Christopher Hitchens, Mortality and Calvinism

A month or so ago I finished reading Christopher Hitchens last book, and his last words written, Mortality. Chapter 2 he focuses his attention on his impending death and the role religion plays. More specifically and interestingly he discusses his interaction with different pastors, one being Douglas Wilson. As I read I felt the constant need to gasp for breath. It was painful to read the words of a man contemplating death and being completely oblivious, blind and hard hearted towards God. He spends a section of chapter 2 discussing Calvinism where he writes:

It seems doubly absurd for a Calvinist to take an interest in divine intercession. The founding constitution of the Presbyterian Church famously proclaimed from Philadelphia that “by the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life and others fore-ordained for everlasting death… without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions.” Plainly put, this means that it does not matter whether you try to lead a holy life, or even succeed in doing so. Random caprice will still determine whether or not you receive a heavenly reward. In these circumstances, the emptiness of prayer is almost the least of it. beyond that minor futility, the religion which treats its flock as a credulous play-thing offers one of the cruelest spectacles that can be imagined: a human being in fear and doubt who is openly exploited to believe in the impossible. In the argument over prayer, then, please do not be shocked if it is we atheists who wear the pitying look as any moment of moral crisis threaten to draw near.”

As I read Hitchens trying to understand the gospel, my heart broke. Throughout his life (and it shows in this book), he only saw a part of the picture. It reminded me of the state we are all in from birth and what the Lord does for his people as stated in Ezekiel 36:26-27

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

I wish Hitchens’ explanation of the founding constitution of the Presbyterian Church read more like this:

Plainly put, it doesn’t matter how much we try, we will never be able to live a perfect life, we are sinful beings and we deserve death. But God in his goodness sent his son as a sacrifice, absorbing the wrath of God and in love he chose to save his people, not because of anything he foresaw in them, but unconditionally he chose to remove their heart of stone and he gave them a heart of flesh. Now because of the new life they have been given they want to in everything bring glory to God. They don’t have to pray that God might have mercy on them, rather God has had mercy on them and now out of thankfulness, love and joy they want to pray! In other words, grace mobilizes performance; performance does not mobilize grace.

That is good news and it’s the kind of news I hope and wish for each one of you to believe, accept and live.

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    This was so good. I was deeply sad for the hopeless view of the atheist, yet I was challenged all the more that the Holy spirit must be present for any being to Hear and KNOW the Word of the Lord. This we know: We can only even come to an understanding of God by God. Why would be be surprised of any other view unless God saw fit that this man should have life. We so often cheer and rejoice at the atheist who kneels and recants, yet even in his very explanation of the promise we see he has not been brought from death into life. It is also a testimony of what we know to be true. You can not begin to understand God or any of His ways lest you have Him.

  • Mark Glasscock

    What you have done with this article is truly apalling to me. You have taken the words of a very brave man, words he wrote as he faced death. Not death as Christians see it, not the kind of death that leads you to paradise, but the death that an atheist sees. A real death with no encore or reunion with lost loved ones. Knowing this, you sat down and copied a piece of work that this man wrote (an accurate piece nonetheless) and state that you wish he had written it in a way that glorified something he does not believe in and spent a great part of his life fighting against. I hope you are aware of the depth that your insults have reached. I would imagine that any Christian would be offended if an atheist had published an article saying that he wished that say, C.S. Lewis’s last words would have been something like “Truly belief in God is absolutely preposterous, and it is my wish that any man who still holds faith close to his heart abandon it entirely and adopt a more material-based view of the universe and it’s origins.”

    How absolutely vile would it have been for someone to write something like that? Disagree with him all you want. Call him lost, disgusting, blasphemous or satanic if you’d like. But do not for a moment sit down and tell your readers that you truly wish this man’s last hours had been spent groveling in front of your God with your air of false concern and pity. Perhaps you should invest in some high-calcium supplements to hopefully spur the growth of your ever-shrinking backbone.