A Tale of Two Brothers

Recently I came across a copy of an old essay by Theodore Dalrymple discussing the intellectual lives of Christopher and Peter Hitchens (“The Brothers Grim,” First Things, June/July 2010). Both men came from a postwar British collegiate background, exhibiting the customary Marxism and ingrained distaste for religion. It’s worth pointing out that Dalrymple, who is of the same generation, is an atheist as well… albeit a very non-conformist one.

Christopher Hitchens, who passed away in 2011, went on to become the poster boy for the anti-God lobby, while Peter renounced his youthful Trotskyite ideology and embraced political and religious conservatism. If Dalyrmple finds the elder Hitchens an interesting writer, he is unimpressed by his reasoning powers, being reminded of “a clever adolescent alarming the less clever grown-ups with pronouncements he knows they will find outrageous or annoying.” Christopher Hitchens inherited from his mother (who later committed suicide) the idea that it is better to be shocking than dull. But the fact remains that boorishness after awhile becomes simply boring. As for Christopher Hitchen’s attacks on faith, Dalrymple wryly observes that

The only religious people of whom he seems to be aware are the Ayatollah Khomeini and Jimmy Swaggart; he sounds like the barroom atheist who has learned, and never for an instant will let anyone forget, that many popes were bad men.

While the essay focuses on the better-known infidel sibling, Dalyrmple has this to say of Peter Hitchen’s memoir The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith:

Peter has discovered that it is he, and not just the world, that was and is imperfect and that therefore humility is a virtue, even if one does not always live up to it.

See my related commentary on Hitchens and Dalrymple.

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