A Deathbed Confessional

I don’t have the time to say all that I’d like to about Christopher Hitchens. It’s an especially strange thing to have to make these comments, about maybe the most famous atheist in the world, the week before the Christmas holiday. And, yet, for me personally, it’s all somehow perfectly fitting. Over the past 2 or so years Hitchens has been significantly at the center of my spiritual life.

He was a writer and political journalist and activist and orator above anything. He became associated with the neo-atheists, of Four Horseman fame, later in life, but to remember him as an atheist is to miss him as a gift from God. He spun the English language like the bat of a feline paw. In debate he exercised poetry and obscure literary quote like they were teleprompting. He had impeccable comedic timing and was the most entertaining, if not persuasive, debater, I’ve ever seen. I spent hours upon hours on YouTube with his debates and interviews. I’m a sucker for the psuedo-intellectual harmonic of the British brogue. He had just a stunningly quick mind. People like Hitchens remind you that there are some smart people that you know. And, then there are some smart people. He was wicked smart.

Where I’m normally a champion of reasonableness and discretion, I was moved by his confidence and adamancy. I thought there was an intellectual honesty to his views that I craved even more of for myself. Not to be banal, but there simply is never a place to stop reevaluating what you believe, no matter how deeply and longstandingly held. The writings and speeches of Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris became a kind of religious devotional for me. I’ve spent my whole life finding faith in all the places it’s so readily and typically found. Church, Bible studies, pastors, evangelists, Scripture, commentary, scholarship, devotionals, hymns, conferences, religious radio. Although arriving at a different endpoint, I have always found kinship in the fervor of atheism. In some sense, I feel less connection to those who might profess religious views comparable to mine, unthinkingly so, than I do with those who have asked the deepest questions even where they depart in result. I needed a shot in the spiritual varicose and a group of atheist fundamentalists ironically administered it.

It’s a lot like Christmas. As we insist on engaging the story of the Incarnation in the same way over and over, it becomes some sort of pitched whistle we can’t hear anymore. We’re increasingly numb to its force. It’s like the diminishing effects of drug. With each successive use the narcotic is less able to reproduce the initial experience. We have to find a way to rattle the cage. Like rolling down the window or slapping your own face, drowsy on an overnight drive. Exploring Hitchens’ anti-spirituality was, itself, of such tremendous spirit for me. It made me alive in a way that great Christian apologetics increasingly couldn’t. It takes me to the same place of devotion and awe and curiosity that I’ve felt in other genuine pursuits of faith and worship.

He died this week of esophageal cancer. Some called it the judgment of God. Others called it the opportunity of God. He was prayed fervently for and against. He was conscious of his religious detractors and proponents alike, and he predicted their possible reactions at his demise. He was adamant in interviews that any posthumous news of a deathbed confessional or conversion should be dismissed altogether or, in the least, disbelieved as ineffectual because, even if somehow made, could not be considered as having been made by the real Christopher Hitchens. Maybe some deluded, hysterical, and failing version of a ghost of that person might utter such gibberish on last minute fear of death and eternal judgment but it could never be any reflection of the real man’s cogent and incomparably sharp mind, he said. I always loved the calculation and resolve of it. If ever a man has scoffed knowingly, even welcomingly, in the face of eternal judgment, he did. But, I hope Christopher finds that he was terribly and utterly wrong. I also hope that we’re proven equally wrong. And, I hope most of all that somehow the Lord and Christopher are laughing right now at the ignorance of us all. Let God’s grace be bigger than even we could ever imagine this Christmas.

I got this text from a friend about the news of his death: “And, now he knows better than the rest of us.”

He would have hated this post and song. But, I don’t care. He certainly didn’t care what we thought!

RIP C.H.

Performed by ipoet. Produced by pumpkinFoot.

Today’s song blog here:

I Didn't

4 thoughts on “A Deathbed Confessional

  1. Joe, I am very impressed with your words and the thought(s) that they conveyed. I am in sync with your thinking, I think, although I could never have expressed it as cogentely and eloquently as you have. Thanks for sharing!
    I never would have thought that people who wear their baseball caps on backward would be able to string together this many intelligent sentences.
    Seriously though, I am very impressed – for what ever that is worth.

  2. Weren’t you around in ancient times when they invented that cautionary axiom, “Don’t judge a book . . .”??!

    I’m (a) flattered beyond words that you approve but (b) floored that you would have visited at all! It means so much and reminds me of what a gift it is to visit a friend’s or family member’s work online. I’ll have to pay it forward.

  3. How about …”Clothes make the man.”

    Look forward to visiting with you Christmas! Both Linda and I enjoy your writings.

  4. Lovely and Thought provoking. It IS important that we do that.

    Interestingly enough, I had two rather intriguing things pop into my head when I heard of his death and saw that some of my staunchly atheistic friends decided to take his passing as a sign to showcase their fervor:

    1.) “Rest in Peace” has always been an odd thing for me to believe a true atheist would say. To me the phrase always implies that there’s something beyond death that is somehow better than just being alive. It made me chuckle to see it posted in various places about him. (granted, I don’t know enough as to whether or not HE would have been bothered by it or not)

    2.) I got to thinking about how someone so impassioned could be. From there, it reminded me, somewhat, of the Inklings, the group that both J.R. Tolken and C.S. Lewis were a part of. (Lewis was, if I am not mistaken, quite the debator himself) Some would say that individuals from that collective of writers not only had a mutual belief in their faith but that their literary contributions changed and touched the world. Passionate displays of men whom never backed down from their beliefs…

    It is interesting how much we focus on the “things” people are standing firm on, that we can lose sight of being inspired by the courage, conviction and passion they showcase. How many of us are as steadfast? How many of us display a life dedicated to a pursuit, as a man like Christopher Hitchens did?

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