By Anthony Gutierrez —
To inaugurate his atheism, 15-year-old Peter Hitchens burned his Bible outside his Cambridge boarding school in 1967 in front of a group of curious and enthusiastic fellow students.
The desecration turned out to be anti-climactic. The Bible didn’t catch fire in the hoped-for dramatic fashion. As a matter of fact, the thick stack of paper pages were poor kindling and the wind put it out. Only with much coaxing and much patience did it partially burn. His friends, eager to gawk at the anti-God defiance, lost interest and drifted away.
Today, Peter Hitchens, has come full circle. After enlisting with Troskty communists and championing atheist causes, he is now back to Christianity. His older brother Christopher, a media darling and atheistic provocateur with a best-seller God is Not Great, never came back to faith.
The brothers faced-off in a 2008 debate in Grand Rapids over the existence of God. Peter had answered his brother’s jeers against God with his own book, The Rage Against God. The spirited debate was watched keenly: It was more than a clash between two Titans of undisputed intellect from polar extremes; it was two fiercely feuding brothers.
Christopher died in December 2011 from esophageal cancer, a condition provoked and exacerbated by hard drinking. At 64, younger brother Peter maintains good health, still cycling on public roadways at some risk to life and limb.
Peter’s journey back to God started after the young English gentleman, born of a British Naval officer, became a full-fledged activist from the left who clashed with police and got arrested for breaking into a fallout shelter.
By his own admission, Peter was a foul-mouthed juvenile delinquent who mocked his elders and anyone perceived to be weak. He raged against police and experimented amply with drugs. He was a card-carrying member of the Trotskyist International Socialists from 1969 to ’75.
“There were also numberless acts of minor or major betrayal, ingratitude, disloyalty, dishonor, failure to keep
promises and meet obligations, oath-breaking, cowardice, spite or pure selfishness,” admits the UK Daily Mail columnist.
“I have passed through the same atheist revelation that most self-confident British members of my generation — I was born in 1951 – have experienced,” he says. “We were sure that we, and our civilization, 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.”
But his enthusiasm for the secular state began to founder when he worked as a reporter based in Moscow, where he saw the utter lack of morality and even manners – the result of decapitating God from society.
“The biggest fake miracle staged in human history was the claim that the Soviet Union was a new civilization of equality, peace, love, truth, science and progress,” he wrote in The Rage Against God. “Everyone knows that it was a prison, a slum, a return to primitive barbarism, a kingdom of lies where scientists and doctors feared offending the secret police, and that its elite were corrupt and lived in secret luxury.”
Today, he decries the violence of England’s rough neighborhoods in which “practical atheists” kick rivals’ heads “as if it were a football.”
“If you venture into the areas where these people live, you will find a complete absence of any kind of moral feeling whatsoever, a complete absence of self-government among the strong, among the healthy, among those who are able to take control and take advantage of their neighbors,” Peter said in the 2008 debate. “Christianity and everything that went with it have vanished from among them. They are practical atheists.”
But if Russia, North Korea and the cruel streets of England exposed the fraud of the great social experiment, it was a simple piece of artwork that reignited his faith.
At 30 years old, he was admiring Rogier Van Der Weyden’s 15th-century painting “Last Judgment” with naked figures hurtling towards hell, when suddenly he was overcome, not with a mystical presence, but with a simple impression that Christianity is not an outmoded fairy tale adopted to explain the mysteries of the world. It realized it is a reality of present day importance.
“I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open. These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation,” he noted in The Rage Against God. “I had absolutely no doubt I was among the damned.”
At about that time, he let himself be charmed Christmas again. “I had pretended to dislike Christmas for many years,” he wrote. “I was enjoying it, although I was unwilling to admit it. I also knew I was losing my faith in politics and my trust in ambition and was urgently in need of something else on which to build the rest of my life.”
His girlfriend, who was not a Christian, wanted to get married in the Anglican church, and when the ceremony was performed, feelings long suppressed began to reassert themselves in his heart.
When he began to attend church, his journalistic cronies scoffed at him.
“For many years I was more or less ashamed of confessing to any religious faith at all,” he says.
Meanwhile, Christopher had taken up residence in America, digging deeper into his trademark God-bashing. He called believers “stupid” and a doting liberal media described him as “one of the four horsemen of the non-apocalypse” – along with Richard Dawkins. A movement called “New Atheism” was born, and Christopher was at the forefront.
The chasm between brothers didn’t open with their tussle over faith. It had existed since childhood and only grew wider.
As children, elder and younger fought like Cain and Abel. The painful dueling go so intense, their father imposed a peace treaty upon them. But it was Peter who tore up the familial contract displayed on the wall in a fit of rage.
Both were journalists who left their youthful leftist leanings and became conservative.
Their turbulent squabble has vented in publications and counter publications. “The complex relationship between me and my brother has been public property,” Peter rues.
The Grand Rapids debate was a showdown for which many pundits had yearned, proposed and heralded. But if they expected that one of the gladiators would die in agony, they were disappointed. Actually, before the debate, the brothers shared a friendly meal cooked by Christopher.
They engaged energetically on issues and accused each other of intellectual hypocrisy but retained a mutual cordiality.
The relationship was thawing, and the unfortunate progress of the cancer in Christopher seemed to help both to leave their differences and concentrate on enjoying those things they had in common.
“We got on surprisingly well in the past few months – better than for about 50 years,” Peter wrote in the Daily Mail.
When Christopher passed to his eternal destiny, Peter praised his courage to fight issues, even if the wrong ones and in the wrong way.
A Twitter account heaped praise on Christopher and disdain on Peter: “The wrong Hitchens brother died,” Terry Frost tweeted.
Though tactless, he was right in another way. One brother was ready to meet his Maker, the other ill-prepared for eternity. Indeed, the wrong Hitchens brother died.
If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here
Anthony Gutierrez is a student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.