Friday, December 16, 2011

Knowing Now

I've just read two stories [which seem to be identical, although credited to two different writers] announcing the death of Christopher Hitchens, a British born ex-patriot who made his home in the US and his career as a writer and pundit with a lacerating pen.

Although famous on many fronts, Mr. Hitchens is probably best known as a brilliant and caustic atheist who bravely, or perhaps foolishly--depending on your point of view--stared his own mortality in the face, refusing to capitulate in any way to the concept of faith. I saw a TV interview with him when his cancer was already quite advanced; when asked about his position on faith and the afterlife, he said he appreciated the sincere prayers of Christians who had told him they were praying for him, but he completely discounted the efficacy of prayer or even the existence of the God to whom these prayers were directed.

"There will be no death bed conversion," he declared, echoing the late Carl Sagan.
"If you hear accounts stating otherwise,do not credit them. They will not be true."

Apart form his undeniably great intellect and talent as a writer, I find it rather stunning to learn of someone so very exercised and vociferous about atheism and hatred for religion of all sorts. The story referenced in the link above is worth reading if only to see some of his more outrageously memorable quotes; here are a few,as they appear in today's London Daily Mail:

'A lying, thieving Albanian dwarf' - his description of Mother Teresa

'The Missionary Position' - the title of the book he wrote about her

'The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals'

So there! If nothing else, he is an exemplar of untrammeled intellectual freedom. And perhaps, now that his spirit has departed the realm of mortality and passed into eternity, he better understands the Source of the freedom he enjoyed in life, and which he will never know again.

It's not often that someone dies and one can know, incontrovertibly, about his or her eternal destiny. But Christopher Hitchens would appear to be one of the exceptions. I say this with no satisfaction. As a Bible believer, I accept the truth and descriptions of the only two destinations we face as eternal beings. No one deserves to be in hell, an actual place, more than any other person who dies rejecting Christ. Some, like Hitchens, are just louder and more vociferous about their rebellion.

Having been told once by a therapist to "believe the behavior" of others while trying to understand them, I've found it curious to see just how adamant Mr. Hitchens was in his atheism. Any time someone devotes considerable energy and passion to promoting an idea, it's a sure bet they take it seriously. When the object of such passion is to DENY something, it seems axiomatic that they consider that object to be powerful and, possibly, threatening.

If it's simple nonsense, which he reportedly disdained, why bother with it at all? The obvious answer is, as he himself affirmed, that religion is an undeniable force in society, throughout human history, and geography. He found it troublesome in the extreme that so many have, allegedly, been so duped by so pervasive and pernicious a concept as religion, in all its forms. Thus, it apparently was a significant aim of his life to denounce it emphatically and often, not only in print but also in live debates.

A salient irony, is that his own brother, Peter Hitchens, is a professing Christian.

I find it nearly admirable, yet certainly sad, that a mortal human being can be so very sure that there is no supernatural or spiritual dimension to life at all. How does he know? Most likely, he would ask me just how do I claim to know.

But the certainty is that this is a singular and mutually exclusive case of truth claims. Both cannot be right.

Mr. Hitchens has stepped over the threshold, and now he knows for sure.

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