Christopher Hitchens' Great-Grandfather Debated Atheists

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The best facts are often the least known. Here is an example: Most are unaware that the late and renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens had a great-grandfather who defended religion! Revd Edward Athanasius Hitchens (1839-1906) was curate of St. Guinefort the Holy Martyr, an Anglican parish in Gloucester, England. He was also an active participant in debates on religion as publisher and editor of the Anglo-Catholic newspaper The Invincible Aspergilium.

The Rev. E.A. Hitchens

In September 1897, The Invincible Aspergilium received a plaintive letter form a ten year old girl in Birmingham. Her plea sparked one of Revd Hitchens’ most memorable essays on atheism.

Alice said her radical socialist stepfather, a member of the Workingmen’s Association for Free Thought and Abolition of the Opiate of Labour, denied the existence of God. He would do this frequently and vehemently, often whilst munching on pasties during lunch and complaining about the newly imposed pasty-tax. This paternal atheism troubled Alice, and she began having doubts herself. She asked the newspaper whither she should turn. Revd Hitchens penned the following reply:

Alice, your stepfather is wrong. He has been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Alice, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Alice, there is a God. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no God. It would be as dreary as if there were no Alice’s. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in God! You might get your stepfather to hire astronomers to continually scan the heavens, but even if they did not see God, what would that prove? Nobody sees God, but that is no sign that there is no God. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Alice, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No God! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Alice, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

(Note: This piece is satire!)