) at their lives' ends; through the heartrending deeds of courage on the battlefield.

I am also baffled and frustrated by the strange insistence of my anti-theist brother that the cruelty of Communist anti-theist regimes does not reflect badly on his case and on his cause. It unquestionably does.

Soviet Communism is organically linked to atheism, materialist rationalism and most of the other causes the new atheists support. It used the same language, treasured the same hopes and appealed to the same constituency as atheism does today.

When its crimes were still unknown, or concealed, it attracted the support of the liberal intelligentsia who were then, and are even more now, opposed to religion.

Another favourite argument of the irreligious is that conflicts fought in the name of religion are necessarily conflicts about religion. By saying this they hope to establish that religion is of itself a cause of conflict.

This is a crude factual misunderstanding. The only general lesson that can be drawn is that Man is inclined to make war on Man when he thinks it will gain him power, wealth or land.

David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies provides important historical and theological backing for these and other observations Peter offers.

I encourage you to read all of Peter Hitchens' essay.

And a hat tip to Fr. Stephen at "Glory to God for All Things."

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