Peter Hitchens’ (brother of the late atheist Christopher Hitchens) book is interesting and valuable on many levels. We get to see his journey from a previously unhappy atheist to that of a renewed person in Jesus Christ. We also discover that he has an enormous interest in politics and all that comes with it.
In part 3 of the book Hitchens dive deep into the former Soviet Union and the many inhumane atrocities committed during its era. Much of his effort on his part is that it stems from the tendency of contemporary atheists to clothe Joseph Stalin as religious despot. The atheist, Hitchens notes, will then try and argue that it was religion that sparked the atrocities beneath the Soviet Union’s banner. Such violence therefore cannot be blamed on atheism. Moreover, we also find out Hitchens lived for a certain amount of time within Russia during much of its upheaval. Here Hitchens experienced organized assault on religion which no doubt urged him, emotionally, to want to get his story on paper.
Part 1 of the book invites readers to glance in at Hitchens’ childhood where he articulates his experiences with refreshing honesty. Hitchens concedes that he had a powerful distaste for Christian ethics, divine judgment, and the prospect of being held accountable for one’s own deeds by God. However, while still a young atheist, Hitchens struggled to square the fact that there were many bright and intelligent religious believers. This is because he assumed that they were mostly just gullible and opposed to reason, however, that was not what his experience was telling him. Today, Hitchens notes, modern science has come under attack from atheists who wish to monopolize it and use it to attack religion.
Both part 1 & 2 are heavily involved in summarizing and explaining the religious and non-religious significance of the histories of several nations. Not only are readers treated to Soviet Russia but Hitchens isn’t shy of going deep into British history. The prospects, in general argues Hitchens, look bleak as godlessness continues its relentless march on the hearts and minds of many people.
Christian life is not entirely easy, at least by Peter’s account, and I am sure we can all (if Christian) testify to that. We struggle in many significant ways to live a life based on the teachings of Christ, or to emulate in any small measure His sinless being. Peter testifies, rather bravely, to this fact:
“From time to time I also try to wriggle out of the laws to which I have sworn obedience. I then reject parts of the teaching of my faith, this parts that condemn what I want to think or say or do”
That’s brute honesty, and is a bittersweet pill to swallow, as we all know. Bitter because it means we have to change many of the earthly things in our lives (breaking sinful habits), and sweet because it puts us on track with our Lord. I wonder how much more difficult it would be for the atheist looking in from the outside to swallow (consider Peter’s initial words further above)?
Furthermore, the book tends to become evermore personal, especially with the mentioning of Peter’s brother Christopher (exhibited in the last chapter quite extensively). Peter affirms that “if we weren’t brothers, we wouldn’t know each other”, and goes on to substantiate the dichotomy of characters they themselves are, and the different paths each have taken in their journey through life.
We can see that Peter feels great penitence regarding the disbelief permeating Christopher, and wishes that he would have a change of heart, and mind – but he also knows well that his brother has sealed himself in his “atheist tower”. Peter specifically illuminates Christopher’s central thesis in his book ‘God Is Not Great’, that religion is the cause of most evil, and suffering in the world. Although not entirely, Peter scrutinises his brother’s claims to a certain degree.
Although in general the pros outweigh the cons rather significantly, there are some parts I, personally, find irrelevant. As I previously mentioned, Peter goes into great detail about the unpleasant life forcibly embraced under communist Russia (indoctrination of children, killings of priests, nuns, monks, and so forth), as well as the substantial histories of other countries where secularism seems to be gaining a foothold. The depth is great, but much of part 3 is solely dedicated to the Soviet Union, and it seems to labour on a bit long, the same can be said about other points he makes about the other countries in part 1 and 2. The history of England, although interesting, is also seemingly laboured on in his writing, and I just never really found myself living the narrative on the pages. After certain points it became so tiresome that I started speed-reading (which I rather don’t like to do) until later points where atheism was addressed directly, and so forth. There are, for similar readers to myself, golden nuggets that one can mine in the parts that seem to labour on – there is a lot of good information, but much less relevant information, by my measure.
Of course this criticism is totally subjective, it is just evidence of what interests me and what doesn’t. Many would read Peter’s book, find it extremely entertaining on every single page, but I did not. What I anticipated beforehand was to be much more analysis of contemporary militant atheism, and much more on the life of Peter when he was an atheist himself. I just found certain aspects a bit lacking, some others too drawn out, yet I certainly got taught a significant and hefty history lesson throughout.
Peter is a talented, and extremely intelligent writer, and you can see this clearly exhibited in his book – this would be one of those very few things that he and his brother are rather similar in.
In the book we get a brief tour of the life of Peter, and his conversion from atheism to theism – a story that surely resonates with many people today contemplating whether or not to place their faith in the hands of Jesus Christ. As a previous unbeliever myself I found much comfort in the fact that I am not the only soul in the world to have struggled in a similar way in the past; I too have my journey, and thus I could identify, and draw parallels in both Peter’s and my life stories.
I trust this will be the same for other believers who too have similar tales to tell. In closing I certainly recommend that you pick up a copy of ‘The Rage Against God’ if you can. Don’t expect a book that goes for the jugular of atheism, but expect a brave, and honest tale of a man who boldly shares his story with us. A story that is well worth the read.