December 16, 2011

Death of an Atheist


We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

-- Robert Frost

The morning news informs me that as Vanity Fair puts it, "Christopher Hitchens—the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant—died today at the age of 62."

That sad and brief announcement takes no notice of the central issue surrounding Hitchens' death, the question of whether or not the West's best known atheist, being dead, finally "knows" if his atheism is correct.

This issue is exemplified by Allah at Hot Air who actually writes, in an uncharacteristic lapse of lucidity: "I wonder which [Hitchens] anticipated more eagerly -- the end of the pain or finally knowing if he was right about you know what. I suspect he was right. I hope he was wrong."

I always find the attempts of semi-nonbelievers to straddle and still remain sensible to be 'interesting.' They want to have the experience and yet miss the meaning. In brief:

Dear Allah, If Hitchens is "right" about his atheism then he cannot "know" if he is right since he no longer exists in any natural or supranatural form in which knowing is part of the equation. That which was the knowing part of Hitchens is now simply, in the full meaning of the phrase, "null and void." Sincerely
P.S. The end of pain is always anticipated more eagerly. Trust me on this one.

Faith is like the final phase of Hold 'Em: You're either all in or you're busted. You put up or you shut up; the latter position, alas, seems lost on the atheists of our blighted era who are, to say the least, overeager to "share."

This is not to say that Hitchens' heavily touted atheism didn't work well for him. It did. Although I don't know the numbers I suspect that -- between the sales of his books and his speaking jobs preaching the "God Is Not Great" gospel -- Hitchens probably made the most money of his life on the "Lets Get Together and Insult God" circuit. Public proclamations and revival tent meetings of atheists have been oddly popular in the last decade. Hitchens surfed that wave well doing his part in stripping the rubes of their spare cash like some latter day Elmer Gantry of the Fundamentalist Atheians.

There's always a fresh crop of American rubes impressed with their own "intellect" ready to hear that their "tough minded" denial of God has a lot of ed-u-crated intellect-u-wells just like them nodding in agreement like the drinking bird over the glass. And in his own tough minded, hard drinking way Hitchens was just the sort of messiah "intellectual" American atheists love. He had, first and last, an upper-class British accent. In America such an accent is gold. Here the orotund Oxfordian tones always make whatever anyone is saying sound somehow more authoritative to the "intellectual" American ear. The result of of that accent piled on top of all the tough talking and tough thinking and hard drinking was, for Hitchens, the sweet clink of coin. And I don't blame him for it. Neither, I'm sure, does God.

I'll admit that I don't understand the compulsion of atheists to shout out their faith like the worst of the holy rollers; to dragoon whoever pauses to listen to them into a corner and beat them about the brain pan with the "obvious truth" of their oddly Godless religion. Perhaps they feel scant of saints and seek to sanctify skepticism for solace.

I suppose that when you believe in Nothing it's hard to stand pat at zero sans signs and symbols. Instead you've got to slap the icon of your proud puffed self up on your smoke-spun altar of Oblivion where the dark stars dissolve.

I suppose that there's something about the misery of atheism that compels it to seek comfort in numbers; something that says to their unshriven souls that only when all humans believe, truly and deeply believe, in nothing, in Absolute Zero, will all spiritual misery be equal.

I suppose there's something at the bottom of some souls war against God that says to them they must do all they can to get others "down in the hole that they're in."

I suppose all that... all that sad and swiftly curable sickness of the soul... is so but, for the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would willingly pile on that pain rather than seek to, at the very least, understand God as a Higher Power that passeth all understanding. I think where a lot of latter day atheists lapse into error is when they take the stories they've been told about God for the absolute truth of Him; that they mistake hearsay for discovery.

Then there are the really lazy atheists, "the incomparable critic[s], masterful rhetorician[s], fiery wit[s], and fearless bon vivant[s]" who can't be bothered with the really heavy lifting, or looking deep into the center where the secret sits. To miss this it seems to me you have to be a hard-core intellectual alcoholic. Oh, wait...

But then again, "lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil."

Of all the reactions to Hitchens' passing unlapsed Catholic Joy McCann's is probably the most balanced, even if it is upon a knife's edge,

I believe absolutely in salvation by grace, and yet I believe that fundamental human goodness will not be disregarded in the Final Judgement. My theology thus balances on the edge of a very, very sharp knife. It must, as most of my near and dear have no particular religious beliefs, and my family is composed mostly of athiests—even the Unitarians are lapsed (if such a thing is even possible). And, yes: Mr. Hitchens is no longer in a position to be annoyed by it, or ambivalent about it: So, please, pray for him. Light a candle if you’re Catholic.

That seems about right now that Hitchens has cashed his last professional atheist paycheck. Good night or bad night, tunnel or not, he'll need some candles along the way.

Vaya con Dios, Christopher -- Child of God who now bears the name of Christ into the afterlife.

Posted by gerardvanderleun at December 16, 2011 8:27 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

If Hitchens is/was wrong, he has a whole lot of 'splainin' to do about now.

Posted by: Peccable at December 16, 2011 10:12 AM

Vanderleun: "I suppose that there's something about the misery of atheism that compels it to seek comfort in numbers; something that says to their unshriven souls that only when all humans believe, truly and deeply believe, in nothing, in Absolute Zero, will all spiritual misery be equal."

Substitute Allah for nothing/zero and you have described Islam. There is, unfortunately, among we homo sapiens a need to convert all to our beliefs. There has been a lot of blood spilled over this need.

Hitchens was a warrior of the mind. His zealotry in defense of atheism was in reaction to what he saw as zealotry among members of various faiths. At bottom he was a reflection of that which he denied and decried. In the end faith is not available to reason (or logos), only to spirit (or heart). Why some stumble onto this and others don't remains part of the mystery that is the journey toward faith.

RIP Christopher Hitchens.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at December 16, 2011 11:10 AM

John Bunyan, from "The Pilgrim's Progress:"

Then they begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of the Godly; and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming coulour to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmity they have espied in them) behind their backs.

Posted by: Andy at December 16, 2011 11:10 AM

I'm an atheist, but I agree totally with what you say in this article. I have never been able to understand why some atheists feel compelled to literally proselytize for atheism. How can an unbeliever say to anybody else, "Believe in unbelief, as I do."?

Posted by: Gloria at December 16, 2011 11:12 AM

I'm sorry he's gone. I liked his writing. His turn-of-a-phrase.... I never cared at all that he was a big ol' atheist.

I loved it when he wrote stuff like calling Perry's execrable debate performance "The Texas Whatnot Massacre". There was a gem like that in every article he wrote.

He made my life a little better. I'll miss his writing. I will toast his passing with a single malt.

Posted by: Gray at December 16, 2011 1:31 PM

Wondered the same thing about George Carlin...

Posted by: Bill W. at December 16, 2011 2:15 PM

I believe absolutely in salvation by grace, and yet I believe that fundamental human goodness will not be disregarded in the Final Judgement.

I.E. I don't believe in salvation by grace. This is a confession that thinks God doesn't demand what the Bible teaches he does. It's the idea that Jesus died for nothing but to show us a neat lesson about love.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at December 16, 2011 2:44 PM

Poor Gerard, you willfully insist on ascribing belief to atheists. It so detracts from your essay. Kindly explain Christian doctrine to your Christian readers, some of whom are confused today.

The way I remember it from 1968, all required for salvation was to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Good deeds and noble thoughts don't count. Maybe there are some new items on the cafeteria menu, I shouldn't be surprised.

Posted by: dr kill at December 16, 2011 3:42 PM

"Kindly explain Christian doctrine to your Christian readers..."

I'll get right on that the next time I have a spare decade.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 16, 2011 3:45 PM

A sincere Merry Christmas to all. And a happy New Year.

Posted by: dr kill at December 16, 2011 4:12 PM

Sippican said it best:

"...attributes almost totally lacking in public intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens, who are just rustbucket brain freighters laden with tedious opinions drifting around the world looking for any odd pier to bump into to spill their cankered cargo all over."

Atheists haven't the brains to understand the difference between the rational mind and intuitive faith. The Fall IS From intuition to egocentric rationality. Of course one can't KNOW God. He doesn't, in fact, exist. He. Is. Eternal. That is to say, he is not a Thing. Can the finite grasp the infinite?

Posted by: John Hinds at December 16, 2011 5:55 PM

"The way I remember it from 1968, all required for salvation was to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Good deeds and noble thoughts don't count."

Only if you're Protestant; the Roman Catholics and, especially, the Orthodox would vehemently disagree.

Posted by: ahem at December 16, 2011 6:25 PM

Atheists and their political allies are terrified of a resurgence of Christianity. Their approach to the faithful or wavering soul is not one of confident certitude; in my experience theirs is one of tension and fear. On top of that is an outrageous contempt for and hostility toward those they see as holders of "irrational" beliefs.

Western churches are now so thoroughly suffused with liberalism and even Leftism that modern liberal ideals now surpass the importance of Christian doctrine as the principal standard bearers of society (thinkers vs. believers-- don't we need to be both?). Atheists and secularists are on the attack because they sense this enfeebled Christian following in the West. Same with the Muslims.

In terms of commanding actual power in Western societies I think we have more to fear from atheist, materialist nihilists than we do from Islam. Much more.

Posted by: Hannon at December 16, 2011 6:47 PM

I believe that Atheists freak on "Christianists" for quite a few of the reasons why small "l" "liberals" freak out about "capitalism".

In the last fifty years, it has become increasingly difficult to see uncorrupted faiths or markets.

Decadence has its costs and the check is heavy on the table.

Posted by: TmjUtah at December 16, 2011 8:38 PM

I never saw Hitch or any atheist try to convince anyone to become an atheist. He chalanged believers and pointed out that all belief systems have had to pick and choose the visions and scriptural passages they chose to accept, rather irrationally!? Telling that this blog fussed about Hitch's accent, drinking habits, etc etc, but not any of his beliefs! Rest well Mr. Hitchens! We will miss you.

Posted by: WesF at December 16, 2011 11:22 PM

Right up until the end he praised Communism. In his article on the Arab Spring in Tahir Square, he remarked the Egyptian polity would not be a normal European country with its socialist and communist parties. He could bring himself to condemn Christianity, but not socialism and communism, and so he sided against the 100 million executed in the 20th century for his own ideals. His atheism is his screaming and shouting attempt to divert attention away from his own bloodthirsty morality that he might feel superior to someone. He will not be missed for long.

Posted by: ErisGuy at December 17, 2011 3:11 AM

Old story:
Minister attending a All-faiths conference noticed and was amused by the nametags. After his own name there was a P, for Protestant he assumed. So he played a game in his mind, trying to guess the faiths behind the abbreviations on the other attendees tags.
OK, C for Catholic, B for Baptist, J for Jew. Most were easy. Then he saw one well dressed man whose tag was marked, AFC. He thought and he thought but he couldn't decipher the meaning of the three letters. So he when up to the gentleman and politely introduced himself and slightly embarrassed explained his purpose and inquired about the faith represented by the three letters.
The gentleman immediately explained,"Atheist, fingers crossed".

Posted by: John the River at December 17, 2011 6:25 AM

His brother Peter Hitchens, on the other hand, does believe, is a Christian, and
speaks beautifully about our faith
: "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."

For Peter's sake as well as his own, I hope that Christopher opened his heart and said "yes" as he breathed his last.

Posted by: Tina at December 17, 2011 8:01 AM

Roman Catholics, and to the best of my knowledge, Orthodox believe we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not works. They do, however, teach that we retain salvation by good works; a doctrine that not a few nominally protestant denominations share.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at December 17, 2011 2:57 PM

As a non-evangelical atheist, I just want to say that Hitchens never spoke for me.

Trying to convert Christians to unbelief is, at the very least, rude.

At the same time, I'm fine with Christians trying to convert me, since proselytizing is part of the faith. I'd be disappointed if they didn't.

Posted by: Harvey at December 17, 2011 4:01 PM

Harvey, it's not rude. It's evil.

Posted by: Casca at December 17, 2011 8:26 PM

Lawrence Auster on Hitchens:

He makes the point that mainstream conservatives will posse up with just about anyone who holds destructive leftist positions so long as they help support some key issue of the day.

Posted by: Hannon at December 17, 2011 10:32 PM

Harvey, thank you so much for making the point that sharing the Good News is a requirement for Christians! To preach the Gospel is in fact the only commandment Jesus gave us following His resurrection.

It is one thing for an individual to ask another individual to stop preaching to him (that's one's individual right), but for a government, industry, or organization to prohibit Christian sharing forces us to violate either our faith or the law.

Posted by: Tina at December 18, 2011 6:46 AM

Atheism = No Good, No Evil.

Just imagine a world like that.

Somebody ought to put that to music...


Posted by: TmjUtah at December 18, 2011 10:08 AM

Hitchens does indeed now know 'if his atheism is correct.'
Whether 'the ghastly idea of further punishing and torturing of the dead' taught by the Prince of Peace be true or not.

Actually, Hitch called himself an anti-theist, not just discounting God, but hating & eloquently railing against him.
'The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the LORD' ~ Proverbs 19:3.

God's grace is manifested through faith in Christ granted not to the eloquent, educated, wealthy, healthy or wise, but to the least of us.
Otherwise, there is no 'vaya con dios' for those who inveterately hate God, however cavalier we may want to be about it.

Without faith in Christ, God holds people accountable for their sins, our wishful thinking and votives to the contrary notwithstanding.
And apart from a death-bed conversion, Hitch's hatred of the God he denied (his denial of the God he hated), will be duly rewarded.

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