After it was announced that Christopher Hitchens had throat cancer, there was one particular person (an atheist, whose name escapes me) who forbade anyone to pray for Hitchens. I have no idea how he was going to enforce his little fatwa, but there you are.
However, Hitchens is of another mind. I was a bit shocked when I heard this yesterday, as I drove home, on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
HH: Now Christopher, since we last spoke, your illness you disclosed on the web, and people will want to know off the bat how you are doing, and how your treatment is going.
CH: Oh well, I have, in case people are just tuning in, I have cancer in my esophagus, which has I think spread a little to my lymph nodes as well. And I’m two weeks into the chemotherapy course. So I feel pretty weak, and my voice isn’t what it was, but that’s supposed to be a good sign in that the amount of poison I’m taking is presumably working on the bad stuff as well as the good stuff. And this morning, I found that my hair was beginning to come out in the shower, which is a bit demoralizing, I have to say, even though it’s the least of it…
HH: The number of people I’m sure who are praying for you, including people who come up to me and ask me to tell you that, people like Joseph Timothy Cook, how are you responding to them, given your famous atheism?
CH: Well look, I mean, I think that prayer and holy water, and things like that are all fine. They don’t do any good, but they don’t necessarily do any harm. It’s touching to be thought of in that way. It makes up for those who tell me that I’ve got my just desserts. It’s, I’m afraid to say it’s almost as well-founded an idea. I mean, I don’t, they don’t know whether prayer will work, and they don’t know whether I’ve come by this because I’m a sinner.
Of course we can’t be sure, but that sounds a little more agnostic-y to me. I have always maintained that pure atheism is fundamentally irrational because they can’t prove there is no God, anymore than believers can prove their is one. So atheism goes a bit too far. Anything past agnosticism is simply spite. So, it may be that Hitchens is being more rational, now that push has come to shove. If your life is on the line, why not let people pray for you? It just might work, if there is a God. Why dissuade them? That would be pure irrationality. As he says, there certainly is no harm done if there isn’t a God.
HH: Oh, I…has anyone actually said that to you?
CH: Yeah, oh yes.
HH: Oh, my gosh. Forgive them. Well…
CH: Well, I mean, I don’t mind. It doesn’t hurt me. But for the same reason, I wish it was more consoling. But I have to say there’s some extremely nice people, including people known to you, have said that I’m in their prayers, and I can only say that I’m touched by the thought.
On one Catholic site, I read the comments, and most said they would pray for Hitchens. There was one guy who refused, and said that while he would not pray for his death, the most he would pray for was “God’s will be done”. But it was quite clear he simply was mad; and was refusing to pray for him. The others simply quoted the bible to him:
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
So while there may be some who are refusing, or crowing that God is getting his revenge, it’s pretty clear that course of action is about the most un-Christian thing you could do.
It’s also kind of ironic that Hitchens now finds the actions of Christians who are following the instructions in their bible to be touching. He is on the receiving end of comfort; comfort coming his way only because Christians are taking the bible seriously, and are loving those that hate them.
Christians have started many mini-campaigns to pray for Hitchens. Here is a page on Facebook, for example. The sad thing is that reasonably creepy atheists have made it their business to go to the site and enter bitter little comments. Christians mostly say they are praying for Hitchens, the atheists sneer at the Christians. It really reveals how very small they are.
And how odd that Hitchens’ main contribution to humanity, should he not survive, will be an intense cadre of bitter little jerks who run around spouting bumper sticker thoughts about Zeus, lakes of fire, and Spaghetti Monsters. It really is the antithesis of everything Hitchens thought he stood for. It is all highly anti-intellectual, and instead has taken on a crowd-with-pitchforks tenor. Instead of careful, rational reasoning, he has created this crowd of propaganda spouters, drive-by campaigners who ooze disrespect for their fellow man. In the end, they are virtual know-nothings; they know their propaganda by heart, and revel in their inability to consider the other side’s strongest case. It’s a political campaign, so slogans and slanting the other guy’s positions are their stock in trade. They are as sure of themselves as any fire-breathing fundamentalist. The only thing that matters to them is the ridicule, the ridicule and the ridicule.
Hopefully he will survive to create a more fulfilling legacy.
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.