Peter Hitchens on Christopher Hitchens

‘One of the problems atheists have is the unbelievers’ assertion that it is possible to determine what is right and what is wrong without God.  They have a fundamental inability to concede that to be effectively absolute a moral code needs to be beyond human power to alter.  On this misunderstanding is based my brother Christopher’s supposed conundrum about whether there is any good deed that could be done only by a religious person, and not done by a Godless one.  Like all such questions, this contains another question: what is good, and who is to decide what is good?

Left to himself, Man can in a matter of minutes justify the incineration of populated cities; the deportation, slaughter, disease and starvation of inconvenient people and the mass murder of the unborn.  I have heard people who believe themselves to be good, defend all these things, and convince themselves as well as others.  Quite often the same people will condemn similar actions committed by different countries, often with great vigour.

For a moral code to be effective, it must be attributed to, and vested in, a non-human source.  It must be beyond the power of humanity to change it to suit itself.  Its most powerful expression is summed up in the words ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’.  The huge differences which can be observed between Christian societies and all others, even in the twilit afterglow of Christianity, originate in this specific injunction.

It is striking that in his dismissal of a need for absolute theistic morality, Christopher says in his book that ‘the order to “love thy neighbour as thyself” is too extreme and too strenuous to be obeyed’.  Humans, he says, are not so constituted as to care for others as much as themselves.  This is demonstrably untrue, and can be shown to be untrue, through the unshakable devotion of mothers to their children; in the uncounted cases of husbands caring for sick, incontinent and demented wives (and vice versa) at their lives’ ends; through the heartrending deeds of courage on the battlefield.

I am also baffled and frustrated by the strange insistence of my anti-theist brother that the cruelty of Communist anti-theist regimes does not reflect badly on his case and on his cause.  It unquestionably does.  Soviet Communism is organically linked to atheism, materialist rationalism and most of the other causes the new atheists support.  It used the same language, treasured the same hopes and appealed to the same constituency as atheism does today.  When its crimes were still unknown, or concealed, it attracted the support of the liberal intelligentsia who were then, and are even more now, opposed to religion.

Another favourite argument of the irreligious is that conflicts fought in the name of religion are necessarily conflicts about religion.  By saying this they hope to establish that religion is of itself a cause of conflict.  This is a crude factual misunderstanding.  The only general lesson that can be drawn is that Man is inclined to make war on Man when he thinks it will gain him power, wealth or land.’

~ Peter Hitchens

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