(Peter Hitchens’ brother Christopher Hitchens) often assumes that moral truths are self-evident, attributing purpose to the universe and swerving dangerously round the problem of conscience – which surely cannot be conscience if he is right since the idea of conscience depends on it being implanted by God. If there is no God then your moral qualms might just as easily be the result of indigestion.
Yet Christopher is astonishingly unable to grasp that these assumptions are problems for his argument. This inability closes his mind to a great part of the debate, and so makes his atheist faith insuperable for as long as he himself chooses to accept it.
Problems of Atheists
One of the problems atheists have is the unbelievers’ assertion that it is possible to determine what is right and what is wrong without God. They have a fundamental inability to concede that to be effectively absolute a moral code needs to be beyond human power to alter.
On this misunderstanding is based my brother Christopher’s supposed conundrum about whether there is any good deed that could be done only by a religious person, and not done by a Godless one. Like all such questions, this contains another question: what is good, and who is to decide what is good?
Left to himself, Man can in a matter of minutes justify the incineration of populated cities; the deportation, slaughter, disease and starvation of inconvenient people and the mass murder of the unborn.
I have heard people who believe themselves to be good, defend all these things, and convince themselves as well as others. Quite often the same people will condemn similar actions committed by different countries, often with great vigor.
It is striking that in his dismissal of a need for absolute theistic morality, Christopher says in his book that ‘the order to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is too extreme and too strenuous to be obeyed’. Humans, he says, are not so constituted as to care for others as much as themselves. This is demonstrably untrue, and can be shown to be untrue, through the unshakable devotion of mothers to their children; in the uncounted cases of husbands caring for sick, incontinent and demented wives (and vice versa) at their lives’ ends; through the heartrending deeds of courage on the battlefield.
I am also baffled and frustrated by the strange insistence of my anti-theist brother that the cruelty of communist anti-theist regimes does not reflect badly on his case and on his cause. It unquestionably does. Soviet Communism is organically linked to atheism, materialist rationalism and most of the other causes the new atheists support. It used the same language, treasured the same hopes and appealed to the same constituency as atheism does today. When its crimes were still unknown or concealed, it attracted the support of the liberal intelligentsia who were then, and are even more now, opposed to religion.