And so it happened. The most anticipated reckoning in the intellectual world in recent memory had come and gone. For all the feverish build-up (made more macabre as it had a certain ghoulish obsession with the moment of one man’s death), the announcement came with something of a whimper:
“Christopher Hitchens dies…a religious skeptic, master of the contrarian essay.”
Yes? And? Well? The thinly veiled (if veiled at all) querying would begin and all would boil down to one question: ‘Did Christopher Hitchens convert to Christianity before he died?’. Everybody wondered. Everybody speculated. The anticipated deathwatch of a charming, brilliant, virulent atheist commanded attention from liberals and conservatives, intellectuals and pop-culture mavens, atheists and religious. But one person was quite certain of the outcome – Hitchens himself. While he would reassure his atheist followers that he would make no such pathetic capitulation while he had some semblance of lucidity, he would simultaneously kindly indulge the religious who prayed “Hail Mary” & fervent prayers for their favorite prodigal son.
And so the clock ticked on. Chemotherapy. Hair loss. Weight loss. Interviews. Book signings. Articles. Book reviews. The whirlwind of activity, the prolific pen, the very “undying” character of his remaining days led you to believe that perhaps esophageal cancer isn’t terminal, but can instead be a chronic disease. Yet, most often, it is terminal. And Christopher Hitchens very clearly was dying.
So to the question as to whether Hitchens took the step – the final humbling admission to his God that indeed God IS great and that Christopher was in desperate need of his redeeming grace – only God and Christopher know. And isn’t that as it should be? Even for the angriest, most venomous antagonists of God (of which I would consider Hitchens a softer, more likable version), our desperate “need to know” the status of their souls tilts away form true brotherly concern and toward voyeuristic obsession with divine score-settling. Our sinful nature proudly wants those naysayers to sheepishly admit WE were right or face the “Wrath of the Almighty”. But this attitude serves only our pride and not the will of God.
In the end, it seems, there are a few instructive lessons from the life and death of Christopher Hitchens: Brilliant, charming, and witty people can be wrong. As Christians, we can get frustrated and demoralized when someone caustically denies the reality of God, and yet we should never be condescending, vindictive, or smug. We can, and should, pray for Christopher Hitchens. We should analyze our own souls for defects while resisting the temptation to identify the defects in the souls of others. And finally, having prayed for Christopher, let us leave that final, most important and intimate dialogue between Christopher and his God. Perhaps it is best we let them be – as they are sure to have some catching up to do. Christopher Hitchens, Requiescat in Pace.