Christopher Hitchens: Anti-Theism and the Devil’s Party

The late Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011), author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) and editor of The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer (2007), was not only an atheist—and arguably the most formidable of “the Four Horsemen” of New Atheism—but a self-styled “anti-theist.”1 On occasion, this sentiment led Hitchens to voice open sympathy for the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer, who was listed as one of Hitchens’ favorite heroes of fiction in the author’s memoir.2 In a lecture given on February 23, 2004 at Sewanee: The University of the South, entitled “The Moral Necessity of Atheism”—after Romantic Satanist Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Necessity of Atheism (1811), the pamphlet which saw Shelley ousted from Oxford—Hitchens likened his anti-theist position to the Romantic tradition of being “of the Devil’s party.”

As Hitchens demonstrates in the above, once the character of Almighty God is deemed not only nonexistent but malevolent, praise for Milton’s Satan—who in Paradise Lost (1667) famous asserts in the midst of damnation that it is “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n” (I.263)—tends not to tarry far behind. Having dismissed Heaven as “a celestial North Korea”—“a hideous realm of permanent, total, inescapable unfreedom” as a “system of surveillance, control, supervision, and the compulsory exacting of our thanks”—Hitchens states that he would simply have to strike the same pose of unyielding defiance of the Miltonic Satan if there truly were a God who, as the great religions propose, ruled as dictator of the cosmos. “I would, in that case, take the Miltonian line,” Hitchens explains. “I would be of the Devil’s party: I wouldn’t worship it; I wouldn’t agree to be bound by it; I wouldn’t become one those serfs.”

Hitchens echoes not only Shelley’s Necessity of Atheism but his Declaration of Rights (1812) as well. In the dramatic finish to A Declaration of Rights, Shelley had channeled the spirit of Milton’s Satan summoning his fallen legions—his “Atheist crew” (VI.370) of rebel angels—and later swelling with pride before their reassembled ranks (I.315–23, 522–89), Shelley concluding this clarion call for Man to rise from lowliness and degeneracy to assert his proper worth and attain loftiness and dignity with “Awake!—arise!—or be forever fallen,”3 which is the last line of the fiery speech with which the Satan of Paradise Lost rouses his fallen compatriots from the burning lake of Hell (I.330). Likewise, by deeming theism “the origin of totalitarianism…within our own minds” and determining that “the struggle to throw off this servility is the precondition for any struggle for liberty, whether intellectual or personal or moral,” Hitchens too effectively assumes the position of Milton’s Satan, who scorns “Knee-tribute” to God the Father and the Son as “prostration vile” (V.782) and incites rebellion among the angels by urging them “to cast off this Yoke” of the Messiah, ordained by God “to be our Lord, / And look[s] for adoration…” (V.786, 799–800).

Hitchens, an intellectual titan of godlessness, demonstrated like Shelley before him that, as Maximilian Rudwin observed in his seminal study of The Devil in Legend and Literature, “anti-theism leads to Satanism.”4



1. In his Introduction to The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007), p. xxii, Christopher Hitchens provided his most thorough explanation of his “anti-theist” stance: “I myself have tried to formulate a position I call ‘anti-theist.’ There are, after all, atheists who say that they wish the fable were true but are unable to suspend the requisite disbelief, or have relinquished belief only with regret. To this I reply: who wishes that there was a permanent, unalterable celestial despotism that subjected us to continual surveillance and could convict us of thought-crime, and who regarded us as its private property even after we died? How happy we ought to be, at the reflection that there exists not a shred of respectable evidence to support such a horrible hypothesis. And how grateful we should be to those of our predecessors who repudiated this utter negation of human freedom.”
2. See Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir (New York: Twelve, 2010), p. 331.
3. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Declaration of Rights, in Shelley’s Prose: or the Trumpet of a Prophecy, ed. David Lee Clark, pref. Harold Bloom (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1988), p. 72.
4. Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, [1931] 1959), p. 306.