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Atheist Christopher Hitchens Vows to Fight Religion, Cancer, and Deathbed Conversion

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Unrepentant despite the ongoing ravages of esophageal cancer and the chemotherapy that is supposed to keep it at bay, atheist and controversialist Christopher Hitchens is vowing to "continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it's hello darkness my old friend."

One of the delusions he targets in his regular column in the latest edition of Vanity Fair magazine is the notion that the cancer is divine retribution for his irreligious spoutings, and in particular a punishment aimed at his voice, which has for years been the famously plummy medium for many of his heresies.

His throat, the high-living Hitchens notes with characteristic drollery, "is not at all the only organ with which I have blasphemed."


And he issues a "prebuttal" to assure both his foes and his many fans (some of them believers) that even if his voice survives to his deathbed, they shouldn't believe any reports of a last-minute change of heart.

"As a terrified, half-aware imbecile," Hitchens writes, "I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be 'me.' (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)"

As he often does, Hitchens picks out the cartoonish views of one of the uglier believers to comment on his illness in order to set up his deconstruction of faith.

He quotes one anonymous believer as commenting: "He's going to writhe in agony and pain and wither away to nothing and then die a horrible agonizing death, and THEN comes the real fun, when he's sent to HELLFIRE forever to be tortured and set afire."

Hitchens coolly analyzes the scorching condemnations of such religionists and lists the rational objections to them, most of which would in fact be shared by any thoughtful Christian, or at least those humble enough not to be "so damn sure that he can know the mind of god," as Hitchens puts it.
"Second," he continues, "would this anonymous author want his views to be read by my unoffending children, who are also being given a hard time in their way, and by the same god? Third, why not a thunderbolt for yours truly, or something similarly awe-inspiring? The vengeful deity has a sadly depleted arsenal if all he can think of is exactly the cancer that my age and former 'lifestyle' would suggest that I got. Fourth, why cancer at all? Almost all men get cancer of the prostate if they live long enough: it's an undignified thing but quite evenly distributed among saints and sinners, believers and unbelievers."

"If you maintain that god awards the appropriate cancers, you must also account for the numbers of infants who contract leukemia. Devout persons have died young and in pain. Bertrand Russell and Voltaire, by contrast, remained spry until the end, as many psychopathic criminals and tyrants have also done. These visitations, then, seem awfully random."
All good questions, and ones people of faith have also been asking for eons.

Indeed, in the latter half of his column, Hitchens wrestles with typical honesty with the more vexing questions of mortal illness, and with the touching assurances of the many better angels who have offered their sustaining prayers -- as PoliticsDaily recounted here -- and with the equally wishful support he has received from his fellow unbelievers.

"If anyone can beat this, you can," one atheist wrote him. "Cancer has no chance against someone like you," said another.

All very flattering, as Hitchens notes. But not particularly realistic, and even something of a burden.

"On bad days, and even on better ones, such exhortations can have a vaguely depressing effect. If I check out, I'll be letting all these comrades down," he writes.

And if he survives, there is this prospect: "[W]hat if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating."

Christopher Hitchens is already a "man in the fire," as Reynolds Price, also afflicted by cancer, called his book-length letter to a dying friend.

Praying to send him to burn in Hell seems redundant, as well as profoundly un-Christian. But praying loudly for him to convert or be cured, or making claims for the efficacy of such intercessions, "can seem a bit smug, or even Pharisaical," as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote -- and not what Jesus would do.
Filed Under: Religion, Culture, Disputations

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64 Comments

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don2dive

I'm pulling for you Hitch and pray for your health and that God might still touch you and seal you as one of his own but I have to admit that atheists are really quite rare; I've only met one or two. Most that claim that they are are either just too cowardly to fly their true flag or not willing to expose their true mission. They believe in God but they hate him and want nothing else but to attack and undermine the faith of others. Their anger gives them away. I don't believe in the Easter Bunny, but I don't get mad enough to write books about it or work to ban plastic eggs in school. Atheists have never been able to convince or prove to me that they are really non-beleivers.

September 03 2010 at 11:16 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
albertabre

No one is a beleiver until there is no choice. Where is the down size in beleiving in God on your deathbed. I am sure Mr. Hitchens has good attributes. He may be correct in the vast majority of his opinions and thoughts. With God, he is just in error. I am sure God will point this out to him at his judgement

September 03 2010 at 9:34 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Carol

yarakone, according to your doctrine, we have no personal, responsibility to seek God because it's all predestination. NOT SO and not what the Bible teaches. Yes we do have to be wooed by the Holy Spirit, but Jesus said clearly: "It is my Father's will that all men should be saved and that none should perish". This is the whole message of the Gospels which contain the teachings of Christ.

September 03 2010 at 9:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rogersofer

while I don't agree with Hitchens I respect the man's erudition and personal warmth...but when I'd read about 150 pp of his book Hitch22 and then discovered his photo taken w Chavez in Venezuela, it was more than I could take ... I read no more...for all the man's good points, this action of utter stupidity in embracing the sick man/dictator in Latin America overrules any amount of common sense and wisdom anyone could wish he might have ... he will remain and sadly die (though I wish him some "miracle") nothing more than a frustrated professional Naysayer

September 03 2010 at 1:14 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
jimsquiresoregon

He is a good reasoner. We all can appreciate that. But human reason will evaporate in the presence of God. We exist by the forbearance of God. How could we ever argue with God..

September 03 2010 at 12:27 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
rann948

Only the most radical of religious zealots believe that God punishes or rewards individuals here on earth for believing in Him. We were given the ability to reason. If God intended us to be browbeaten into believing, wouldn't He have created us as pre-programmed zombies? Your reward for believing first is being able to cope with the ups and downs of life on earth, then of course "heaven". Not believing is a sad, kind of frightening way to live. Nothing to turn to when you are in pain or fearful of the future. Just another animal scurrying for cover. Scurry Mr. Hitchens.

September 03 2010 at 12:29 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rann948's comment
dsti625596

rann948 WRITES THE FOLLOWING - "Not believing is a sad, kind of frightening way to live. Nothing to turn to when you are in pain or fearful of the future. Just another animal scurrying for cover. Scurry Mr. Hitchens."====================================================================== ARE YOU SERIOUS rann948? As for Mr. Hitchens, if nothing else he will leave this world having lived as just that..Mr. Hitchens. The Existentialists would call that sort of life 'authentic'. So, your argument such as it is can easily be turned on its head. Believing is sad... especially if one does so to avoid some sort of Dante-esque punishment. Your comment 'nothing to turn to when you are in pain or fearful of the future' is revelatory. So, religion to you is a security blanket. If that's not bad enough, you truly expose your inner most thoughts by that world 'fearful'. It seems to me that the worst sort of 'religion' is one based on fear. If religion.. ANY religion has any value, it's not to make us comfortable, or less fearful. Hopefully it will make us more loving, inclusive, and giving. I thought the fear thing left us with the cavemen. Evidently not. How sad ran948.

September 04 2010 at 1:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
THOM

"The fool believes in his heart that there is no God!"

September 02 2010 at 11:44 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Stephanie

The rights of many should be first not some extremest. This is getting sickening with commentaries such as this...The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights state that church can not be a part of our lives. There are no guarentees that the Government beyond no funding should intercede in these matters. Get a grip the world has very few athiests, thank the Lord. They are intitled to their beliefs but not at the cost of my rights to religion.

September 02 2010 at 11:37 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Stephanie's comment
flowerain2

I say hooray for this guy, I have never heard of him, but good for him to speak out against 'God'. There are millions of athiests in this world and too many of their voices are shut off by bible thumping crazies! I am so glad he has been able to speak out against it. I am so incredibly offended by people that come knock on my door and shove their nonsense thoughts down my throat or leave booklets on my door step. I have no problem with people believing what they want, but do not try to force your beliefs on others!

September 04 2010 at 10:43 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
momprayn

How sad and tragic...more than tragic. As a Christian, it is always very painful to hear and see this. They just "know not what they're saying". It's so easy these days to research on the web for the sites that have scientific proofs, "beyond reasonable doubt" that the Bible is true; testimonies. I guess I just can't relate to the thought that if I'm wrong, it's no big deal --- I'll just burn in torment or whatever for eternity -- but it won't be "bad". I just don't get that. Common sense tells me it's not too wise to take that risk. Don't know why some suffer & are healed & some aren't - but I do know that some are. I was healed instantly of a broken foot, but still have other disorders. Have no idea why. For anyone who wants to check - a few websites: www.allabouttruth.org www.creationevidence.org ** www.answersingenesis.org

September 02 2010 at 10:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
AngelBaby

I have never heard of this guy before and he is so misguided. God does not make the cancer we contract. We have by all of our inventions and use of dangerous substances. As for why would He allow us to do such things? A simple conception.."Choice"...we are not His puppets. We have the choice to believe or not. Now on the part of saints and sinners...saints are sinners also. We all are whether we are saved or not. Christians are sinners..we just happen to know where we are going when we die. Now for this famous(?) atheist, if he accepted Christ a long time ago when he was a child, he cannot lose that salvation. He will have a nice time explaining his rantings of non-belief on judgement day. Funny but I guess I have led a sheltered life not hearing of this poor man. One that I will pray for. Angered at him? No. But I do pity him for missing out on a wonderful relationship with God.

September 02 2010 at 10:05 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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