Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Goes Forth to Meet His Maker

In the morning when I lift my tired body from my bed and go about the business of preparing for another day, I prefer absolute silence, but usually I turn on the radio even though I loathe the voices of those morning personalities. All I want is to return to the comfort of my bed, but these jokesters sound delighted to have braved the frigid autumn air to report to a workplace. I endure their cheerfulness because if an earth-shaking event - an earthquake, a terrorist attack - has occurred while I slept, I want to be aware of it. There wasn’t anything comparable in the news on Friday morning, but I did learn that Christopher Hitchens had died the day before at age 62, finally succumbing to the cancer with which he was diagnosed in June 2010.

Hitchens had been around a long time, writing for such “progressive” publications as The Nation, but he really seemed to capture the public’s attention in the past decade when his bass voice and elegant prose turned from concerns of the left to championing George W. Bush and his War on Terror. Suddenly, Hitchens, whom Gore Vidal once considered his heir, smeared Vidal as a crackpot for believing, as many do, that Bush and company were complicit in the attacks of 9/11 and that the War on Terror was really a war on us - the citizens of the United States. Hitchens was suddenly welcome to spout off on the radio shows of such conservative talkers as Dennis Prager and Michael Medved, even though both men are observant Jews and supporters of Christianity, while Hitchens was an outspoken atheist and critic of religion. It was in the latter guise that Hitchens was best known in the final years of his life, mainly owing to his best seller, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

I never read any of Hitchens’ denunciations of religion, but the title of his book could make one suspect that he wasn’t as much of an atheist as he claimed. If God does not exist, it’s irrelevant to speak of His greatness or lack thereof. That which does not exist is nothing. It has no character whatsoever. Furthermore, if there is no God, would anyone even consider the question of His existence? C. S. Lewis didn’t think so, and neither do I. No one would worship God or choose competing idols to fill the void that has existed since Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. There would be no icons in any field. We would feel no need to look up to anyone, even a parent.

Hitchens stepped into eternity unrepentant, supposedly touched by those who prayed on his behalf, but steadfast in his denial of God. He insisted that any reports of a deathbed conversion should be dismissed as a lie or the words of a “raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain.” He also expressed no regrets about the booze and particularly the cigarettes that may have played a part in the cancer that killed him. “Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that - or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation - is worth it to me.”

© 2011 Brian W. Fairbanks


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