Christopher Hitchens: Always Learning…And Coming To The Truth?

Friday, December 16th, 2011


Christopher Hitchens died yesterday, here in Houston at MD Anderson.

A faithful atheist, Christopher Hitchens wrestled with God. I appreciated watching it in action. It was like witnessing Jacob go round after round with the Maker begging to be blessed. Hitchens wanted to be blessed with belief, I believe.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seemed to me he felt cursed by not being allowed entre into an intellectual world he couldn’t understand. His unbelief limited his understanding of the world both literary and literal and unlike so many, he seemed aware of his lack. He seemed to resent it. So, he fought.

An honest believer of any stripe fights. The mindless, whether atheist or God-fearer, makes a mockery of belief itself. Some might be surprised that a man who seemed to so despise God would be respected by believers. Here’s been my experience: the fighters acknowledge Something whether conscious or not.

Reminds me of the verse Revelation 3:15:

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.”

In a politically correct world of facile sophistry, Christopher Hitchens was either hot or cold. He certainly wasn’t lukewarm.

He didn’t brook the flabby self-congratulation of the likes of Bill Maher the king of cheap and easy pseudo-intellectualism.

One of my favorite Hitchens moments was between Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan in a debate moderated by the incomparable Tim Russert. At one point, Hitchens decried Andrew’s whining like a little girl. It was offensive, un-p.c. and completely deserved.

One of the most painful Hitchens exchanges was Hitch and his brother debating over the existence of God. What pained me was Christopher’s brother Peter’s pain.

Peter wrote about his journey to Christianity (well worth the read):

Being Christian is one thing. Fighting for a cause is another, and much easier to acknowledge – for in recent times it has grown clear that the Christian religion is threatened with a dangerous defeat by secular forces which have never been so confident.

Why is there such a fury against religion now? Because religion is the one reliable force that stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. The one reliable force that forms the foundation of the concept of the rule of law.
The one reliable force that restrains the hand of the man of power. In an age of powerworship, the Christian religion has become the principal obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power.

While I was making my gradual, hesitant way back to the altar-rail, my brother Christopher’s passion against God grew more virulent and confident.

As he has become more certain about the non-existence of God, I have become more convinced we cannot know such a thing in the way we know anything else, and so must choose whether to believe or not. I think it better by far to believe.

And then he writes of his brother:

My brother and I agree on this: that independence of mind is immensely precious, and that we should try to tell the truth in clear English even if we are disliked for doing so. Oddly enough this leads us, in many things, to be far closer than most people think we are on some questions; closer, sometimes, than we would particularly wish to be.

The same paradox sometimes also makes us arrive at different conclusions from very similar arguments, which is easier than it might appear. This will not make us close friends at this stage. We are two utterly different men approaching the ends of two intensely separate lives.

Let us not be sentimental here, nor rashly over-optimistic. But I was astonished, on that spring evening by the Grand River, to find that the longest quarrel of my life seemed unexpectedly to be over, so many years and so many thousands of miles after it had started, in our quiet homes and our first beginnings in an England now impossibly remote from us.

It may actually be true, as I have long hoped that it would be, in the words of T. S. Eliot, that ‘the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’.

And if that peace could come…

Well, we all get old and we all soften, or most with any shred of wisdom do. And so, the question was asked by Mark Judge,”Is Christopher Hitchens about to convert?

My initial answer to the question was a version of “isn’t it pretty to think so”? My second thought was who can know the mind of men? And that reminded me of I Corinthians 2:11 (again in the King James version because I’m partial):

“For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”

Or said in a modern way, “After all, who knows everything about a person except that person’s own spirit? In the same way, no one has known everything about God except God’s Spirit.”

We can only know believers by their fruit and forgive me, but Christopher Hitchens was withering. Ultimately, his belief is between him and God. It is for all of us.

Either way, I’m thankful for Christopher Hitchens. His keen mind and incisive questions forced a believer to be better in his answers.

And that is why I’ll miss Christopher Hitchens most–his unintended consequences. It is with great irony that he caused many who were learning, to come to the truth–even if he couldn’t.

UPDATED: Please read his brother Peter’s eulogy. It’s excellent. A smidgeon:

He would always rather fight than give way, not for its own sake but because it came naturally to him. Like me, he was small for his age during his entire childhood and I have another memory of him, white-faced, slight and thin as we all were in those more austere times, furious, standing up to some bully or other in the playground of a school we attended at the same time.

This explains plenty. I offer it because the word ‘courage’ is often misused today. People sometimes tell me that I have been ‘courageous’ to say something moderately controversial in a public place. Not a bit of it. This is not courage. Courage is deliberately taking a known risk, sometimes physical, sometimes to your livelihood, because you think it is too important not to.

Another moving tribute by his friend, Peter Robinson.