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The Beginning of Wisdom,
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This review is from: The Rage Against God: Why Faith is the Foundation of Civilisation (Hardcover)
This is a short and interesting book in which Peter Hitchens looks at religion in a personal, social and political context. In fact, the personal element is confined to demonstrating how Mr Hitchens moved from the outright rejection of Christianity fairly typical to the clever boys of his generation to a position in which Christianity has become for him the ultimate guarantee of truth, decency and humanity in a corrupt, debased and increasingly intolerant world.
This personal perspective, is, in some ways, the most interesting part of the book. To move from Trotsky to Jesus Christ in less than half a lifetime is something of a pilgrimage, though the misidentification between the two, and Che Guevara for that matter, is not as uncommon as you might think.
In fact, one sees in the Young Peter Hitchens (on whom Old Peter Hitchens is somewhat severe) a not uncommendable fury at the diet of lies and hypocrisy which his generation were invited to swallow about the system that presided over the second war and the system that tried to deny its true consequences for the nation. But that angry generation itself is now seen by Hitchens as having fallen for shallow, and self-indulgent alternatives posited on sexual licence, material selfishness and moral cowardice under the comfortable shelter of liberal righteousness.
For Mr Hitchens, as for the Psalmist 'the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom' (Psalm 111.10). The oppression and moral squalor which he later witnessed in 1990 in Moscow, and the terror and viciousness to which he almost fell victim two years lare in Mogadishu became a touchstone to test two views of humanity. Shortly afterwards, he was to come face to face in Beaune with the 'Last Judgment' by Roger van der Weyden, and in a moment of epiphany, saw that 'these people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions. On the contrary their hair, and, in an odd way, the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time.'
In short, the decisive moment for Mr Hitchens is the moment when he becomes aware of his own sinfulness, and the sinfulness of his generation. It is a revelation as old as John the Baptist and as modern as Malcolm Muggeridge.
Interestingly, however, Mr Hitchens does not lose sight of the fact that repentance, while redeeming the sinner, does not erase consequences. The Anglican Church to which he returns is a body which has been twisted out of true by the overwhelming influence of the secular world that surrounds it, and the assumptions that Mr Hitchens previously held are, in their general acceptance, seen as a growing threat to everything he has now come to value. It is this bitter realisation of the damage done that constitutes the most interesting passage of the book, though this reader was amused by the somewhat insular assertion that it is to Thomas Cranmer's 'skill' as a 'dramatist' that we owe the fact that 'the service of Holy Communion is a perpetual re-enactment of the night of the last supper' - there's over a thousand years of history missing there, isn't there?
Mr Hitchens deals rather more conventionally, but none the less ably, with the arguments tthat secular atheists have deployed with such anger against religion. The book makes a very significant point when it illustrates with judicious quotation, the persistent ignorance, folly, and moral blindness of the worldly wise. Virginia Woolf is shown sitting, like a cultural Caiaphas, in judgment on the conversion of T.S.Eliot (he 'may be called dead to us from this day forward'); Beatrice and Sidney Webb hail the advent of the kingdom of heaven on earth in Stalin's Russia; and Professor Richard Dawkins opines that the religious education of children by their parents is worse than child sex abuse - which is a good demonstration of the limits of unsupported 'rationalism'. In the end, says Mr.Hitchens, people will believe what they want to believe, usually because it suits them,personally. And while he admits that this applies equally to Christians, Mr Hitchens nevertheless suggests that there are such things as absolute standards, and that the objects of a man's illusions are often the best way of judging what sort of person he is. Here too, he says nothing new, for as Solomon put it -'Every way of a man is right in his own sight, but the Lord weigheth hearts (Proverbs 21.2).