Pleasantly Surprised

Pleasantly Surprised December 16, 2011

Christopher HitchensThis morning brings news of the death of the public intellectual Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens had been battling with esophogeal cancer for the past year or so, a struggle he chronicled in the pages of Vanity Fair, where he was a longtime columnist. Fr. James Martin, SJ, has a wonderful blog post on Hitchens today. It really is must reading. Fr. Martin writes, “Someone asked me this morning what I hoped for Christopher Hitchens … and my first response was to say that I hope he’s pleasantly surprised.  And I do.”

As do I. Obviously, I didn’t agree with Hitchens on much, especially his atheism and his perplexing defense of the war in Iraq. But in a country where the public discourse grows more stupid by the day – where stupidity is even counted as a qualification for high office in some quarters – Hitchens was a reminder that there is great value in intelligence, clear articulation and the honest search for truth. Hitchens found the claims of the Christian faith wanting, even perverse. But he took them seriously in a way even many Christians do not. He challenged Christians to defend the often contradictory practice of our faith, and to reconcile the seeming absurdity of its assumptions with the hard truths of the world around us. I never viewed Hitchens as an enemy of Christianity, but he was one of its most severe critics. And thank God for that. The honest critic is always a friend of those who seek the truth.

I’ll close with words that Hitchens would have found hopelessly irrational and even a bit demeaning when applied to him. I don’t care, and whether he or we were right about what happens at death, I’m confident he doesn’t care any longer either: “Eternal rest grant to him,  Lord. In your mercy, welcome Christopher and all those for whom you died into your peace.”

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  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I like that way of putting it. I think by definition everyone is surprised, but then the surprise comes everyday, through a glass darkly and sometimes more clearly. I feel rock solid in one conviction: no one will be more surprised than right-wing religionists of all types, from reactionary Hindus to reactionary Catholics. They have mistaken a speck of belief for the plenum. Nothing is lost.

  • Ronald King

    I second that.

  • brian martin

    Well said, Mark

  • brettsalkeld

    There was something oddly likeable about Hitch, even when he was dead wrong. I really do hope to meet him some day. Heaven will be a better place if he’s there.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I must confess that I did not like Hitchens. I often found him smug in his positions and far too sure of himself. He was erudite and witty, but much the same can be said of George Will. My opinion of him was only reinforced when he came to speak at Trinity several years ago. Peter Steinfels was on the panel, and I must say I felt very sorry for Mr. Steinfels for what he had to endure.

    God keep him, though. RIP

    • Rodak

      @David Cruz-Uribe–
      I often felt that way about Hitchens myself. However, there is no denying the courage of the position he took with regard to the Rushdie affair. For that alone, I have to respect the man.

      • Courage is the virtue that makes all the others operative. However, when other virtues, like charity, like temperance, like patience and wisdom aren’t there, it’s not of much use. Hitchens was an intemperate, unjust and vain man, and, as far as I’m concerned, his “courage” was a form of macho preening. He simply was not a good man.