Peter Hitchens on Justice and God

I’m taking a brief excursion from my normal subject matter to bring  up a point about justice that I’ve made in the past, and one that Peter Hitchens makes in the following video clip. For those of you who don’t know, Peter Hitchens is the brother of the notorious atheist, the late Christopher Hitchens, one of the so-dubbed, “Four Horsemen of the New Atheism.”  

I’m always fascinated by people’s journey from atheism to faith in God, which is what intrigued me about Peter Hitchens’ story.

Like his brother, when Peter grew up he became an atheist (he also describes himself as a former revolutionary socialist, having spent many years living in the former Soviet Union), but Peter’s journey took him in a very different direction. He has written several books, including one about his journey to faith titled, “The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith.”

You can watch a YouTube video introducing the book here.  In this interview, Hitchens makes an interesting point:

“It’s important for me to say that atheism led me to faith because so many assume that atheism is the final station on the railroad, that you arrive there, that you’ve been through everything else, that the argument is finished, and that you have permanently rejected something which is restricted to the childhood of mankind …You can actually see, from where I sit, that it’s far from being the end of the argument. It’s the beginning of the argument.”

And that argument won’t be over any time soon. Whether we like to admit it or not, everyone exercises faith concerning their worldview. The atheist’s faith may be in naturalism or materialism, even though he or she cannot prove that the physical world is all there is. Certainly science is no help to us in that regard for methodological reasons (see “Science Cannot Replace God.”) The theist has faith that there’s more to our reality than what science can tell us, even though he or she cannot prove that either. In the final analysis, we all choose what we will believe. It comes down to a matter of the heart, for it’s the heart by which one believes or chooses not to believe (Rom.10:10).

The following video clip is taken from a debate Peter Hitchens was part of on the existence of God at the Oxford Union Society back in 2012. Many of the atheist, humanist, and Christian apologists from Oxford and Cambridge were in attendance. Peter’s got his brother’s British wit, and wastes no time laying the smack-down on atheism and justice in the clip, like the following remarks:

“They [atheists] don’t want justice. They do want the dead to be dead. They do want the universe to be purposeless. They do not want their own individual actions to have any other significance than their immediate effect.

But from our side of the argument, what we say is that if we desire justice for ourselves, we also desire it for other people and, likewise, if we desire it for other people, we require it for ourselves, and we bring it upon ourselves. And on the basis of that, we construct, with some difficulty, with a certain amount of historical knowledge, in the case of some of us, with an enormous amount of scientific knowledge of the universe, we construct a belief that helps us to discover, insofar as it is possible, what it is we ought to do and how it is we ought to live, in the belief that there is justice, that there is hope, that death is not the end, that our actions have significance beyond what we immediately do. That is what we are discussing. Do you want it, or do you not want it? If you don’t want it, then you can simply turn with raillery and badinage and mock the beliefs of others.”

Then he goes on to say…

“God is the principal opposition in our societies to lawless ruthless power. So, to the bully, to the autocrat, to the despot, to the criminal, to the person who treats his neighbors like dirt, fundamentally, once we have dispensed with that concept in our society, we are left with nothing….”

Dostoevsky brilliantly makes this moral argument in his classic work, The Brothers Karamazov:

“But what will become of men then?’ I asked him, ‘without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?'” *

Here’s the video clip with Peter Hitchens at the Oxford Union Society.

I would like to make one more point about justice. If there is no afterlife, no God, then there can be no ultimate justice.  We simply muddle through and then we’re dead. Of course, this may work fine for the privileged, those with good health, the comfortable middle-class living in the suburbs, the rich, the sought-after, the self-indulgent, and all those who get away with their crimes and evil deeds in this life. But, to put it colloquially, it really sucks for everyone else. They have a marginalized life now and then they’re dead. That’s it. No justice.

Even for those who have a reasonably good life, what purpose does it serve? Are we only ultimately here to pass on our DNA, destined to be worm food? Sorry, it’s not an appealing prospect to me. And it shouldn’t be for you either. I will close with Paul’s words of encouragement for us all to consider:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor.4:16-18 NIV)

* Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Part IV, Book XI, Chapter IV, “A Hymn and a Secret.” English translation here).

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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14 Responses to Peter Hitchens on Justice and God

  1. Well done, Mel. Interesting stuff!

    I’m currently engrossed in the public debate over Brendt Jean forgiving Amber for murdering his brother. It was a beautiful moment of grace, a sweet example of loving as Jesus first loved us. One wouldn’t expect controversy, but of course the chattering classes must chatter. Seems as if people have some big feelings around “justice.”

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, IB, and yes, the Brandt Jean video of him forgiving the police officer (Amber Guyger) who killed his brother is one of the most incredible acts of forgiveness I’ve ever seen on video. Truly, this man is following Jesus! I pray for him and his family for their terrible loss. Wow! Just wow!

  2. jim- says:

    Really it bologna. Hitchens doesn’t speak for me or anybody else I know that lost our faith. It was a painful ordeal with a lot of prayer. It had nothing to do with what I wanted, but the bread crumbs and the outcomes of faith in some really good imaginations doesn’t add up to anything a but hope to cheat nature. Really I hope mankind can transcend belief mode and it’s limitations. It’s been long enough.
    Secondly, justice and retribution are childish notions that I can live without. I am not a victim, although bad things happen, in the end who’s going to care about evening the field m, even if you continue to exist after this experience. There are better explanations than the monarchical boss invented in a time where that was the norm. There are much better options than this.
    Really I think the Hitchens brothers really had us coming and going and making big bucks with his fake belief for dollars that makes sense. What a scam

    • Mel Wild says:

      To your comments….

      I understand you went through some “painful” experience with religion and so now you think God is all in our imaginations. That’s fine, except that you cannot answer a whole lot of things about life that science cannot address either. And these things should matter. But if you don’t want to think about it anymore, again, that’s up to you. Of course, then I have to ask, why do you keep commenting on them if they’re so unimportant to you? 🙂

      And, apparently, you think justice is just a childish notion that we should all just get over. I wasn’t talking about retributive justice, but restorative justice, but I’m so happy it all works out for you. You’re not a victim. I’m not either. I live a relatively comfortable life. But I don’t think that the billions of people over the millennia who didn’t and don’t have our privileged life, or even have had a chance of a reasonably good life, agree with you. But, hey, too bad for them, they’re just being childish. They should just die and decrease the surplus population, right? At least we’re not them! We won’t think about that. We’ll just go on with our happy life free from the religious shackle to live the way we want!

      Okay, I’m being a bit sarcastic but I hope you see my point. Justice matters. And most people will not get it in this life. That’s a fact. But if these multitudes’ life just sucks, and then they die and that’s it, you don’t make a compelling reason for them to go on living. Even for those who are okay, it smacks of classic nihilism. There’s no reason to be selfless and other-centered. Just get what you can while you can. And, according to this hopeless worldview, if I’m unfortunate enough to end up in the marginalized group, then the only way I’m ever realistically going to get by in this life is to steal from you! Again, Dostoevsky was right. Ultimately, anything goes with this godless philosophy. If it’s all about now, it’s survival of the fittest. Hello, brave new world!

      Finally, the Hitchens brothers (and every other person like them) are just in it for the money? Really? “Fake belief”? Sorry if I don’t take this point seriously. These issues are critically important and most of these people are genuinely committed to their position, whether we agree them or not. Dismissing them this way isn’t addressing what they have to say at all.

      • jim- says:

        My first instinct about the brothers was hahah. They really covered the bases. I could be wrong though in the end H2’s belief is insignificant. Merely thought convictions for what? That’s the puzzling part of belief in general.
        That’s fine, except that you cannot answer a whole lot of things about life that science cannot address either”. “God did it” is not an answer. It does stifle the curiosity though, thinking you know something because…you say it’s so. How god did it? That would be an answer. Very good article and topic Mel. I keep commenting because it interests me to know things. I get feedback that I process (not a robot) and I learn something every day, even from you.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Both Hitchens were and are funny and witty, which helps make their points, but I would not call their beliefs insignificant. I like Bill Maher for the same reason. He makes me laugh, but I don’t agree with his conclusions about God. But his humorous way of pointing out absurdities with religious people should be heard (for the same reason someone like Peter Hitchens humorously pointing atheist absurdities is important.)

          ““God did it” is not an answer.”

          Of course not, and that’s just a straw man. From a logical argument point of view, “God” is the conclusion to premises not an explanation or an argument. No knowledgeable apologist would use that as an argument. For categorical reasons, the subject of God is a metaphysical and ontological question that you cannot explain by scientific method. That’s the wrong method of investigation. God is not a replacement for science nor will science ever address the question of His existence. It’s a metaphysical question because, if God exists, He’s not in the physical world, which would put the question outside the realm of science.

          The classical theological arguments for the existence of God uses sound deductive reasoning that’s been thoroughly hammered out for the last 3,500 years, which I have tried to explain here many times. But I quit doing so because I couldn’t find an anti-theist (of those who commented here) who even understand the first thing about the argument. And even people like Richard Dawkins certainly don’t understand them. And I don’t think it was because they couldn’t understand it. I’m sure many are a lot smarter than me. They obviously didn’t want to understand it, so it became pointless to talk to people who ridicule what they clearly don’t understand. (Hence, my post, “Moving On…

          But I am glad you’re open to learning, and you’re always welcome here. 🙂 You seem to me to be more anti-religion than anti-God. I could be wrong about that. But I’ve learned a lot from atheists myself, which was my goal when I started writing on these issues a couple of years ago. I try not to dismiss something before I understand it. But, seriously, I find some of the typical rants against God and Christianity on atheist blogs tiresome, fallacious, and vacuous. While they may have a point about religion done badly, and I agree with many of those points against religion myself, as far as the question of existence of God, they dismiss what they don’t understand.

    • jim- says:

      I am curious of your thoughts on my comment above about retribution and justice?

      • Mel Wild says:

        Well, retributive justice is how man generally views justice. It’s a superficial, even erroneous way to view God’s justice. With retributive justice, you punish the perpetrator. It’s not much better than revenge. And it’s not even real justice because, for example, if you killed my brother and then you were tried and executed for your crime, it doesn’t bring my brother back. That’s not God’s form of justice at all. That’s man’s view of justice.

        But a closer examination of God’s form of justice is that it’s actually restorative justice (or equity). His desire is to “restore” both the victim and the perpetrator. Of course, He gives us free will to be reconciled or to refuse Him. We see this type of justice with Jesus. If we are going to understand what God means by justice, we must use Jesus as our guide because He is the only one who can describe God to us (John 1:18; Matt.11:27), not what men have said about Him, even if it’s found in Scripture. And we see Jesus contradicting the justice of the Pharisees, touching the leper, going out and healing the sick, raising dead children to life, feeding the poor, and loving the marginalized of his society. For all these things—prejudice, disease, hunger, bondage, and death—are forms of injustice in God’s view. He has placed infinite value on all of humankind by giving His Son so that we could know Him. So, when Jesus healed someone, or validated their status in society, He was practicing God’s form of justice. The resurrection of the dead is God’s ultimate form or restorative justice because it overcomes the greatest enemy of all—death. It’s why Jesus told us not to put ourselves above others (judge), to go the extra mile, to love our enemies (which He described how God works), to turn the other cheek (in other words, stop the escalating nature of seeking out revenge or retaliation).

        It’s this restorative form of justice that I’m talking about in this post.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Btw, the Brandt Jean video clip I posted in the comments to IB above is a perfect example of the contrast between restorative justice and retributive justice. Brandt Jean demonstrated Jesus’ form of justice beautifully by forgiving, loving, even embracing his brother’s killer. The courts (human) demonstrated retributive justice by giving her ten years in prison (although, they were somewhat lenient under those terms).

  3. tsalmon says:

    The driving force of more just outcomes that I never learned in law school: there is no actual justice without love.

    Love does not formulate a perfectly linear resolution to every seemingly absurd and desultory inequity of this finite and fallen world, but neither really does any formulation of reason (including all the “r”s from rehabilitation to restitution to retribution). Yet somehow, mystically, we feel in our souls the profound touch of the eternal truth, the beauty, the transcendence of love when it enters the justice drama in the form of selflessness, compassion and mercy. We, even the unbelievers, know this justice deep in our hearts, even when our minds recoil in horror at the loving hero’s seemingly apocryphal sacrifice.

    Perhaps, the atheist can divine this universal human truth as a quirk in the human machinery, but no philosophy really adequately explains the open secret of this truth, a truth that only the most hopeless cynic can deny. Just the heart’s blind leap of faith into that fathomless and eternal abyss explains it. Only God that’s all.

  4. Bazraam says:

    Interest post, thank you. I like a lot of Peter Hitchens’ work. Definitely a clever man. I am still undecided: sometimes im more science and fact based, other days faith seems the answer. I end up thinking, it’s all too unbelievably insane my brain and abilities to comprehend it all! However, i will keep reading around as fascinating stuff!

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