The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens

The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens

Author:Peter Hitchens
Language: eng
Format: mobi, epub
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: 2011-05-18T16:00:00+00:00

Part Two

Addressing atheism: Three failed arguments


Are conflicts fought in the name of religion conflicts about religion?

‘Why do the heathen so furiously rage together: and why do the people imagine a vain thing?’


Among the favourite arguments of the irreligious, one that they almost invariably advance in the opening offensive of their attacks on faith, is this – that conflicts fought in the name of religion are necessarily conflicts about religion. By saying this they hope to establish that religion is of itself a cause of conflict. This is a crude factual misunderstanding. Some conflicts fought in the name of religion are specifically religious. Many others are not, or cannot be so simply classified. The only general lesson that can be drawn from these differing wars is that man is inclined to make war on man when he thinks it will gain him power or wealth or land. Atheist polemicists would reject the crudity and falsity of this argument in seconds if they met it anywhere else. In fact, they tend to apply it only in selective cases, because atheists are most often supporters of the political left, and some wars which are caused by religion are sustained by factions and groups with whom the left sympathise. Consider a few examples.

Conflicts Between European Christians. The Thirty Years War (1618–1648) when much of Europe tore itself to pieces in a conflict between Roman Catholicism and the Reformed Faith, might reasonably be described as a War of Religion. So might the English Civil War, in which radical Calvinists sought to overthrow monarchist Episcopalians, even though both regarded themselves as Protestants. Quarrels about the nature and origin of authority are bound to be religious, but I do not know of any other modern war in which one side’s cavalry sang Psalms as they charged, while the other side’s troops took Holy Communion as they prepared for battle. These are clearly conflicts about religion.

By contrast, it is perfectly obvious (for instance) that the recent conflict in Northern Ireland, described as being between Protestants and Catholics was not about the Real Presence of Christ or the validity of the Feast of Corpus Christi, nor even over the authority of the Bishop of Rome. It was a classic tribal war, over the ownership and control of territory, in which the much-decayed faiths of the people involved served as both badge and shorthand for a battle which disgusted the most faithful and enthused the least religious. The processions and funerals of each side were dominated by secular symbols – black berets and combat fatigues – not by holy images or the Godly singing of mighty psalms.

Conflicts between Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Middle East. The same could perhaps be said of the war between Christian and Muslim in Lebanon, where both sides trample on their own scriptures in the cruelty they inflict on each other, yet it is also the case that here Sunni and Shia Muslim overcome deep religious differences for a shared political objective.


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