The Good News

Discussion of the Best News in the World, the Gospel of Jesus, and related topics

Bono–Heartbreak That Led to Faith

QPolitical  asked that I share this story and my pastor put me on to it because he loves Bono. Bono is a great man, as men go!

Bono Shares The Heartbreaking Story That Led To His Faith In Jesus Christ

Bono many be known for his distinct vocals and lyrics often heavy in social and political Bonothemes, but there’s a side of U2’s lead singer that many haven’t seen.

Bono believes in God. And if you meet him in person, you’ll quickly learn that he’s unashamed to tell you so.

Bono doesn’t claim to be a perfect Christian. In fact, he admits that many of his life’s deepest struggles are what caused him to turn to Christ.

Bono hasn’t always had it easy, and like many celebrities of our day, Bono wrestled throughout his younger years.


Paul David Hewson — notoriously later nicknamed “Bono” — was born on May 10, 1960, in Dublin, Ireland. He and his older brother were raised in the Northside suburb of Finglas by their Catholic father, Brendan Robert “Bobby” Hewson, and Protestant mother Iris Elizabeth Rankin – a highly unusual arrangement for the deeply sectarian country at the time.


His parents initially agreed that their first child would be raised Anglican, and their second as Catholic. Although Bono was the second child, he also attended Church of Ireland services with his mother and brother.

As a child, Bono was a clever, outspoken, and thoughtful boy whose early experiences shaped much of his later life as one of the most influential figures in Irish history.

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When Bono was only 14-years-old, tragedy struck. His mother, Iris, was attending her own father’s funeral when she collapsed. Four days later, on September 10th, Iris Hewson passed away after suffering a cerebral aneurysm. Through unimaginable grief, Bono struggled to pick up the pieces after losing his beloved mother and grandfather in the same week.

Bono shared, “I don’t have a lot of memories of her, which is [an] unfortunate situation. … I look forward to meeting her again. But the loss of that is significant for [a child], and for me, I filled it with music and … and it deepened my faith, I suppose.”

Despite his father’s desperate attempt to keep the family together, Bono revealed that he “didn’t get on very well” with his father and never enjoyed a close relationship with him. Bono would later claim that his father’s unspoken message to his children was “to dream is to be disappointed.”

Bono has often said that his father’s gloomy outlook on life only fueled his ambitions and made him even more determined to follow hard after his dreams.

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Bono would later go on to pay tribute to his mother in the highest form of honor he knew: music. Many of Bono’s songs include “I Will Follow,” “Mofo,” “Out of Control,” “Lemon” and “Tomorrow” focus on the heart-wrenching loss of his mother.

After his mother’s death, Bono was quite a handful and often acted out. Many considered him “troubled” despite his undeniable talents. He was even nicknamed “Antichrist” by teachers and fellow students.

As Bono so eloquently explained, “I spent a year at St. Patrick’s, not being happy, and basically they asked me to leave.” (This was largely a result of the young Paul throwing dog feces at his despised Spanish teacher).

After being dismissed from St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choir School, Bono was enrolled in the very controversial Mount Temple Comprehensive School — Ireland’s first multi-denominational and co-educational school. The decision to enroll young ‘Bono’ in this unique school would forever alter the course of his life.

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At his new school, Bono quickly excelled and made new friends. Throughout that time, Bono and several of his classmates were part of a surrealist street gang called “Lypton Village.”

The gang had a ritual of nickname-giving. Bono was given several names: first, he went by the ridiculous “Steinhegvanhuysenolegbangbangbang,” then just “Huyseman,” followed by “Houseman,” “Bon Murray,” “Bono Vox of O’Connell Street,” and finally the one that stuck: just “Bono.”


His unique nickname originated from the Gresham Motel: Bonovox. It was later discovered that this was a store for hearing aids. “Bono Vox” is an alteration of Bonavox, a Latin phrase which translates to “good voice.” It was quickly shortened to “Bono” by boyhood friends. It’s been said that Bono initially disliked the name; however, when he learned it translated to “good voice,” he accepted it.

Hewson has been known as “Bono” since the late 1970s. Although he uses Bono as his stage name, close family, friends, and fellow band members also refer to him as Bono.


As a teenager struggling with grief, Bono eventually turned to the Bible for comfort and quickly realized that he loved the book of Psalms.

Bono shared, “First of all, David’s a musician, so I’m gonna like him. … And what’s so powerful about the Psalms are, as well as their being Gospel and songs of praise, they are also the Blues. It’s very important for Christians to be honest with God, which often, you know, God is much more interested in who you are than who you want to be.”

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Throughout high school, Bono had many grand ambitions — especially of being an actor. But everything changed the day he noticed an open invitation posted on Mount Temple’s bulletin board. The flyer invited anyone interested in forming a band to assemble at ’60 Rosemount Avenue, Artane,’ the house of 14-year-old drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.

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On 25 September 1976, 16-year-old Paul Hewson, 15-year-old guitarist David Evans (later nicknamed “The Edge”), 16-year-old Adam Clayton (who couldn’t actually play bass guitar, but did a great job pretending he did), Larry’s friend Peter Martin, Ivan McCormick, and David Evans’ brother Dick, responded to the advertisement inviting others to “form a rock band.”

That glorious first meeting would prove to change the trajectory of their lives forever.


Ivan and Peter were quickly “weeded out” of the group and Dick eventually left the band to study engineering.

The four remaining boys went on to form a band known as Feedback (supposedly after the ear-splitting wailing that always seemed to emanate from the guitar amps), before becoming The Hype, and then finally U2 (which had been named for the U2 spy planes).

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Together, the four young boys covered popular songs of their day. But Bono was tired of long guitar solos and hard rock and wanted to branch out to sing other styles like The Rolling Stones and Beach Boys.

It didn’t take long for the group to realize that they couldn’t cover other songs very well, so they started writing their own songs. Just three years after meeting together in a small house for the first time, U2 signed with Island Records and released their first album, Boy, in 1980.


By the mid–1980s, the band had evolved into a top international act, noted for their anthemic sound, Bono’s powerful vocals, and The Edge’s unique guitar skills.

U2 had a knack for performing, but they weren’t very good at selling records until their 1987 album The Joshua Tree which, according to Rolling Stone, elevated the band’s stature “from heroes to superstars.”

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But U2 wasn’t the only big takeaway from Bono’s time at Mount Temple Comprehensive School. While there, a beautiful 15-year-old young lady by the name of Alison “Ali” Stewart, caught 16-year-old Bono’s attention.

After losing his beloved mother, the beautiful, selfless and caring miss Ali Stewart stepped in. Ali made sure Bono got to school, washed his clothes and ate well by bringing him to her own home for dinner or cooking his meals herself.


Bono dated Ali throughout high school and on August 21, 1982, the lovebirds finally tied the knot. It was a quaint little ceremony in the Old Guinness Church of Ireland in Raheny, with Adam Clayton as best man.


Bono’s band was taking off while Mrs. Ali Hewson decided to shelve her dreams of becoming a nurse to support her husband.

The young Mrs. Hewson went on to get her degree in politics and sociology — which she achieved while being severely sleep-deprived having given birth to their first daughter, Jordan, in 1990. The little family of three grew as they welcomed another daughter, Memphis Eve (1991), and two boys, Elijah Bob Patricius Guggi Q (1999) and John Abraham (2001).


To this day, Bono has never shied away from bragging on his beautiful wife of almost 34-years.

Bono shared, “A is for Ali. If her name were Zena, I’d start the alphabet with her anyway; everything for me starts with her… Marriage is a grand madness. It’s like jumping off a very tall building and discovering you can fly. I was at some special weddings this year that reminded me and my missus why we jumped.”


In a world full of heartache, divorce, and families falling apart at the seams; Bono and Ali set a different kind of example. Despite hectic schedules, life in the limelight, and juggling four children: Mr. and Mrs. Hewson are more in love today than ever. And hand-in-hand, their love reminds the world that marriage was meant to last a lifetime.


Ali is the ‘ying’ to Bono’s ‘yang.’ While Bono is known for being flashy and outgoing, his counterpart is quiet, reserved, and poised. While she and her hunky hubby are worth an estimated $600 million, Ali isn’t interested in material possessions.

Ali shared, “I’ve never been interested in things that sparkle and shine, I’m more interested in people.”

Ali could easily live a designer-label-wearing, luxury-spa-going life of indulgence that would make the housewives of Wisteria Lane sick with envy. And yet we never see her embark on elaborate shopping excursions, or appearing on reality TV. Instead, Ali focuses on keeping up with her husband, caring for their children, and living to give.

Many reporters have revealed, “The first thing I felt about Ali was how down to earth she was — everyone says that after meeting her. You think about someone who is a rock star’s wife and the life she must lead, but she’s the opposite to that person.”

“She’s very non-showbiz, very down to earth and genuine,” says one reporter. “She’s sharp, realistic and very normal. With someone of her status you would think there would need to be a certain level of schmoozing, but there’s no bulls*** about her. If anything, she’d be turned off by empty flattery.”


Aside from being a faithful husband and rock star, Bono considers himself a family man and loves spending time with his four children.

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And although their dad may be one of the world’s wealthiest rock stars, the four Hewson children are almost anything but spoiled rich kids. Instead, Bono and Ali are intent on raising their children the right way.

In a candid interview, Bono’s second daughter, Eve, revealed, “I don’t talk about money with my parents and I’m not the child who gets everything I want. My parents have been great about keeping us disciplined and making us work for what we want. We’re lucky that we get to travel places and we enjoy going out and having fun — but I don’t get handed money and I never will. I have to work.”


In a recent open letter posted on the band’s website, Bono brags on his four beautiful children and reveals a different side of his rock star life:

On daughter Jordan:When she was born she was only five pounds… the midwife said it would be comforting for her to sleep on my chest where she would hear my heartbeat like when she is breastfeeding with her mother. She is still there.”

On daughter Eve: “Eve has discipline and mischief, real depth that she chooses to float above, until it’s necessary to take that dive.”

On son John: “He broke his nose in a match this year. His mother and I were badly shaken. He rolled his eyes, and explained that the greatest living Irishman Brian O’Driscoll broke his nose 13 times. So that’s a dozen more to go.”

On son Eli, apparently the only one to follow in dad’s footsteps: “Elijah Bob, or Eli as he’s known, is 15 and already a guitar shredder… Our boy Eli won’t be a student for long.”


Aside from his family and a tight-knit circle of friends, Bono is passionate about helping others less fortunate.

Bono shared, “I was watching the giant TV screens of Times Square turn crimson… the ultra vivid advertising morphed from advertising products to advertising hope… and gratitude… Mothers and their kids, nurses and farmers from Accra, Colombo, Phnom Penh holding up signs saying… Thank you New York… Thank you Boise… Thank you Chicago… For those AIDS drugs that mean we are alive… About 8 million people are on anti-retroviral drugs paid for by the USA.”


Perhaps the most unordinary thing about Bono’s unorthodox rock star life, is his unashamed faith in Jesus Christ.

Last year, Bono’s candid and heartfelt confession of faith rocked the world and shocked the nation to the core when he boldly declared his trust in Jesus Christ.

When asked if Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Bono replied,

“Jesus isn’t lettin’ you off the hook. The Scriptures don’t let you off the hook so easily… When people say, you know, “Good teacher,” “Prophet,” “Really nice guy” … this is not how Jesus thought of Himself. So you’re left with a challenge in that, which is either Jesus was who He said He was, or a complete and utter nut case. … You have to make a choice on that.

And I believe that Jesus was, you know, the Son of God. And I understand that … we need to be really, really respectful to people who find that ridiculous and … preposterous.”

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Bono recently announced his collaboration with Eugene Peterson (author of contemporary-language Bible translation The Message) revolving around their common interest in the Psalms.

Bono and the entire U2 band have always been very open about their struggles and failings as men, but they’ve also consistently been vocal about their faith in Jesus Christ.

And U2’s music boasts of God’s goodness and mercy as they sing heaven’s anthem.

In the video below, watch as the entire band worships in reckless abandon as they sing the powerful song “Yahweh” and end with their unique song entitled “40,” which is their interpretation of Psalm 40.

Bono has won numerous awards with U2, and together they’ve released 13 studio albums and are one of the world’s best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 170 million records worldwide. They have won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other band, and, in 2005, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. Rolling Stone ranked U2 at number 22 in its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”


It’s simply amazing to take a look back and see God’s sovereign hand on Bono’s life. Pulled out of obscurity in a small Irish town and placed on display for all the world to see; Bono’s journey boasts of God’s unending grace, mercy, and love.

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Praise God for His redeeming love and grace! While listening to Bono’s inspiring story, I just couldn’t help but think of Colossians 1:13-14 which reads,

“God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son He loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.”

Thank you, Bono, for sharing your inspiring message of Grace! I’m so grateful for bands like U2 who are unashamed of the Gospel. The world needs more men of Faith like Bono! Please share if you agree!

Atheist’s Demeanor


David Hume, 1700’s

Richard Dawkins, 1900’s


Samuel Johnson, 1700’s

Mark Woods, 1900’s


The 18th century equivalent of Richard Dawkins was David Hume, philosopher.   Samuel Johnson was the Christian counterpart and contemporary of David Hume.   Samuel Johnson had many things to say regarding David Hume’s counters to the Gospel of Jesus and Christianity in general.

Samuel Johnson told his biographer Boswell: “Hume and other sceptical innovators are vain men, and will gratify themselves at any expense… Truth, Sir, is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.” Read more of this post

The Dawkins Letters

A Christian response to The God Delusion by David Robertson. The Dawkins Letters — challenging atheist myths is published by Christians Focus Publication and is available from all mainstream and Christian bookshops as well as Amazon.

Richard Dawkins

What to say when someone asks for proof of God’s existence

david-robertsonDavid Robertson is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and a regular contributor to Christian Today.

“There isn’t enough evidence.”

It seems so reasonable. It’s what any sensible person would ask. Where is the evidence? Why should it be so difficult to believe in Christ?

Hard core atheism, the belief that there is no God (anti-theism), is difficult to defend, so the new softer, friendlier atheism defines itself as “we would believe in God if there was enough evidence”. Most of the atheists you will meet are in reality agnostics (no-knowledge). It seems reasonable and humble to admit that we do not know. This softer position says I do not know because there is not sufficient information. I can’t prove there is no God and you can’t prove there is. Provide me with the information and of course I would believe. This position is best summed up by Bertrand Russell’s statement that if he met God and was asked why he did not believe he would declare, “Because you did not provide enough evidence”. Read more of this post

Daddy Don’t Go

Blessed fathers!  Be blessed fathers!

The Atheist Delusion

John Gray

‘Opposition to religion occupies the high ground, intellectually and morally,’ wrote Martin Amis recently. Over the past few years, leading writers and thinkers have published best selling tracts against God. John Gray on why the ‘secular fundamentalists’ have got it all wrong

An atmosphere of moral panic surrounds religion. Viewed not so long ago as a relic of superstition whose role in society was steadily declining, it is now demonised as the cause of many of the world’s worst evils. As a result, there has been a sudden explosion in the literature of proselytising atheism. A few years ago, it was difficult to persuade commercial publishers even to think of bringing out books on religion. Today, tracts against religion can be enormous money-spinners, with Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great selling in the hundreds of thousands. For the first time in generations, scientists and philosophers, high-profile novelists and journalists are debating whether religion has a future. The intellectual traffic is not all one-way. There have been counterblasts for believers, such as The Dawkins Delusion? by the British theologian Alister McGrath and The Secular Age by the Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. On the whole, however, the anti-God squad has dominated the sales charts, and it is worth asking why.

The abrupt shift in the perception of religion is only partly explained by terrorism. The 9/11 hijackers saw themselves as martyrs in a religious tradition, and western opinion has accepted their self-image. And there are some who view the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a danger comparable with the worst that were faced by liberal societies in the 20th century.

For Dawkins and Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Martin Amis, Michel Onfray, Philip Pullman and others, religion in general is a poison that has fuelled violence and oppression throughout history, right up to the present day. The urgency with which they produce their anti-religious polemics suggests that a change has occurred as significant as the rise of terrorism: the tide of secularisation has turned. These writers come from a generation schooled to think of religion as a throwback to an earlier stage of human development, which is bound to dwindle away as knowledge continues to increase. In the 19th century, when the scientific and industrial revolutions were changing society very quickly, this may not have been an unreasonable assumption. Dawkins, Hitchens and the rest may still believe that, over the long run, the advance of science will drive religion to the margins of human life, but this is now an article of faith rather than a theory based on evidence.

It is true that religion has declined sharply in a number of countries (Ireland is a recent example) and has not shaped everyday life for most people in Britain for many years. Much of Europe is clearly post-Christian. However, there is nothing that suggests the move away from religion is irreversible, or that it is potentially universal. The US is no more secular today than it was 150 years ago, when De Tocqueville was amazed and baffled by its all-pervading religiosity. The secular era was in any case partly illusory. The mass political movements of the 20th century were vehicles for myths inherited from religion, and it is no accident that religion is reviving now that these movements have collapsed. The current hostility to religion is a reaction against this turnabout. Secularisation is in retreat, and the result is the appearance of an evangelical type of atheism not seen since Victorian times.

As in the past, this is a type of atheism that mirrors the faith it rejects. Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights – a subtly allusive, multilayered allegory, recently adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster, The Golden Compass – is a good example. Pullman’s parable concerns far more than the dangers of authoritarianism. The issues it raises are essentially religious, and it is deeply indebted to the faith it attacks. Pullman has stated that his atheism was formed in the Anglican tradition, and there are many echoes of Milton and Blake in his work. His largest debt to this tradition is the notion of free will. The central thread of the story is the assertion of free will against faith. The young heroine Lyra Belacqua sets out to thwart the Magisterium – Pullman’s metaphor for Christianity – because it aims to deprive humans of their ability to choose their own course in life, which she believes would destroy what is most human in them. But the idea of free will that informs liberal notions of personal autonomy is biblical in origin (think of the Genesis story). The belief that exercising free will is part of being human is a legacy of faith, and like most varieties of atheism today, Pullman’s is a derivative of Christianity.

Zealous atheism renews some of the worst features of Christianity and Islam. Just as much as these religions, it is a project of universal conversion. Evangelical atheists never doubt that human life can be transformed if everyone accepts their view of things, and they are certain that one way of living – their own, suitably embellished – is right for everybody. To be sure, atheism need not be a missionary creed of this kind. It is entirely reasonable to have no religious beliefs, and yet be friendly to religion. It is a funny sort of humanism that condemns an impulse that is peculiarly human. Yet that is what evangelical atheists do when they demonise religion.

A curious feature of this kind of atheism is that some of its most fervent missionaries are philosophers. Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon claims to sketch a general theory of religion. In fact, it is mostly a polemic against American Christianity. This parochial focus is reflected in Dennett’s view of religion, which for him means the belief that some kind of supernatural agency (whose approval believers seek) is needed to explain the way things are in the world. For Dennett, religions are efforts at doing something science does better – they are rudimentary or abortive theories, or else nonsense. “The proposition that God exists,” he writes severely, “is not even a theory.” But religions do not consist of propositions struggling to become theories. The incomprehensibility of the divine is at the heart of Eastern Christianity, while in Orthodox Judaism practice tends to have priority over doctrine. Buddhism has always recognised that in spiritual matters truth is ineffable, as do Sufi traditions in Islam. Hinduism has never defined itself by anything as simplistic as a creed. It is only some western Christian traditions, under the influence of Greek philosophy, which have tried to turn religion into an explanatory theory.

The notion that religion is a primitive version of science was popularised in the late 19th century in JG Frazer’s survey of the myths of primitive peoples, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. For Frazer, religion and magical thinking were closely linked. Rooted in fear and ignorance, they were vestiges of human infancy that would disappear with the advance of knowledge. Dennett’s atheism is not much more than a revamped version of Frazer’s positivism. The positivists believed that with the development of transport and communication – in their day, canals and the telegraph – irrational thinking would wither way, along with the religions of the past. Despite the history of the past century, Dennett believes much the same. In an interview that appears on the website of the Edge Foundation ( under the title “The Evaporation of the Powerful Mystique of Religion”, he predicts that “in about 25 years almost all religions will have evolved into very different phenomena, so much so that in most quarters religion will no longer command the awe that it does today”. He is confident that this will come about, he tells us, mainly because of “the worldwide spread of information technology (not just the internet, but cell phones and portable radios and television)”. The philosopher has evidently not reflected on the ubiquity of mobile phones among the Taliban, or the emergence of a virtual al-Qaida on the web.

The growth of knowledge is a fact only postmodern relativists deny. Science is the best tool we have for forming reliable beliefs about the world, but it does not differ from religion by revealing a bare truth that religions veil in dreams. Both science and religion are systems of symbols that serve human needs – in the case of science, for prediction and control. Religions have served many purposes, but at bottom they answer to a need for meaning that is met by myth rather than explanation. A great deal of modern thought consists of secular myths – hollowed-out religious narratives translated into pseudo-science. Dennett’s notion that new communications technologies will fundamentally alter the way human beings think is just such a myth.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins attempts to explain the appeal of religion in terms of the theory of memes, vaguely defined conceptual units that compete with one another in a parody of natural selection. He recognises that, because humans have a universal tendency to religious belief, it must have had some evolutionary advantage, but today, he argues, it is perpetuated mainly through bad education. From a Darwinian standpoint, the crucial role Dawkins gives to education is puzzling. Human biology has not changed greatly over recorded history, and if religion is hardwired in the species, it is difficult to see how a different kind of education could alter this. Yet Dawkins seems convinced that if it were not inculcated in schools and families, religion would die out. This is a view that has more in common with a certain type of fundamentalist theology than with Darwinian theory, and I cannot help being reminded of the evangelical Christian who assured me that children reared in a chaste environment would grow up without illicit sexual impulses.

Dawkins’s “memetic theory of religion” is a classic example of the nonsense that is spawned when Darwinian thinking is applied outside its proper sphere. Along with Dennett, who also holds to a version of the theory, Dawkins maintains that religious ideas survive because they would be able to survive in any “meme pool”, or else because they are part of a “memeplex” that includes similar memes, such as the idea that, if you die as a martyr, you will enjoy 72 virgins. Unfortunately, the theory of memes is science only in the sense that Intelligent Design is science. Strictly speaking, it is not even a theory. Talk of memes is just the latest in a succession of ill-judged Darwinian metaphors.

Dawkins compares religion to a virus: religious ideas are memes that infect vulnerable minds, especially those of children. Biological metaphors may have their uses – the minds of evangelical atheists seem particularly prone to infection by religious memes, for example. At the same time, analogies of this kind are fraught with peril. Dawkins makes much of the oppression perpetrated by religion, which is real enough. He gives less attention to the fact that some of the worst atrocities of modern times were committed by regimes that claimed scientific sanction for their crimes. Nazi “scientific racism” and Soviet “dialectical materialism” reduced the unfathomable complexity of human lives to the deadly simplicity of a scientific formula. In each case, the science was bogus, but it was accepted as genuine at the time, and not only in the regimes in question. Science is as liable to be used for inhumane purposes as any other human institution. Indeed, given the enormous authority science enjoys, the risk of it being used in this way is greater.

Contemporary opponents of religion display a marked lack of interest in the historical record of atheist regimes. In The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, the American writer Sam Harris argues that religion has been the chief source of violence and oppression in history. He recognises that secular despots such as Stalin and Mao inflicted terror on a grand scale, but maintains the oppression they practised had nothing to do with their ideology of “scientific atheism” – what was wrong with their regimes was that they were tyrannies. But might there not be a connection between the attempt to eradicate religion and the loss of freedom? It is unlikely that Mao, who launched his assault on the people and culture of Tibet with the slogan “Religion is poison”, would have agreed that his atheist world-view had no bearing on his policies. It is true he was worshipped as a semi-divine figure – as Stalin was in the Soviet Union. But in developing these cults, communist Russia and China were not backsliding from atheism. They were demonstrating what happens when atheism becomes a political project. The invariable result is an ersatz religion that can only be maintained by tyrannical means.

Something like this occurred in Nazi Germany. Dawkins dismisses any suggestion that the crimes of the Nazis could be linked with atheism. “What matters,” he declares in The God Delusion, “is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest evidence that it does.” This is simple-minded reasoning. Always a tremendous booster of science, Hitler was much impressed by vulgarised Darwinism and by theories of eugenics that had developed from Enlightenment philosophies of materialism. He used Christian antisemitic demonology in his persecution of Jews, and the churches collaborated with him to a horrifying degree. But it was the Nazi belief in race as a scientific category that opened the way to a crime without parallel in history. Hitler’s world-view was that of many semi-literate people in interwar Europe, a hotchpotch of counterfeit science and animus towards religion. There can be no reasonable doubt that this was a type of atheism, or that it helped make Nazi crimes possible.

Nowadays most atheists are avowed liberals. What they want – so they will tell you – is not an atheist regime, but a secular state in which religion has no role. They clearly believe that, in a state of this kind, religion will tend to decline. But America’s secular constitution has not ensured a secular politics. Christian fundamentalism is more powerful in the US than in any other country, while it has very little influence in Britain, which has an established church. Contemporary critics of religion go much further than demanding disestablishment. It is clear that he wants to eliminate all traces of religion from public institutions. Awkwardly, many of the concepts he deploys – including the idea of religion itself – have been shaped by monotheism. Lying behind secular fundamentalism is a conception of history that derives from religion.

AC Grayling provides an example of the persistence of religious categories in secular thinking in his Towards the Light: The Story of the Struggles for Liberty and Rights That Made the Modern West. As the title indicates, Grayling’s book is a type of sermon. Its aim is to reaffirm what he calls “a Whig view of the history of the modern west”, the core of which is that “the west displays progress”. The Whigs were pious Christians, who believed divine providence arranged history to culminate in English institutions, and Grayling too believes history is “moving in the right direction”. No doubt there have been setbacks – he mentions nazism and communism in passing, devoting a few sentences to them. But these disasters were peripheral. They do not reflect on the central tradition of the modern west, which has always been devoted to liberty, and which – Grayling asserts – is inherently antagonistic to religion. “The history of liberty,” he writes, “is another chapter – and perhaps the most important of all – in the great quarrel between religion and secularism.” The possibility that radical versions of secular thinking may have contributed to the development of nazism and communism is not mentioned. More even than the 18th-century Whigs, who were shaken by French Terror, Grayling has no doubt as to the direction of history.

But the belief that history is a directional process is as faith-based as anything in the Christian catechism. Secular thinkers such as Grayling reject the idea of providence, but they continue to think humankind is moving towards a universal goal – a civilisation based on science that will eventually encompass the entire species. In pre-Christian Europe, human life was understood as a series of cycles; history was seen as tragic or comic rather than redemptive. With the arrival of Christianity, it came to be believed that history had a predetermined goal, which was human salvation. Though they suppress their religious content, secular humanists continue to cling to similar beliefs. One does not want to deny anyone the consolations of a faith, but it is obvious that the idea of progress in history is a myth created by the need for meaning.

The problem with the secular narrative is not that it assumes progress is inevitable (in many versions, it does not). It is the belief that the sort of advance that has been achieved in science can be reproduced in ethics and politics. In fact, while scientific knowledge increases cumulatively, nothing of the kind happens in society. Slavery was abolished in much of the world during the 19th century, but it returned on a vast scale in nazism and communism, and still exists today. Torture was prohibited in international conventions after the second world war, only to be adopted as an instrument of policy by the world’s pre-eminent liberal regime at the beginning of the 21st century. Wealth has increased, but it has been repeatedly destroyed in wars and revolutions. People live longer and kill one another in larger numbers. Knowledge grows, but human beings remain much the same.

Belief in progress is a relic of the Christian view of history as a universal narrative, and an intellectually rigorous atheism would start by questioning it. This is what Nietzsche did when he developed his critique of Christianity in the late 19th century, but almost none of today’s secular missionaries have followed his example. One need not be a great fan of Nietzsche to wonder why this is so. The reason, no doubt, is that he did not assume any connection between atheism and liberal values – on the contrary, he viewed liberal values as an offspring of Christianity and condemned them partly for that reason. In contrast, evangelical atheists have positioned themselves as defenders of liberal freedoms – rarely inquiring where these freedoms have come from, and never allowing that religion may have had a part in creating them.

Among contemporary anti-religious polemicists, only the French writer Michel Onfray has taken Nietzsche as his point of departure. In some ways, Onfray’s In Defence of Atheism is superior to anything English-speaking writers have published on the subject. Refreshingly, Onfray recognises that evangelical atheism is an unwitting imitation of traditional religion: “Many militants of the secular cause look astonishingly like clergy. Worse: like caricatures of clergy.” More clearly than his Anglo-Saxon counterparts, Onfray understands the formative influence of religion on secular thinking. Yet he seems not to notice that the liberal values he takes for granted were partly shaped by Christianity and Judaism. The key liberal theorists of toleration are John Locke, who defended religious freedom in explicitly Christian terms, and Benedict Spinoza, a Jewish rationalist who was also a mystic. Yet Onfray has nothing but contempt for the traditions from which these thinkers emerged – particularly Jewish monotheism: “We do not possess an official certificate of birth for worship of one God,” he writes. “But the family line is clear: the Jews invented it to endure the coherence, cohesion and existence of their small, threatened people.” Here Onfray passes over an important distinction. It may be true that Jews first developed monotheism, but Judaism has never been a missionary faith. In seeking universal conversion, evangelical atheism belongs with Christianity and Islam.

In today’s anxiety about religion, it has been forgotten that most of the faith-based violence of the past century was secular in nature. To some extent, this is also true of the current wave of terrorism. Islamism is a patchwork of movements, not all violently jihadist and some strongly opposed to al-Qaida, most of them partly fundamentalist and aiming to recover the lost purity of Islamic traditions, while at the same time taking some of their guiding ideas from radical secular ideology. There is a deal of fashionable talk of Islamo-fascism, and Islamist parties have some features in common with interwar fascist movements, including antisemitism. But Islamists owe as much, if not more, to the far left, and it would be more accurate to describe many of them as Islamo-Leninists. Islamist techniques of terror also have a pedigree in secular revolutionary movements. The executions of hostages in Iraq are copied in exact theatrical detail from European “revolutionary tribunals” in the 1970s, such as that staged by the Red Brigades when they murdered the former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978.

The influence of secular revolutionary movements on terrorism extends well beyond Islamists. In God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens notes that, long before Hizbullah and al-Qaida, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka pioneered what he rightly calls “the disgusting tactic of suicide murder”. He omits to mention that the Tigers are Marxist-Leninists who, while recruiting mainly from the island’s Hindu population, reject religion in all its varieties. Tiger suicide bombers do not go to certain death in the belief that they will be rewarded in any postmortem paradise. Nor did the suicide bombers who drove American and French forces out of Lebanon in the 80s, most of whom belonged to organisations of the left such as the Lebanese communist party. These secular terrorists believed they were expediting a historical process from which will come a world better than any that has ever existed. It is a view of things more remote from human realities, and more reliably lethal in its consequences, than most religious myths.

It is not necessary to believe in any narrative of progress to think liberal societies are worth resolutely defending. No one can doubt that they are superior to the tyranny imposed by the Taliban on Afghanistan, for example. The issue is one of proportion. Ridden with conflicts and lacking the industrial base of communism and nazism, Islamism is nowhere near a danger of the magnitude of those that were faced down in the 20th century. A greater menace is posed by North Korea, which far surpasses any Islamist regime in its record of repression and clearly does possess some kind of nuclear capability. Evangelical atheists rarely mention it. Hitchens is an exception, but when he describes his visit to the country, it is only to conclude that the regime embodies “a debased yet refined form of Confucianism and ancestor worship”. As in Russia and China, the noble humanist philosophy of Marxist-Leninism is innocent of any responsibility.

Writing of the Trotskyite-Luxemburgist sect to which he once belonged, Hitchens confesses sadly: “There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb.” He need not worry. His record on Iraq shows he has not lost the will to believe. The effect of the American-led invasion has been to deliver most of the country outside the Kurdish zone into the hands of an Islamist elective theocracy, in which women, gays and religious minorities are more oppressed than at any time in Iraq’s history. The idea that Iraq could become a secular democracy – which Hitchens ardently promoted – was possible only as an act of faith.

In The Second Plane, Martin Amis writes: “Opposition to religion already occupies the high ground, intellectually and morally.” Amis is sure religion is a bad thing, and that it has no future in the west. In the author of Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million – a forensic examination of self-delusion in the pro-Soviet western intelligentsia – such confidence is surprising. The intellectuals whose folly Amis dissects turned to communism in some sense as a surrogate for religion, and ended up making excuses for Stalin. Are there really no comparable follies today? Some neocons – such as Tony Blair, who will soon be teaching religion and politics at Yale – combine their belligerent progressivism with religious belief, though of a kind Augustine and Pascal might find hard to recognise. Most are secular utopians, who justify pre-emptive war and excuse torture as leading to a radiant future in which democracy will be adopted universally. Even on the high ground of the west, messianic politics has not lost its dangerous appeal.

Religion has not gone away. Repressing it is like repressing sex, a self-defeating enterprise. In the 20th century, when it commanded powerful states and mass movements, it helped engender totalitarianism. Today, the result is a climate of hysteria. Not everything in religion is precious or deserving of reverence. There is an inheritance of anthropocentrism, the ugly fantasy that the Earth exists to serve humans, which most secular humanists share. There is the claim of religious authorities, also made by atheist regimes, to decide how people can express their sexuality, control their fertility and end their lives, which should be rejected categorically. Nobody should be allowed to curtail freedom in these ways, and no religion has the right to break the peace.

The attempt to eradicate religion, however, only leads to it reappearing in grotesque and degraded forms. A credulous belief in world revolution, universal democracy or the occult powers of mobile phones is more offensive to reason than the mysteries of religion, and less likely to survive in years to come. Victorian poet Matthew Arnold wrote of believers being left bereft as the tide of faith ebbs away. Today secular faith is ebbing, and it is the apostles of unbelief who are left stranded on the beach.

· John Gray’s Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia will be out in paperback in April (Penguin)

Originally published in the Guardian.

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