Book: The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith

The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith - By Peter Hitchens Published by HarperCollins in print version and as an audio book by

The audio version is read by the author.

It is perhaps a little unfortunate that as an example of how to record an audio book The God Delusion is hard to beat. Authors may not be the best people to read their own work but Dawkins delivery is crisp, his pacing is measured and just to make sure that the monotone of one voice doesn’t prove hypnotic, he shares reading duties with his wife Lalla Ward. Part of the reason that he is so good is that, as he has said in interview, he takes audio books seriously as a performance, not just a spoken version of the text. By way of contrast, the barrage of facts in search of an argument that make up God is not Great would already be pretty heavy going without the monotone of Christopher Hitchens voice and this-is-all-too-obvious inflection to send the listener to sleep.

Now batting back for the Christians is Peter Hitchens and while his vocal delivery is a little too fast at times, it never becomes hypnotic. As a book, The Rage Against God has two very distinct parts. The most interesting part is where with commendable fair mindedness he refutes three claims of the ‘new atheists’, namely that conflicts fought in the name of religion are always about religion (actually I don’t think that Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens have ever claimed this), that it is possible to confidently know right from wrong without God, and that atheist states are not in fact atheist. His knowledge of the Soviet Union, and experience as a former Trotskyite,  comes in particularly handy in tackling the last of these, and he correctly recognises the difference between a secular philosophy of mutual support and the Christian injunction to lay down ones life for others.
Yet it is in the other half that The Rage Against God becomes troubling, as he uses autobiography to chart the moral decline in the UK. This he puts down to disillusionment following the second world war but also to the likes of the Suez Crisis and the Profumo affair, not helped by a liberal Church all too ready to surrender power. Even people whose politics are diametrically opposed to his might well share his concern over our brutalised society but the elephant in the living room that he does not mention is a woman in a blue power suit declaring that there is no such thing as society. Perhaps his Mail on Sunday readers might not take well to any criticism of Thatcherism.

The most striking thing about this book given its title is how little we learn about either Peter’s atheism or his faith. His reticence in the first instance is to spare the feeling of others whereas where the latter is concerned, it is because the subject is personal, but either way it does bring to mind Hamlet’s observations about wisdom and cowardice. The concern is compounded by the fact that almost without exception the sparse scriptural quotes in this book come from the Old Testament. About the only allusion in the entire book to New Testament scripture is to Jesus chastising Judas with the observation that ”the poor ye always have with you”. I hope that for him Christianity is not about ambivalent feelings towards the poor and needy, especially as this goes directly against the message of the good Samaritan. Peter has done a valuable service an highlighting how atheism is not incidental to Socialism, but he does not seem willing to acknowledge that Jesus message (sell your possessions, all are equal in the eyes of God) could be seen as profoundly socialistic.

Ironically, while Dawkins comes across as profoundly religious, and Christopher Hitchens clearly knows his scripture, it is hard to imagine Peter Hitchens indulging in existential soul searching, or at least admitting to it. While we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of Peter’s faith, the irreverent thought comes to mind that much of this admittedly beautifully written book could have been written by an agnostic with an affection for the church and a basic knowledge of scripture.

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