George Brahm examines why the Christian atheist’s dialogue with...
The story of Peter Hitchens' adult conversion to Christianity traced a very different path to that of his arch-atheist brother Christopher
Christopher Hitchens, along with Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins was one of the so-called “four horsemen of the New Atheism” that led the charge against religion around the turn of the century. As a professional journalist, Christopher Hitchens was possibly the most eloquent of the four, and his wit and humour accomplished more for the cause than the bluster of the other three combined.
Christopher Hitchens' popularity was so great that atheists and Christian apologists alike mourned his passing in 2011, as did his brother, Peter.
Peter Hitchens, also a journalist, was an outspoken atheist like his brother. Despite their similar professions, views, and upbringing, the two brothers were always at odds, practically since childhood. Though both were raised in a nominal faith, they began their slide into atheism in early adulthood.
Peter’s journey toward atheism began when he was still in boarding school at the age of 15. He chose to make his rebellion against religion and all of the conventions of his upbringing official by the ceremonial burning of his Bible – a gift from his parents - in the school yard.
"We were sure that we, and our civilisation, had grown out of the nursery myths of God, angels and Heaven."
After burning the book, he intentionally began to do the things he had always been instructed were wrong: using foul language, mocking the weak, lying, stealing, using drugs and betraying friends and family members.
Peter describes the cultural mindset that he believes led him and his brother away from organised religion:
“I have passed through the same atheist revelation that most self-confident British members of my generation - I was born in 1951 --have experienced. We were sure that we, and our civilisation, had grown out of the nursery myths of God, angels and Heaven. We had modern medicine, penicillin, jet engines, the Welfare State, the United Nations and ' science', which explained everything that needed to be explained.”
It was not, however, a tragedy or desperate turn of events that caused Peter Hitchens to turn back to his childhood faith. As he grew out of his young rebellion and into his established trade of journalism, he became modestly successful. He enjoyed a pleasant relationship with his girlfriend, and was able to pursue his interests and distractions such as holidays on the continent.
His youthful Marxist convictions had been overturned by his experience as a journalist in Soviet Russia and seeing the tragedy brought on by the atheistic state. As he settled into his adult routine, he fell back into attendance of Anglican church from time to time. This was not out of a sense of religious conviction, but rather out of respect for British tradition. But as he did so, he began to recognize that the faithful men of history who had preceded him were no more foolish for their faith. In fact, their convictions had added to their brilliance as statesmen, artists, scientists and so on.
Staring at the picture Hitchens felt sudden and true conviction.
It was staring at the picture of one such artist – Rogier van der Weyden’s Last Judgment – that Hitchens felt sudden and true conviction. Seeing the naked figures as they fled the fires of hell, all of his intentional rebellion and misdeeds came back to his mind, and with them, the realization that his life was a testament to the truth found in the painting before him: that misdeeds required justice, and that if anyone required saving from this justice, it was he.
It was on the heels of this sobering incident that Christmas came, and with it, a much more uplifting experience. For many years, Hitchens had feigned disdain for the Christmas season, however now he began to truly enjoy the caroling and joy that came along with the seasonal celebration.
Following this, Hitchens held his wedding in a church, became baptised, and generally began to participate in church affairs, even as his confidence in political solutions to world problems began to dwindle and fade.
Becoming a Christian in the world of journalism has no small amount of stigma attached to it, and given his formerly radical stances, Hitchens tried to conceal his growing faith from his friends and colleagues. However, as the years passed, Hitchens began to make his Christian faith part of his identity as a journalist, and especially as his brother achieved fame for his atheist stance, to distance himself from his now-famed sibling. This has ultimately had the effect of carving out a unique niche for Hitchens who now uses his position as a journalist to campaign for the various causes his worldview leads him to embrace.
Hitchens’ story may be found in his book The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.
This blog was originally published on examiner.com by Joel Furches
Unbelievable? presenter Justin Brierley blogs on all things theology, apologetics and ethics.