The Magazine

God Help Us

The conquest of disbelief in the midst of the modern world.

Aug 9, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 44 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Nevertheless, there are greater dangers in play. Hitchens describes, as only an ex-Communist could, a new specter haunting the West: the specter of belligerent atheism. He points to various campaigns to defame Christian belief, to denounce the religious education of children as child abuse, and to exclude religious ideals from democratic life. “A new and intolerant utopianism,” he writes, “seeks to drive the remaining traces of Christianity from the laws and constitutions of Europe and North America.” It is a resuscitated version of the League of the Militant Godless, the name of a Soviet-era social movement to eradicate religion. The ultimate objective, he says, is man’s radical liberation from his Creator.

The burden of Rage is to insist that along this path lies the eclipse of freedom, personal and political, as the new elites consolidate control. And Hitchens’s alternative vision is anchored in history and in personal experience. Surrounded by secular and sophisticated colleagues all his life, he nonetheless couldn’t ignore “the old unsettling messages” of mortality and sin. In the 1990s, on a trip to Burgundy in search of fine wine, he took an artistic detour and found himself gazing at Rogier van der Weyden’s The Last Judgment. The depiction of individuals fleeing the pit of hell—naked, suffering, mournful, terrified—seized him. 

I had a sudden, strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. A large catalogue of misdeeds, ranging from the embarrassing to the appalling, replayed themselves rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned.

Peter Hitchens’s lucid memoir of a prodigal son reminds us that these are not thoughts which, once allowed to enter the human mind, naturally serve the Devil’s purpose. Indeed, as C. S. Lewis suggested, such ideas can become a means of divine grace, for they help awaken a man’s reason, as well as his conscience. “And once it is awake,” asks Screwtape, “who can foresee the result?”

Joseph Loconte is a lecturer in politics at King’s College in New York and a contributing editor to The American.

Recent Blog Posts