Christopher Hitchens RIP
This past week saw the death, at age 62, of the controversial British-born writer and speaker Christopher Hitchens. It took place in a Texas hospital where he was being treated in his year-long battle against esophagal cancer brought on, as even he, ever the self-described “contrarian” proudly admitted, by a lifetime of heavy smoking and copious consumption of booze.
Notorious or famous — depending on how you look at it — for his belligerent atheism, Hitchens, once an outspoken liberal, was unrepentant over his sudden conversion to and promotion of the reactionary drum-beating that tried to use the tragedy of 9-11 as an excuse for America’s invasion of Iraq. This even after it turned out to be a military quagmire that has cost twice as many American lives as did the attacks on New York and Washington, and has occasioned the deaths of somewhere between 100,000 to over a half a million Iraqis — again, depending on who has been doing the counting — either the military thinking mostly of “enemy combatants” or else civilians thinking in terms innocent bystanders either caught in the crossfire or victims of sectarian strife. Apparently, to Hitchens’ mind, most of this latter tragedy was a well-deserved punishment for the Iraqis’ predominantly Islamic beliefs. But it can only be seen as a further irony that the week that saw the official, but probably not the actual, end of this tragic waste of lives was also the week when Hitchens breathed his last.
But leaving aside his political extremism, whether to the left or right, aside I’d like to ponder for a few moments, as did Hitchens the past few months, what his death might mean. “I am not afraid to die,” he said in a recent interview: after all, “when it happens I will not know I’m dead.” Good logic there we might admit, but then he added, that ”if it turns out that there is some kind of life
after I die, I’ll be surprised — I like surprises!”
One can only wonder how he seemed to think that such a surprise would be a pleasant one, that is, until one remembers that Hitchens didn’t believe in God, or certainly in a God who might hold us accountable for our actions in this life. So after spending most of a lifetime vilifying a God who might hold us accountable, he seems to have half-converted to the idea that if there is any life after death, it will be one in which somehow all is forgiven in the end. Talk about cheap grace!
To the contrary, harking back to the days when Hitchens was a fire-brand young liberal, even a self-described Marxist who went out of his way, practically every year, to travel to what he thought was the most troubled area of the world to associate himself with and to tell the whole world about those whom he thought were the most oppressed, I can only imagine Hitchens now being profoundly embarrassed by and anguished over some of the harsh judgments and disparaging remarks that he dished out with such glee. So while, as a theological liberal, I can sympathize with Hitchens’ outrage over the boogeyman image of a vengeful God who would terrorize the human race wrathful threats of eternal hellfire in punishment for our own stupidities, I find it hard to believe that we could ever enter into an eternity of bliss without first undergoing some kind of purgation of or purification from our mistakes.
Of course, I could be wrong, and Hitchens right, and when I die it turns out that I will no longer know anything at all. But as a believer in God, at least I will have died with the hope that there will not only be some kind of divine forgiveness but, even beyond that, some final justice to right the all the wrongs that Hitchens, at his very best, lashed out against during his tempestuous life.
R W Kropf 12/18/11 HitchensRIP.doc 11-12-18.html