Peter Hitchens: Why Modern Atheists 'Rage Against God'

"Modern atheists are, in moral terms, children clamoring for their own desires"

I called my book on the New Atheism, ‘The Rage Against God,’ because I was repeatedly struck by the fury and resentment shown by the enemies of Christianity. Of course, I know perfectly well there are plenty of reasonable, courteous atheists. I make a point of referring to one such, Professor Thomas Nagel, in my book.  But they are not typical of this strange and rather lucrative new wave as seen in Richard Dawkins and my late-brother Christopher​, who are full of mockery and spite. I argue with them mainly on my blog, where the most oblique mention of religion can bring them swarming like mosquitoes, often within a few minutes. It is actually tedious and disappointing to have to read their contributions. Even the learned ones contain the same arrogant assumption of perfect certainty, not coupled with any sense that their certainty might require proof. 

This puzzles me, because since returning hesitantly to faith from my days of atheism, I have been determined to keep my position within the strict bounds of reason, based upon a foundation of testable fact, not on emotion or superstition. This leaves many of my more conventionally Christian friends and acquaintances regarding my religious opinions as "feeble," and not much of an improvement from agnosticism. They are right in that facts and logic by themselves cannot take anyone past that point, everything else beyond requires faith. Yet, most of us feel it within ourselves to choose between theism and atheism, between existence and non-existence. Both are impossible to prove.

I concede to my atheist opponents that belief or unbelief is a choice. As a choice, it is based upon desire. I desire, and therefore choose to believe in, one kind of universe, one that has laws and purpose with justice woven into its very fabric. The unbeliever desires, and therefore chooses to believe in, a chaotic universe where the dead remain dead and actions have no effect beyond their immediately observable consequences.

I accept that atheists may be right in their summation of the universe, and I only ask they be prepared to allow me the same in return. A tolerant person would surely accept such concession from their opponent. ​

They do not.

The truth is that modern atheists have constructed their position very carefully so that they can never be asked why they hold it. Like the annoying Christian who declares he’s had a "special" religious experience that has wholly persuaded him of the Gospel’s absolute truth, the New Atheist declares that his entire life and education is an "anti" religious experience, which proves, without further discussion, that there is no God. Any evidence the believer suggests that there might be a God is dismissed by the New Atheists as not being evidence at all.

This close-minded attitude makes a rather dismal statement about where the debate stands: He who does not believe in the existence of God requires no evidence to reach his conclusion.

In their view, there is absolutely no equivalence between the person who, after much examination, prefers the theistic explanation of the universe, and the other person who, with exactly the same experience, prefers the atheistic explanation.

There are many ways in which this formula is unsatisfactory, but its one major strength is that it excludes any discussion of motive. As I point out in my book, Somerset Maugham beautifully encapsulates the atheist’s motive in his autobiographical novel ‘Of Human Bondage,’ where the hero, Philip Carey, counts himself freed from all kinds of restraints on his behavior when he decides to abandon his faith. My "liberated" feelings were nearly identical in my own atheistic mid-teens.

What Maugham wanted, and what I wanted in that hedonistic era, was personal autonomy, to be that common misunderstanding of J.S. Mill’s theory of liberty that I could live as I wish, provided I “thought” I was doing nobody harm.

The problem with this system is that it tends to define “harm” in a rather self-serving way. All non-theistic moral systems (and there are many) allow the individual to set his own weights and measures without an objective scale to gauge it on. This even applies to the Golden Rule, which some Christians unwisely forget that it begins, above all things, with loving God himself, before moving on to our neighbors. In a Godless universe, what is the difference between doing unto others that we would wish them to do unto us, and merely appearing to do unto others that we would wish them to do unto us? The answer, alas, is that if there is no God who knows the secrets of our hearts, it is all too easy to appear to be good, and even to do formally good deeds, all of which are empty of real goodness.

So what are we left with in such an world? One where our natural tendency to selfishness reigns supreme. Fundamentally, once our society has dispensed with the concept of God we are left with nothing. The modern atheists don't wish to discuss this because they are very well aware of the implications of what I'm saying for society in general. They know perfectly well that if everybody didn't believe in God, the comfortable lives they live in extremely agreeable suburbs, where they can trust people not to cheat them and rob them and mug them and rape them, would come to an end. They want to keep the secret to themselves. They want to have all the joys and all the advantages provided by Christianity, and not pay the dues. 

They are, in moral terms, children clamoring for their own desires, but children who have grown large and articulate in the years they might have learned true adulthood and full humanity. That is why they rage against God.


The younger brother of the late writer and famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, Peter Hitchens, 62, is an English journalist and author who writes for Britain's Mail On Sunday newspaper and is a former foreign correspondent in Moscow and Washington. He has published six books, including The Abolition of BritainThe Rage Against God, and The War We Never Fought.