Monday, March 15, 2010

Peter Hitchens: The Rage Against God

The Last Judgment, c. 1445–1450
(215 x 560 cm)
Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400-1464)
(Image from Wikipedia)

Peter Hitchens -- younger brother to the very much more famous Christopher Hitchens, who has 'raged' against God in such books as God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything -- speaks up for God in a recent book, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.

These brothers certainly make for interesting bookends.

I haven't read either book, so I won't be comparing or offering reviews, but I did read an interesting excerpt from the book by Peter Hitchens in The Daily Mail Online: "How I found God and peace with my atheist brother: Peter Hitchens traces his journey back to Christianity" (March 12, 2010). In a fascinating passage, he confesses that fear propelled his return to Christianity:
No doubt I should be ashamed to confess that fear played a part in my return to religion, specifically a painting: Rogier van der Weyden's 15th Century Last Judgement, which I saw in Burgundy while on holiday.

I had scoffed at its mention in the guidebook, but now I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of Hell.

These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions.

On the contrary, their hair and the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time. They were me, and people I knew.

I had a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. My large catalogue of misdeeds replayed themselves rapidly in my head.

I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death.
That polyptych painting is found in the Museum of the Hospices Civils de Beaune, but for convenience is also pasted above, and while I find it quite impressive, I don't find the conversive power that brought Peter Hitchens to his knees and opened his mouth to speak.

Perhaps because of the 'irrational' character of his own religious experience, Peter Hitchens doesn't seem to put much stock in rational persuasion for belief in God, especially with such cases as his passionately atheist older brother, Christopher Hitchens:
It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.
Not even good prose can do the trick:
Beyond that, I can only add that those who choose to argue in prose, even if it is very good prose, are unlikely to be receptive to a case which is most effectively couched in poetry.
By "prose," Peter Hitchens seems to mean discursive reasoning aimed at rational persuasion aimed toward fully grounded knowledge, but that doesn't usually lead to faith, apparently, for on the point of God's existence or non-existence, he tells us:
I have become more convinced we cannot know such a thing in the way we know anything else, and so must choose whether to believe or not. I think it better by far to believe.
Why he thinks so is perhaps further articulated in the book, but the excerpt does offer this reason for his choice of Christian belief:
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.
That appears to be in prose rather than poetry, so it might not do the trick for others . . . as Peter Hitchens would likely concede. For him, I gather, the experience of faith is like falling in love. It is overwhelmingly persuasive but not an experience that can be effectively shared through rational argument. Only a foolish man would expect to win the heart of a woman through discursive reasons. Poetry is more effective in such cases.

But after falling in love, or into faith, one might still reflect upon reasons, for one can fall in with the wrong crowd . . . like too many converts to 'Islamism' these days.

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At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia. I have contacted you before.

Please find a completely different Illuminated Understanding of Real God, as distinct from the tribalistic cultic god-idea that Peter is now promoting.

Plus critical essays on christianity as a tribalistic power seeking cult--which has nothing whatsoever to do with Real God (especially in 2010)

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Please sign your name if you're going to proselytize. And learn how to link property. It's simple, for the instructions are under "Leave your comment."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:06 AM, Blogger danielg said...

I am blogging my way through this book at Please come and participate! Thanks.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daniel, unfortunately, I lack time for joining a discussion, but thanks for the invitation (and learn to link).

Jeffery Hodges

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