The death of Christians’ favorite atheist

Christopher Hitchens, one of the “new atheists,” has died of cancer at age 62.  An iconoclast skeptical not only about religion but about conventional liberalism, Hitchens won wide respect, including that of many Christians who debated him.  One of his sparring partners, Doug Wilson, has written a good account of the man and his unbelief for Christianity Today (which also links to their written debates):

Christopher Hitchens Has Died, Doug Wilson Reflects | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Hitchens was something of a staple on the Washington, D. C., social scene, and I’ve talked with several people I know who met him at a party or some such and hung out with him.  He was said to be an unusually friendly and likeable person, even to people he disagreed with, as well as a very stimulating conversationalist on virtually any issue.

He is being called Christians’ favorite atheist.  Many had been praying for his conversion, something that did happen to his brother Peter.  It’s hard to imagine so many Christians writing tributes to Richard Dawkins.

Hitchens wrote books condemning God and, what might be worse in some circles, Mother Teresa, and yet lots of Christians, while disagreeing with him, liked him.  What was his secret?  How could he be both so cuttingly negative to what people hold so dear and yet so winsome?  Is there anything that the other side could learn from him?

UPDATE:  The arch-confessional Lutheran journalist Mollie Hemingway knew Hitchens, to the point of co-hosting a baby shower with him and his wife, so her thoughts are especially interesting.

UPDATE:  Ross Douthat may have the definitive answer about why Christians liked him:

Intellectually minded Christians, in particular, had a habit of talking about Hitchens as though he were one of them already — a convert in the making, whose furious broadsides against God were just the prelude to an inevitable reconciliation. (Or as a fellow Catholic once murmured to me: “He just protests a bit too much, don’t you think?”) This is not a sentiment that was often expressed about Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or any other member of the New Atheist tribe. But where Hitchens was concerned, no insult he hurled or blasphemy he uttered could shake the almost-filial connection that many Christians felt for him.

Some of this reflected his immense personal charm, his willingness to debate with Baptists and drink with Catholics and be comradely to anyone who took ideas seriously. But there was something deeper at work as well. American Christian intellectual life is sustained today, to a large extent, by the work of writers very much like Hitchens — by essayists and journalists and novelists and poets, from G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis to W. H. Auden and Evelyn Waugh, who shared his English roots, his gift for argument and his abiding humanism.

Recognizing this affinity, many Christian readers felt that in Hitchens’s case there had somehow been a terrible mix-up, and that a writer who loved the King James Bible and “Brideshead Revisited” surely belonged with them, rather than with the bloodless prophets of a world lit only by Science.

For a sample of Hitchen’s masterful, yea, C. S. Lewis-style of essay writing, click that link to his tribute to the King James Bible.

HT:  Matthew Schmitz

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Two basic reasons:

    1. He had a way with words – he was an excellent wordsmith.
    2. He had a very good sense of humour. His liking and knowledge of, for instance, PG Wodehouse, was almost legendary. That says a lot.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Two basic reasons:

    1. He had a way with words – he was an excellent wordsmith.
    2. He had a very good sense of humour. His liking and knowledge of, for instance, PG Wodehouse, was almost legendary. That says a lot.

  • kenneth

    He was the uglification par excellence, He loved to muddy the waters and grate on negativism which is somehow a relief from over stuffy issue debates. It is said that beauty and truth is too hard for a lot of people, they can not handle truth, it requires too much. Hey, that was Dostoyevsy’s Grand Inquistor who said that. The Lost-oevsy has shown us the devil and he was in the form of Hitchens.

  • kenneth

    He was the uglification par excellence, He loved to muddy the waters and grate on negativism which is somehow a relief from over stuffy issue debates. It is said that beauty and truth is too hard for a lot of people, they can not handle truth, it requires too much. Hey, that was Dostoyevsy’s Grand Inquistor who said that. The Lost-oevsy has shown us the devil and he was in the form of Hitchens.

  • Kirk

    People liked him because he wasn’t some sound bite iconoclast that just spit out little idioms that appealed to the lowest common denominator of his fans. He knew so much about so many things and could express himself so well that people could accept his controversial opinions as at least being well thought out, even if they were wrong. And he was funny.

  • Kirk

    People liked him because he wasn’t some sound bite iconoclast that just spit out little idioms that appealed to the lowest common denominator of his fans. He knew so much about so many things and could express himself so well that people could accept his controversial opinions as at least being well thought out, even if they were wrong. And he was funny.

  • SKPeterson

    He supported the war against Iraq. That in and of itself made him instantly popular in many Washington circles.

  • SKPeterson

    He supported the war against Iraq. That in and of itself made him instantly popular in many Washington circles.

  • Tom Hering

    It’s revealing that Hitchens asked certain friends to speak out after his death – to publicly reaffirm his commitment to atheism in the event of a death bed conversion (caused, as he believed it only could be caused, by some loss of mental faculties at the end).

    In one sense, then, Hitchens was concerned about what happened to him after death. He wasn’t so different from the rest of us, after all.

  • Tom Hering

    It’s revealing that Hitchens asked certain friends to speak out after his death – to publicly reaffirm his commitment to atheism in the event of a death bed conversion (caused, as he believed it only could be caused, by some loss of mental faculties at the end).

    In one sense, then, Hitchens was concerned about what happened to him after death. He wasn’t so different from the rest of us, after all.

  • CRB

    I’ve often thought, had Hitchens been born a few decades earlier, what a debate with C.S.Lewis might have been like. That would probably have been well-attended!

  • CRB

    I’ve often thought, had Hitchens been born a few decades earlier, what a debate with C.S.Lewis might have been like. That would probably have been well-attended!

  • DonS

    He had a magnetic personality, was intelligent, respectful of worthy opponents (meaning those who wanted to genuinely engage ideas, rather than spout the P.C. nonsense that passes for public discourse today), yet also was coarsely counter-cultural.

    He had a difficult upbringing, and a poignant relationship with his brother Peter, particularly after Peter’s conversion. Unfortunately, Peter’s last visit with him, a few days before he died in a Houston hospital, did not indicate any change of heart on Christopher’s part concerning the Gospel of Christ, so if he was converted, it would have to have been in his last few hours. I hope so.

  • DonS

    He had a magnetic personality, was intelligent, respectful of worthy opponents (meaning those who wanted to genuinely engage ideas, rather than spout the P.C. nonsense that passes for public discourse today), yet also was coarsely counter-cultural.

    He had a difficult upbringing, and a poignant relationship with his brother Peter, particularly after Peter’s conversion. Unfortunately, Peter’s last visit with him, a few days before he died in a Houston hospital, did not indicate any change of heart on Christopher’s part concerning the Gospel of Christ, so if he was converted, it would have to have been in his last few hours. I hope so.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    I never read any of his works and never had even a tiny bit of interest in doing so. If that makes me uncultured, or unengaged with modern culture, so be it.

    Another atheist has gone to his eternal doom, as far as we can tell, from every human perspective. I wish there was some hope to hold out for him, but…doesn’t seem to be.

    The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    I never read any of his works and never had even a tiny bit of interest in doing so. If that makes me uncultured, or unengaged with modern culture, so be it.

    Another atheist has gone to his eternal doom, as far as we can tell, from every human perspective. I wish there was some hope to hold out for him, but…doesn’t seem to be.

    The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

  • Dennis Peskey

    The truly sad ending to Mr. Hitchen’s life was he never knew God. He knew of Him and, from the debates I listened to showed Christopher read the Bible more than most of us. What Christopher never saw in his readings of God’s Word is Christ; he saw only a disconnected history, a moral code which he did not entirely reject and finally, a God who declared Christopher a sinner for his disobedience and lack of faith. Dr. Frank Turek summed up Christopher’s view of Christianity best saying, “Christopher did not believe God existed; and hated him.”
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    The truly sad ending to Mr. Hitchen’s life was he never knew God. He knew of Him and, from the debates I listened to showed Christopher read the Bible more than most of us. What Christopher never saw in his readings of God’s Word is Christ; he saw only a disconnected history, a moral code which he did not entirely reject and finally, a God who declared Christopher a sinner for his disobedience and lack of faith. Dr. Frank Turek summed up Christopher’s view of Christianity best saying, “Christopher did not believe God existed; and hated him.”
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • #4 Kitty

    I miss him already.

  • #4 Kitty

    I miss him already.

  • Dust

    Dennis at 9….that statement is a variation of a statement said to be true of all atheists: they say that there is no God, but they still hate Him :)

    Cheers!

  • Dust

    Dennis at 9….that statement is a variation of a statement said to be true of all atheists: they say that there is no God, but they still hate Him :)

    Cheers!

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    One of the top five people I’d like to drink with.
    Preferably single malt scotch, starting the discussion/argument with Wolfhart Pannenberg.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    One of the top five people I’d like to drink with.
    Preferably single malt scotch, starting the discussion/argument with Wolfhart Pannenberg.

  • Dennis Peskey

    Pastor Spomer – Chances a good he’d probably love to have a drink with you now – either scotch with a lot of rocks or just plain cool water.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    Pastor Spomer – Chances a good he’d probably love to have a drink with you now – either scotch with a lot of rocks or just plain cool water.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Grace

    Christopher Hitchens Interviewed by Anderson Cooper
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgCq2T-v-Mo

    For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
    1 Corinthians 1:18

  • Grace

    Christopher Hitchens Interviewed by Anderson Cooper
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgCq2T-v-Mo

    For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
    1 Corinthians 1:18

  • Kirk

    Fun fact: Hitchens was pro-life. Not a particularly strong campaigner, but he acknowledged fetuses as children and human beings and repudiated the notion that they were outgrowths of their mothers. He said that the question abortion was not one of the rights of the mother.

  • Kirk

    Fun fact: Hitchens was pro-life. Not a particularly strong campaigner, but he acknowledged fetuses as children and human beings and repudiated the notion that they were outgrowths of their mothers. He said that the question abortion was not one of the rights of the mother.

  • Grace

    Hitchens had a vast vocabulary. He used it in many ways to make his arguments against God ‘appear as though he knew what he was talking about. However, in doing so, if you listened to him carefully, it became apparent his arguments were ‘hidden within clever posturing, rather than a true grasp of Scripture. He believed in his intellect.. an example below:

    “I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.”
    Hitch-22

    The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.
    Psalms 53

    In the above post, a line which reads: “Christians’ favorite atheist I would posit, Hitchens was the poster boy for Satan’s work. of which there is no admiration, or respect coming from the majority of those who are Christian Believers – understanding the inane ramblings of an ‘atheist who considered himself ‘wise.

  • Grace

    Hitchens had a vast vocabulary. He used it in many ways to make his arguments against God ‘appear as though he knew what he was talking about. However, in doing so, if you listened to him carefully, it became apparent his arguments were ‘hidden within clever posturing, rather than a true grasp of Scripture. He believed in his intellect.. an example below:

    “I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.”
    Hitch-22

    The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.
    Psalms 53

    In the above post, a line which reads: “Christians’ favorite atheist I would posit, Hitchens was the poster boy for Satan’s work. of which there is no admiration, or respect coming from the majority of those who are Christian Believers – understanding the inane ramblings of an ‘atheist who considered himself ‘wise.

  • John C

    I’ve just got a text message from Christopher that said it was hot down here followed by another that said he was right about Mother Therese.

  • John C

    I’ve just got a text message from Christopher that said it was hot down here followed by another that said he was right about Mother Therese.

  • Michael B.

    Just a quick note to Paul T. McCain and Dennis Peskey:

    If Hitchens is in hell, so are all your dead unbelieving parents, children, and family.

  • Michael B.

    Just a quick note to Paul T. McCain and Dennis Peskey:

    If Hitchens is in hell, so are all your dead unbelieving parents, children, and family.

  • Grace

    Michael @ 18

    Anyone who has not believed in the LORD Jesus Christ as Savior, and then dies, is not going to Heaven. That would mean anyone, friends and family.

  • Grace

    Michael @ 18

    Anyone who has not believed in the LORD Jesus Christ as Savior, and then dies, is not going to Heaven. That would mean anyone, friends and family.

  • Dust

    One of my favorite websites is Uncommon Knowledge from the Hoover Institution on Stanford University. It’s pretty much a conservative think tank, but sort of like William F. Buckley, they often have “liberal” guests and one of those was Christopher Hitchens.

    Here are some links to the first of a usual series of 5 short videos. If you like them, you can find the others on your own, am sure!

    1. With William F. Buckley on the 60′s and Vietnam, etc:

    http://tv.nationalreview.com/uncommonknowledge/post/?q=M2U2YzRjM2E1YmI2ZWMwNjNjNTlkZWZmNzNmMDhlYTQ=

    2. with Victor David Hanson on WWII:

    http://tv.nationalreview.com/uncommonknowledge/post/?q=NWQyMWM3M2RmYTUwYmQ1ZTgzOTYxNWI2NWU0YWJlZWM=

    3. with Robert Service on Trotsky:

    http://tv.nationalreview.com/uncommonknowledge/post/?q=YjI1Y2M4YmM4YWEzNDQzZDIxOGJkYWZhY2RkMmZmMTM=

    4. There’s supposed to be one with David Brooks on Orwell which should be a great one…would even pay to see it :)

    Cheers!

  • Dust

    One of my favorite websites is Uncommon Knowledge from the Hoover Institution on Stanford University. It’s pretty much a conservative think tank, but sort of like William F. Buckley, they often have “liberal” guests and one of those was Christopher Hitchens.

    Here are some links to the first of a usual series of 5 short videos. If you like them, you can find the others on your own, am sure!

    1. With William F. Buckley on the 60′s and Vietnam, etc:

    http://tv.nationalreview.com/uncommonknowledge/post/?q=M2U2YzRjM2E1YmI2ZWMwNjNjNTlkZWZmNzNmMDhlYTQ=

    2. with Victor David Hanson on WWII:

    http://tv.nationalreview.com/uncommonknowledge/post/?q=NWQyMWM3M2RmYTUwYmQ1ZTgzOTYxNWI2NWU0YWJlZWM=

    3. with Robert Service on Trotsky:

    http://tv.nationalreview.com/uncommonknowledge/post/?q=YjI1Y2M4YmM4YWEzNDQzZDIxOGJkYWZhY2RkMmZmMTM=

    4. There’s supposed to be one with David Brooks on Orwell which should be a great one…would even pay to see it :)

    Cheers!

  • Dennis Peskey

    Michael B (#18) You do realize what you wrote is truth and applies beyond my family to the entire world.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    Michael B (#18) You do realize what you wrote is truth and applies beyond my family to the entire world.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Grace

    It’s rather astonishing; those who claim to be Christians, having a difficult time dealing with those who don’t believe in Christ as Savior, going to hell. That’s exactly where they will be.

    32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

    33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

    Matthew 10

    Christ Jesus statement below:

  • Grace

    It’s rather astonishing; those who claim to be Christians, having a difficult time dealing with those who don’t believe in Christ as Savior, going to hell. That’s exactly where they will be.

    32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

    33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

    Matthew 10

    Christ Jesus statement below:

  • Grace

    “Christ Jesus statement below:” was meant to be, before the passage of Scripture

  • Grace

    “Christ Jesus statement below:” was meant to be, before the passage of Scripture

  • Kirk

    @17

    Glorying in damnation. How delightful.

  • Kirk

    @17

    Glorying in damnation. How delightful.

  • Michael B.

    This is what I want anyone on this forum to explain to me: If Hitchens is in hell right now for his sins, why aren’t your unbelieving dead family and friends there as well?

    Many of you must have close friends and family that died who are unbelievers, Jews, Catholics, Mormon, or maybe just a Christian whose beliefs aren’t quite right. Why aren’t they in hell?

    You worship a god of your own making, where none of your dear ones go to hell, but rather only people you don’t care for, like Hitchens.

  • Michael B.

    This is what I want anyone on this forum to explain to me: If Hitchens is in hell right now for his sins, why aren’t your unbelieving dead family and friends there as well?

    Many of you must have close friends and family that died who are unbelievers, Jews, Catholics, Mormon, or maybe just a Christian whose beliefs aren’t quite right. Why aren’t they in hell?

    You worship a god of your own making, where none of your dear ones go to hell, but rather only people you don’t care for, like Hitchens.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael B. (@25) said,

    You worship a god of your own making, where none of your dear ones go to hell, but rather only people you don’t care for, like Hitchens.

    Um, and you’re battling straw men and not even paying attention.

    Seriously, read Dennis’ reply to you again (@21). I’m quite sure that most of us here believe that our non-Christian friends will go to Hell, absent their coming to faith later in life. And it makes us sad. Which is why we talk to those unbelievers about what we believe.

    For someone hanging out on a Christian blog, you seem to know remarkably little about Christians or Christianity, Michael.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael B. (@25) said,

    You worship a god of your own making, where none of your dear ones go to hell, but rather only people you don’t care for, like Hitchens.

    Um, and you’re battling straw men and not even paying attention.

    Seriously, read Dennis’ reply to you again (@21). I’m quite sure that most of us here believe that our non-Christian friends will go to Hell, absent their coming to faith later in life. And it makes us sad. Which is why we talk to those unbelievers about what we believe.

    For someone hanging out on a Christian blog, you seem to know remarkably little about Christians or Christianity, Michael.

  • Grace

    Michael @ 25

    Why aren’t they in hell?”

    What makes you think they are not?

    My father, a pastor often went to the hospitals to visit the sick, comfort the families. There were times when my father sat by the bedside of one who was dying. My father told the story of a man who did not believe, who was taking his last breaths .. as he said moments before his death – “I can feel the flames, I can feel the flames” – my father could do nothing, the man had denied Christ. My father told us that those who were unsaved many times, became very upset just before they died, there was no peace. No one needs to live their life without Christ Jesus as their Savior, if they DO, it’s because they chose that path.

    When a loved turns their back on Jesus Christ, and then dies, it is sad. The pain of knowing they are not going to heaven, never will we see them again, is sorrow personified.

    Michael, we as Christian Believers tell others about Jesus Christ, pointing them to the Scriptures. One cannot make anyone Believe in Christ, it is the individuals choice to believe or disbelieve. Those of us who have loved ones who have strayed, or turned away from Christ pray for them, that they might have a change of heart.

    Hitchens made it crystal clear that he did not believe in God. He debated endlessly against Christ – he defied God ALMIGHTY for all to see. I sorrow for his brother Peter, who is a Christian.

  • Grace

    Michael @ 25

    Why aren’t they in hell?”

    What makes you think they are not?

    My father, a pastor often went to the hospitals to visit the sick, comfort the families. There were times when my father sat by the bedside of one who was dying. My father told the story of a man who did not believe, who was taking his last breaths .. as he said moments before his death – “I can feel the flames, I can feel the flames” – my father could do nothing, the man had denied Christ. My father told us that those who were unsaved many times, became very upset just before they died, there was no peace. No one needs to live their life without Christ Jesus as their Savior, if they DO, it’s because they chose that path.

    When a loved turns their back on Jesus Christ, and then dies, it is sad. The pain of knowing they are not going to heaven, never will we see them again, is sorrow personified.

    Michael, we as Christian Believers tell others about Jesus Christ, pointing them to the Scriptures. One cannot make anyone Believe in Christ, it is the individuals choice to believe or disbelieve. Those of us who have loved ones who have strayed, or turned away from Christ pray for them, that they might have a change of heart.

    Hitchens made it crystal clear that he did not believe in God. He debated endlessly against Christ – he defied God ALMIGHTY for all to see. I sorrow for his brother Peter, who is a Christian.

  • John C

    Some christians believe in hell Michael, others do not. Some believe in Universal Reconciliation. This is good news for Hitchens for it means his new address is only temporary.
    The Irish know a lot about hell so Hitchens may have benefited from the following blessing, ‘May you get to heaven before the devil knows you’ve got there.’

  • John C

    Some christians believe in hell Michael, others do not. Some believe in Universal Reconciliation. This is good news for Hitchens for it means his new address is only temporary.
    The Irish know a lot about hell so Hitchens may have benefited from the following blessing, ‘May you get to heaven before the devil knows you’ve got there.’

  • Michael B.

    @Todd
    “I’m quite sure that most of us here believe that our non-Christian friends will go to Hell. And it makes us sad.”

    I certainly understand. If you have an unsaved brother, sister, mom, dad or child who died, it may be somewhat distressing to think of them being tortured in agony this very moment. It’s definitely a bummer, no question about that. I can kind of relate. Several Christmases ago, my sister was got stuck at Chicago O’Hare airport due to winter storms. Unfortunately they couldn’t book her in a proper hotel, because so many other people had already been delayed, so she had to stay in this really seedy motel in a bad area of town, and didn’t even get decent dinner that night. On top of all this, they lose her luggage. At my parent’s house we all felt bad being merry and celebrating knowing how much of a horrible time my sister was having in Chicago. So I can understand how you might be sad about one of your relatives being in excruciating pain at the moment, especially around the holidays.

  • Michael B.

    @Todd
    “I’m quite sure that most of us here believe that our non-Christian friends will go to Hell. And it makes us sad.”

    I certainly understand. If you have an unsaved brother, sister, mom, dad or child who died, it may be somewhat distressing to think of them being tortured in agony this very moment. It’s definitely a bummer, no question about that. I can kind of relate. Several Christmases ago, my sister was got stuck at Chicago O’Hare airport due to winter storms. Unfortunately they couldn’t book her in a proper hotel, because so many other people had already been delayed, so she had to stay in this really seedy motel in a bad area of town, and didn’t even get decent dinner that night. On top of all this, they lose her luggage. At my parent’s house we all felt bad being merry and celebrating knowing how much of a horrible time my sister was having in Chicago. So I can understand how you might be sad about one of your relatives being in excruciating pain at the moment, especially around the holidays.

  • trotk

    Michael, is your analogy meant to be a joke?

  • trotk

    Michael, is your analogy meant to be a joke?

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