“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! “Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” (Isaiah 5:20-21)
I first met Peter Hitchens in 2008 when I bumped into him by accident in a coffee shop in Moscow, Idaho. After I got over my surprise at seeing this award-winning British journalist in a provincial village in the Idaho panhandle, we began to talk. It turned out that this former Marxist turned conservative journalist wanted get a grass-roots perspective of the political tensions at the time, and he had chosen this small town as his observation point. Although I was scheduled to return home later that afternoon, Mr. Hitchens persuaded me to stay until the evening so I could hear a talk he was giving at New St. Andrew’s College.
I was glad I decided to stay for the talk. Hitchens spoke about the upcoming election, but I was particularly interested to hear his perspective on the “culture wars” in America and England. Being a former socialist and the brother of bestselling atheist author Christopher Hitchens, Peter was able to give a unique glimpse into the strategies and goals of those who are working to undermine the Christian heritage of the West. He explained how ideas have consequences, urging that the rejection of God cannot help but bring a legacy of cultural desolation in its wake.
The notion that ideas have consequences is one of the themes in Peter Hitchens’ latest book, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. Published last year by Continuum, the book tells the fascinating story of Peter’s rejection of his boyhood faith, his pursuit of socialist utopianism, and finally his return to faith in later life.
Hitchens’ return to Christianity was a slow process involving many factors. One of these factors was the time he spent in the Soviet Union as a reporter during the 90’s. Living in Moscow during the twilight of the Soviet empire, Hitchens was able to witness firsthand what happens to a society that tries to structure itself on atheistic principles.
The brutal and dehumanizing aspects of the Soviet Union are common knowledge, as is the fact that the nation tried to structure itself on an atheistic worldview. While no one disputes these two facts, some people have doubted that there is a necessary connection between them. The value of Hitchens’ book is that he shows that there was an intimate causal link between the Soviets’ rejection of God and their dehumanized society. He establishes this by drawing on his own experiences, as well as primary source materials from Soviet archives.
One of the most chilling parts of the book is when Hitchens shows that many Soviet thinkers were prepared to reverse the moral continuum, believing that under certain circumstances evil could be transformed into good. He quotes George Lukacs, a Commissar for Culture and Education in the Hungarian Soviet Republic, who said. “Communist ethics makes it the highest duty to accept the necessity of acting wickedly. This is the greatest sacrifice the revolution asks from us. The conviction of the true Communist is that evil transforms itself into good through the dialectic of historical evolution.”
The idea that it is our duty to act wickedly, and that evil may actually transform itself into good, reminds us of the types of men Isaiah described in chapter 5 of his prophecies - people who twist the categories of good and evil, light and darkness out of all recognition. Most civilized people will naturally be revolted by these types of ethical reversals. However, what Peter Hitchens shows is that this fluid approach to ethics is the logical result of a worldview without God. While many atheists (not least Peter’s own brother Christopher), claim to have high standards of ethics, they can do so only by being inconsistent with the presuppositions of their naturalistic worldview. This is because the non-theistic worldview, when carried to its logical extension, necessarily leads to the moral nihilism of the Soviet experiment.
At least, that is what Peter Hitchens argues in The Rage Against God, a book that is well worth reading.
Next steps: On what foundation do you and your friends make your ethical decisions? Perhaps you need to work through the new series, Doing the Right Thing, in order to see just how important these questions are. Order your copy today, and get a group together to participate with you in this important study of the foundations of ethics and morality.
For more insight on this topic, order Peter Hitchens’ book from our online store or read the Alfred the Great Society’s review of the book. You might also benefit from reading the article, “Liberation 101: Politicizing the Curriculum,” by Charles Colson.