On the Passing of Christopher Hitchens

hitchens.png He was an ardent opponent of Christianity, but I will miss him.

I sat in the front row for his debate with Dinesh D’Souza in Charlotte, NC last year (or was it in 2009?). Hitchens spoke first. It may have been the only time he had D’Souza completely flat-footed and unable to disagree with him. The reason was the debate topic: Is radical Islam a threat to America? It wasn’t a point they held in dispute.

D’Souza began his first speech essentially by saying, “I agree with Christopher, and since that doesn’t make for much of a debate, and since he already expressed my own opinion so well, I’m just going to go ahead and change the subject.”

Hitchens smiled and rolled with it. He was always quick on his feet that way. I don’t know of anyone who was more effective with the use of rhetoric. It was in many ways his undoing, I’m afraid, at least as far as most of the world could see.

In debate he relied heavily on rhetoric in the form of emotionally loaded language. Religion bothered him. God bothered him. I don’t know how well he was able to separate one from the other.

I can understand his feelings, at least to some extent. Religion bothers me: too much of it is shallow, sterile, and false, even within Christianity. Religion outside of Christianity is just wrong and (I am convinced) deadly.

God bothers me, too, though in a different way altogether. God places demands on me. The worst demands are not the moral ones, as you might think. The hardest demand he places on me is that I accept his love while acknowledging it is entirely his own initiative. I want to be the kind of person who can earn his love, but God insists on loving me even though I am not. His love is very good—and it is also thoroughly humbling.

Though I’ve read Hitchens’ book God Is Not Great, I have no way of knowing what bothered him more: God or religion. He regarded God as religion’s invention, but from the way I understand reality to be, he had encounters with God, whether he accepted or rejected the reality of the experience. God was present in all the Christians he interacted with, including the believers he debated, and his own believing brother, Peter.

Tragically, he chose against God.

I will miss his brilliant repartee. I will miss the strong challenge he kept raising against religion, for we who believe need corrective criticism. I will miss his sense of humor. I grieve for the life he has lost.

Other reflections from Christians, especially those involved in Christian apologetics:

Comments

  1. Cory C

    My condolences to his family and friends and readership — I’ll miss him as well.

    I prayed for him to get well; I’m only sorry he didn’t have a few more happy years here. I’m also sorry he didn’t repent — but that’s for another time. I’ll just honor his memory today by reading some of his incisive commentary on world affairs.

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  3. BillT

    Certainly, Christopher Hitchens brought much to us through his writings. At the same time he quite rightly will be remembered for what he did not bring. That is, the same fierce independent thought and integrity that he brought to much of his writings that he did not bring to his writings on religion.

    As Tom said, his criticism of “religion” may be well placed. However, God is Not Great goes well beyond that. There he fell in with the New Atheists and unlike what we saw in his other literary efforts he produced a work as dismal and amateurish as the quite laughable Dawkins and Dennett. Perhaps we could excuse him his prejudicial language or his scorched earth rhetoric. But the basic logical flaw that saw him claim both that religion spoils everything and that religion is man-made was beneath him. That in addition to the endless parade of biblical and historical inaccuracies weighs heavily against him.

    It’s easy to see why obscure academics like Dawkins and Dennett did what they did. They had both fame and fortune to gain. But Hitchens had enough of both and a reputation to go along with it. I hope his thirty pieces of silver were enough.

  4. Nick (Matzke)

    It’s easy to see why obscure academics like Dawkins and Dennett did what they did. They had both fame and fortune to gain. But Hitchens had enough of both and a reputation to go along with it. I hope his thirty pieces of silver were enough.

    This last paragraph is ridiculous in several ways.

    1. Dennett and particularly Dawkins were not “obscure” before they became New Atheists. The idea that they got into atheism for the fame and fortune of it is ridiculous — and I say this as a critic of their approach. No, they’re True Believers on what they see as a moral crusade against evil.

    2. You admit that Hitchens *didn’t* have the motive of fame or fortune for getting into New Atheism, but then right after that, you make the 30 pieces of silver reference to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. Even if you hadn’t debunked the fame-and-money explanation in your previous sentence, it still wouldn’t make sense. Judas betrayed his friend and master, this is fairly horrible. Hitchens merely went around, expressing his opinions in speeches and press.

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  6. BillT

    Nick,

    The idea that David Dennett’s profile wasn’t raised multiple orders of magnitude by his position as a New Atheist as compared to being a philosophy professor is a laughable assertion. You could have at least checked the Merriam-Webster.

    ob•scure noun äb-ˈskyu̇r, əb- 1. a: not prominent or famous (e.g. philosophy professors) 🙂

    As for Dawkins, it’s fair to say he had some profile as a writer of popular books on evolution even if “popular books on evolution” is an oxymoron not far removed from “military intelligence”. However, you missed the real mistake I made in my description of Dawkins. It isn’t that he was so obscure it’s that he was an academic which he certainly isn’t in any sense that word is commonly used. He hasn’t done any real science or been published in any scientific journal since his doctoral thesis over 40 years ago.

    As far as my analogy comparing Hitchens and Judas you rightly point out that Judas took his silver to betray his friend and master. That you find this hard to parallel with Christopher Hitchens who took his silver in betrayal of his own integrity (i.e. his friend and master ?) seems to display an extreme literalism that I wouldn’t have expected from you.

    Nonetheless, I hope you will allow me to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  7. Pingback: Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) |:| The Aristophrenium

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  9. JAD

    Reflecting on his earlier life as an atheist, C.S. Lewis wrote, “I was at this time of living, like so many Atheists or Anti-theists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.”

    This contradictory anger at a God who (he believed) did not exist also seemed to be true of Hitchens. It is also an anger that seems to be shared by his new atheist allies. It is one of the things that I find to be irrational about that kind of atheism.

  10. JAD

    From the perspective of 14.5 billion year old Cosmos, Christopher Hitchen’s life was no more significant than pond scum.

    That underscores the absurdity of all his anti-religious rhetoric. In the grand scheme of things, if there is no God, what does it matter what a person believes? I would argue that from an evolutionary perspective that religious belief is a coping mechanism. Some people are just not capable dealing with a meaningless universe. That’s why I think Hitchens was a insecure heartless hypocrite to go after religious people. There was nothing about his beliefs (actually disbelief) that could improve anyones life, including his own.

    This is why I believe that most atheists are phonies. Like Hitchens they do not have the courage to face up to the true implications of their disbelief.

    (I have also posted this at Telic Thoughts)

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  12. Paul

    That is just it: he used rhetoric to stir those who were already cynical against God. His actual logic did not stack up.

    As I noted regarding his video, “Critiquing the Ten Commandments” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4s1nVm3mO8&feature=feedrec_grec_index),

    “All that video proves is the depth of C. Hitchens’ rebellion. He did not in any way disprove God, in 10 minutes or any time. He claimed there is ‘no reason to believe,’ whereas Atheists have no viable explanation (nay, not Evolution) for the order or complexity of the universe, nor its very existence, nor their own.

    “The claim that religion is Totalitarian is totally biased, as is the non sequitur comparison to North Korea. Rather, accepting Christ sets one free from the Law of Sin and Death. The alternative, as the Apostle Paul explains, is slavery to sin through addictions of the carnal nature.

    “His assertion that the idea of God handing down moral law is an insult is one born of sheer pride of life, and points directly to Adam’s choice in eating of the Tree of Knowledge, the desire to be one’s own god, which Hitchens displays ‘to a T.’

    “Moreover, no honest person would call himself an Atheist, which means ‘no God.’ If one were honest, one would call himself an Agnostic, because he truly ‘does not know,’ either way. To say ‘no God’ is not a conclusion but a CHOICE, based not on facts or logic but opinion and preference.”

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