Religious reflections on the death of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, journalist and atheist, who proclaimed that “God is not good” and wrote that religion was at the root of all evil has died after a long bout with cancer. Here is a round up of some of the religious reflections on the passing of one of our most fiercest and popular critics.

James Martin SJ wrote in America:

Henri Nouwen, the Dutch priest and spiritual master, wrote in his book The Prodigal Son that most of us are like the older brother, despising any forgiving actions. We feel that we are the ones who have worked hard, who have led good lives, who have tried to act morally; so why should others be forgiven for their failings? We often resent forgiveness and reconciliation, because it doesn’t seem “fair.”

But as Jesus points out, God’s love is far different than our own; it is prodigal, generous, even wasteful.

I hope that Christopher Hitchens enjoys some of this prodigal love. Of course committed atheists may not be ready to receive it. So for them, and for many others, there will probably be a time of conversion, what Catholics call Purgatory: a time of preparation to meet God, a time of reviewing one’s life, and asking for forgiveness. And of course it will be up to each individual to decide if he or she wants to accept that Father’s love or turn away. For me, hell is the ultimate turning away of that forgiving love.

The Rev. Canon Bill Lewellis wonders in DioBeth newSpin if Hitchens is “still an atheist?”

Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed during the spring of 2010 with stage-four metastasized esophageal cancer. He may may have been our best known and most bitter atheist – author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Reviewing the book in the Washington Post, Boston College professor Stephen Prothero wrote that he had “never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject.” Hitchens went after easy targets. Most would be on my list of “bad religion….”

…During his battle with cancer, there were people who told him in hard, hard copy or online that God is punishing him, especially with the loss of his voice, for his “blasphemies” against God and religion. I could not understand such people. Because Hitchens was an atheist, they wanted him to agonize in his illness and then go to hell rather than discover our compassionate God in the undiscovered country of death and what lies beyond.


Eric Reitan blogged at Religion Dispatches:

His attacks on religion were, no doubt, characterized by inexcusable rhetorical excess. By locating only what was poisonous under the heading of religion—while backpedalling fiercely to argue that Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer weren’t really religious at all—he made his claim that “religion poisons everything” trivially easy to defend. Even so, his assault expressed an important truth: In the religions of the world there is much that’s poisonous.

And that’s why he did it. Not because he hated God (although he called himself an antitheist) but because he loved the good so much he was driven to hyperbole in its defense.

And this is why I cannot agree with a statement made earlier today by Douglas Wilson—Hitchens’ conservative Christian debating partner and friend—in his otherwise sympathetic reflection on Hitchens in Christianity Today. “We have no indication,” Wilson writes, “that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever.”

Against this invocation of conservative dogma I cannot help but juxtapose the words of an earlier iconoclastic writer, the French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil: “…one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush at the Huffington Post writes:

A couple of years ago I visited my cousin Richard Rorty, another famously secular humanist philosopher who was dying from pancreatic cancer. Out of curiosity rather than evangelistic fervor, I asked my cousin if he was having any thoughts about God or religion now that he was so immediately confronted with his mortality. Less vehement in his atheism than Hitchens, Rorty gently rebuked me saying: “Paul, you can’t be in love with something you aren’t in love with.”

I then asked him about philosophy, and what it had to say about death. As one of America’s most influential, and controversial philosophers of the late 20th century, Rorty replied emphatically: “Philosophy has nothing to say about death. Only poetry. I wish I had memorized more poetry.” And then he recited sad, beautiful and enduring poetry to his son Jay and me, as we listened and learned.

When an atheist dies it is wrong to wonder what is happening to them now that they are dead. Instead we might consider whether they lived well while alive. Had we been able to ask that one question to Christopher Hitchens as he died, it seems he would have answered that he had.

How will we answer that question at the hour of our own death?

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