“Praying for what?”: Christopher Hitchens dies

“Praying for what?”: Christopher Hitchens dies December 16, 2011

The notorious atheist died from pneumonia, related to his cancer, at 62.  You can read the BBC’s obit here.

Last year, I wrote a brief post on this blog about Hitchens, who had just announced he was dying.  I asked that we keep him in our prayers:

Prayer isn’t a chore, or a favor we do to bail out someone. It is an act of faith. And it is a gift.  It engages the one who prays in a divine conversation that may do as much for the pray-er as it does for the pray-ee. The entire world is uplifted just a bit if even just one person takes a moment to whisper an “Our Father” with an intention of love and joyful hope.

So, pray for Christopher Hitchens. Whether he knows it or not, he needs it. We all do.

Hitchens, writing about that in Vanity Fair, was bemused:

“Of the astonishing and flattering number of people who wrote to me when I fell so ill, very few failed to say one of two things. Either they assured me that they wouldn’t offend me by offering prayers or they tenderly insisted that they would pray anyway. Devotional Web sites consecrated special space to the question. (If you should read this in time, by all means keep in mind that September 20 has already been designated “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day.”) Pat Archbold, at the National Catholic Register, and Deacon Greg Kandra were among the Roman Catholics who thought me a worthy object of prayer. Rabbi David Wolpe, author of “Why Faith Matters” and the leader of a major congregation in Los Angeles, said the same. He has been a debating partner of mine, as have several Protestant evangelical conservatives like Pastor Douglas Wilson of the New St. Andrews College and Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama. Both wrote to say that their assemblies were praying for me. And it was to them that it first occurred to me to write back, asking: Praying for what?”

The answer, of course, was healing.  And mercy.  And for a certain degree of light to pierce the darkness and, just maybe, affect change.

I doubt any of that happened — though, at his last moment, it’s impossible for any of us to say what thought scuttled across his mind.

I’ll remember him in my prayers today.   It can’t hurt.

And who knows?  Maybe this day he’s also praying for me.

Meantime, Fr. James Martin has some thoughts, too. And The Anchoress has very good collection of appreciations — of which her own may be the most poignant and pointed:

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.

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38 responses to ““Praying for what?”: Christopher Hitchens dies”

  1. So sad to loose Hitchens, but I have to say I do take some comfort in the fact he has now seen the face of God. I read last night that he assured all there would be no “death bed conversion”, but to that I say, “Someday we’ll see.”

    Like you note, Dcn. Greg, we have no way of knowing what occured between Hitchens and Jesus before he took his last earthly breath, despite his forever free will. In St. Faustina’s Diary (private revelation), she tells us that Jesus comes to every soul before the last breath.

    If true, as I suspect it is, let’s hope Hitchens had enough grace from the countless prayers to accept the most important “last call” of his earthly life. We can bet that Mother Theresa was on the case!

    Another comfort I always take from people like Hitchens is the fact that God being outside of time, it’s never too late to pray for a “happy death” for anyone. St. Padre Pio did it often.

  2. “…it’s never too late to pray for a “happy death” for anyone.” I agree. I had read that passage in St. Faustina’s Diary too.

  3. I agree, Klaire. I also like to think God has a soft spot for good writers, no matter how benighted their positions might have been at times. Hitchens made the mistake many people do—confusing religious practice, which is human and flawed and messy and sometimes even engaged in evil—with God. It was easy for him to dismiss God as an invention, because the God he dismissed WAS an invention, his own. I am praying for a happy surprise.

  4. There is the line in Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth which comes to mind; Jesus speaking to Thomas when he first meets him. It is extra-scriptural, but Jesus says something like “for a man who doubts so much you must want to believe.”

    Hopefully that was the case deep down with Hitchens and maybe the intense doubting and denial had an unconscious flip side to it.

    Hopefully he is now being entertained at Mother Theresa’s waterfront mansion in Heaven at a cocktail party where he is the guest of honor.

  5. If her own posthumously published writings were any proof, Mother Teresa and Mr Hitchens will have a good deal to talk about regarding doubt. In my experience, the biggest doubters (like pessimists and cynics) actually suffer from a deep and (they mistakenly believe) unrequited love of God, hope, and innocence.

  6. A good point. but was the nature of the doubts different? Mother Theresa felt the absence of Jesus as I recall Whereas Hitchens had a more general difficulty believing in God. I don’t know the specifics however.

  7. I think of Steve Jobs on his death bed, when he looked past his family, eyes wide, exclaiming, “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.”

    Did Jesus come to Jobs? Did He come to Hitchens in his final hour? Is this why we ask Mary to, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death?” Is there a final invitation to accept grace, followed by a long purgation?

    I hope so.

    Perhaps Hitchens, standing at the brink of eternity, was given the grace to surrender his pride and arrogance, the bitter disappointments of his life that are the usual pillars of atheism. I’ll pray for him today, and seek indulgences for his soul.

  8. he obviously had his doubts and his frustration and anger toward the Church and God, the Father, and Jesus, but i pray that the Mother of us all, Our Lady, Mary, won his heart and has led or will be leading him to that Beatific Vision soon.

  9. Good point JKM. Father Barron makes that point of God NOT being an “invention” well in his new series, also saying that if God is what the non-belivers think He is, he (Father Barron), would agree with them!

  10. I often wonder if God puts the souls that are the most likely NOT to believe out there in spotlight, grace already in action, so that the faithful prayer for them.

    Jobs had a lot more “clues” that he was coming around, even before the WOW WOW WOW (which was awesome BTW. The best quote (paraphrised) I ever read from Jobs was that he would give up all of his technology to spend one afternoon with Socrates (secular father of truth pre Chirst), followed by his love for “Beauty, Truth, and Goodness.” He also had a church furneral.

    I’m pretty convinced that Jobs found God long ago, just probably didn’t know that it was God he found or that he sought. If that isn’t enough, his sister told us in her eulogy that Jobs was in “Love with love.” It all sounds like God to me!

    The only downer for us is that we never got to experience the work of Hitchens or Jobs on fire with God,at least in an overt way. Imagine!

  11. May he rest in peace. We will all face the end of life on this planet eventually. He was positive in his lack of belief, just like those who are positive in their positive religious beliefs. All will find out if what they think is actually real someday.

  12. I pary for Mr. Hitchen’s soul; I pray he received pardon.

    But then the question is, why be a Christian then?

  13. No small amount of anger. The notorious incident with Fr. Rutler was perhaps the low point in his public life.

  14. Rudy lots of good reasons, one of them being to help the non-Christians get there too; never too late until our final breath. God loves us all, and the like the vineyard, it isn’t about who got there first, only who gets there.

    Lastly, to really be a Christian, isn’t about “Us, as in me, me, me, getting to heaven” as it is being Christ like in our actions to shine Christ’s love through us to others. If it’s only about us, even about eternal salvation/heaven, we have truly missed the point of Christianity.

  15. It is RUDE and INCONSIDERATE to pray for someone who does not believe and does not want it.

    [Edited to remove bigoted slur against believers. — Ed.]

  16. One never knows the roots of such anger. Perhaps the fact that he lost his mother in a suicide pact with her lover, a clergyman, contributed to the anger against church people. Not excusing it, just thinking that anger–in contrast with indifference–is often hurt turned outward.

  17. Me too. Just one question: if God does not exist, why so afraid others may be praying? I have never lost sleep to leprechauns. Just wondering.

  18. I think that a “happy death” is one in which the person has made peace with dying. Death is sad for those who are left behind, but it is happy for the one going on to be with God.

  19. Atheist: Actually, my beliefs are not like many others, however if someone wants to pray for me —no problem. Whether I believe the same as they do or not, it can’t hurt to get help from all possible sources.

  20. If he doesn’t believe, then it won’t hurt him. If I sat in his room and prayed over him out loud while he was still alive, it might annoy and offend him. But he never knew that I prayed for him from the privacy of my own mind.

    I wish you well, Atheist person. Oh… but I should ask you first if you WANT well wishes.

    I wish you well anyway. 🙂

  21. I keep wondering whether there is something to be taken from the fact that both Christopher Hitchens and Cardinal Foley died in the same week. In one sense, they are two sides of the same coin: two journalists of a certain specialized sort who tried to give meaning to the comings and goings of our daily lives.

    Cardinal Foley brought the perspective that the interstitial tissue that gives meaning to our daily lives is a triune God who loves us. Mr. Hitchens preached (for lack of a better word) that rational thought alone gives our daily lives some meaning. But, as other people have pointed out, Mr. Hitchens wasn’t content to live his life relying on rational thought alone; he railed against the existence of God (and, by extension, those who believe in God).

    For me, here’s the interesting part: in doing so Mr. Hitchens was defining God in negative space. To me, Mr. Hitchens was like a police officer at an accident scene telling passersby “Nothing to see here, move along.” That approach doesn’t work with roadside-gawkers and it doesn’t work with those inclined to believe. So in some ways he made people talk about, think about, defend God when they might not have been required to do so but for Mr. Hitchens’ voice in the public square.

    The opposite of love isn’t necessarily hate; sometimes the opposite of love is indifference; and Mr. Hitchens wasn’t indifferent when it came to God. Christopher Hitchens probably thought about God, and talked about God ,more often than the a great majority of people who would identify themselves as religious.

    Today, I kept thinking about the irony, at least from Hitchens’ perspective: if he was right (and there’s nothing more after we shuffle off this mortal coil), he would have no satisfaction, he’d be dead. On the other hand, if he was wrong (as I believe) and was met by a God who knew him, loved him, and was as frustrated with him as his many debate opponents were in this world, he would have a lot of explaining to do.

    In any event, I will remember him in my prayers, as I remember the souls of all the faithfully departed, and those in this life (or the next) who have no one to pray from them.

  22. What’s the matter Atheist? Are you afraid that prayer works? It would be awful to find doubt entering in and messing up your certainty.

  23. I agree that Mr. Hitchens strengthened the belief of many. God can use anything and anyone for his glory. I hope and pray that he and all unbelievers are able to accept the mercy that is no doubt offered to them at death.

  24. I should think many, many deaths are happy. Every living thing dies. How in the world could there *not* be happy deaths?

  25. To me, the best thing to say about Hitchens is that he was a great questioner, a great challenger of orthodoxies – and he questioned and challenged honestly, from his heart as well as with his agile mind. (And he backed this up with an erudite, engaging writing style.) The world needs such seekers of Truth, even if they are not believers in God. Hitchens’s critiques of religion were usually valid, but he rarely belittled. He thought, and he made other people think. Faith, like skepticism, is all about thinking, purely and honestly. As a believer and a Catholic, I am glad that Christopher Hitchens lived in my world and challenged me always to think about what I believe, and to question whether I and others of my faith are really living by the tenets we profess.

  26. We meet Jesus when we die, let’s not forget. It is called the “particular judgment.” there is no chutes and ladders in to Heaven. at least according to the Church.

  27. I believe everyone gets a last chance for mercy and purgatory if they wish to choose it. When the whole Truth of Who God is and who we are is revealed to us at our particular judgment, I also believe that many will not accept that mercy. I think some will choose to throw themselves into an eternal hell rather than face the Truth.

  28. Petey:
    “As a believer and a Catholic, I am glad that Christopher Hitchens lived in my world and challenged me always to think about what I believe. . .”

    A local deacon I know teaches “Introduction to Ethics” at our local public community college. That is a course where you can — in fact you have to — discuss the interaction of Ethics and Religion on a regular basis, even on a public college. One of his several worksheets covers the whole issue of religion in Presidential politics — and the thesis of Hitchens’ book “God is not Great” (Atheists need to be elected president in the US) continues to stir the discussion in his class on that worksheet.

    BTW: that deacon recently told me that he asked his Ethics class recently whether the electorate would ever vote for a Mormon over an Atheist and the discussion got really heated!

  29. For those of us who believe in Jesus’ resurrection, our death will always be a happy one – since we are returning to the arms of our Lord and Saviour.

  30. When he mentioned there would be no death bed conversion, he was doing so to show discredit the assumption that there are no atheists in foxholes. There was most definitely an atheist in a foxhole on that day, I assure you.

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