I write this on December 18, 2011.
There has been a hell of a lot – pun intended – in the press the last couple of days about the recent death of militant atheist author Christopher Hitchens, age 62. Hitchens, the brilliant and yet often annoying neo-atheist (or anti-theist) writer, was outrageous in his hatred of Christianity (and loathing of Judaism and Islam) and yet brilliant in his appreciation for the freedoms long preserved by the United States. Although he was a Marxist, a socialist, a man of the Left, he also embraced freedom over Marxist slavery and died proud to be an American citizen.
I've long loathed much of Hitchens' writings. His rants about Mother Teresa were cruel and mean spirited. His hatred of monotheism, particularly Christianity, was rooted in despair, the gravest sin, for he could not possibly let himself believe that there was an overarching, loving God watching over us all.
Much you read on line completely misses the point of his anti-theism. For instance, this article on Hitchens, at Townhall.com, spends a great deal of effort at discrediting his aggressively, indeed obnoxious, stance against the existence of a Creator-God, and his rejection and hatred for the great monotheistic faiths, for Judaism, Islam and Christianity (in that order of perceived loathsomeness). He concentrates, however, on the irrelevancy of Hitchens' belief that the universe is uncreated and that evolution is the only truth:
Reverse engineer the "Infinite Monkey" theory that says that if you have an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters that one monkey will accidentally bang out the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. This is a much-used thought experiment that deals in big number probabilities.
In Hitchens' universe, William Shakespeare was that improbable, infinite monkey, as are you. In fact, in Hitchens universe, Shake-speare is even more improbable than our infinite monkey, because our infinite monkey only accounts for the odds of creating Shake-speare's works, rather than creation of Shakespeare himself. What atheists would have you believe is the improbable multiplied by infinity by accident./em>
While long term readers will recognize why I like this quote-- :0) --the fact is that it completely misses the point, and misses the lesson that his life and death has to teach us.
To truly understand why Christopher Hitchens–-a man of great wit and deep wisdom on many subjects, even as he was an alcoholic ruin who hated the divinity-–one should look at his biography. Some may say the following is simple and reductive, but I think it tells us quite a lot about the kind of man Hitchens truly was.
His life and outlook were shaped (and twisted) by three major factors: his mother, his missing sibs, and his lost children.
First of all, we must remember he was the child of a military family. His father was a Royal Navy ship commander, who participated in many great combat actions in WWII; his mother was a "WREN" (Women Royal Navy Auxiliary Corps) who met Christopher's father while they were stationed together in Scotland.
Hitchen's mother was a problematic soul. We like to have illusions that those who served heroically during the War were, being members of the 'Greatest Generation' (here in the US and there in the UK) somehow better than we are: more upright, more moral, more fit, and that we cannot stand in their shoes.
Christopher Hitchens' mother, Yvonne Jean Hickman Hitchens--God rest and have mercy on her--was proof that we are all fallen, even the heroes, and that even the greatest generation had its dark side.
First then understand that when he was a child, his mother told him that he was not, as he had thought, the eldest of two, but the second of four children: his elder sibling and that immediately following him were aborted. (The fourth became his younger brother Peter.) From a 2003 article in Vanity Fair:
I claim an absolute right to be interested in the condition of the human fetus because … well, I used to be one myself. I was in my early teens when my mother told me that a predecessor fetus and a successor fetus had been surgically removed, thus making me an older brother rather than a forgotten whoosh. I hope the thought of this hasn’t made me unusually self-centered, or more than usually so.... [Oh? - ed.] But nature and nurture were both lenient. Some of those start-up operations never made it to full term for mysterious reasons....
Imagine going through your young life knowing that your mother had killed your siblings but spared you. Imagine the kind of profound deformation in your fundamental moral thinking to the point that you would think of your unborn children as "startup operations."
Imagine also hearing, at the age of 23, that your mother was dead on the evening news. Hitch was home one Sunday when he heard on the radio that a British woman had committed suicide while vacationing in Greece, and somehow immediately knew it was her.
When he went to claim her body-–in the middle of a Greek militarist coup of all things–-he discovered that she had not merely committed suicide, but had done so as part of a suicide pact with her lover, a defrocked Anglican "minister" turned Maharashi Yogi devotee whose name is best forgotten. He apparently convinced her to die with him to avoid the shame of the exposure of their affair.
And imagine after going through all that, standing one day in an abortion clinic, waiting for your girlfriend to "take care of the problem." From the same Vanity Fair article:
...at least once I found myself in a clinic while “products of conception” were efficiently vacuumed away. I can distinctly remember thinking, on the last such occasion, that under no persuasion of any kind would I ever allow myself to be present at such a moment again.Welladay. (Note: "At least once" actually means "twice." Alas.)
Christopher Hitchens was brilliant. He often saw truth and clarity and could write well. He could even see the fundamental truth that unborn human life is valuable, and finally resolved, perhaps successfully, never to take it again.
God bless him for that.
But his hatred of God was profound. Let's be clear about this, he was not merely an atheist, if God, particularly the God of Christ, existed, Christopher Hitchens hated Him with a passion.
And who could blame him?
Who could have faith in a God who demonstrably failed to protect his mother from herself? or himself from himself?
I have to confess I found his confessed anti-faith (and by anti- I mean as in anti-matter) repugnant and loathesome in the extreme.
But I must have pity for him.
And I must also recognize him as a member of my species, albeit far greater than I will ever be. I write as he did; and I too was a child of military parents, of the post-war world, but I had the great good fortune to have been born of parents sane, kind, righteous, and decent. My parents lived less adventurous lives than his, but gave birth and a home to all nine of us children.
Being what I am, I cannot imagine the torment of (a) wondering why I was spared being deliberately killed, (b) wondering what my sibs would have been like, and (c) wondering what kind of a horror story of a mother could do such a thing....
...and then to see her having died of self-murder at the bidding of an evil priest.
A man who, having gone all through that, and yet having come to see the value of unborn life in itself (even as a result of having aborted it) is not a man utterly lacking in a moral heart and soul: a moral heart and soul he showed in his other writings, such as those defending Western civilization against mindless leftist defeatism during the start of the War on Terror. In that he showed that he had the nature of one of the Tattered Remnant.
Given his background, however, it is no wonder he hated Christianity. No wonder he hated God. No wonder he insisted to the end that he wanted no rites of remembrance or prayers for his soul--for if he conceded he was an immortal soul, what did that mean about the soul of his own mother?
And yet--and yet--there is also his brother Peter (another great man and writer whom I also admire, although I disagree with his paleo-Tory anti-Americanism). Peter suffered pretty much all that Christopher did, and he is a believing Christian and a conservative. Sharing all that Christopher did, he took the other path.
So who knows?
Well, I will pray for Christopher anyway, and I hope he found comfort in the arms of the God he denied in life and (with the grace and mercy of God) even with all his children and perhaps even his mother too. God's grace is infinite to those willing to receive it.
I hope he enjoys this Christmas as a time of unexpected and surprising joy. For, pace Monty Python, Christmas in Heaven must be an awesome experience. I hope he comes to know it.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem.