Christopher Hitchens quoted this from a Christian blog whilst slowly dying and mostly bedridden in an American hospital. When told that certain congregations would pray for him, Hitchens characteristically replied: "pray for what?"Interestingly the number of Christian groups that elected to pray for him answered that their first priority was to set right his soul for his eternal journey, and the second priority that he might actually be healed from cancer.
What is impressive about Hitchen's brief but brilliant tome is how unsentimental it is, and if anything, there is some sturdy humor in it.
Hitchens points out that if he had, in the final moments of his life, turned to God, factions of the army fighting for his soul would soon have started fighting amongst themselves - Catholics with Protestants, Jews with Gentiles, Muslims with everyone else. A victory for one would have proved a loss for another.
But what is most illuminating for me is the pithy, sentimental, self-serving logic of the quote provided above. Not only is it unspeakably cruel and self-justifying, not only does it ignore its effect on Hitchens' own 'unoffending' children (a word Hitchens' himself uses), but it conveniently circumvents ordinary cause and effect.
Hitchens died before he could finish his book, posthumously published, and titled MORTALITY. He died at 61 of the same thing that afflicted his father, who died in his seventies. Hitchens also takes responsibility for his cancer, by invoking his own lifestyle - he was a successful man with friends on many continents, a man who loved lively conversation after dinner over a glass of Cognac and a cigarette. If one listens to any of Hitchens audiobooks (Mortality for obvious reasons is not narrated by the author) one can hear in his voice not only how well lived it is, but in its eloquence, how tested and studied his wisdom was.
Hitchens was one of those exceptional people whom people who didn't know him felt, when he died, that they missed him. I'm one of them. I'm sad that his voice and his life is no longer here to accompany me through what remains of my life. It is interesting to contrast the gleeful hatred of Christians with a man of such charisma, sense and sensibility. On a recent piece of writing that I came across (article seems too grand a word), the believer opens up with this: The presence of God is surprisingly easy to ‘sense’ and thus prove. It is exactly the sort of self gratifying, self justifying nonsense that gives rise to the absurdity quoted previously. Which is what makes it dangerous. Dangerous and foolish and a disservice to humanity.
It is time believers start opening their eyes and learn to think. Mortality might be a good place to start. It's likely that many weak-minded atheists might even be tempted to pray for themselves whilst counting down the days to certain and eternal death, no doubt Christians, who are weak-minded by definition, would do so by default. It's the mark of not only his intelligence and courage, but his integrity, that Hitchens used his final days to bring us the sort of vital and necessary thinking so sadly lacking in the vast majority of people. Hence the world is in the state it is in. It is what happens when men who call themselves good, call on God to do something so that they can do (and think) nothing.