Christopher Hitchens, RIP

Christopher Hitchens, RIP December 16, 2011

It’s hard to improve on what Douglas Wilson has to say. It is a gracious farewell to a man who I couldn’t help but like, despite his sometimes glaring faults and errors (as who does not have?).

I will add this (since Wilson’s Calvinism forbid him from praying for the dead):

Father, grant Hitchens the grace of eternal life through Christ our Lord. Forgive him all his sins and find some way, through his love of honesty and scorn for BS, to sneak through some crack in his armor and let him see your face in the Christ who is truth. I don’t know how you might do that, but I do ask that he not be lost, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Remember our brother Christopher, who bears forever the mark of baptism, the next time you go to Mass. He needs all the prayers he can get.

Mother Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death and, especially, for those most in need of God’s mercy through Christ our Lord.

Update:  Christopher’s brother, Peter, writes a moving farewell.  He captures what I agree was his best  quality: courage.  Like all virtues unhinged from the life of the spirit, it was a thing that could be used for good (and often was in his public career as when he defended Salman Rushdie at the risk of his life) but also a thing that could be turned into a weapon against God and common decency.  It took “courage” after all, to spit on Mother Teresa when the world mourned her, but it was an evil thing to do. Fortitude, apart from the other virtues can steel us to do monstrous things.

Rather than dwell on that and similar faults, let us thank God for the times when Hitchens used his courage to defend the weak and oppressed.

(Yes.  I’m aware of his faults.  One of them was an eagerness to speak ill of the dead when it was wrong to do so.  Do not imitate him in the comboxes, please.)

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  • Michelle

    “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. … If he confessed faith, then he, the Christopher Hitchens that we all knew, should be counted as already dead.”

    I pray that the Christopher who we all did know through his writings and rants did “die,” and that a new man in Christ was reborn before death claimed his body (Col. 2:12). RIP, Christopher.

  • Jack Grimes

    Seems fitting that today in Morning Prayer, the Church asked: “Help all mankind, Lord, in your loving mercy; be near to those who seek you without knowing it.”

  • Is it insensitive of me to say that I won’t be missing his blasphemous tirades at all? I’m not sure why Christians liked him. Sure he was witty and entertaining at times, but he persuaded thousands of ignorant and misguided people to be on a path of damnation.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    So he had a bigger audience than you or I?

    When I think something is crass and heartless, you can bet it’s crass and heartless.

  • brian

    Christopher Hitchens now shares the same anniversary date as does my dad. My dad’s became a Catholic four months prior to his entrance into Eternity. Dad was from Plymouth, England, and shared much of the same mannerisms and wit as did Mr. Hitchens. It is for at least these reasons that I will now remember Mr. Hitchens each 15th of December. Rest in Peace, Christopher Hitchens. Consistent with the meaning of your name, may you now indeed bear Christ.

  • nate

    I usually always disagreed with Hitchens. I especially disagreed with his take on all things religious, though I also disagreed with him on his stance on the war. Nevertheless, reading him was a delight, and watching him debate was an event to be remembered. His mastery of English language and rhetoric was unmatched. Hitchens was an incomparable wit. He debated with superlative prose, and could rather effortlessly, and with much eloquence, erudition, and style, destroy his opponents in debates. I am fortunate to have seen him debate in person. I’ll never forget it.

    R.I.P. Let us pray for him.

  • Regarding Hitchens’ mindless assault on Mother Teresa, let us turn to Chesterton:

    “While [Christianity] is local enough for poetry and larger than any other philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven.” –G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

    Mother Teresa embodied what Chesterton meant by the Church being “a challange and a fight,” and Hitchens was not one to ignore a challenge or a fight, even if it meant beating up on a saint. Still, we can be sure that in his hatred for God and religion, there is hope, for God prefers hatred to indifference — which he will vomit out of his mouth. We can also be sure that Mother Teresa is interceding for him now in Heaven, even while her nuns are praying for him here on earth.

    Christopher Hitchens, R.I.P.

    • str

      Actually, God does not prefer hatred of Himself, His Saints, His Church etc. to indifference. Sure, indifference may be worse because to overcome it is much harder than to overcome hatred. But that doesn’t mean that the one that adamantly sticks to his hatred is not doomed.

      (The “vomit out of his mouth” passage is based on the Apocalypse, but there Christ is explicitely speaking of and to a group of his followers, so those feeling “hatred” towards Him are of no concern there. If Christ will vomit some out of his mouth, he will not even have taken others in.)

      I am not wishing the man ill but why do we suddenly have to fantasize about last minute conversions? Maybe even about God forcing the late Mr Hitchens against his will? Give me a break! The man had his time, he even had the privilege (of sorts) to see the end coming and what did he do: spit God in the face! It’s a pity indeed!

  • I felt sorry for him. A man who seemed always angry, always bitter, made me sad for him. My sadness, however, faded over the years as his open hatred of people religious and his increasing yearning for some good old extermination techniques made it tougher to feel that way. Maybe he softened up at the end of things. I hope so. When I heard he died, my first reaction was sadness for him, and a prayer that he had made his peace with God. That will be my prayer, and that he find peace in the arms of a loving God. But I leave it at that.

  • Lorenz

    I have read various books by his brother Peter. Like Christopher, he was an atheist but had a conversion experience 30 years ago and is now a believing Anglican who has since been often at odds with Christopher.

    He wrote a memorandum for his brother:

    Yes, I did not agree with much of Christopher’s views. However, let’s all remember he leaves behind family who are greiving at this time.

    • Thomas R

      I have to admit my first thoughts were something like that CH was a good writer and entertaining, but otherwise fairly negative. However reading what his brother said did move me and make me think again. I still don’t know that I would pray for him, I don’t want to get into why, but I might try to remember his loved ones.

  • Ron

    Thank you for your prayer for his soul. I think many of see a little of ourselves in Mr. Hitchens. I know I certainly could not cast stones at him but only pray for him.

  • antigon

    To be sure, as we pray & fear for our own souls, so ought we to add one or more for the soul of poor Mr. Hitchens. And his final piece in Vanity Fair as he died was both moving and fearsome, since that particularly painful death is one many of us shall also likely face.

    Nor, as Mr. Shea suggests, should we imitate such things as his public eulogy for the Rev. Falwell, of whom Hitchens said that after an enema, “you could bury him in a matchbox.”

    But as Hitchens was a very public man, also an ugly warmonger, & often so fundamentally dishonest, perhaps some mention of that is due midst the many fatuous panegyrics that will elude this reality, or celebrate it, over the next few days. In particular as, though he always refused to face it, his deepest philosophy was MacBeth’s – that life is but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound & fury, & signifying nothing.

    But to mix plays, as there is more in heaven and earth than dreamed of by Macbeth, so is there of Mr. Hitchens.

    Mercy then, we can pray, for us, and for the Hitchens who was more than he thought, more than the walking shadow & poor player whose hour’s frets & struts on the stage, like the rest of us, shall be heard just a little longer, and then no more.

  • jkm

    I used to think the only thing I envied of Hitchens’s was his writing talent–though I often despised the uses to which he put it. But now I think there’s also an enviable courage in answering Hamlet’s question with “To be” when one is living with suffering yet is convinced there will be neither comfort beyond death nor punishment for making his quietus. Maybe it’s ego more than courage, but as one who struggles with the demon depression, which is only kept from turning life into an idiot’s tale of despair by much prayer and fasting, I can’t help but think it might also be faith by a different name.

  • Tom

    May God have mercy on his soul.

  • Lacey

    Christopher Hitchens was a great man. He was courageous and strong and he stood fast in his convictions. He spoke for a minority that has so few voices and he did it with dignity and wit. He does not need your prayers or your mercy. He only needs your understanding. Understanding that those of us without religion are not “poor” or “angry” or lacking in any way. Our beliefs are just different than yours.
    As Chris said: Death is certain. Replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.

    • Mark Shea

      He emphatically needs prayer, as do we all. He doesn’t need my mercy because I have nothing against him. He does need God’s mercy. That you don’t know this yet is no argument that he doesn’t now realize it. Since we are all poor I see no reason to exclude him. And your note, frankly, seeths with anger–and pride. Your belief are different in that Jesus is the truth and atheism is false. And Hitch’s rhetoric, courageous as it is, is sadly false. His very insecurity testifies to the fact that he, like all of us, wanted more. Take yes for answer and don’t be a graceless churl when somebody offers a kindness.


      • Lacey

        Interesting that I only said our beliefs were different yet you felt the need to point out that mine are wrong… And I’m the prideful one. I am not proud and I am most certainly not angry. I was simply trying to help you see things from a different perspective. If you cannot step outside your own shoes and into mine or Hitchens’ for a few seconds, that is your problem and your pride, not mine.

        • Eli

          Actually, I believe at one point Mark was an Agnostic earlier in life. Although not outright Atheism it should more than qualify “walking different shoes” as it were. Since he hasn’t always been a Christian. I’ll leave him to clarify things more if he wants.

        • Mark Shea

          If you tell me 2+2=5, it is not prideful to tell you you are wrong. It is accurate. Hitchens (and you) misread the data of the cosmos and come up with the wrong answer. When you tell me Hitchens (and, by extension, you) need no prayer or mercy, you are proud. I’ve been an unbeliever and have been in your shoes.

          • Lacey

            Well, I will not be so arrogant as to call your belief system wrong. It is not the one to which I subscribe. I used to be a Christian but I can no longer believe in a deity of any sort. That doesn’t mean I’m right of course, just as your solid belief does not mean you are right. Either of us could be or neither of us could be. As I tell my children, lots of different people believe lots of different things and no one can know for sure who is right and who is wrong. The important thing is that you are respectful of others beliefs and that the path you follow brings you peace. I wish you peace in your path, even if you do not return the favor. It is never my intention to sway someone from their beliefs. Merely to ask that you do the same for those who do not share those beliefs. Have a happy holiday and a lovely new year.

            • Mark Shea

              Lacey: I’m quite willing to wish you peace. I was also quite willing to wish Christopher Hitchens peace and even to pray for his eternal peace. For some reason, you chose to take offense at that. I’m glad you think you are not arrogant (and of course, by implication that I am arrogant, and therefore wrong, just as I was wrong to pray for Hitch). I’m not persuaded you are altogether clear in your own mind about what you think. I would be genuinely interested in why you’ve abandoned theism.

              At any rate, I wish you well as I wish Hitchens well. I’m not sure what you found offensive about any of that.

              • Lacey

                You do amuse me, I have to admit. I was not offended. I was offering another position. You are free to take or leave my opinion. Yes, I do think telling another person that they are wrong when you hold no proof yourself is arrogant. How can it not be? Even if you are right in the end, arrogance and correctness have been bedfellows before. It is not offensive to me though because I am comfortable with my own beliefs.
                I assure you, I am quite firm in my atheism and I know exactly where I stand. I do not believe a deity of any sort exists. I even go one step further and I actively believe there is no deity. My leaving theism was a long, personal journey and I am absolutely at peace now. As I truly hope you and your readers are as well.

                • Fascinating. These people are arguing past each other. They are not talking about the same thing.

  • antigon

    From Hitchens’ former friend, Alexander Cockburn at Counterpunch:

    As a writer his prose was limited in range…He courted the label “contrarian”, but if the word is to have any muscle, it surely must imply the expression of dangerous opinions. Hitchens never wrote anything truly discommoding to respectable opinion and if he had he would never have enjoyed so long a billet at Vanity Fair.

    Attacking God?…A contrarian these days would be someone who staunchly argued for the existence of a Supreme Being…[and]between the two of them, my sympathies were always with Mother Teresa. If you were sitting in rags in a gutter in Bombay, who would be more likely to give you a bowl of soup? You’d get one from Mother Teresa. Hitchens was always tight with beggars, just like the snotty Fabians who used to deprecate charity.

    As so often with friends and former friends, it’s a matter of what you’re prepared to put up with and for how long…He craved to be an insider, a trait which achieved ripest expression when he elected to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen by Bush’s director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.

    In basic philosophical take he always seemed to me to hold as his central premise a profound belief in the therapeutic properties of capitalism and empire. He was an instinctive flagwagger and remained so. He wrote some really awful stuff in the early 90s about how indigenous peoples — Indians in the Americas — were inevitably going to be rolled over by the wheels of Progress and should not be mourned.

    On the plane of weekly columns in the late eighties and nineties…He got rather boring. Then in the 90s he got a bee in his bonnet about Clinton which developed into full-blown obsessive megalomania:…so he sloshed his way across his own personal Rubicon and tried to topple Clinton via betrayal of his close friendship with Sid Blumenthal, whom he did his best to ruin financially (lawyers’ fees) and get sent to prison for perjury.

    Since then it was all pretty predictable, down to his role as flagwagger for Bush. I guess the lowest of a number of low points was when he went to the White House to give a cheerleading speech on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    I think he knew long, long before that this is where he would end up, as a right-wing codger. He used to go on, back in the Eighties, about sodden old wrecks like John Braine, who’d ended up more or less where Hitchens got to, trumpeting away about “Islamo-fascism” like a Cheltenham colonel in some ancient Punch cartoon.

    In extempore speeches and arguments he was quick on his feet. I remember affectionately many jovial sessions from years ago, in his early days at The Nation. I found the Hitchens cult of recent years entirely mystifying.

    He endured his final ordeal with pluck, sustained indomitably by his wife Carol.

    • Mark Shea

      I suppose it’s fitting, given Hitchens’ own proclivity for savaging people in the hour of their death, that Cockburn should give him the same treatment. Hitchens might even be laughing about it somewhere.

  • Matt B

    Thank you, Antigon, for the reference. I don’t know who Wilson was writing about, Hitchens or himself. It seemed a rather tired blow at asserting christian damnation doctrine in the face of recent bereavement. Give it a rest, Mr. Wilson. If you don’t feel it, don’t write it. Nobody’s waiting for your take on the last judgment, or cares about your stringy prose anyway.

    At least I know now the man who died had lived. I have to wonder about the ideologues at CT.

  • Art

    Curious, I don’t know much about this guy, but what did he do to defend the weak and oppressed?

  • Julie

    Thank you, Mark, for a balanced piece on Hitchens. I’m a fan of his beautifully written prose, as well, but I’ve never been easily able to overlook his diatribes against faith and particularly his cruel words aimed at Bl. Theresa of Calcutta.

    And the lavish praise of his writing all around the Catholic blogosphere I find rather offensive, as well, considering his constant undertones of incivility and just plain nastiness. I will continue to pray for his soul.

  • dcs

    I had never been a fan, but I did admire him for going through the trouble of being waterboarded and admitting after the fact that it was torture. That took real courage.

  • Jack

    Reading about Hitchings (especially his childhood) I get the sense that inside the arrogant, scornful and pridfull man was a scared little boy who was abandoned by his mother and whose Father was cold, uncaring, largely absent (he was a naval officer) and who didn’t know how to take care of the two little boys he suddenly found in his sole care.

    I will pray for his soul.

  • str

    De mortuis nil nisi bene.

    But that doesn’t mean we should paint a false picture and turn him into a great man. He wasn’t.

    The only prayer fitting for him is: God, have mercy. No less, but no more either.

    • Lacey

      He was a great man to atheism just as to Billy Graham is a great man to Christianity. A person does not have to share your beliefs to be a great person. All people of all walks of life can and are great people. It is however hard, at times, to see beyond the differences to the greatness.

      • str


        I do not question his greatness because he was an atheist – an atheist surely can be a great man.

        I do not question his greatness because in his writing he pursued evil ways because even an evil man can be a great man.

        I question his greatness because I see no greatness in him, just a little know-it-all critic that didn’t actually make any difference. As for his courage, only one of his typically hate-filled diatribes actually involved (half a bag of) courage – when he attacked Mother Theresa – as he vilified a woman that was praised across the board. But even in this case he didn’t risk much!

        When he attacked Kissinger, nobody was in doubt about the man’s moral qualities! When he supported the Iraq invasion he sided with both America’s military and political power as well as with US public opinion as it was back then. I grant it that he didn’t back-pedal as events unfolded like so many in the US did, but that doesn’t make his initial position courageous. Oh, and when he attacked God, he jumped up on a train heading nowhere, penning a really low-quality book.

        So that I happen to disagree with the man and you are a fan, is irrelevant. In his own words: Hitchens was not great!

        • Matt B

          Can a critic really be great?

      • Thomas R

        I don’t know. I can see the Graham analogy as Graham was an Evangelist, but I guess I thought Graham had some role in helping others beyond whether one agrees to his faith or not. “Great atheists” to me would be ones that did something great that non-atheists would recognize as a good. I could see that of Stephen Hawking, to focus on the still living, but I don’t really see it of Hitchens.

  • Manwe

    I have to agree with some of the negative reactions expressed here. I was never a fan, and I don’t care what his talents were, that man was SO fundamentally dishonest about God and Religion, that what ever his good points, they were lost in that abyss. In other words, he was dishonest about, and terribly wrong about some of the utmost important things in life (really THE most important things), so what is the point really? I have to admit being offended by some of the glowing remarks I have read of him by Christians in particular. Mark’s post did not go off the rails, but still a bit much in my opinion (granted the man just died, so I imagine Shea is being decent about it, but I still kind of agree with that Cockburn’s take on it).

    As for Hitchens soul…unless some miraculous death bed conversion occured, which even if it did happen, I’d sooner imagine Hitchens giving God the finger than embracing him (that man had a passion for hating God). I mean in all honesty, it is incredibly likely that he died in the same state he lived, and that now he is in the one place in existance where God is not.

  • Manwe

    Regarding my ending comments above, can I ask a question? It might be easier than emailing Mark Shea. So here it is: What is worse, death or Hell. Or in a sense are they the same thing? Hell, after all, is not fire and brimstone, but rather a state of existence that is devoid of God. Isn’t that death?

    • str

      Yes, hell is eternal death, but a death that one is aware of. That – and not fire – is the torment of hell: to exist in the inescapable knowledge that one could have had everything and ended up with nothing.

    • Ink

      From what I understand, Hell is a death to God–you are no longer in His world, His Presence, or part of His Family. You disown yourself and live eternally stranded, eternally lost. And your soul intimately knows that you, through your choices, brought it upon yourself.

  • New Friend

    Any prayers for Christopher Hitchens are uneccessary and, almost certainly unwelcomed by him. If there is a God and a heaven, which I personally doubt as strongly as Hitchens himself, then he will already be there with Him. He might be engaged in a fierce debate about this or that, but he will be there. His place is much more secure than that of many so called believers.
    Why do I say that? Because he was 100% honest and any all knowing God will recognise and reward that. Many so called believers are not. They just pretend to be, whilst much of what they say and do does not truly reflect what is required of an honest person. So many have taken “Pascal’s wager” without even admitting it to themselves. The only path to follow is to be a 100% honest in your belief then, if there is a God He will know it.

    • str

      If Hitchens were right about religion or the afterlife, we should anyone care what would be unwelcome to him.

      And he might have been dishonest in expressing his hatred of God and quite a few people, but that him an honest, rational thinker!

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      “Any prayers for Christopher Hitchens are uneccessary and, almost certainly unwelcomed by him.”

      That’s OK. We don’t pray for Mr. Hitchens to please Mr. Hitchens; we pray for him and for all the departed because we are bound to do so in charity, which is nothing other than love. It is Love that we worship; it is Love personified who commands us, Love personified being God the Creator of all things and the Father of us all.

      Love personified created Mr. Hitchens and destined him for a life of love with himself. And Love personified asks my prayers on his behalf.

      Who am I to say no to Love?

    • Thomas R

      As Catholics we believe in Purgatory and prayers for the dead.

      I admit though I have not been able to really get myself to pray for him because I do feel that, for now at least, I could not do so in honesty. He actively did not want there to be a God. I don’t think his atheism was as rationalistic as some, which I admit is part of why I think he was a better writer. (Asimov was fairly good, but often rationalists are kind of austere and uninteresting) Judging from what I read by him if reason clearly showed to him there must be a God than Hitchens would have been unhappy with reason. So in some ways him being in eternal separation from God, meaning some level or form of Hell, makes more sense to me than him being in Purgatory. And if he is in Hell, of some kind (even if it’s a mild “limbo-like” level), than praying for him would be a waste of time.

      I mean I understand we can’t make those judgments and many feel we should hope every individual will reach Heaven someday while being aware many probably won’t. So on some level I know what I’m saying is probably wrong. Still it does explain my difficulty praying for a guy who wouldn’t want it and that my mind sometimes think “Would he even need it?” It’s more about what’s in my head and heart, than trying to convince others of anything.

    • Any prayers for Christopher Hitchens are uneccessary and, almost certainly unwelcomed by him.

      Not in life, certainly. Now he knows better. Everyone’s a Catholic when they’re dead.

      • Lacey

        Yes, obviously, it’s the atheists who are proud and arrogant. *barf* Even if you are right, I will not be a Catholic in the afterlife. The God your Bible speaks of is cruel, petty, jealous and sadistic. I would never worship him.

        • Lacey, how can I be arrogant if I think you’re wrong without you being arrogant if you think I’m wrong? Surely as human beings we both have a right to disagree, to argue, and to attempt to convince the other person of the truth of our position?

          What Mark objects to in the main, and what gets his rhetoric flowing, are not the atheists who argue for atheism but the atheists who argue for their own superiority. That has yet to be established, frankly.

          The God your Bible speaks of is cruel, petty, jealous and sadistic. I would never worship him.

          These are good points, and Christians have long wrestled with this. Are you truly interested in the discussion?

        • Also, I apologize for the triumphalism. I often think of this blog solely as a gathering-place for Catholics, and when you get together with others who think like you it’s a natural human activity to spend a little time high-fiving each other just for being on the same team. Saying something like “all Catholics in the after-life” to an atheist friend is just as obnoxious as atheists taking the public stage to boast about how bright they are. Sorry.

        • Matt B

          Lacey, what’s the god in your bible like?

        • Matt B

          Lacey, I’ve got to question your reading comprehension level if you think that the Biblical God is “cruel, petty, jealous and sadistic.” Were you educated in an ivy league school by the functional illiterates they routinely tenure? Or did you come by you ignorance honestly?

          • str

            Actually, Lacey’s reading comprehension is fine. He faithfully repeated what Hitchens wrote!

      • str

        “Everyone’s a Catholic when they’re dead.”

        Nothing could be further from the truth. Knowing better doesn’t constitute being a Catholic. Paul says faith endures until we see. Hitchens sees now but he can no longer act upon what he see, he’s either in or (probably) out.

        • Okay, fine. But that’s not what I meant. 😉

          • str

            I know. But that’s what the term means.