Posts tagged ‘Christopher Hitchens’

ABC Extra – In Sickness And In Health

Death is inescapable.  It doesn’t matter how rich or how poor, how healthy or how sick, how old or how young a person is.  Eventually and inevitably, death comes for each one of us.  After Steve Jobs passed away, many bloggers and journalists spoke of how Jobs sought to receive “the best care money could buy.”  And indeed, he did receive terrific care from world-renowned doctors.  But although they may have been able to prolong his life, they were not able to save it.  He passed away last year.  Death came for Steve Jobs.  Shortly after the world-renowned and lovably cantankerous atheist apologist Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer, he described his ailment in his characteristically colorful tone: “Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups.”[1]

Like Steve Jobs, Christopher Hitchens turned to the most “brilliant and selfless physicians” money could buy, and though they may have been able to prolong his life, they were not able to save it.  He passed away last year.  Death came for Christopher Hitchens.

Death is inescapable.  And yet, I find it interesting that, particularly in the case of Christopher Hitchens, it wasn’t just medical professionals who were working to prolong his life, it was Christians who were praying to redeem his life.

In worship and ABC this past weekend, we looked at the story of a demon-possessed boy in Mark 9.  Initially, the disciples try to heal this boy, but they cannot (cf. Mark 9:17-18).  Jesus, however, is able to drive out the torturing spirit (cf. Mark 9:25-27).  Beleaguered by their embarrassing failure, the disciples ask Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  Jesus’ answer is clarifying and convicting:  “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:28-29).  This boy could not be healed by a pill, a surgery, a physician, or an exorcism rite.  Rather, persistent and consistent prayer was the key to this boy’s recovery.

For all of man’s collective medical wisdom, there are still some diseases which can be healed only by prayer.  This is why James asks, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).  Prayer is more powerful and potent than any human remedy.  For prayer has God’s will and mercy as its answer.

Tragically, even in the face of certain death, Christopher Hitchens wrote, “Please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries.”  Christopher Hitchens’ commitment to his atheism was unflappable.  He refused to believe that his kind of sickness could “come out only by prayer.”  Then again, after asking people not to pray for him, he added this little caveat: “Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.”[2]

Christopher Hitchens never came to understand and see that prayer is not just for the therapy of weak minds, it is for the strengthening of brave souls.  Prayer, perhaps, really could have made him feel better – not only in his cancerous plight, but in his eternity as well.  For not only can God hear our prayers and sometimes grant us a temporal recovery, He will hear our prayers and always grant us a glorious eternity through Christ.  And that is a gift and blessing we dare not miss.

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[1] Christopher Hitchens, “The Tropic of Cancer,” Vanity Fair (September 2010).

[2] Christopher Hitchens, “Unanswerable Prayers,” Vanity Fair (October 2010)

February 6, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

An Atheist Confronts Death

I recently learned that Christopher Hitchens, noted atheist and author of God Is Not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything, has been stricken by cancer.  In an article for Vanity Fair, Hitchens makes what I consider to be some astonishing statements.  First, he is so bold as to personify death: “I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me.”  Death has a face in Hitchens’ mind – and a grim face at that.  Death is a Reaper.  Actually, death is the Reaper with a capital “R.”  No longer is death merely a force of nature.  It is a sinister character.  I, hopefully not surprisingly, would agree.  Death is sinister because death is sinful – the result of a fallen and broken creation.  Of course, Hitchens continues by calling this character “predictable and banal,” which I suppose it is, for we all die, but it doesn’t make it any less grim.

Hitchens’ second astonishing statement comes at the end of his article:

I am quietly resolved to resist bodily as best I can, even if only passively, and to seek the most advanced advice. My heart and blood pressure and many other registers are now strong again: indeed, it occurs to me that if I didn’t have such a stout constitution I might have led a much healthier life thus far. Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups.

This statement did more than astonished me, it blew me away.  First, as far as I can tell, the “blind, emotionless alien” to which Hitchens refers is the cycle of life and death, standardized and ruled, according to many atheists, by evolutionary theory and natural selection.  It is what another atheist luminary Richard Dawkins called, “the blind watchmaker.”  And yes, if true, this cycle is blind and emotionless.  Indeed, it is more than emotionless, it is merciless.  It cares not about our lives and our fears and our hopes and our dreams.  But curiously, Hitchens continues by noting that this “blind, emotionless alien” is “cheered on by some who have wished me ill.”  How something “emotionless” can be moved by “cheers” of encouragement, I do not know.  But I do know that it is morally base to cheer on the death of another.  Theologically, death is a result of sin.  To cheer on death, then, is to cheer on sin.  Death may be inevitable and sometimes, as in cases of war or capital punishment, sanctioned and permitted according to the governing authorities and the concerns of justice, but it is not cheer-worthy.  Blessedly, however, Hitchens continues by noting that on the side of his life “is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups.”  It almost sounds as if Hitchens is admitting that “selfless physicians,” “selfless” being a moral designation foreign to committed evolutionary atheism, and “prayer groups” have some sort of power to cheat death.  Is Hitchens admitting that prayer works?  If so, how does he think it works?  And why does he think it works?

I myself believe that prayer does work, but only because of the One to whom we pray.  For the One to whom we pray has power over death.  As the apostle Paul writes, “‘Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).  Jesus conquers death and brings life.  There’s an empty grave to prove it.  And it is in that spirit that I pray that Christopher Hitchens’ grave stays empty for a good time longer in this present age – and on the Last Day.  Christ has the power to make it so.  I pray that Hitchens learns to trust that.

August 5, 2010 at 9:36 am 2 comments


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