Christopher Hitchens, RIP

I’ll probably get more than a few brickbats thrown at me, but I think we should all say a prayer for Mr Hitchens, who passed away the other night at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas from esophageal cancer.

Hitchens was certainly controversial. A contrarian by nature it was hard to pigeon-hole him ideologically. He started out as a Marxist but seemed to end up somewhere on the Right. I think he went where the facts took him –he certainly had the courage of his convictions. And in contrast to the mealy-mouthed, weasel-wording punditocracy that currently rules our age, he was never scared of voicing them.

Though he could be scabrous to religious people (especially if those people were Christians) he was in many ways a prophetic voice. His eloquent defenses of the Kurds, Cyprus, and other lost causes throughout the world will long enshrine him in the pantheon of genuine humanists; his commitment to democratic liberalism likewise will burnish his historical reputation. Certainly, in the struggle against Islamic fascism, he was our Thomas Paine.

I for one don’t believe for a minute that he didn’t in God, at least not subconsciously. One simply doesn’t waste that much intellectual and verbal ammunition on a target that one doesn’t believe exists. (None of us argues against the existence of unicorns for example.) At the risk of being wrong, I found something refreshing and almost Christian about Hitchens. I can’t quite place my finger on it but it seems that thousands of other Christians throughout the world did so as well. He himself acknowledged the prayers that were being offered up for him by us since he was diagnosed some two years ago and was humbled by it.

No doubt he is undergoing extreme spiritual struggles right now as he goes to his reward, nevertheless we can at least thank him for being honest in his theophobia. If nothing else, how much easier did he make it for Christians because he was forthright in his antipathy towards our religion? One could reasonably say that he respected us enough to engage us openly and on our own terms.

Like the other New Atheists (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, et al), we at least knew where Hitchens stood. He articulated his arguments and we responded accordingly. Think of it: how unlike the theological liberals within the Church who really don’t believe in the Gospel, who do not have the courgage of their convictions. Think of the damage they have done to Christianity over the years and continue to this day seek to undermine it because they can’t bring themselves to believe in the transformative power of grace? By contrast, his anti-theism was a vivid target. This is a singular favor he did us and in the end one that will prove more spiritually profitable for those Christians who need to understand what Christ was really about.

Of course he had his faults. His pose of Jewishness was merely that –a pose. According to his brother Peter, their mother may have been one-eight Jewish but based on the fact that her Jewish heritage was transmitted on the matrilineal side, he met only the barest qualifications based on Halakha. Even in this instance, he used his “demi” Jewishness to prove his Jewish bona fides on the one hand while deriding the Old Testament on the other. I suppose he did this in order to inocculate himself against charges of anti-Semitism, which he needed as he was a vociferous opponent of the State of Israel (He certainly despised observant Jews.) Another fault was his drinking; I once saw a picture of him taken at an AHEPA meeting (where he spoke about Cyprus and the evils of Henry Kissinger) with my mother-in-law and a friend of hers, and you could tell that he was definately in his cups. Even when he was inconsistent, he was eloquent and his deep, Oxonian accent intimidated more than one critic who pointed out his inconstancies. And then of course when it came time to educate his beloved daughter, he chose to send her to a parochial school run by the Quakers (Sidwell Friends) rather than a secular public school.

As for his derision of Mother Theresa, what can one say? This was perhaps his greatest fault, and it covered him in no glory at all. A case could certainly be made that he latched onto her massive popularity in order to burnish his own. To be the Anti-Theresa so to speak. If so, it was a foolhardy thing to do as his various “exposes” of her fell rather flat. (He certainly didn’t understand that her own crises of faith were not evidence of fraudulence but what we Christians call the Dark Night of the Soul.) Still, if it was a gamble it could have destroyed his reputation. In any event, people stood up to take notice. There’s always room for the Village Atheist and Hitchens played that part to a T.

So in the end, what can we say about Christopher Hitchens and his possible reward? Our Lord and Savior may have given us a clue. After confronting people who were merely going through the motions of religion he said: “Woe to thee Bethsaida, woe to the Chorazin: it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrha on the day of judgment than for thee!” Based on this criterion, we may all very well be surprised –Hitchens included.


  1. No brickbats. Who knows what happens in the moments between here and there? Only God. In whatever state Mr. Hitchens is at this moment our prayers can only do good.

  2. Peter A. Papoutsis says

    Excellent article George. Very good, and on the money. With love R.I.P. Christopher.

  3. Lola J. Lee Beno says

    I agree. God only knows. I will certainly miss him. May we all hold firm in our convictions as he did.

  4. Milos Konjevich says

    A beautiful piece of writing about a remarkable man, by a remarkable man.

  5. “I for one don’t believe for a minute that he didn’t in God, at least not subconsciously. One simply doesn’t waste that much intellectual and verbal ammunition on a target that one doesn’t believe exists. (None of us argues against the existence of unicorns for example.)”

    George, I agree with a lot of what you have to say here, but not this. It is not an apt analogy. There are not billions of people who believe in unicorns and base many aspects of their decisions and their lifestyle on that belief in a way that have shaped society and history for millennia–hence no compelling reason to argue against them if you do not believe.

    I think one could argue that Mr. Hitchen’s genuine humanism was a form of implicit faith in the true God at least in seed form (even though he would not have recognized that).

    May we indeed hold him and all his family members in our prayers.

    Joyous Nativity to all!

  6. James Potthoff says

    Not so fast. Apparently, one of the terrible things celebrated by Mr. Hitchens was Lenin’s crushing of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    • Hitch saw religion as a force for evil. His secular values let him say horrible things that make me shudder, but they were said in furtherance of ideals that may not be altogether different from mine. For instance, I think we’d both like to see a more peaceful world where people don’t do stupid things for irrational reason. Hitch saw religion as the cause of societal ills, while I see it as the cure. There was horrendous corruption and decadence in the Russian Orthodox Church around the time of the revolution, and in that light, it may not be so difficult to imagine how a secular and anti-religious person like Hitchens would be able to see Lenin as the good guy.

      We’re right to point out and condemn aspects of Hitch’s worldview that support abominable and godless values. On the other hand, I think it’s okay to see what good points we can in his writings and hope that his soul can be saved.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      James, I likewise shuddered at his condemnation of Orthodox Christianity. Unfortunately, I blame his miseducation on this issue because of the general ignorance of Western Christians (esp Protestants) who softened up the near-destruction of Orthodoxy based on their earlier, rationalist critique that was ushered in by the Reformation. I would have withstood Hitchens to the face for these beliefs had I had the opportunity. A lot of his critique was made easier by Darwinism as well. In fact, it’s impossible to maintain a non-theistic worldview without Darwinism.

      Basically, Hitchens had a stick-figure view of Christianity in general, seeing straw men everywhere. Having said that, how was Hitchens any different from some of the critics of Orthodoxy that we’ve encountered on this blog? I don’t want to personize this issue but two critics spring instantly to mind. Don’t they essentially agree with Lenin’s actions (if not his argumentaon)? Recently, as per the Russian Orthodox Church, another critic likewise has likewise echoed Hitchen’s view.

    • Of course, Lenin is dead and so is Hitchens and the Russian Orthodox Church is still here.

      • Geo Michalopulos says

        Fr, that reminds me of that old cliche: “Man plans, God laughs.”

        Think of it though, the absolute brutality that was thrown at the ROC could not destroy it. Maybe that’s why I can overlook Hitchens’ unreasoning bigotry regarding it. I imagine if he still has any issues with Christianity he can take them up with the Lord personally.

        • David Yentzen says

          Hitchens wasted his talents, he should stand as a warning to the rest of us…..talent is not enough. See Gary North’s article, that is all his life( and death) should instill in the rest of us. He was an invective rhetorician who’s work will disappear within a decade.
          Perhaps you should commend your readers to the writings and life of someone like Adm. James Stockdale, an American, a Christian, a war hero that rejected the status of hero. Instead you commend the life and work of a man that worked tirelessly to damage Christianity as much as possible. Puzzling……

          • George Michalopulos says

            David, I’m a huge fan of Adm Stockdale, viewing him as a modern-day Marcus Aurelius (whose Meditations kept him sane while a prisoner in the Hanoi Hilton), but even here the record is not as pristine as we’d like. For instance he was pro-abortion (I’m sorry, if you’re not pro-life, you’re pro-abortion because there really is no such as things as “pro-choice,” it’s a mealy-mouthed locution designed to protect the pro-abortionist from the heinousness of his position), and then he allowed himself to be made a fool of by H Ross Perot. (Hitchens was pro-life believe it or not.)

            Still, you are right, he was very much a better man than Hitchens and his writings and life will be remembered far into the future when Hitchens is long-forgotten.

            Eventually, I’ll write more about Hitchens, exposing what I believed to be his internal, existential, philosophical contradiction, what another atheist, Michael Ruse calls “running with atheists but dining with Christians” (a paraphrase).

  7. cynthia curraWen says

    Chris march to his own drummer on politics from far left to moderatly right at least on the war issue. A lot of his buddies in the far left hated him more than someone like Jim Wallis. Anyway, Mr Hitchens did dislike Islam more since they wanted to adopt the medieval Shara Law and heretic atheists would suffer more, so hence his once support of the war in Iraq.

  8. cynthia curraWen says

    Well, George Christians suffered under Marcus Aurelius reign in Gaul even though he didn’t have an Empire wide perscution of christians but its mention in Euebius’s history. On the oher hand, his son Commodius which the movie Gladator deals with was somewhat a geneal cruel ruler with some odd tastes of things, a lot of mistress, no christian suffered, unless it was a local mob somewhere.