There is much that can be said about Peter Hitchen’s 2010 book, The Rage Against God, that is relevant to modern Ireland. Though the author delivers a critique of secularism from the platform of his Anglican faith, the trends that are examined and the ideological baggage that comes with them are comparable to recent events in ‘post-Catholic’ Ireland.
Hitchens is comparable to Ireland’s own John Waters. They both began their careers in journalism, Hitchens, writing mainly for the Daily Express covering political and diplomatic affairs, whilst Waters began at the ‘Irish NME’ Hot Press, then moved on to various Irish papers such as the Times and the Independent. Hitchens began his adult life as an atheist Trotskyist and an advocate of what he now calls ‘cruel revolutionary rubbish,’ whilst Waters considered himself for a number of years a ‘lapsed agnostic.’
Both figures, now with age and maturity, have gravitated towards advocating social and moral conservatism. Both lament and deride the loss of spirituality and faith in society, in particular the institutional influence of Christianity in their respective environments. Both are heavily critical of political correctness, and the liberal-left identity politics of gender, sexuality, and race that have spread contagiously from the confines of academia to mainstream discourse.
Any Irish reader need look no further than the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum, 2018’s referendums on legalizing on-demand abortion, and the mass migration of hundreds of thousands of ‘New Irish’ into the demographic constituency to know what is being referred to. These are viewed by commentators, liberal and conservative alike, as nails in the coffin of an old order.
Whilst this change was culturally in motion for decades, those events officially cemented the implementation of a new moral and cultural consensus. Ireland now having an openly homosexual, half-Indian head of state, and a 65 year old American lesbian as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should be regarded as symbolic of this shift.
The premise of Hitchens’ work is not as singular as one might think. It acts not just as a critique, but a sort of spiritual autobiography. He manages to give us an understanding of why we ought to consider Christianity as an important moral, ethical, and societal conduit whose absence leaves a vacuum.
Generally, his view presented in The Rage Against God is that the decline of faith and religiosity in a society is synonymous with moral decline. A good deal of the book also deals with his rebuttals of arguments made by his prominent atheist elder brother, the late Christopher Hitchens, who made the argument that the Soviet Union, particularly under Stalin, was a religious state.
A prominent theme that is explored is the association of totalitarian states and their ideological apparatus with godlessness and what the author views as their fundamentally anti-Christian character. The aura of leadership that was cultivated around figures such as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Kim il Sung act as points of reference.
Hitchens sometimes falls short of understanding that what made these figures appear so omnipotent in their time was the sense of myth and cult surrounding them. It’s something that his atheist brother Christopher seemed to understand – that it is myth that gives ideas a sense of being meaningful. Essential to the understanding of this concept is the French political theorist George Sorel, of whom Benito Mussolini once wrote: “men do not move mountains; it is only necessary to create the illusion that mountains move.”
What Mussolini referred to here is the ideological baggage that drives its followers towards a series of ideas. Sorel is best known for his advocacy of political violence by the proletariat to achieve political ends. However, he also had a clear understanding that ideas were given more depth if they were defined by a heroic sense of struggle, stating that myths are “expressions of will to act.”
In modern terms and within a democratic consensus, myths are successfully generated through the consultancy of spin doctors, lobby groups, think tanks, public relations firms and non-governmental organizations. The notion of ‘storytelling’ tends to give momentum to that. As spineless as many of these groups are, they have proved themselves to be extremely effective at manufacturing consensus, and making issues that shouldn’t be important seem like a matter of life and death.
This could certainly be evidenced by the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage. Rather than it being presented factually, as a matter of gay people being granted the same legal right to marry as normal couples, it was construed as an epic struggle against a repressive monolith of “backward” conservatism. Whilst this is it itself, an absurd exaggeration, it most certainly swayed voters to approve the referendum, riding on a huge tide of popular cultural appeal.
These spectacles always rely on an event to justify their narrative. Events such as 2014’s ‘Pantigate,’ in which drag queen ‘Panti Bliss’ alleged widespread homophobia in the Irish media, or the death of Savita Halappanavar from a septic miscarriage in 2012, or the detention in Egypt of Islamic Brotherhood connected Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa, were construed as ‘calm before the storm’ events, acts of martyrdom that were adopted as moral ammunition by their associated causes.
Returning to analysing Hitchens, whilst these ideas have been anything but good for society, they’ve managed successfully to be perceived that way. Storytelling and myth, and the ability to publicly manipulate them, is of massive importance – as dubiously profane as it may be to those who can think for themselves.
We exist now at a critical point where liberalism in Ireland seems unstoppable; its penetration into all facets of national life is boundless. Its myths and storytelling help its advancement in the modern Irish consciousness. We find ourselves in an indecent time where nothing has a centre, and all that is good and sane is being brought into question.
The postmodern left dominates culture, and free market fundamentalists co-opt their ideas out of ‘corporate social responsibility’ and play the intersectional social justice trend so they might profit from it. Both of these sides are complicit in promoting this. Neither of them care about real people, communities, societies and national interests.
Nationalists need to take a couple of tricks from the modern progressive book and find a way to win the hearts and minds of the modern world, in the name of preservation, conservation and the sustainability of Irish interests and identity. To stem the tide of social atomisation and globalism that are sleepwalking this country into oblivion.
We need to find events, create stories, and weave narratives around them. To join the dots so that our ideas can be given cohesion. Then our movements can enter into a marketplace of ideas that is very much in need of them.