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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.


8 Comments

  1. Robyn Ruff

    May I say…a very interesting blog…enjoyed the read:)

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  2. Thanks, Robyn. Miss you on Facebook. :-)

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  3. Brian

    I wonder why Christians can’t be content just to let atheists be atheists. We don’t hope for a deathbed conversion when Christians die.

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  4. I can’t speak for all Christians, Brian. But as for me, I cannot just “let atheists be atheists” because I love atheists. Since I love them and believe Jesus Christ provides forgiveness, new life, and eternal life, I would like my atheist friends and acquaintances to have that. Additionally – I don’t know how much time you spend on social media, but there are a LOT of atheists who are not content to let theists be theists.

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  5. lismarie

    for kevin: some atheists may not be content with letting theists be theists, but atheists don’t go around killing people because they are theistic. oh and please don’t say that communist are atheists, so their killings are to be blamed on atheism because their are some religious people who are communist too. so that argument is weak at best. furthermore, even in present times people are still being killed because of theistic beliefs.
    http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/religious-leader-shoots-4-year-old-boy-to-death-because-he-might-be-gay/religion/2011/07/08/23361
    you can find many more if you choose to look it up yourself. i looked for atheist who killed because of their views and didn’t find any if you do then please share with me so i can be better informed as well.
    regrading the blog, self expression is very important so i am happy that you decided to write a blog on what you believe. However, personally i found it a little cowardly to wait until Christopher Hitchens was dead to comment on his work and views. if you had a problem with anything he wrote why wait until he is dead to do so? it isn’t an attack, i am just genuinely curious.

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  6. Atheists have killed more people in the name of their faith than theists, but the argument shouldn’t be based on body count. Murder is murder, and broken sinful humanity is the root cause.

    I had recently read Hitch (& Dawkins, Dennett, Harris). The blog was just my way of paying tribute. I thought it was interesting for an evangelical pastor to do so.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Hope you have a great weekend.

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  7. Josh

    “And it failed noticeably to prove that God Himself is not there, and not great.”

    While the first part of your review is certainly true (Hitchens was acerbic and unapologeticaly so;) that quoted part was where you lost the plot. He never claimed to be able to prove any deities existed or not. However, he very much categorically proved that if one does, it cannot be great, or good, or anything other than capricious. Not sure you read the same book I did…

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  8. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and leave a comment. We obviously disagree. How exactly did Hitch “categorically” prove what you assert?

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