December 16, 2011

On the Passing of Christopher Hitchens


World renowned writer, intellectual, and atheist Christopher Hitchens has passed away. He died as he lived; an intellectual opposed to all forms of theism. Opposed so harshly that he often refused the term atheist and preferred the term “antitheist.” As a Christian it might seem weird that I felt a need to write a post about such a man. Why would a Christian write about someone who seemed hellbent on destroying everything I believe in?

As a followers of Christ, we can not reduce this man’s life to his disavowal of deity. If we do, then we have done a disservice to him, and it seems more retributive for his years of challenge and aggressive attack. There is so much to be learned because there is more to Christopher Hitchens than his refusal to believe in a deity, and we learn it even in his refusal to believe in God.

I respect his commitment to stay connected to those less fortunate. 
Hitchens’ early life and intellectual development is marked by a growing anger at poverty and racism. He protested against the Vietnam War and allowed himself to be waterboarded to investigate whether or not it really was torture. He lasted only a few seconds.

The Huffington Post writes, “Hitchens resolved to spend time at least once a year in ‘a country less fortunate than [his] own.’” He wanted to experience first-hand the reality of other people’s lives. We would do well to learn that lesson...to experience first hand the reality of poverty...to see it with our own eyes...to have relationships with those who are hurting, broken, poor, and different from us.

I respect his intellect.
Hitchens was a powerful intellectual figure. He thought deeply, and held everything to intellectual standards that far surpass those of many Christians. Writing became his natural outlet to educate and enrage those around him. He knew that teaching someone took place when you introduced them to something new or enraged them to the point where they checked things out for themselves.

His intellectual curiosity and exploration lead to his atheism. Hitchens said, “"Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It's our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated."

While I adamantly disagree that faith and intellect and skepticism and reason are somehow opposed or that they can not coexist...I respect that in many forms of Christianity he is absolutely right. Many who claim Christ do a great disservice to Christianity with weak intellectual practices or no intellectual practices at all.

I respect his conviction that this life should be lived to the fullest.
For the atheist this life is all that exists. There is nothing after this life. This can be a dark and depressing place as there is nothing left or an incredibly empowering thing for this life. Believing that this life is all there is can enliven the senses so that every experience and relationship is enjoyed to its fullest.

Hitchens saw life this way.
“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.”
Learning to enjoy life to fullest is a skill many could use to learn. Relationships, beauty, mystery, even pain all have their role. I would still find it incredibly depressing to think that all this was for nought. As a Christian, though, I don’t. I get the best of both worlds. I can and should enjoy life and beauty and mystery to its fullest all the while knowing that because of the resurrection to come this is not the end. In fact, it will get even better. All of this life’s experiences will be redeemed and made complete.

I respect his conviction to hold to his convictions.
Christopher Hitchens was a lightening rod for controversy and anger. He invited it and seemed to even enjoy it. He was willing to stand for his convictions no matter the cost. No one was immune whom he felt wrong.

He was even willing to call out Mother Teresa!
"[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."
Hitchens declared that he would never have a conversion experience due to his cancerous condition. If he did it would be either a lie propagated by a religious nut or a result of being out of his mind due to drugs or cancer. His ultimate commitment was to maintain his integrity to his intellectual beliefs.
"The entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain. I can't guarantee that such an entity wouldn't make such a ridiculous remark, but no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a remark."
I do wish for the sake of his soul that Christopher Hitchens had experienced the presence of God. I don’t mean this to be offensive to atheists. If I truly believe in an afterlife where all the beauty and mystery of life is not lost...I would hope that Mr. Hitchens could experience that and enliven it with his intellect.

But I do respect that even when faced with death he was unwilling to waver from beliefs. He could have succumb to fear of the unknown. He could have bought the “insurance” just in case he was wrong. He could have done any number of things, but he was committed to his beliefs.

Conclusion
The passing of someone is always a sad thing. Something is lost when someone passes away, and, unfortunately, Hitchens couldn’t enjoy the idea that it didn’t have to die completely. He did, however, find a way to believe that he could live on...even if through the lives of his daughters.
“To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase 'terrible beauty.' Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else's body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know whom I would die to protect and I also understand that nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away.”
Check out these two posts about Hitchens. Here and Here.

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