Peter Hitchens, the polemical columnist for the Mail on Sunday, has a very interesting life story, particularly when it comes to his politics and beliefs. As a teenager he was an avowed atheist, burning his Bible at his boarding school when he was 15. He has said that at this time he hugely disliked religion and saw its rules as standing in the way of him being able to do whatever he wanted. As a student at the University of York he was a highly active revolutionary socialist. He once turned up to a lecture saying, “I am sorry I am late. I was trying to start the revolution.” He continued holding his far-left, anti-theistic views into his late twenties. However, when he and his girlfriend went to visit the Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, France he saw a painting by Rogier van der Weyden called The Last Judgement, which quietly sparked something in him. The painting was a depiction of the judgement of God in Christian teaching at the end of the world. He describes the unexpected response he had to the work of art in his book, The Rage Against God:
“I did not have a ‘religious experience’. Nothing mythical or inexplicable took place – no trance, swoon, no voices, no blaze of light. But I had a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. A catalogue of misdeeds, ranging fom the embarrassing to the appalling, replayed themselves rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned.”
This began a slow revolution in Hitchens until eventually he embraced the Christian faith, becoming a member of the Church of England. He also dropped his socialism and embraced conservatism, with a particular emphasis on moral, cultural and social conservatism.
Earlier this year I interviewed Peter Hitchens on a number of subjects, including on Christianity in Britain. Here’s how it went:
Cameron seems to have started claiming every Easter that Britain is a Christian country. Do you think this is a Christian country?
Peter Hitchens: It nominally is a Christian country and it will remain one really until the next coronation. The coronation service is a vital part of our constitution and the oath which was sworn by the Queen actually formerly commit us to being a Christian country. It would be interesting to see how they cope with the next coronation. On the internet you can get the text of the service, read it and you will see it’s unimaginable how anyone could possibly say those things again, and they won’t. There will be a multicultural, multi-faith event of a completely different character. So formally, entirely on the basis of the paperwork outside it’s a Christian country, with Christian symbols all over it. But the nature of it… first of all the education system has more or less been cleansed of religious content. The Church itself is so small and ineffectual that the existence in, again, the minds of the people of religious sentiment has almost totally died out in people under sixty.
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