I have just learnt that the writer Christopher Hitchens, who for several years now has modestly assumed the mantle once worn by Attila the Hun, as “Scourge of God”, is suffering from throat cancer. It would be impertinent for me to feign great sorrow at this news, as I only know Hitchens from hearsay, reputation and his writings. Nonetheless, if my own doctor had broken similar news to me I would have been shocked, so he has my sympathy; prayers as well – a more practical remedy.
From his autobiographical memoir, Hitch-22 (I understand it will be reviewed by my colleague, Jack Carrigan, in the Herald next week) it seems that Hitchens has led a somewhat hectic, sybaritic life with severe Trotskyist leanings: lots of smoking, drinking and international protests in the cause of justice. That is not a bad way to live; at least he demonstrates a certain moral energy and indignation rather than simply lolling on the sofa watching football. I just wish he could stick to his brief of being the scourge of injustice and pomposity rather than thinking he has to do Attila’s job too. Mother Teresa and Pope Benedict are the kind of soft targets who will always turn the other cheek at Hitchens’s critical jibes.
Some years ago, I happened to mention to a saintly Irish priest (his one small vanity was to think he looked like the actor Robert Mitchum) that the scientist Francis Crick – of Crick & Watson, the well-known firm of DNA supplies – had just died. “He didn’t believe in God,” I added. “He does now,” replied my Irish friend.
Perhaps visiting his doctor will be a wake-up call for Hitchens?