Sunday, June 3, 2007

Peter Hitchens Takes on His Brother and Atheism


Now this is very interesting. Christopher Hitchens has a brother, Peter, who takes on his brother's recent attacks on those who believe in God. Here are highlights from his commentary:

Some of those who read his books and articles also know that I exist, though they often dislike me if so. But in general we inhabit separate worlds – in more ways than one.

He is of the Left, lives in the United States and recently became an American citizen. I am of the Right and, after some years in Russia and America, live in the heart of England. Occasionally we clash in public.

But now, in God Is Not Great, he has written about religion itself, attacking it as a stupid delusion.

This case, I feel, needs an answer. Most of the British elite will applaud, since they see religion as an embarrassing and (worse) unfashionable form of mania.

And I am no less qualified to defend God than Christopher is to attack him, neither of us being experts on the subject.

. . .

At the heart of this book are two extraordinary, bold statements. One is a declaration of absolute faith, faith that religion has got it wrong, a mental thunderbolt of unbelief.

Christopher describes how at the age of nine he concluded that his teacher’s claim that the world must be designed was wrong. "I simply knew, almost as if I had privileged access to a higher authority, that my teacher had managed to get everything wrong."

At the time of this revelation, he knew nothing of the vast, unending argument between those who maintain that the shape of the world is evidence of design, and those who say the same world is evidence of random, undirected natural selection.

It’s my view that he still doesn’t know all that much about this interesting dispute. Yet at the age of nine, he "simply knew" who had won one of the oldest debates in the history of mankind.

It is astonishing, in one so set against the idea of design or authority in the universe, how often he appeals to mysterious intuitions and "innate" knowledge of this kind, and uses religious language such as "awesome" – in awe of whom or what?

Or "mysterious". What is the mystery, if all is explained by science, the telescope and the microscope? He even refers to "conscience" and makes frequent thunderous denunciations of various evil actions.

Where is his certain knowledge of what is right and wrong supposed to have come from?

How can the idea of a conscience have any meaning in a world of random chance, where in the end we are all just collections of molecules swirling in a purposeless confusion?

If you are getting inner promptings, why should you pay any attention to them? It is as absurd as the idea of a compass with no magnetic North. You might as well take moral instruction from your bile duct.

Two pages later, speaking for atheists in general, he announces: "Our belief is not a belief."

To which one can only reply: "Really? And that thing in the middle of your face. I suppose that’s not a nose, either?"

Christopher is not tentative about his view on God. He describes himself as an "anti-theist", so certain of his, er, faith that he wars with bitter mockery against those who doubt his truth.

Well, I wish I were as certain about any of these things as Christopher is about his anti-creed.

. . .
Did the Supper at Emmaus really take place? How I hope that it did, but I do not know that it did, in the way that I know a British soldier has recently been flown home dead from Basra or Helmand, or even in the way that I know that another such soldier will soon make the same sad journey.

Many decades have passed since I fancied the story of Adam and Eve was literal truth, if I ever did. Rather more recently I have realised the great warning against human arrogance that is contained in it, the serpent's silky promise that if we reject the supposedly foolish, trivial restrictions imposed on us by an interfering, jealous nuisance of a God, then we shall be liberated.

As the serpent promises: "Ye shall be as gods." These may be the most important words in the whole Bible.

Take the enticing satanic advice, and you arrive, quite quickly, at revolutionary terror, at the invention of the atom bomb, at the torture chamber and the building of concentration camps for those unteachable morons who do not share your vision of a just world.

And also you arrive at the idea, embraced by Christopher, that by invading Iraq, you can make the world a better place.

I hesitated about mentioning this. Was it unfair, a jab below the belt? No. Much of his book is devoted to claiming that religious impulse drives Man to do, or excuse, or support wicked and terrible things in the name of goodness.

Is this not a perfect description of the Iraq War, which he backed?

There is much, much more. Read it all. Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for the link.

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