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Friday, October 24, 2014

Christopher Hitchens is Dead

Posted by jlwile on December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens in 2007. (Click for credit)

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday at the age of 62. In 2010, he publicly stated that he was being treated for esophageal cancer. He ended up dying of pneumonia, which doctors said was a complication from the disease. He was a journalist and writer, best known for his caustic defense of atheism.


While he was a prolific author, I read only two of his books. The first, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer, was actually a collection works from other writers. The authors ranged from Lucretius to Dawkins. As such, it was a rather hit-and-miss book. Some of the works (like those from Shelley, Hume, and Dennett) were quite good, and some (like those from Hardy, Sagan, and Dawkins) were quite bad. Hitchens wrote an introduction to each work, which gave me some idea of his views and the methods by which he came to them.

Based on that, I also read God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. It contained very little of note, although Hitchens’s style did make it interesting to read. After finishing the book, I was left to wonder why some consider him to be such a powerful voice for atheism. There are very powerful voices in atheism, but based on what I have read, Hitchens doesn’t even register as a whisper compared to them.

If you have never read anything from him, a couple of quotes might be helpful. In the introduction to The Portable Atheist, he says:

…owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods. (p. xvi)

While I appreciate his turn of phrase and agree with his characterization of dogs and cats, he then goes on to say something rather absurd. He claims that religion partakes of both thought processes. Those who believe in religion (the context of the quote was Christianity) must have the servile view of a dog, but at the same time, they must view themselves as being at the center of the universe because they think that they are part of a Divine plan. I would think that anyone who is even partly familiar with Christianity knows that this is a mischaracterization. Unfortunately, such mischaracterizations were common in both his books that I read.

When he revealed that he was being treated for cancer, there were many who suggested that he might experience a conversion as a result of his illness. Certainly, Christendom is full of accounts of people who are stricken with a grave illness or injury and turn to Christ as a result. However, Hitchens made it clear that this would not happen for him. When asked about the possibility of a future report from him saying that he had turned to Christ, he said:

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.

So to Hitchens, the only possible way he could come to Christ is if he had some sort of brain disease that kept him from being able to think rationally. I find that rather sad.

I want to emphasize that if Hitchens did experience a deathbed conversion, he will be in heaven with all the saints, including those who worked for the cause of Christ for a long, long time. This is the power of Christ’s love for us. It wouldn’t matter to Christ that Hitchens had been ridiculing Christianity and fighting against it all his life. If Hitchens honestly called out to Him, Christ would answer. That’s the power of the Gospel, and I pray that Hitchens did experience it before he died.

You might be interested in reflections by other Christians on this subject. Here are a few:

Faith and Self Defense
Thinking Christian
The Real Issue
The Aristophrenium
Reasons for God

Comments

27 Responses to “Christopher Hitchens is Dead”
  1. Caleb says:

    From what I have heard, there was no indication he experienced a deathbed conversion.

    While I find this very sad, I also find it a very good reminder that there is a punishment – and it must be paid in full. Whatever God decides to do with his soul, that is the right decision. We cannot, however, pretend that people do not choose to pay for the penalty themselves.

    I think Mr. Hitchens was a very smart and gifted man, but I am also willing to admit that he chose to pay for the penalty himself, whether he believed there was one or not.

    May God give us the strength to proclaim the Gospel to those who are on their way to paying their own punishment.

  2. NoOneKnows says:

    “I want to emphasize that if Hitchens did experience a deathbed conversion, he will be in heaven with all the saints, including those who worked for the cause of Christ for a long, long time”

    Interesting. I would like to know your opinion what would happen to people belonging to other religions who either never got a chance to know Christ or who didn’t find compelling reasons to believe in Christ over their own god/gods (that they are taught to worship since birth) when they die.

  3. jlwile says:

    That’s a good question, NoOne. I think that God judges us based on the knowledge we have and how we act on it. In Romans 1:19-20, we learn that certain truths about God are within us, and that His attributes are made evident to us by His Creation. Thus, if a person is following the truth that God has placed in us all and understands His attributes that are made evident to us all, I would think God would honor that.

    Now, of course, once a person accurately learns about Jesus, that person would have to follow Him to be following the truth that God has placed in his or her heart. So if a person accurately learns about Jesus but continues to worship other gods, then I don’t see that person going to heaven, as he or she is not following the truth that God has placed in his or her heart.

    Now let me make it clear that I am not in a position to judge whether or not anyone is going to heaven. That is between each person and God. God cares about us individually, so He judges us individually as well. I expect that when I get to heaven, I will be surprised by some of the people who are there as well as by some of the people who are not!

  4. mantha stormeil says:

    You are presumptuous and disingenuous in your cherry-picking of this man’s quotes. I find your blog distasteful, and the fact that it jacked its way into my youtube account an outrage.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I was only vaguely familiar with Christopher Hitchens but I do hope he made some kind of deathbed decision to believe in Jesus.

    There’s an intriguing book called Eternity in their Hearts by Don Richardson, which discusses particular evidence of God’s ‘general revelation’ (Creation and Conscience) to cultures worldwide throughout history. It seems God really does communicate Himself to peoples of all times and cultures; He has not left himself without a witness.

    The Old and New Testaments are God’s ‘special revelation’ to humanity through Abraham, the Jewish people/prophets and then perfectly and ultimately in Jesus Christ.

    As you said, if one has knowledge of Jesus but chooses to reject Him, they will have to pay for their own sin.

  6. jlwile says:

    Mantha, I am sorry that you find this post “presumptuous and disingenuous,” but it is most certainly not. The quotes are also not “cherry picked.” They are both accurately reported and representative of his views. I tell you the full context and conclusion of the first quote, and you can watch the entire youtube clip to see for yourself that there is nothing disingenuous about how I presented the second quote.

  7. jlwile says:

    Thanks for the excellent comment, Elizabeth!

  8. Pyrodin says:

    Hahaha, I kinda like the Dog/Cat example( no offence intended), I haven’t read his books but I think I might for a laugh.

    @ Caleb-I think believing in God for fear of punishment or want of reward is a shallow thing to do. If you’re going to believe in something like an all powerful being, it should be because of the things you have seen for yourself. Like you for example, Dr. Wile, you said you believe because of the design you see in the world. Personally I also see design, but am unsure of its divinity, but I see the reason and logic behind your belief, and I respect that. To me, threatening those who doubt with eternal damnation and promising a reward of “Heaven” for believing blindly, is how you get people to do what you want out of self-interest instead of conscience, empathy, benevolence, or will of God.

  9. jlwile says:

    One or two of his books are worth a read, Pyrodin. As I said, there is absolutely nothing profound or deep in his writing, but he does have an interesting style.

  10. gracekalman says:

    On the first two comments-
    My dad gave a really good example for this (I think it may have been Michael Pearl’s originally).
    Imagine that someone is in the hospital, dying of AIDS. Then imagine that you find the cure. You are very excited and run into his room. “Here, take this and you will live!” But the man does not believe you, and refuses to take it. Before he was dying because he had AIDS, now he is dying because he will not accept the cure.
    The same is true of mankind. Take for an example a Native American. He has a conscience. Creation tells him that there is a “Great Spirit”. Yet he goes against his conscience. In other words, he sins. And he dies and goes to hell because of that sin. Now if this Indian had run across John Eliot and refused the gospel, then he would die because he refused the cure for his sin. But the fact that he did not know of the gospel does not excuse his sin.

    The fact is, all men sin. If we as Christians do not get them the cure, we are to be blamed in at least some measure

  11. jlwile says:

    Excellent analogy, Grace!

  12. JL says:

    I have several family members who were atheists during their life. I don’t know what the state of their souls was when they died, but this poem comforts me:

    “Twixt the saddle and the ground
    Was mercy sought and mercy found.”

    I know many people were praying for Christopher Hitchens–it may be that mercy found him at the last minute as well.

  13. David Smart says:

    I appreciate the linkback to my introspective on this iconic man passing away, Mr. Wile. Thank you, and may God continue to bless your efforts, sir. Your blog is an edifying read and I enjoy staying up to date with it.

  14. jlwile says:

    Thank you so much, David!

  15. NoOneKnows says:

    Appologies for the delay and thanks for your reply, but I don’t think it answers my question. Even if we assume that there are certain truths about God within us, the knowledge of Jesus is definitely not self evident.
    I believe this statement “Thus, if a person is following the truth that God has placed in us all and understands His attributes that are made evident to us all, I would think God would honor that” is your own reasoning. But bible preaches that a person has to accept Christ to be saved due to original sin. So that still leaves us with my initial question about those who did not get a chance to know about Jesus in their lives. You can also add mentally handicapped and unborn deceased children to this list).

    Also, you said “once a person accurately learns about Jesus”… you have to admit believing in Jesus (or any other God for that matter) is largely faith based. It is nearly impossible for someone who was brainwashed in their own God since childhood (this is esp. true in case of Muslims) to believe in Jesus even if they have the means to learn about him. It would seem amazing that something as critical as eternal salvation largely depends on the place/family where a person is born, which is completely arbitrary and not a choice.

    Leaving all that aside, I would like to present with a hypothetical (though very real and very possible) situation.

    Consider the case of a person who was sexually abused as a child by a priest. This person not only grows to become an atheist but anti-religious. When he/she dies as an atheist, would he go to hell as prescribed by Bible? What about the priest? If he confesses and repents his sin, would he still go to heaven?

  16. jlwile says:

    NoOne, you need to study the Bible a bit more. Nowhere does it say anything about a person having to “accept” Christ to be saved due to original sin. It says that Christ is the only salvation from sin. However, as I noted previously, it says that God has written such things inside every person. Yes, the knowledge of Jesus’s name is not self-evident, but the knowledge of your sin and your need for a redeemer is. Thus, if you follow the truths that have been written inside you, you are following Christ, whether you know His name or not. This covers all people – those who have not heard, those who are mentally handicapped, etc.

    You claim that it is “nearly impossible for someone who was brainwashed in their own God since childhood (this is esp. true in case of Muslims) to believe in Jesus.” However, that is demonstrably false. There are many, many people who have converted from every religion (including Islam) to Christianity. Thus, it is clearly quite possible for someone who has been brainwashed from another religion to recognize the truth of Christ. Once again, this is because the truth of Christ is written inside us all. Thus, salvation does not depend on where you are born. It depends on you following the truths that God has written in you.

    In your hypothetical situation, the atheist goes to hell, and the priest goes to heaven. However, the thinking you are trying to introduce in your situation has a serious flaw in it. First, you seem to think that it’s the priest’s fault that the person is now an atheist. That is certainly not the case. If a person turns away from the truth that is written inside him, it is his own fault, not someone else’s. Second, you seem to be thinking that “good” people should go to heaven and “bad” people should go to hell, but that is just not true. We are all bad, and we all deserve hell. I deserve hell just as much as the priest who abuses children. Indeed, I deserve hell just as much as Adolph Hitler. I will be going to heaven not because I have been “good.” No one is good enough to go to heaven. I will be going to heaven because Jesus covered my sin with His blood, and I recognize my utter depravity and my need for His blood. That’s the truth that is written in each of us, and you don’t need to know the specific name of Jesus to know that and follow it.

  17. NoOneKnows says:

    Your assertion knowledge of “your sin and your need for a redeemer is self evident” lacks empirical or logical reasoning. It is just a rationalization on your part to support your beliefs. I have to admit the part about unborn children and mentally handicapped people is hilarious though…reminds me of an episode in Southpark. And “your interpretation” of how one can attain salvation is extra biblical and am afraid is a minority view in the christian world.

    I’m afraid I have more knowledge of how conversion works than you think, having come from a land where conversion is rampant. Many of my own relatives converted into Christianity. I should have been clearer though. By “brainwashed since childhood” I meant religious fundamentalists. An average religious person might convert given the write circumstances, but it is nearly impossible with fundamentalists. I was referring to such people and quoted Muslims as they (esp belonging to Islamic countries), are likely to fall into this category.
    Your assertion “this is because the truth of Christ is written inside us all” is comical. I have heard the same argument from Muslims about Allah. For that matter there are lot many Christians who either lost faith or converted into other religions including Islam.

    Your explanation regarding the abused child is not only insensitive but also repulsive and utterly disgusting. You answer a logical and practical question with religious dogma that is utterly useless unless one already believes in this non sense. I hope none of your blog readers are actually abused in childhood.

  18. Pyrodin says:

    “We are all bad, and we all deserve hell. I deserve hell just as much as the priest who abuses children. Indeed, I deserve hell just as much as Adolph Hitler.”

    That bothers me, God creates flawed people just to send them all to hell for being flawed? Its part of what drives me away from basic Christianity, and more towards less common beliefs like the Cathars.

    “According to the Cathars, the world had been created by a lesser deity, much like the figure known in classical Gnostic myth as the Demiurge. This creative force was identified with Satan. Most forms of classical Gnosticism had not made this explicit link between the Demiurge and Satan. Spirit, the vital essence of humanity, was thus trapped in a polluted world created by a usurper god and ruled by his corrupt minions.”

    Feels kinda right to me.

  19. Elizabeth says:

    Very good questions/answers NoOne and Dr Jay!

  20. jlwile says:

    NoOne, there is a lot of empirical evidence for the fact that a person’s sin and need for a redeemer is self-evident. Twice, I have had the privilege of speaking at a missionary conference for those who minister to people in eastern countries. In some of those countries, it is actually illegal to be a missionary, but that doesn’t stop the amazing saints that attend this conference. When I speak to these missionaries about how they share the Good News of Christ to those who have never heard of Him before, they simply say that they appeal to the people’s inner knowledge of their sin and need for a redeemer. They say that in almost every conversion, the person says something to the effect that he or she had always known the Truth. The missionary simply allowed the person to put a name to it. There is also a lot of logical support for this fact. After all, since it is clear that we are all created, it only makes logical sense that the Creator would instill His Truth in us. You might find such truth to be “hilarious,” but it doesn’t change the fact that it is true.

    I find it interesting that you claim my view is extraBiblical. It is not even clear that you know what the Bible teaches about salvation. Read Hebrews 11:4-19. It talks about several specific people who had never heard of Christ. Nevertheless, they were all saved. As I have already said, Romans 1:19-20 specifically says that God makes Himself evident to all. This idea is anything but extraBiblical. In fact, it is right there in the Bible for those who care to actually read it!

    You first claimed, “It is nearly impossible for someone who was brainwashed in their own God since childhood (this is esp. true in case of Muslims) to believe in Jesus even if they have the means to learn about him.” Now you are backpedalling. You now say that this applies only to fundamentalists. Once again, however, it is quite wrong. You can watch this youtube video where a former Muslim fundamentalist who admits that he used to want to kill his wife for not wearing a covering is the pastor of a Christian church in Kurdistan. If you watch the video, you will see how Muslims saw Jesus in their dreams. In those dreams, He proclaimed His love for them, saying that He wanted them to be saved. This, of course, is more support for what the Bible teaches – that God writes his Truth in each of us. Other examples of Muslim fundamentalists who have converted to Christianity include Mina Nevisa, who was born into a fundamentalist Muslim family but became a Christian, Abdullahi Jibril, a Muslim fundamentalist who waged war on Christianity before converting (much like the Apostle Paul), Bahaa el-Din Ahmed Hussein el-Akkad, a former fundamentalist Muslim sheikh who went to jail for converting to Christianity, etc., etc.

    I agree that there are Christians who have lost their faith or converted to other religions. However, I am not the one saying that conversion is “virtually impossible” for specified groups of people. You are the one who claimed that, and I am simply showing how utterly wrong you are. You might find the fact that the truth of Christ is written inside us all to be comical. However, the converts I listed above certainly don’t think so. They praise God for this fact!

    I am sorry you find my explanation regarding the abused child insensitive, repulsive, disgusting, and useless. I expect it is because you have no real experience with helping people who have been abused like that. I, on the other hand, do have such experience. I have two very, very dear ones who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The first was once a student of mine. She found that she could confide in me, and she has specifically said that understanding how God could forgive her abusers helped her become able to forgive them herself. Once she was able to forgive, she was able to experience real emotional healing. The scars are there, to be sure, but they have healed because of the incredible power of forgiveness. The relationship between me and this former student has continued long after she left campus. In fact, she is the reason the second dear one came into my life. My former student encouraged me to help this second dear one, and once again, forgiveness was key to her healing. This second dear one is now an integral part of my life, and I can’t thank God enough for her healing.

    So, far from being insensitive, repulsive, disgusting, and useless, the Truth of Christ heals even those who have experienced terrible things in this life. I do hope that survivors of such abuse read this blog. They need to know this healing truth. They also need to know that there is hope. Both of the dear ones of whom I speak suffered terrible sexual abuse, but both of them are happy, emotionally healthy ladies now. This is what the healing Truth of Christ offers. I encourage anyone who has suffered like this to contact an organization of Christians who can help. Christian survivors is an online group that can help you heal. In addition, a local church will be able to put you in touch with a local Christian organization who will help you in confidence and at no charge.

  21. jlwile says:

    Pyrodin, I understand how the fact that we all deserve Hell can bother you. However, it’s not because God created flawed people. He created “very good” people (Genesis 1:31). Part of being a very good person is having Free Will. Unfortunately, the people He created used that Free Will to defy him. That’s what He punishes people for. Each person has the choice to follow God’s Truth or reject it. The punishment is for those who reject it.

    The problem with the belief of the Cathars is that it is false. It might be comforting; it might even feel kinda right to you. However, that really makes little difference. I can be comforted by the thought that I can fly. It might even feel kinda right to me. However, such a belief can lead to disaster! God’s Truth is plain to anyone who looks for it, and it can be found in the Bible.

  22. Pyrodin says:

    Hehe, tell that to the Wright bros! ;) I just noticed when I was looking up your reference that the bible says in Genesis 1:28 “Let US make mankind in OUR image, in OUR likeness” to whom else is God refering, besides himself?

  23. jlwile says:

    Great question, Pyrodin. This is one of the verses that tells Christians that God is three persons in one. He refers to himself in the plural more than once. For example, in Gen. 1:1, the word used for God is plural (Elohim). In Isaiah 6:8 He also refers to Himself as “Us.” Combine that with the New Testament indicating that God is Father (John 6:27, Ephesians 4:6, and 1 Peter 1:2), Son (John 1:1, Titus 2:13, and 2 Peter 1:1), and Spirit (Acts 5:3-4, 1 Corinthians 6:11, and 2 Corinthians 3:17-18), and you can see why Christians have the doctrine of the Trinity.

  24. Jack Spurgeon says:

    When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.

    Proverbs 11:10

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