I was saddened to read this morning of the death of Christopher Hitchens.
WASHINGTON — British-born journalist and atheist intellectual Christopher Hitchens, who made the United States his home and backed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, died on Thursday at the age of 62.
Hitchens died in Houston of pneumonia, a complication of cancer of the esophagus, Vanity Fair magazine said.
“Christopher Hitchens – the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant – died today at the age of 62,” Vanity Fair said.
A heavy smoker and drinker, Hitchens cut short a book tour for his memoir “Hitch 22” last year to undergo chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer.
As a journalist, war correspondent and literary critic, Hitchens carved out a reputation for barbed repartee, scathing critiques of public figures and a fierce intelligence.
In his 2007 book “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” Hitchens took on major religions with his trenchant atheism. He argued that religion was the source of all tyranny and that many of the world’s evils have been done in the name of religion.
A year and a half ago I read Hitchens’ ‘God is not Great‘, and as a Christian I found it oddly comforting. Not that I enjoyed his anger, of course. The subtitle tells it all: ‘How religion poisons everything’. Really?Everything? I mean, I’m quite prepared to concede that some religion poisons some things, but ‘religion poisons everything‘?
No, what I found oddly comforting was the weakness of the arguments (well exposed in Hitchens’ brother Peter’s book The Rage Against God). As I said at the time, I’m not an expert in many of the areas Hitchens writes about, but I do know a fair bit about New Testament scholarship. In his chapter on the New Testament I identified at least fifteen glaring errors. This does not bode well for the accuracy of the rest of the book. Hitchens was a journalist dabbling in science, philosophy, theology, biblical scholarship etc., but he definitely needed to do his homework better.
Still, he was a formidable opponent for Christians and a brilliant debater, and he skillfully raised the big questions that we Christians need to face. I will never forget hearing him in debate once answering the ‘argument from design’ by pointing out that there is visible in the night sky a galaxy that is presently on a collision course with our own; some time in the future, there will be an almighty crash. ‘If this is design’, he said, ‘there’s a serious flaw in it’. Indeed; where does a fact like that fit into our theology of creation?
I’m not going to indulge in the vain wish that Hitchens had a deathbed conversion; far from it:
Hitchens gave short shrift to the “insulting” suggestion that cancer might persuade him to change his position where reason had not, arguing that to ditch principles “held for a lifetime, in the hope of gaining favour at the last minute” would be a “hucksterish choice”, and urging those who had taken it upon themselves to pray for him not to “trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries”.
I simply hope that he finds that the God he never expected to meet is more patient and merciful than he is often made out to be.