Hitchens, On Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is a liberal who supports the war in Iraq. He is also an atheist, who has just authored a new book, God Is Not Great, which is a virulent attack on theism.

Peter Hitchens is Christopher’s brother. He is a devout Anglican, and a conservative who opposes the war. Peter has written a frank review of his brother’s book, in which he pulls no punches.

Religious and unbelieving people have both done dreadful things, and the worst of them have committed their murders and their tortures in the belief that they were doing good.

Nothing is proved by either side in this argument, by pointing to the mountains of skulls piled up by evil atheists, and evil theists.

What they have in common is that they are human, and capable of the sin of pride. The practice of religion does not automatically prevent this, and nobody said it did. . . .

Atheists like to claim they behave no worse than believers, and often better. I don’t deny it, in my case. It would be easy for almost anyone to have lived a more virtuous life than mine.

But why should atheists care, or use such terms as “good” and “virtue” anyway?

If we are weak and poor, we can all summon up self-interested decency, behaving in a kind way, in public, towards those from whom we hope for decency in return.

But as soon as we have the power to do evil, we generally do. What is to stop us, unobserved, doing and planning acts of selfish unkindness against others, as so many of us do – for example – in office politics? . . .

If we become rich or mighty, how much worse the problem is. We can rob, wound and defraud our fellow creatures without any fear that they will be able to take revenge. A surprising number of us have power to act in this way. . . .

In the harsher parts of our great cities, strong, violent people rule their neighbours with pre-medieval savagery, demonstrating a fine understanding of what it means if there is no God: that if something works for you, and you can get away with it, then you may do it without fear of consequence in this world – and there is no next world.That is practical atheism. Those who follow it probably cannot even spell it. Comfortable, suburban unbelievers hate to have this pointed out to them.

They would never behave like that, surrounded as they are by the invisible web of ten centuries of Christian law and morality, which still protects the nicer parts of our country.

But it is the application of what they preach, the worship of self and power.

Faith and belief can be and often are restraints on this arrogance of power. They offer the possibility of justice where human society fails to provide it – as it almost always does fail.

Powerful stuff. Their family get-togethers at holidays must be interesting.


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