What I Liked about Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. Hitchens, according to a post today from NPR, leaves behind some 18 books and countless essays on politics and public figures. But his most lasting legacy may be his atheism and his long-running duel with what he considered the world’s most dangerous threat: religion.
There is, of course, plenty I DID NOT like about Hitchens. I obviously did not like his atheism. I read his book, God is not Great, and what I expected was a well-reasoned, rationally-grounded, full frontal attack on theism and religion. I was prepared to have all my theistic presuppositions and conclusions dismantled in a way that would challenge me to more thoughtfully reconstruct them.
I was disappointed.
The book was atheistic bullying. The whole thing came across as an angry attempt to win an argument. It was a less-than-objective diatribe against religion. And it failed noticeably to prove that God Himself is not there, and not great. That isn’t just my assessment. Finding ATHEISTS, well known and published ones, who panned the book is not a difficult task.
But there are things I liked about Hitchens. I like wit and sarcasm, and his may have been unsurpassed in our day. He was humorous in a savage way. And – quite unfairly in my opinion – he spoke it in that sort of William F. Buckleyesque intellectual tone that intimidates the rest of us. I liked listening to him even when I hated what he was saying.
Hitchens was also surprisingly willing to change. A former leftist, he migrated over to being a fierce defender of Western Civilization and its free market values. He supported the war in Iraq, and he even supported the reelection of George W. Bush. He held those later positions in spite of harsh criticism from some of his former allies. I like smart guys who are still willing to reexamine their own positions on things.
His atheism was unwavering even in the face of the news that his cancer was aggressive and terminal. He famously insisted that any future report of some last-minute deathbed conversion would be a fabricated one. But Hitchens did do something admirable in the last year or so. He received many notes from Christians pledging their prayers for his recovery. It would have been easy for him to ridicule that. But, at least in public, he expressed appreciation for their kind thoughts.
He never, to my knowledge, said he believed their prayers did any good. But he had the class and humility to offer his gratitude for their concern and effort nonetheless. I admire that. And it makes me wonder how many Christians, under similar circumstances, would have the grace to make a similar gesture in the other direction.
One can hope, can’t one?
I believe Hitchens was wrong about almost everything spiritual. I hope he was also wrong about his pledge not to reconsider salvation in his last days. His writing proved he had an intellectual grasp of the gospel I preach. I hope, somehow, he embraced it.
Hey, one can hope.