Skip to comments.Is Christopher Hitchens about to convert? (Could he become a Christian?)
Posted on 12/10/2011 8:17:18 PM PST by SeekAndFind
Its a possibility that doesnt seem laughable anymore. Hitchens, the celebrated British journalist, angry atheist and roué, has a very powerful piece in the January issue of Vanity Fair. Hitchens has been in Houston undergoing treatment for esophageal cancer, which he was diagnosed with in 2010.
In his essay, Hitchens rejects a popular aphorism attributed to Nietzsche: Whatever doesnt kill me makes me stronger. Hitchens had thought of the phrase at different points in his life where he narrowly escaped death experiences told well in his memoir Hitch-22. After enduring chemotherapy and radiation treatments that made swallowing unbearable and left his entire body a rash, Hitchens rejects Nietzsches slogan. In the brute physical world, Hitchens writes, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, dont kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker. Hitchens speculates that some maladies are so devastating that it may be better to have not lived, while acknowledging that sometimes we push through the pain and reach the other side glad that we hadnt given up.
Rejecting one of the more sophomoric of Nietzsches aphorisms may seem small, but out of such moments are great conversions made. I am currently working on a documentary about Whittaker Chambers, the great writer who left communism in the late 1930s and wrote a masterpiece, Witness, about the ordeal. Chamberss faith in communism began to unravel when he watched his baby daughter Ellen eating at the breakfast table. Chambers began to focus on the young girls ear:
The thought passed through my mind: No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design. The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.
Perhaps Hitchenss admission that Nietzsche might have been wrong, even about something small, will lead him to a healthy curiosity about Christianity. Up until now, Hitchens has had nothing but bile for Christianity and all religion including the religion of Marxism, which Hitchens, a former leftist, eventually admitted could not survive the onslaught of reality. But Hitchenss attacks on religion were always propelled by the kind of fury that one usually finds in zealots and former believers; its always the ex-Catholics (Maureen Dowd, etc.) who are the hardest on the Church. I found God is Not Great, Hitchenss anti-religion rant, unreadable not because it argues against religion, but because it does so in such an angry, scattershot and childish way. As David Bentley Hart once wrote, God is Not Great is a book that raises the non sequitur almost to the level of a dialectical method. Oh, for the book where Hitchens takes on Aquinas, Augustine, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Robert P. George, George Weigel and Hans Urs von Balthasar. I guess its much easier to pick on Mother Teresa, which Hitchens has done with particular gusto.
Hitchens certainly has the intellectual ability to take on some great Christian thinkers and perhaps reassess his prior positions. I knew that he was a brave soul as far back as 1989, when I was an intern at The Nation magazine. Hitchens had been a writer for the magazine (he had just moved on to Harpers when I arrived), and I remember finding a bunch of hate mail addressed to Hitchens in a file. It was from feminists who were angry that Hitchens had come out as pro-life (video evidence can be found here). I knew at that moment that he was a brave and honest thinker. A couple weeks later, I met the man himself at a party. I engaged him in conversation and tried to sell him on the greatness of the band the Clash. He didnt buy it, calling the group nihilistic. A colleague from The Nation pulled me aside and said that Hitch would probably be better if I asked him about 19th-century British poets.
I remained a fan of Hitchens over the years, but didnt see him up close again until January 2010, at a party for the launch of The Daily Caller. As soon as I saw him, I knew something was wrong. I had been diagnosed with cancer (non-Hodgkins lymphoma) in 2008, and when I saw Hitchens, I felt like I was seeing myself from two years prior. He had the same ashen look. I reintroduced myself and reminded him about our conversation about the Clash. He examined my face and then said, Yes, I think I do remember that.
A few months later, Hitchens was diagnosed. Since then he has done something that is not easy write with great insight and originality about cancer, a disease that lends itself to cheesy empowerment sloganeering and weepy martyr kitsch. His latest piece in Vanity Fair is the best yet. He avoids the cheap sentiment thats part of so much writing about the illness. He celebrates life while saying that its also okay to die if it comes to that. The only one who did it better was Richard John Neuhaus in his book As I Lay Dying.
In his piece, Hitchens admits that the brutality of his treatment has made him reassess the bravado he showed about death in Hitch-22, where he claimed he wanted to be fully awake and conscious at the moment death came, in order to enjoy the ride fully. Now that death has, if not arrived, at least driven by the house, Hitch is not so sure.
I wouldnt tell Christopher Hitchens that now is the time to get right with the Lord, or to pray or read the Bible. I wouldnt try and convince him of the resurrection. I would only ask him to entertain the notion that love the love he has for his life, his wife and his children, the love his readers have for him and the love that the doctors and nurses are showing him is a real thing whose origins are worth exploring without glibness (sorry, saying love for your fellow mammals doesnt require religion, as Hitchens did once, doesnt cut it). It also can be done without Christophobia. I know that my discovery that I had cancer focused my mind on discovering the true nature of things, and Im not talking about wishful thinking.
Ironically, there is a kind of symmetry between Hitchens and his declared enemy, Mother Teresa, whom Hitchens wrote a nasty book about and called a fanatic and a fraud (yawn). In her 2009 book Come Be My Light, published posthumously (Mother Teresa died in 1997), Mother Teresa writes of long periods, indeed years, of darkness and suffering, during which she felt that God wasnt there. After the book was published, Hitchens went on TV to gloat. Even Mother Teresa didnt believe it! In fact, Mother Teresa was going through what many saints do, a dark night of the soul. Such things can make us doubt God, and that is anything but an unholy thing. As Chesterton noted, Christianity is the only religion that allows God to be an atheist (Why have you forsaken me?). Perhaps Hitchens is going through something similar. And as Mother Teresas pain made her doubt her God, in second-guessing Nietzsche, Hitchens may be doubting his.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock n Roll.
Let’s keep praying for him.
If he is, I’d suggest he hurry.
HItchens is the sort of soul that I pray for. If you’ll all pardon a double negative, he is not “neither hot nor cold.”
I don’t pray for a public, grand reversal. If God seeks to fulfill his life in that way, so be it. It might be great publicity for Christ, but Christ needs no publicity, and those who hate Him will not be swayed by Hitchens. In fact, the opportunity for Christians to gloat might be a turnoff. Or, he could become a great, zealous promoter of Christianity, or the notion that he found eternal peace at the very last moment might inspire someone great. But Christ doesn’t need to do things that way; if he does or not, it’s part of a greater plan than we can fathom.
I pray for him because we are commanded to love our enemies, and if I can actually be concerned more for his own soul than what it can do for whatever cause of mine, no matter how just, it will do my own soul well. And if I can pray for him for his own sake, not my own soul’s, then we both shall be better yet.
It would not be the first time “brilliant” atheists converted. CS Lewis comes to mind. Just recently Anthony Flew—one of the leading atheist authors said he is now a Deist. Interesting no one hears of these atheist conversions, although Flew was a leading atheist for much longer than Hitchens and was the author for many books required at all the “elite” universities.
Christ’s words on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is a reference by him to psalm 22 and one should read the whole thing to understand. The last line is “He has done it.”
Good idea. I hate to think of anyone dying as an unrepentant atheist.
Hitchens’ brother is a Christian and is very good at apologetics. I do pray that Hitch will believe too.
The sooner the better, but he has all the time until his last heartbeat — due God’s infinite goodness and mercy.
So if one is a non-believer and gets truly sick, it is ok to trash his/her character, but if a believer gets sick, you seem to have empathy to their sickness. You make me sick.
You call yourselves Christians?? You are an embarrassment to Christ's teachings. Remember this? “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”
Us “non-believers” treat humans with more dignity and respect than you frauds could ever fanthom.
At church we have a man who is a nuclear physicist. He was an atheist but began questioning his beliefs. Started reading a bible and slowly converted. He works on the side for a company called apologetics press. It is publications that use science to teach creation and christianity. Another member is a teacher who also was an atheist. Some of our high school students taught him and he converted. It is possible! :)
He is boring .He thinks he still has a voice but he does not.Good Night Christopher,we still hold you close in prayer.
Not a chance. That’s a real stretch to extrapolate that he would from that comment. But, hey ... here’s hoping.
Hitchens did a disgusting piece in VF on how the 10 commandments are useless & unnecessary. When in fact the opposite is true - if most people followed most of the 10 commandments most of the time, we’d be doing great. This guy deserves what he gets.
I wrote a novelle (Turnabout) about a devout and outspoken atheist Physicist who had a near death experience and came back to the present a firm believer in God and redemption. Perhaps I should write a sequel and have a brash, vitriolic atheist writer as the one turned about.
Cancer attacks the mind, body, and spirit. No one escapes cancer scot free - it comes with a price even if one survives. I believe no one goes through cancer without having or reaching an understanding of the divine in the process. The fabric between this physical world and the spiritual world thins, one cannot help but see the miracles, no matter the eventual outcomes. I had an advanced adenocarcinoma, Mrs FE also survived cancer, both of us going through surgery and heavy chemo (whick took me right to the edge). The experience brought us both closer to God and to each other. I hope Hitchens is experiencing an epiphany.
The author has no business mentioning the latter two in the same sentence as the former three.
I have a brother who is a die hard Roman Catholic and says if it were not for his faith, he could rape, steal and kill. Hell, if that is what it takes for some not to hurt their fellow man, then please STAY Catholic. But remember there are people who do good for “goodness sake” alone. Not because there will be any heavenly reward or eternal hell by not doing the right thing.
Unfortunately, religious people can't understand this...