c. 2008 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) Soon after the 2007 release of Christopher Hitchens’ best-selling atheist manifesto, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” another journalist took sharp issue with it _ his brother, Peter Hitchens.
Although praising the book’s elegance and wit, Peter Hitchens wrote in London’s Mail on Sunday newspaper, “I also think it is wrong, mostly in the way that it blames faith for so many bad things and gives it no credit for any of the good it may have done.”
In blaming religion for doing “wicked and terrible things in the name of goodness,” Peter wrote, his brother unwittingly described the Iraq War that he supports and Peter opposes.
Christopher is a provocative journalist and literary critic who has written for Vanity Fair, The Atlantic and The Nation, and is the author of 17 books, including biographies of Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell.
Peter, also an author, is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday and former reporter for the Daily Express. Like Christopher, he was raised nominally Anglican but, unlike his brother, is a faithful member of the Church of England.
They had a public falling-out over a political comment Peter made about Christopher after Sept. 11, 2001, but they agree religion is the deepest difference between them.
“To me, the greatest difference in the world is between those who believe in the supernatural as the source of morality and everything else, and those who don’t,” Christopher Hitchens said from his home in Washington, D.C. “There’s absolutely no reason to believe there is such a being.”
While saying he respects his brother, Christopher has no regard for his belief in God.
“It’s nonsense to say what my brother says, and evil nonsense,” said Christopher, 58. “I can’t respect people of faith.”
He certainly has none for the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of Barack Obama’s Chicago church whose inflammatory preaching has rocked Obama’s presidential campaign.
“Rev. Wright is called controversial when he’s a big, spitting, racist demagogue,” Hitchens said.
From the Muslim extremist who killed Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh to the priests who “rape and torture” children, religion is “a real danger to the survival of civilized society,” he asserted.
“I regard it as an enemy, and a real deadly one.”
For his part, Peter insists Christopher’s condemnations of faith do not embarrass him.
“The thing about having a public disagreement of this nature is it keeps you on your toes,” Peter said by phone from his London office.
“Any view I take I have to think, `How does that measure against what’s being said by this brother of mine on the other side of the world?’ ”
Peter argues that his brother is the more dogmatic of the two.
“I don’t have his certainty,” he said. “I can’t definitively say I’m right and he’s wrong. What I’m saying is this is what I choose to believe.”
Peter says he likes debating atheists because the question of God “matters enormously.”
“(Atheism) says there isn’t really any reason why anything should matter,” said Peter, 56.
“If there is no ultimate purpose, what would a conscience be? It might just be the promptings of your stomach after eating something unpleasant.
“That’s the ultimate problem with atheism: There is no conscience, no absolute, no true north,” Peter said. “It removes the possibility of justice from the universe.”
Nonsense, rejoins Christopher. Most people are “born with an ethical and moral compass,” and those who aren’t are psychopaths, he said. “What’s the ultimate purpose of going to hell or going to heaven, where all you can do is praise a celestial dictator?”
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Both brothers said they were looking forward to their first public debate on U.S. shores, on Thursday (April 3), at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. Peter tried to play down expectations of “some sort of mud-wrestling event.”
They don’t engage each other directly in public very often “because it would become an act,” Christopher said. Peter agreed, saying he didn’t forsee routine match-ups.
“It might become a bit distasteful,” Peter said, “if we made a habit of it.”
(Charles Honey writes for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich.)
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