Christopher Hitchens: A Singular Voice Silenced – UPDATED

The dreadful day is upon us.

A while back, I wrote:

It will be a dreadful day when this singular voice can no longer reach us via any media but memory.

And now, Vanity Fair announced that Christopher Hitchens is dead.

I like the picture Pat Archbold used In his piece, and so I am stealing it, and I agree with much that Pat has written:

Christopher Hitchens now knows the truth of it. . . . Hitchens may have been most famous for his outspoken atheism. A year and a half ago when Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, I wrote that even if he thought it was stupid, I was praying for him. I still am.

I have no reason to think that Hitchens had a sudden religious awakening at the end, but I can hope. I can hope that at the end there was a small crack in the veneer large enough to let in the light. But I can never know, not in this life.

But there are things I do know. God loved Christopher Hitchens. Always has. He created him out of love. He died for him out of love. And I will pray for him out of love.

The only thing I disagree with, there — because I hope it is not true — is that he “may have been most famous for his outspoken atheism.”

He may have been. Perhaps. But there was more to the man than his atheism. He was fearless; he understood political arcana, especially as it applied to those mysterious Middle Eastern and Eastern European theaters, better than almost anyone. And he could write about it so even a dummy like me could understand.

By God, truly, the man could write! Even in this last year of difficult, as the Vanity Fair piece demonstrates, the man was still managing to write timely and topical pieces with a voice so fresh, so focused and detached that it was possible to forget that one might be reading his last or nearly last piece of work, and simple get caught up in his intelligent narrative and singular prose-style.

And even hairless, hale and hearty,
he wrote with address:

In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it . . . But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.

Sentimentality and self-pity were never evident in his writing, not even in his very last piece for Vanity Fair:

I am attracted to the German etymology of the word “stark,” and its relative used by Nietzsche, stärker, which means “stronger.” In Yiddish, to call someone a shtarker is to credit him with being a militant, a tough guy, a hard worker. So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

My admiration for Hitchens is not meant to suggest that he was never wrong. He missed the mark spectacularly with Mother Teresa, and was disappointingly spiteful in his assessment of her decades-long dark night, his response suggesting to me a willful misunderstanding of what her experience meant. It was the rare issue, I think, on which he hedged a little. His fearlessness — impressive as it was — did not extend so far as to try to comprehend that deep mystery with the full-force of his compassion. It was a true stumble.

Fr. James Martin is thinking along the same lines:

I hope he’s pleasantly surprised . . . I certainly didn’t agree with him on many things (on almost anything, frankly; and I was particularly annoyed at his treatment of Mother Teresa), but I always hoped that somehow he would experience an invitation from God in his earthly life; and I hope that he may now come to know God. (I could never quite shake the feeling that Mr. Hitchens’ lifelong struggle with God betokened a deep hunger for the divine, or at least for answers.)

A priest once said to him “you will either die a madman or a Roman Catholic”. At the time, I puckishly quipped, “what’s the difference?” The priest was wrong. Hitchens, up to the end, was writing with clarity — he was quite in his wits — and he did not become a Catholic.

Some have speculated that Hitchens’ atheism was rooted in his mother’s suicide — the great trauma of his life. When my brother John — who like Hitchens was trained in faith but could never quite find it in his own traumatized live — died, I believed the best:

Tonight, I am believing that my brother John is finally in the presence of the all-encompassing and unconditional love in which he can finally trust, finally surrender to…or that he has glimpsed enough of it to want more, however long it takes to become fit for it.

Joy McCann, who is not Catholic cannot bring herself to believe that Hitchens has been consigned to Hell; she wonders if perhaps she might have to think about Purgatory, after all.

The man was so interesting, he’s the only person, outside of politicians, to have his own category here.

UPDATE I:
Don’t miss Peter Hitchens’ lovely and sad column

Real Clear Religion also has A Hitchens Category

Everyone is writing about Hitch: I especially liked Michael Gerson’s moving pre-emptive eulogy from last year:

At the Pew Forum, Hitchens was asked a mischievous question: What positive lesson have you learned from Christianity? He replied, with great earnestness: the transience and ephemeral nature of power and all things human. But some things may last longer than he imagines, including examples of courage, loyalty and moral conviction.


At dotcommonweal some Hitchens video.

James G. Wiles At American Thinker: Hitchens is dead; dammit!

UPDATE II:
Bad Catholic: The World is Poorer for his Loss

More current reactions:
Insty links to PJM writers
Deacon Greg Kandra
The Memeorandum thread.
Allahpundit
Richard Fernandez
Ace
Michelle Malkin

Fr. Robert Barron, a few years ago on Hitchens

Related at The Anchoress:
Hitchens’ Whack-A-Christian Book Tour

Hitchens and the Subversive Liberty of Prayer

The Hitchens Prayer Debate

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Andrew B

    Amazing what childhood trauma can do to a person. I did not know about Hitchens’ loss of his mother, but it fits the pattern. Marx felt betrayed by his father’s conversion to Christianity for business reasons. Freud’s father was weak and immoral. Schopenhauer, Camus, Hobbes, Hume and Sartre all lost a parent when young.

    I thank God every day that my own loss (my mother committed suicide when I was 8) drove me not away, but into His arms. I pray that this is where Christopher Hitchens is right now.

  • Andrew B

    I have no idea where the emoticon came from. I was attempting to type the number 8.

    Ah, technology.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    May he rest in peace. For the most part I liked the man. God’s mercy is infinite.

  • http://elizabethk-fthnfort.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth K.

    This is sad news. Someone once compared Hitch to an aging Oscar Wilde–he could be so entertaining in some of his interviews, in what I always imagined was a Wildean kind of way. May his soul find peace and mercy.

  • http://www.aquinasandmore.com Ian

    As I see post after post in the Catholic blogosphere I am constantly asking myself if there could possibly ever be such a respectful tribute paid by atheists to a Catholic. My conclusion is unfortunately, no. The atheists appear to be so set in their belief that everything involving faith is so bad (disregarding the ridiculousness of claiming good / bad as atheists) that they can’t possibly give praise to a holy Catholic without bringing down the condemnation of their piers as a traitor to the cause.

  • mark

    My brother Christoper, i love you! Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae!!!!!! (Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now & in the hour of our death, Amen!)

  • piotr

    this man wished to write the obituary for our pope B16;people who admire him are as intellectual shallow as he was. His arguments were well crafted for the brain stem response and lacked in substance to awaken the brain cortex. I did not like him anymore than I did not like Ghadafi; I don’t rejoyce his death any more than that of any other miserable human being;

  • Teresa

    May he rest in peace and I’m sure nobody takes pleasure in his death. However, his attack on Mother Theresa was just plain mean. He seemed to despise the Catholic Church and this was overlooked when he wrote about what everyone was thinking about radical Islam. I agree that basically he was intellectually shallow.

  • Gerry

    That’s ALL you disagree with?
    He had an irrational loathing of Israel, while he recognized the danger from Islamism.

    Let’s also not forget, like so many professional atheists, he held BOTH of the following to be true:
    1) Evolutionism is correct.
    2) Religion is an impediment to human progress.

  • JDC

    He got a headline at The Onion, too.

  • kenneth

    In his own arena, Hitchens was one of the true geniuses of our time. He was quite probably the world’s finest rabble-rouser, but one of the few who actually had enough brains to construct a cogent argument on virtually any topic. He was the ONLY independent thinker among modern polemecists. He had NO problem calling BS on his “own kind” in politics or professional life. There were no sacred cows.

    You simply don’t see that in today’s world, where the fools of every movement reign supreme largely because no one wants to risk dissent for fear of weakening their team’s position. I respect him tremendously for that. He also bore the mark of an excellent journalist in the fact that virtually everything he wrote challenged and upset people across the entire social and political spectrum. That’s always a sign you’re doing something worthwhile.

  • kenneth

    “Let’s also not forget, like so many professional atheists, he held BOTH of the following to be true:
    1) Evolutionism is correct.
    2) Religion is an impediment to human progress.”……………………..

    Even atheists get it right sometimes! :)

  • Michael

    Sorry, but I don’t like to listen to the devil talk, or read what he writes.

    When will people realize that death ends your moral choices and unrepentant sinners go to hell? Forgiveness of sins happens BEFORE death, not after.

    If he didn’t like Mother Theresa, how is he going to stand being next to her in heaven for eternity?

    This man led a lot of little ones astray, and remember what Jesus said about those people.

  • Geo

    Okay, of course we should pray for Hitch. And we shouldn’t rejoice in his death, but the craven hagiography I am reading on many Catholic blogs is just sickening. Sure the man was intelligent and a writer of amazing skill, but he was a nasty, hateful bigot whose understanding of matters religious was astounding in its small-mindedness.

    [I"m of the opinion that we're most of us nasty hateful bigots at times -admin]

  • kenneth

    Michael, I doubt very much that Hitchens would ask forgiveness after death even if given the option. If he did somehow end up with Mother Theresa in heaven, I imagine he’s have no compunction about telling her exactly what he thought of her, in person. He’d probably not hesitate to tell God himself to push off.

    As for him “leading little ones astray,” I doubt very much whether children or innocents of any stripe ever read his stuff. Not a lot of little kids read Vanity Fair, except maybe Stewie from The Family Guy, and he deserves to go to Hell! (Or alternatively, Satan deserves Stewie! :)

  • Michael

    Kenneth,

    Of course he would not ask for forgiveness after death, because it is not an option. Of course he would tell God Himself to push off, which gives me a very good idea of where he’s at right now.

    Speaking plainly, the Mother Theresa question was rhetorical.

    But there are a lot of little ones around the internet, they’ve all eulogized this man; how great he was, how forceful, how insightful, how brilliant. It goes to show that they are enchanted by a slick tongue, but take no pleasure in virtue.

    Christopher Hitchens was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, which is worse than just an honest wolf.

  • piotr

    If anybody is interested in what an atheist of sound mind writes like this is one book I would recommend: Terry Eagleton ” Reason, Faith and Revolution. Reflections on the God Debate.
    There is no loss to human kind from his death.

  • piotr

    OOPS. The last sentence is not part of the title.

  • http://www.mysticsofthechurch.com Glenn Dallaire

    Luke 6:45: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

    “…From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks”—so what comes out of our mouth is what is in our hearts, and the mouth of Christopher Hitchens often sought to tear down the Catholic church, Its teachings, and Its members. God alone knows the people that he led astray through his witty, but often venomous remarks against the faith.

    I’m sorry, but those who honor and extol a person who repeatedly attacked the Catholic church are very, very wrong. This is the man who wrote horrid things about Blessed Mother Teresa and Pope Benedict. You don’t honor and extol someone who dishonors and spews forth culumnies against your Church, your Pope, your Saints…..you betray Jesus and His Church when you give honor to such a man.

    All that should be said and prayed in his honor is may God forgive him, and may He have mercy upon his soul.

    Glenn Dallaire
    -webmaster of http://www.mysticsofthechurch.com

  • victor simon

    I agree w/Glenn Dallaire.
    All this glorification is disgusting.
    May God have mercy on the soul of Christopher Hitchens.

    “Fearless” – How? Not a single example given. The two things he is most known for — atheism and attacking M. Teresa — are both outstanding examples of cowardice. And making your living as a “critic,” pouring forth public venom while smoking & drinking, also does not seem a promising venue for courage.

    “He understood political arcana.” – Good for him. On the other hand, he was so extremely dense he could not perceive the elementary differenence between M. Teresa and himself. I cannot agree that such vituperation of a person obviously worlds above oneself can properly be called a “disappointing . . . stumble.” I should rather call it a disastrous void of common decency coupled with a collosal arrogance.

    “. . . truly the man could write.” – Yes, and so much the worse for everyone who read him. His lies were very cleverly told, with much show of erudition. I am afraid they have done enormous harm. I think Tolkein’s spare farewell to his fictional wordsmith is more fitting: “Thus passes Grima Wormtongue.”

    “My admiration for Hitchens is not meant to suggest that he was never wrong.” – ?? Not never wrong, eh? You mean . . . just like all the saints, and every other human being?

    May God have mercy on the soul of Christopher Hitchens.
    May God save us from the plague of human respect.

  • http://williamwarelaw.com Bill

    Not a lot of sense being made on the various sites I surfed about Hitchens. He was an Atheist folks. He denied God exists – repeatedly. This shmaltzy sentimental view of someone who was very lost is and led others astray is mind boggling. He lacked the one quality of anyone who seeks God – humility, and he had the one vanity that serves Satan well – vanity. Sorry, despite his writing ability, he will likely need to follow in the footsteps of Dismas to steal heaven as his sins against the Lord were replete and plentiful. Perhaps Mother Teresa has interceded – Lord we humbly pray…

  • Chris Fisher

    I do not think many grasp Christopher Hitchens. Like Tobias and the angel he wrestling with God. He was intelligent, concise which came from vanity and pride. Like Stephen Fry he had sense of himself that gave him a certainty that he was entitled to be and outraged when he saw how fragile life is. With a logic based on anger originating in conceit he arranged his knowlege, his intellect to ignore where he really was in creation (insignificant). He arranged his knowing, cherry picking to exclude and thought the universe had reason behind it (a God).
    It is apt he should died from cancer of the throat. From that throat came horrors and bile that displayed his fight with life and himself. He saw the sin (imperfect) in others but not himself. When we pray for him our prayers can only go so far. God is just and Chris’s last conscious attitude and the fruit of his life’s work are now frozen in time. It is on that he will be judged. He was baptised as an infant…that gift squandered as he looked at the world but as with a mirror only saw himself. There are many life him in the world. Death comes for all men. It comes for you!

  • Greta

    Talent without a true north is worth nothing. How God must have dispaired with the sheer waste of talent.

  • kevin

    He was to me a faint reminder of William F. Not as fluent, not as deep, but for the Vanity Fair crowd, a genius.

  • http://elizabethk-fthnfort.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth K.

    I think that Catholics are able to offer a respectful tribute to someone like Hitchens because, ultimately, we don’t have anything to fear from someone like him. We can stand mockery and insults, and that’s all he had to throw at us. In an odd way, I’m grateful for Hitchens, because he inspired the brilliant Terry Eagleton to write and speak about matters he might not have. Hitchens could be a blowhard, but in shouting about religion he roused some voices who might have otherwise have remained silent.

    It’s neither schmaltzy nor sentimental to hope that, in the end, Hitchens made peace with God–in fact, to pray for that is precisely what loving one’s enemies means.

    This morning Dennis Prager, who debated Hitch several times, said that the thing he liked about him was that Hitch hated evil. He was wrong, (and irrationally emotional, I think,) to see evil in many of the places he did. But at least he didn’t imagine that evil doesn’t exist, which is more than I can say for a lot of the intellectuals I know.

  • Chris Fisher

    Replace my earlier post with this.
    I do not think many grasp Christopher Hitchens. Like Tobias and the angel he wrestling with God. He was intelligent, concise which came from vanity and pride. Like Stephen Fry he had sense of himself that gave him a certainty that he was entitled to be and outraged when he saw how fragile life is. With a logic based on anger originating in conceit he arranged his knowlege, his intellect to ignore where he really was in creation (insignificant). He arranged his knowing, cherry picking to exclude any thought the universe had reason behind it (a God).
    It is apt he should died from cancer of the throat. From that throat came horrors and bile that displayed his fight with life and himself. He saw the sin (imperfect) in others but not himself. When we pray for him our prayers can only go so far. God is just and Chris’s last conscious attitude and the fruit of his life’s work are now frozen in time. It is on that he will be judged. He was baptised as an infant…that gift squandered as he looked at the world but as with a mirror only saw himself. There are many like him in the world. Death comes for all men. It comes for you!

  • dry valleys

    http://heresycorner.blogspot.com/2011/12/farewell-to-hitch.html

    I also appreciated Pete Hitchens’ personal commentary on the loss of his brother. He had a lot of admirers, and I was certainly one of them, and those who called him a friend enjoyed a lot of memorable times that won’t come again!

    As I say, I think the poem “With rue my heart is laden” is a fitting tribute to an atheist who dies.

  • Brian English

    “Michael, I doubt very much that Hitchens would ask forgiveness after death even if given the option. If he did somehow end up with Mother Theresa in heaven, I imagine he’s have no compunction about telling her exactly what he thought of her, in person. He’d probably not hesitate to tell God himself to push off.”

    Kenneth actually offers us an insight into why, even with an all merciful and all loving God, a place like Hell is still necessary.

    Atheists almost uniformly regard themselves as an intellectual elite, with their denial of God being their primary credential. Upon finding that there is a God, most probably become enraged and castigate God for not having the good sense to reveal Himself to people of their quality. I have no doubt that some of them, and Hitchens very well may fall into this category, find the idea of spending eternity with this unsophisticated God unbearable, and will tell Him to “push off” as Kenneth puts it. I think we will find, as C.S. Lewis puts it, that the door to Hell locks from the inside.

  • dry valleys
  • dry valleys

    Unfortunately I have no anecdotes of my own about liquid lunches and womanising with him!

  • Mouse

    Those who publicly promote atheism (as he did in “God is Not Good”) and who insult or slander the faithful (as he did Mother Teresa) are engaged in serious wrongdoing, and they harm souls. Why should we be impressed by writing talent if that’s how it was used even part of the time?

    I hope for him what I hope for any person in his situation: that at his dying moment, Jesus appeared to him in some way and gave him a chance to embrace Him, and that he did in fact embrace Him and was reconciled to God at that last moment. I would suggest, however, that it’s odd and unseemly for believers to put out accolades where a person’s public work was part of the movement to tear down faith in God.

  • Anne B.

    Any comments out there from Hitchens’ kids? Or from his first wife – the one he dumped while she was pregnant?

  • Rosalee

    Whether he believed it or not God exists……….I fail to understand why he spent so much time ranting about it. If he did not believe He exits, then why rant about it?
    While he may have dabbled in the wisdom of the world, it is of little help now.

  • Piotr

    Anne B. says:
    December 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm
    Any comments out there from Hitchens’ kids? Or from his first wife – the one he dumped while she was pregnant?

    Is this true and how do you know? It would not surprise me.

  • Anne B.

    Piotr, it’s covered in a NY Magazine article about Hitchens:

    http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/media/features/868/index5.html

    Here’s the bit, including quotes from the first wife, Eleni:

    “Ask Eleni Meleagrou about this episode of her life, and she speaks in a sadder-but-wiser tone. “Christopher fell in love with Carol, and he expected me to understand. ‘Don’t you see? I’m really in love,’ he’d say, and my reaction was, ‘Bug off.’ He told me he was doing me a favor. Maybe now I think he did.”

    “She pauses to explain, “His life is such that you either fall in line or you’re left behind. I didn’t want to follow anymore.”

    So it doesn’t seem to have been a secret, exactly. Yet somehow we’re supposed to find him so courageous and admirable.

  • gs

    Hi, Anchoress. It’s been a long time. You seem to be doing well. Glad to see it. Well earned. Merry Christmas.

    Re Hitchens: I imagine Sister Mary Hound of the Baskervillles growling, You will speak of him with respect. From such as he are the great saints made.

    Ridiculous? Maybe, but consider Carl Jung’s interpretation of alcoholism: “…the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”

  • ZZMike

    What Hitchens had – and lived – was class. I’ve read more than a few articles written by writers who told of the times they called him up – often unannounced – and asked for a get-together. Hitchens would invariably reply, “Come on over”. There usually followed an hour or so (and more than a few drinks) of conversation (mostly on Hitchens’ side) and an amiable parting, with words of encouragement from Hitchens.

    And he knew just about everybody on the world stage. He didn’t boast about it – it was just something he did. He did that well, just as he did everything. Even his dying.

    Brian English: “Atheists almost uniformly regard themselves as an intellectual elite …”

    I often think that atheists think more about God than we do.

  • Bill Russell

    Having “class” is not the key to salvation. A superficially aesthetic culture, that is, one that measures good by “a talent to fascinate”, will deny that anyone who is eloquent, amusing, and attractive can be evil. Satan is eloquent, amusing and eloquent. The priest who predicted that Hitchens would die either a Catholic or a madman was not wrong. To die denying God who give life, is the ultimate madness. Hitchens’ eloquence, amusement and attractiveness, self-destructed when he called Pope Benedict a Nazi, Cardinal Egan a pederast, and Mother Teresa a whore. He later said he had “overstated” his remarks. He had not “overstated.” He had “misstated” his remarks, but he lacked the humility to say so. And humility is the key to Heaven. His book mocking God was an embarrassing caricature of more serious cases against God. That famous encounter in New York, when he tried to assault Father George Rutler, only showed that he had lost his argument and could only resort to violence. In that case, happily, the priest was stronger physically as well as intellectually. C.S.Lewis spoke of those cocktail party dilettantes who blithely assume that no one really says “Evil be thou my good.” And then he went on to name some of the famous figures in history who said precisely that. There are countless others like them, including minor figures like Christopher Hitchens. Satan loves the blithe insouciance of theological amateurs cannot write as well as Hitchens and only write”blogs.” .

  • David

    Elizabeth, it really just sounds like you think Christopher was sexy. I think you should just leave it at that.

    [wow. Not once did "sexy" ever enter my head. Way to think the best of people! -admin]

  • Kevin

    Fr Rutler was not wrong; at the time he stood up to Hitchens’ crude pornographic rambling ar the Union Leage Club. He did die a madman at least intellectually.

  • Piotr

    Vaclav Havel has passed away as well; this is a real loss to humanity; not only was he a superb intellectual, but also a man of moral, intellectual and spiritual courage who stood up to communism.
    The difference between the two men could not be greater. I will miss him

  • gs

    Elizabeth, a comment I submitted last night has not appeared. Though smart-alecky in part, it was not intended as offensive; perhaps you decided otherwise, but my guess is that the two hyperlinks in the comment caused your spam filter to pounce. If the text is still undigested, I’d appreciate your retrieving it from the belly of the beast. TIA.

    In any event, I’d like to think that Hitchens is grudgingly accepting that his unexpectedly happy circumstances are not a hallucination created by an expiring brain.

    [Thanks for the heads up. Found a few of Manny's comments in the filter, too! -admin]


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