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This article is from Issue 64: July/August 2013

The Revolution of Peter Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens grew into one of the world’s best-known atheists. His brother chose a different path.

In contemporary journalism, few figures have as compelling a backstory as Peter Hitchens. Raised in a conservative Christian environment, Peter and his older brother, Christopher, came to adopt a ferocious atheism. Blazingly intelligent and piercingly articulate, they gained notoriety for their winsomely contrarian styles.

But while Christopher would go on to become one of the modern age’s most famous atheists—or, to use his phrase, anti-theists—the younger Hitchens brother followed a different path.
Peter left the Trotskyism of his teens and became one of England’s most noted conservative voices, winning the Orwell Prize for journalism in 2010, in which one of the judges called his writing “as firm, polished and potentially lethal as a guardsman’s boot.” More importantly, and perhaps more surprisingly, Hitchens returned to the faith of his younger years. He writes eloquently and forcefully about the need for Christian morality in the public sector.

Tragically, Christopher passed away in 2011 from esophageal cancer. But Peter continues to work as an author and journalist, with a regular column for The Mail on Sunday. He took a little time to talk with us about his journey back to faith, religion’s place in civilized society and what he sees ahead for the next generation.

Q: So, when did you first become a Christian?

A: I was brought up in an explicitly Christian society and taught by teachers whose assumption was that Christianity was the religion of my people that I held, and held before I came to school and throughout my life ... Christianity was still, in my upbringing, what you might call the default position of the English person. So I don’t know if the word “become” really applies.

Q: Was there a definite moment when you decided you didn’t believe in God anymore?

A: Oh, there was definitely a moment when I decided it wasn’t true—in my early teens. I was never indifferent to [Christianity], nor was it ever not a force in my life and in my surroundings and in everything in England. From the architecture to the music, to the shape of the towns, to the language, to the songs that we sang, were all Christian in their nature. You couldn’t have escaped it if you wanted to. But what you could do, which I did do, was deny it and say you no longer believe in it. That was a definite moment, identifiable
and clear.