A Few Christian Replies to Hitchens's Death Worth Noting

Shortly before Christopher Hitchens’s death, Andrew Sullivan movingly reminisced about him and gave a sense of how their friendship was so strong despite such differing views on faith:

But Rick Warren epitomized the minds of countless clueless closedmindedly confident Christians when he thought it was tactful to gloat (without offering any evidence) that Christopher now knew that Christians were right. Other ignorant, more fascistic, Christians on Twitter vehemently called for the death of whoever started the meme that “god is not Great”–not knowing who that was, or that he had already died just hours before.

The pastor Doug Wilson at least wrote eloquently about his odd couple experience touring the country with Hitchens debating him, and expressed appreciation for Hitchens’s lack of condescending accomodation towards religious belief. But then he tried to twist some eye-roll-worthy hope that Hitchens was susceptible to converting on his death bed, based on the man’s repeated preemptory warnings—in response to perpetual pestering on the subject—that any rumored professions of faith would be attributable to dementia, denigration, or damnable lies of the kind often used to exploit and misrepresent atheists:

We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever. But we do have every indication that Christ died for sinners, men and women just like Christopher. We know that the Lord has more than once hired workers for his vineyard when the sun was almost down (Matt. 20:6).

We also know that Christopher was worried about this, and was afraid of letting down the infidel team. In a number of interviews during the course of his cancer treatments, he discussed the prospect of a “death bed” conversion, and it was clear that he was concerned about the prospect. But, he assured interviewers, if anything like that ever happened, we should all be certain that the cancer or the chemo orsomething had gotten to his brain. If he confessed faith, then he, the Christopher Hitchens that we all knew, should be counted as already dead. In short, he was preparing a narrative for us, just in case. But it is interesting that the narrative he prepped us with did not involve some ethically challenged evangelical nurses on the late shift who were ready to claim that they had heard him cry out to God, thus misrepresenting another great infidel into heaven. It has been done with Einstein, and with Darwin. Why not Hitchens? But Christopher actually prepared us by saying that if he said anything like this, then he did not know what he was saying.

This is interesting, not so much because of what it says about what he did or did not do as death approached him, and as he at the same time approached death. It is interesting because, when he gave these interviews, he was manifestly in his right mind, and the thought had clearly occurred to him that he might not feel in just a few months the way he did at present. The subject came up repeatedly, and was plainly a concern to him. Christopher Hitchens was baptized in his infancy, and his name means “Christ-bearer.” This created an enormous burden that he tried to shake off his entire life. No creature can ever succeed in doing this. But sometimes, in the kindness of God, such failures can have a gracious twist at the end. We therefore commend Christopher to the Judge of the whole earth, who will certainly do right. Christopher Eric Hitchens (1949-2011). R.I.P.

Sigh. It seems atheists are saved if we do and saved if we don’t when it comes to that breed of Christian who means us well.

Or, we’re not. Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist Convention and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, really meant Hitchens well of course when he wrote, “The death tonight of Christopher Hitchens is an excruciating reminder of the consequences of unbelief. We can only pray others will believe.” When confronted by the internet that death is not a punishment for atheism but a natural occurrence that even happens to religious people, Mohler clarified, “The point about Christopher Hitchens is not that he died of unbelief, but that his unbelief is all that matters now. Unspeakably sad.”

It is unspeakably sad that Mohler thinks that the only thing that matters about Hitchens now is his unbelief. And Mohler betrays the very illogical and immoral character of his beliefs that Hitchens spent years trying to make crystal clear. Mohler thinks that what his god is reputed to do—dismiss all the greatness of a human being’s life and virtues of his character and simply judge him only on whether he believed—is sad. It’s not a good way to judge a human being. It’s not a loving way. It’s not a rational way and it is certainly not a just way either.

And even Mohler betrays that he knows this—that his god’s way of judging is not his own way of judging. Otherwise, why would he find it excruciating to dwell on what his god will purportedly do to Christopher Hitchens. Surely there is nothing that should torment us in eternal justice or the judgments of a god of infinite love? But Mohler does not find it just and good and worth celebrating. It is worth lamenting.

So, in the spirit of mind-reading that is such a craze with Christians, Mohler betrays that he actually does know that there is more of value to Hitchens and that the man is worth preserving, and he laments to think that the man will be discarded over such a trivial matter of whether he believed or not. Worse even—he thinks that Hitchens will be tortured for not believing in and worshiping an invisible, childish, petty, meanspirited, tyrant god who vindictively and eternally punishes those who don’t believe him when there is no evidence for his existene.

Yes, if that were true, it would be unspeakably sad. But thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster it is not true and the only excruciating truth is that untold millions of people like Albert Mohler fervently hope that tyrannical monster exists and spend their lives groveling to him just in case he does.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Michael Heath

    Thanks for the round-up.

  • http://thisruthlessworld.wordpress.com Amused

    I really enjoyed reading Hitchens’ works. True, he’s said some objectionable stuff, but in my opinion, most of it has been blown out of proportion. I’ll miss his column on Slate.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    And even Mohler betrays that he knows this—that his god’s way of judging is not his own way of judging. Otherwise, why would he find it excruciating to dwell on what his god will purportedly do to Christopher Hitchens. Surely there is nothing that should torment us in eternal justice or the judgments of a god of infinite love? But Mohler does not find it just and good and worth celebrating. It is worth lamenting.

    It amazes me that people like Mohler claim their god is a loving, omnibenevolent being while admitting this god will torture people forever for the most picayune faults.

  • davidct

    Good post on the comments by Andrew Sullivan. The man is a decent human being and actually exhibits the christian virtue of compassion.

    As for the rest of the christians they exhibit the typical condescending attitude about death. They make it clear that by their statements that they believe that they have some ultimate control over death. They have no appreciation of how ridiculous their sanctimonious assumption of an afterlife is to a non-believer. To those of us who do not share their delusions, they sound pathetic. They are, after all, trivializing the glories and trials of the real world for the basest form of wishful thinking. They at the same time think that accepting this nonsense gives them some sort of power over we lesser mortals who could care less about the empty promises of faith.

  • http://pharyngula.wikia.com/wiki/User_talk:Markovbaines love moderately ॐ

    Off topic:

    Daniel, some of the links in your sidebar are broken because they lack the “camelswithhammers/” directory:

    # Asking Richard Wade About The Ethics of Lying To Stay In A Protective Closet

    # Asking Richard Wade About Whether Believers and Non-Believers Should Avoid Marrying Each Other

    # Asking Richard Wade About Whether Believers Are Literally Deluded

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks for the heads up! I’ll go back to the tech guys to see if they can get this problem fixed again.


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