Book Review: ‘The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith’

‘The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith’ by Peter Hitchens

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In the first part of this book Peter Hitchens describes his childhood and early life.  These are quite wonderful chapters, the best part of the book in my opinion.  The author, an Orwell Prize-winning journalist, uses his considerable descriptive powers to bring the reader back to Sixties Britain and shows what growing up during these years was like. 

As one who experienced the same era (though in Northern Ireland rather than England) I can testify to the authenticity of his account.  His description of boarding school life (I too attended a boarding school, though I was a humble “day boy”) rings true, as does his account of the decline of the railways and the Royal Navy.

Mr. Hitchens presents a picture of Sixties Britain that is poignant but not nostalgic because, he argues, there was something badly wrong even then.  His analysis of the “cult of Winston Churchill”, the ubiquitous presence in every small town and even village of a war memorial, the continual reliving and uncritical glorification of World War II in popular expression, the pseudo-religious celebration of Remembrance Day, etc., were manifestations of this national malaise.

In later chapters he tells of his experiences in the Soviet Union and we are given a clear explanation of the reasons for his change from radical Trotskyist to orthodox Christian believer of the traditional Anglican variety.  In all these chapters the author’s aims are well achieved. 

Part Two of the book deals with the three New Atheist arguments that he considers most important, or at least most prevalent.  Wisely and with humility he does not attempt to critique these arguments theologically nor philosophically but rather in terms of their historical, political and moral falsity.  In other words, he addresses the New Atheism in areas in which he is well qualified to identify their flaws.  For example, his discussion of late twentieth century Soviet politics and social morality comes from his personal, first hand experience.

In the third part of the book Mr. Hitchens addresses a particular argument utilised by his older brother Christopher, concerning the idea of the Soviet state as a substitute “religion”, and demolishes this convenient notion in considerable detail.  He also discusses the contemporary allegation that religion is child abuse and shows how, in this regard, the New Atheism is a rebirth of the old Soviet collective attack against Christianity.

As a British expatriate I found this book extremely helpful in understanding the decline of Christian faith in my mother country.  The autobiographical chapters are very interesting and the word-picture of Sixties Britain skillfully drawn.  American Christians, in particular, need to heed Peter Hitchens’ warnings about the pseudo-religion of reliving past wars, the glorification of the “noble death” and the error of confusing a blind, unthinking patriotism with authentic Christianity.

This is a very worthwhile book and I strongly recommend it.

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