Monday, April 25, 2011

Christopher Hitchens STILL Defiant in the Face of Death

The following letter by Christopher Hitchens is posted on Roger Morris' Faith Interface blog. It is a letter that is addressed to this year’s American Atheists Convention. Hitchens, currently fighting a battle with esophageal cancer, was prevented from attending the April 2011 convention for health reasons. In his stead, he sent the following letter of encouragement to attendees at the Convention.  It shows that Hitchen’s still is defiant in his anti-theism, even in the face of possible death.

"Dear fellow-unbelievers,

Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.

That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.

Christopher Hitchens"

[Note:]  Thinking about Christopher's letter, his bravado is mind-boggling. This public display of an attitudinal "shaking the fist at the heavens" is leading me to wonder; when all the lights are out, and in the still of the night hours where one is "alone", does he even consider at any moment his mortality and frailty as a human being?  Roger Morris in his blog rightly quotes the attitude from Bertrand Russell,

"The world which science presents for our belief is even more purposeless, more void of meaning… That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast depth of the solar system, and the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand." (Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, 1957, 107)

Following up on Roger's blog posting, I went out online to see if I could find what OTHER skeptics had said that might reflect something different.  So doing, I found a video that gave some quotes from famous skeptics (Russell and Nietzsche were not there) that were not so bold and brazen against God.

"I am abandoned by God and man. . .I shall go to hell" - Voltaire

"I have been everything and everything is nothing" - Roman Emperor Severus

"I would give worlds if I had them. . . that the Age of Reason had never been published. O God save me, for I am at the edge of hell alone. . ." - Thomas Paine.

"I am about to take a fearful leap into the dark" - Thomas Hobbes, political philosopher and skeptic.

Some concluding thoughts here: I am reminded of hearing about Josef Stalin's final moments before his passing.  (No!  I am not comparing Christopher Hitchens to Stalin, just the attitude). The following are the words about Stalin’s deathbed scene, as described by his daughter, Svetlana, in Allen Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin. She says the following:

"The death agony was terrible. God grants an easy death only to the just. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed like the very last moment he suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry and full of fear of death. . . Then something incomprehensible and terrible happened that to this day I can’t forget. . . He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something up above and bring down a curse on us all. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace. . .The next moment, after a final effort, the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh."

Please note that I am not wishing his doom or his demise. Even though he might think that Christians want to see him gone.  That is not true here.  I believe his situation, no matter his worldview, should give us more pause to pray for him and for his healing both spiritual and physical.  Atheism is an brutally ugly philosophy to die to when the life of the skeptic comes to its end.  Christopher Hitchens is still with us, and this is all the more reason to continue to pray for him, for his healing and his coming to the truth. 

In closing, I remember reading something in a devotional that went something along these lines.  When it comes to dying, there is no difference between the Christian and the unbeliever on this side of life. The difference comes when the life of each comes to an end and that which lies beyond becomes reality.  For the Christian there is nothing to fear.  But for the unbeliever, what horrors lie in wait?  When I see the words of aforementioned dying skeptics, and contrast it with "Hitch's" false bravado, we can only pray that God will "flip the switch" to belief and bring him all the way to belief in Christ.  Or else what will his last words be.  I fear reading them as we move closer to the future.  

Lord,  Please deliver Christopher Hitchens. - RL.  

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