Christopher Hitchens RIP

Renowned writer and atheist Christopher Hitchens has just died at age 62 of cancer-related pneumonia. The writer, controversialist and polemicist had a distinguished career in the literary field, and was a noted debater, journalist, essayist and columnist. He had a long writing career with publications such as The Nation, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, etc, and his many writings appeared in numerous outlets.

Hitchens, who had lived in the US for the past few decades, was born in England in 1949. He had studied politics, economics and philosophy, and was the author of numerous books, including a scathing denunciation of Mother Teresa in 1995.

If he did not work himself to death, he may well have smoked and drank himself to death. He was rough in his living and rough in his polemics. A brilliant man, he was one of the West’s leading intellectuals. His political leanings certainly shifted over the years.

He was well to the left in his early days, but moved away from his socialism to a rightward direction later in life, at least in certain areas. He became a keen supporter of the war on terror and the efforts to stop it in Afghanistan and Iraq. He became an outspoken critic of totalitarian Islam, and his many writings in this area are still very much worth reading.

But of course he may be most well known for his strident atheism, and along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, was part of the influential “new atheism” which swept the West during the past decade. Dawkins’ polemical work of misotheism, The God Delusion appeared in 2006, while Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything came out in 2007.

He was a fierce debater and took on the likes of William Lane Craig, Alister McGrath, William Dembski, Frank Turek, Dinesh D’Sousa, and Douglas Wilson. And he even recently debated his own brother Peter, who had renounced his atheism.

The story of how Peter left his atheism and became a public apologist for Christianity is told in his 2010 volume, The Rage Against God. I review that important book here:

It appears that Christopher did not renounce his militant atheism toward the end of his life. Of course no one can know for sure what went through his mind and spirit in his last minutes – only God knows that. But as one obituary put it, he seemed most resistant, even to the bitter end: “On Oct. 12, 2010, after the effects of Mr. Hitchens’s cancer were obvious, he faced his brother in a 90-minute debate in Washington about the existence of God. ‘Despite his clearly frail physical condition,’ The Washington Post reported, ‘Christopher’s acerbic tongue and quick wit seemed undiminished.’

“Mr. Hitchens was fully aware that some people believed his cancer was the result of divine retribution for his seeming apostasy. Others gathered to pray for his recovery and, in many cases, for his eventual conversion to the faith of their choice. He was grateful for their kind wishes, but he reserved special disgust for those who thought he might recant his atheistic beliefs in the face of cancer. ‘I sympathize afresh with the mighty Voltaire,’ Mr. Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair in October 2010, ‘who, when badgered on his deathbed and urged to renounce the devil, murmured that this was no time to be making enemies’.”

So now the author of God is Not Great is standing before a great God, and will have to give an account of himself. He will be missed, and it is hoped that in the end he renounced his pride and admitted that he was not in fact the centre of the universe. One can only hope he made the right decision.

But we can still pray for the other atheists – both well known and not well known – that they will not die and face a Christless eternity. We can pray for Dawkins and others that they will see the light, as so many countless of millions of others have over the centuries.

Peter Hitchens wrote last year, “On this my brother and I agree: that independence of mind is immensely precious, and that we should try to tell the truth in clear English even if we are disliked for doing so.” Peter has found the truth, for which we can all be thankful. Whether in the end Christopher did only God knows for certain.

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20 Replies to “Christopher Hitchens RIP”

  1. Well you’ve clearly been storing that one up. Tasteful.
    Don Henderson

  2. Thanks Don

    Actually I just wrote it now. But perhaps you are right – knowing that he had cancer, I should have penned something earlier, and stored it up for this occasion. All sorts of other publications – secular and non-secular – have done exactly that. They were all ready the instant he passed away. So will you be writing to them and complaining of their lack of taste as well? Or is it only Christians that you delight to target, in typical hypocritical secular fashion?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Yes, an atheist can never remain an atheist for long – Our years on earth go by so quickly. Even an atheist will agree with that.

    But a Christian who keeps the faith remains a Christian … forever!

    Annette Nestor

  4. What a pity a man with such talent and a self confessed love for the truth couldn’t respect his own physical health and treat drink and tobacco with more caution. Loving the truth means more than pointing out the perceived flaws in others, it also means trying to live it.
    Alan Williams

  5. Very well written Bill,

    Christopher was truly a talented and brilliant man and yet refused to listen to the wisdom of his brother Peter.

    Christopher as many many others who refuse the grace of God will now spend an eternity regretting his actions. Eternity is a long time. A deeply tragic case.

    It should drive me and all other Christians to tell the truth, that death is not the end and we will all stand in front of a sovereign God one day, an inevitable fact .

    Thank you Jesus Christ for your coming to Planet Earth at Christmas many years ago and for your death on the cross to save us from our sin and rebellious nature and to provide a way to eternal joy, peace and fulfillment in Heaven. We praise and honour Your name Jesus Christ at Christmas and Easter.

    Merry Christmas to you Bill, your family and readers at this precious time,

    Phil Browne

  6. Thanks Bill. It is good that we can think about other people’s lives, and our lives, and what becomes of them, and us, beyond the grave. The good news is that Christmas is a celebration of the life of One who came to reveal the Father, deal with our sin, our recalcitrance, and open a future for humanity and for the whole of creation, through his gracious and fruitful life. We pray that the benefits of Christ Jesus’ life may reach this man, Christopher Hitchens, and draw him into a secured, useful future. The alternative, is frightening.
    Grace saves us to a future that is extraordinary, wonderful and beyond our greatest hopes.
    Trevor Faggotter

  7. “…independence of mind is immensely precious …” – Indeed, and we believe, surely, that God would never limit or circumscribe anyone’s free choice, including the choice for atheism (which does a little make me uncomfortable about praying for such a person’s conversion; it’s a free choice decision they have to make entirely alone, as we are all alone before God/infinity (unless, of course, we hold close to the Lord, who has promised to be with us for all time whatever our circumstances).
    John thomas, UK

  8. “Every Knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Unfortunately it is too late for him to do it now and he will most probably either regretfully do that confession or have it forced from him, due to his unbelief. It is sad, but I am sure with all the debates he has had, that people would have mentioned this fact to him.
    Ian Nairn

  9. At least Hitchens had the spine to debate Craig. Unlike Dawkins who whinged when accused of not debating a theist of substance like Craig that it was false that he HAD, in fact, debated him. But this was just after he wrote an article entitled;

    ‘Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig’

    Go figure…

    See Ed Feser for the story

    Damien Spillane

  10. I think the best obit that can possibly be written about a person is one written by his brother, so take a look at this one, perhaps:

    John Thomas,

    I’m just reading the Bible, actually for the first time, but the number of times the Lord hardened someone’s heart, often the Pharaohs, makes me wonder. The Lord does have us play that our Father’s “kingdom come” and his “will be done”, and I think that must surely be the salvation of all souls, no? So aren’t we praying for the conversion of atheists whenever we pray it?

    Felix Alexander, Melbourne.

  11. I found Douglas’ obituary moving, considering their well publicised disagreements. I loved reading their book: “Is Christianity good for the world” and they seemed to have much in common.

    I like this last paragraph from Douglas:

    Christopher Hitchens was baptized in his infancy, and his name means “Christ-bearer.” This created an enormous burden that he tried to shake off his entire life. No creature can ever succeed in doing this. But sometimes, in the kindness of God, such failures can have a gracious twist at the end. We therefore commend Christopher to the Judge of the whole earth, who will certainly do right.

    Adam Elovalis

  12. Here is a good piece by Frank Turek:

    ?”I don’t see how anyone who knew Christopher Hitchens could think that a man with such admirable qualities and talents was nothing more than a collection of chemicals– the product of unintelligent processes. Christopher’s intellect, wit, courage, passion, and immense personal charm are evidence to me of a Divine Being– a Divine Being who loves human freedom so much that He would even allow the gifts He bestows to be used against Him.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Christopher Hitchens knew how to write and wrestle with the world and its ways. His message and manner stripped life of all meaning, purpose and hope. And the legacy he requested be fully imparted to the world after his death, and conveyed to all children, was that of nihilism. That life had no ultimate meaning or purpose, and that they (his audience) are nothing but the product of “uncaring” cosmic events and “ruthless” natural selection. He was dead wrong! As is affirmed by the life and legacy of Christ, and the message of Christmas. For all his intellect and accomplishments, he was a fool. Ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth.
    John Heininger

  14. To John Thomas,

    I certainly agree with much that you say. You are right in saying that “independence of mind is immensely precious” and also in your points about God not circumscribing anyone’s free choice and the fact that, in the end, we must all choose on our own and be responsible for the choices we make. And you are surely right that God will permit people to choose atheism, if they desire, or any of a multitude of other ways of rejecting Him. Freedom of choice is, after all, one important facet of being made in the image of God. God is not going to coerce anyone into the Kingdom. To do so would not only violate the image of God and the dignity He gave us, it would also clearly be contrary to His loving nature.

    On the other hand, Scripture plainly teaches that the Lord is “. . . not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) So, when we pray for someone’s salvation, we can be confident that we are praying in the will of God. Moreover, if we take seriously Jesus’ warnings about the reality and horrors of an eternal hell, and we really love people, we will surely want to do all we can to help them avoid that awful place and experience the the joys of knowing and loving God. By praying for a person’s salvation and sharing the gospel with them, I’m in no way violating their right and responsibilility to choose, only trying to make the choice plain and to assist them in making the right one.

    As for “independence of mind,” yes, it is a very precious thing. Intelligence and reason are good gifts to us as human beings, and, as Christians, we believe that they, too, are aspects of God’s image in us. So independence of mind must be guarded and respected. However, a significant part of the value of independence of mind is that it is a necessary condition for the exercise of free choice and for finding the truth. In other words, it is an instrumental good to be used in the service of freedom and, especially, truth. The latter part of the Peter Hitchens quote drew this link between free inquiry and truth: “. . . and that we should try to tell the truth in clear English, even if we are disliked for doing so.” Moreover, although we have been given freedom of choice, our choices are never exericsed in a vaccuum. There are always numerous influences operating on the will to incline it in one direction or another. Prayer is simply part of that complex of influences. The final choice is still free, but to say that choice is free does not mean it is uninfluenced.

    So I guess I had difficulty understanding why praying for a person’s conversion makes you uncomfortable. Could you help clarify this for me?

    All God’s best to you,

    Lamar Boll

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