Tuesday, 23 October 2012

High Opinions of One's Own Virtue

Personal Reasons for Unbelief

Peter Hitchens spent about fifteen years of his adult life in open sneering rebellion against God.  Then gradually and gently the Hound of Heaven first tracked, then ran him down.  His is a wonderful story of the grace and goodness of the Almighty God to a terribly lost man. 

Hitchens describes his rebellion against God in the following terms:
The fury and almost physical disgust of the Bloomsbury novelist Virginia Woolf at T. S. Eliot's conversion to Christianity is an open expression of the private feelings of the educated British middle class, normally left unspoken but conveyed by body language or facial expression when the subject of religion cannot be avoided.  Mrs Woolf wrote to her sister in 1928, in terms that perfectly epitomize the enlightened English person's scorn for faith and those who hold it.
I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with poor dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward.  He has become an Anglo-Catholic, believes in God and immortality, and goes to church.  It was really shocked.  A corpse would seem to me more credible than he is.  I mean, there's something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.
Look at these bilious, ill-tempered words: "Shameful, distressing, obscene, dead to us all."  There has always seemed to me something frantic and enraged about this passage, concealing its real emotion--which I suspect is fear that Eliot, as well as being a greater talent than her, may also be right.

This widely accepted dismissal of faith by the intelligent and the educated seemed then to be definitive proof that the thing was a fake, mainly because I wanted such proof.  This blatant truth, that we hold opinions because we wish to and reject them because we wish to, is so obvious that it is too seldom mentioned.  I had reasons for wanting that proof. . . .

I had spotted the dry, disillusioned, and apparently disinterested atheism of so many intellectuals, artists, and leaders of our age.  I liked their crooked smiles, their knowing worldliness, and their air of finding human credulity amusing.  I envied their confidence that we lived in a place where there was no darkness, where death was the end, the dead were gone, and there would be no judgment.  It did not then cross my mind that they, like religious apologists, might have any personal reasons for holding to this disbelief.  It certainly did not cross my mind that I had any low motives for it.  Unlike Christians, atheists have a high opinion of their own virtue.  [Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), p.23-5.]

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