Friday, December 16, 2011

Kresta Comments: Remembering Christopher Hitchens - Faithful to the End

Al Kresta

I had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Hitchens on his atheist screed, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I prayed for his healing as well as his conversion. Like many others who had to deal with him, I rather liked him in spite of our enormous differences. Of his many debates, the one with William Lane Craig, the evangelical philosopher, is probably the best.

As he proceeded towards death, he struggled to maintain, what he regarded as his integrity, i.e., his atheism. This struggle is what I find so tragic. In my interview with Christopher, he described the god he didn’t believe in: an authoritarian, vindictive, arbitrary, divine corrections officer who lacked all joy, humor, compassion and what we would call “humanity”. If this was god as Christopher conceived him, then he was right to reject him.

I have a hard time believing that Christopher didn’t know better, however. He was an extremely well-read man and he must have understood that his caricature of the deity bore no resemblance to the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He didn’t show the same care in interpretation of biblical texts that he would have shown, I assume, in the literature of his own generation. He spoke as though the ancient Hebrews were not merely ancient but extraordinarily gullible and dumb. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that his stated definition of god was that of a false god.

It is also worth remembering that his mother, with whom he was especially close, died a suicide during an extra-marital affair with an Anglican priest. That kind of thing can distort one’s view of God and life. All this to say that we are especially incompetent to judge what forces are at play on the hearts and minds of those with whom we share the faith.

Back to what I consider so tragic. In his struggle to live he insisted on integrity by which he meant the perseverance in his atheism. He rejected the possibility that these extreme moments might be opportunities to reevaluate his atheistic stance. He even warned that if news were reported of his conversion that we should take it to mean that the cancer had reached his brain before death did. Life throws at us certain jarring experiences which bring us to the end of our resources and reveal how limited we are in the face of life’s and death’s mysteries. I make no judgment on his place in the after life. That is outside our jurisdiction.

Who knows what grace might suddenly become operative in those closing moments as we decline into the depths. No, what I find tragic is that he didn’t appear to remain open to the intervention of God in his soul. From his published remarks, he steeled himself to die as an atheist in order to encourage fellow atheists to continue the “secular revolution.” What would have been his end on earth had he not apparently barred the gate of his heart to the motions of divine grace? To operate as though under command to maintain his atheistic faith to the end seems bizarre. Atheism promises nothing and death is inevitable. But it is this persistence in his faith that he choose to display to the world and we do him no service to deny that, by his own lights, he rejected his Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. His brother, Peter, a Christian with whom he had many years of conflict, sees in his brother’s death a model of courage. I can see that. I only wish it hadn’t been courage to persevere against any possible whisperings of divine love from a God who loved him far more than a brother.


  1. Hitchens staked out and waged what is arguably his biggest and most outrageously hateful attack against Mother Teresa, who hovered over, cared for and attentively loved the dying throughout her life here below. Perhaps we will ALL be happily surprised at her loving presence at his deathbed when we, it is hoped, enter eternal rest in the Lord! So be it!

  2. I do not have a hard time believing he did not know better. Faith is a gift of grace. To be open to the intervention of God is a gift of grace. I know he is loved by God and forgiven because of Christ's words on the Cross. He was not an enemy. The suicide of his mother during an affair with an Anglican priest is extremely traumatic especially in the formation of his view of religion.
    I know of an atheist who died in April of 2005 and was pronounced dead for about 20 minutes. All of a sudden he awakened from his death and told doctors and nurses close by that he had a vision of being surrounded by a bright light and heard singing that was more beautiful than anything he had ever heard. Out of the light came John Paul II and approached him and gave him a blessing. It was at that point that he awakened in the room where he had been left. He was then told that John Paul II had also died that day. I have no doubts about God's Love for those furthest from Him.

  3. Al, I wonder what about him did you like? From all the "quotes" I've heard from him, he was just a shock jock not to be taken seriously. I agree, we can't judge his soul. But he was ever flippant and defiant and never seemed to give an honest look or portrayal to theism. We can have sympathy for his troubling background, sure, but I was just curious as to what was "likeable" about him? Wasn't he the one on your radio show a year or two ago that made some comment about some Orthodox painting that was totally dishonest? You followed up on that in the subsequent show. I can't remember if that was Hitchens or one of the others.... :)

  4. Never have I read anything that could come close to the thought provoking discourse in 'god is not great.' I have purchased it for every one of my friends and associates and recommend it to everyone that stands still long enough! Thank you Mr. Hitchens.