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Christopher Hitchens: a time for reflection?

The ‘Scourge of God’ has throat cancer. He has my sympathy, and prayers

By on Monday, 5 July 2010

PA photo

PA photo

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?

  • Rubstrol

    I don't think so.Why should he?He has spelled out on many occasions the reasons why he doesn't believe in god(or gods).The burden of the proof is still on you guys.

  • Ben

    It is nauseating to hear a) how many of the faithful are slobbering over the imaginary prospect of a deathbed conversion, and/or b) who are now advertising their intention to pray for, yes, even the sinner Hitchens. The first is a slander, suggesting Hitchens is a fraud, or a cynic who can be tempted by Pascal's moronic wager. The second is gruesomely and gratuitously self-serving and self-regarding. It is all beneath contempt.

  • Lou

    Thanks Rubstrol. You get it.

  • Ben

    Esophageal cancer, another part of the magnificent design of the creator, what a great gift to give your loved ones, maybe on the occasion of their first communion.

  • volost

    Ben is entirely right; I can't… no, I can… believe the level of idiocy I read here.

  • Shug

    If someone threw tar and acid over the Mona Lisa I don't think there would be much point trying to blame Da Vinci for not doing a better job.

  • tom0

    It's always interesting to see religious people jump on instances of 'deathbed conversions' of atheists, holding them up as evidence for their beliefs (eg the philosopher Anthony Flew).

    However, they conveniently ignore those instances of atheists who take their atheism to the grave.

    If Hitchen's converts (as vanishingly unlikely as I believe that will be) this will taken as evidence by many of God's love precipitating a change of heart, and of a man reappraising his beliefs to come to the 'correct' conclusion when it really matters.

    If he doesn't – how many of the religious will we hear saying 'He didn't convert. Hmm – maybe there's something to this atheism after all'.

    Just another example of the 'heads I win, tails you lose' approach so popular in theistic apologetics.

  • markbob

    Ben, you sound far more like a slobbering zealot than anyone I know who actually believes in God.

  • Harry


  • noxon

    I was just informed about Hitchens illness, and my first thought was literally “you just know that the christians will use this against him”… And lo and behold, what do my eyes see? A repulsive regurgitation of narrowminded selfabsorbed religious propaganda seeking to find justice in your own beliefs just because someone disagrees with you, even to the point that it more or less seems like you’re HAPPY that the guy has gotten cancer.

    I’m sickened. If this is how compassionate and caring your religion is, as you christians always claim to be, i’m glad I’m not a part of it.

  • Shug

    Anthony Flew didn't have a deathbed conversion unless of course he was in his 'deathbed' for six years!
    He didn't really convert either; he became convinced by the advances and discoveries of science over his long life, that the existence of the Universe had an intelligence behind it. He became a deist.
    The ad hominem attacks hurled at him by obviously disappointed atheists was entirely predictable.

  • susangalea

    A man has a fundamental disagreement with your belief system: he doesn't buy into your belief in the supernatural and prefers to have evidence to support his thinking. You hear he is suffering from a very serious condition and you chose to hope that: ' Perhaps visiting his doctor will be a wake-up call for Hitchens? ' How ghastly are you Catholics with your pieties and massive institutional hypocrisy? No wonder the sheep are leaving your organisation in droves. Soon you will be left with the paedophiles in long dresses that the Pope has protected from justice and all the other weirdos who write into Vanity Fair magazine wishing Hitch a painful and protracted death. If you could just manage a little rationality and try to forget how chosen you feel for a minute you might manage to be human. Failing that, I can only hope you get that doctor's consultation and wake-up.

  • Anon

    Religion is a multi trillion dollar business. It is not about reason or compassion.

  • susangalea

    I wonder why my last comment has been censored, hmmmm.. Could be that I was deeply moved by the mean spirited ad hominem attack on Hitch by this columnist, and went so far as to opine that wishing someone would wake-up after such devastating news has been delivered is not indicative of complete disregard for another's point of view. No wonder the church is so discredited if this is the kind of bilge that its members discharge. Ghastly. Is this Christian?

  • susangalea

    Sorry, I meant IS indicative of complete disregard for another's point of view. Respect is a two way street and I'm not sure why my penultimate offering was censored. Is there not a case to be made for robust debate and criticism or this only for those who have just visited the doctor and received terrible news?

  • Shug

    What ad hominem attack? Are you also deeply moved by Mr Hitchens' penchant for mean spirited ad hominem attacks eg of Mother Teresa he said “The woman was a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud, and millions of people are much worse off because of her life, and it’s a shame there is no hell for your b*tch to go to.”
    I'm guessing not.

  • Shug

    There is always room for robust argument; thing is though, you've got to present an argument first.

  • Eric the Reddest

    “Perhaps visiting his doctor will be a wake-up call for Hitchens”

    What, because sky daddy gave him cancer?

  • Brandon

    Why would Hitchens have a “change of heart”? Cancer is extremely common. As it happens, death is as well. People die. Some have accepted it as part of life without appealing to a god. It’s sad that so many people can’t comprehend this.

  • 49fiori

    Hitchens considers praying for him an insult, I would also consider it an insult if someone was to tell “I will pray for you” – I don’t need your prayers, thank you. I don’t want to be humiliated to fairy-tale intelligence or lack thereof. The title of this article shows once more how religious people think. Very sad indeed.

  • 49fiori

    Bravo Ben – so true…

  • Alcyone Noth

    I wouldn't wait for a change of heart if I were you. It isn't going to happen.

    As Voltaire said when asked to renounce the devil on his deathbed, ” This is no time to be making enemies.”

  • Rufus. T. Firefly

    Completely agree with Ben. It's just the kind of self-righteous, faux-sympathetic, passive-aggressive behaviour that he must have predicted the moment of the diagnosis. The irony is that he has always publicly addressed and, in a way, come to terms with his own inevitable demise in a manner not possible for those who believe in the immortality of the soul.

  • Peej

    “Perhaps throat cancer will move Christopher Hitchens to a change of heart”. Clearly, sir, you know nothing about Christopher Hitchens.

  • unoriginal

    This is really quite unpleasant, as well as un-Christian.

  • Null

    It’s not an ad hominem if it’s a) true and b) based on what they do, as it is the case with “Teresa”.

  • Tmcthree

    It takes a certain kind of self-centred, childishness to hear a story of someone contracting cancer and taking from it, the hope that it will provide an opportunity to win an argument.

    This article is beneath contempt.

  • Synchronium

    “prayers as well – a more practical remedy”

    Comedy gold!

  • Bmarks

    This is why there are so few Christians around any more. Hypocrisy makes few converts.

  • Paul

    Strangely I don’t remember Hitch targetting Mother Teresa and the correct description of Benny would be an easy target rather than a soft one.

  • god

    just disgusting.

  • JY David

    What else is there to say my deluded fellow? Francis, you will never get it. Hitchens is a trip, no doubt. Better kept at a distance, no doubt. He reaps what he sowed, no doubt. But pray for him? Grow up!

  • Erbkon

    I am an Orthodox Christian and I love Christopher Hitchens, period. I don’t care if he IS an atheist. If Dante was right about the Virtuous Pagans having a place in the Heavens, I don’t see why God’s mercy doesn’t extend beyond them and little sinful old me include a Virtuous Atheist in one form or another. Hitchens is a loud, raucous, well-intended and yes, decent non-believer who will have some ‘splainin’ to do when he stands before the Throne; but I’d be honored to stand with him.

  • Leigh

    Ah, when “saintly” people get cancer, it’s God’s will, and when sinners get cancer it’s… oh… God’s will.

    And praying’s going to make a difference?

  • Surreal1998

    The proof that the author (Francis Phillips) does not believe in the christian god is right in this article. For if god knows everything and never changes, it would make no sense to pray for Hitchens. Why tell god what he already knows? Why ask god to change what he already knows if he never changes? Does Phillips believe god already knows? Does Phillips believe god never changes? If yes and yes then Phillips would not pray. To pray on behalf of Hitchens here exposes the fraud of believing in a christian god. So if the alleged christians do not believe in an all knowing and never changing god, why should I or Hitchens?

  • Lipstrob

    Can this writer really not see how nauseating these opinions are, and the ghastly way in which they reflect on his faith?

  • Funkadelique2626

    In my experience Godless people do not transform as a result of illness. They just get angrier.

  • Shane Rothery

    “prayers as well – a more practical remedy.”

    Medical trials have proved over and over that this is not true. You are lying. That is a sin. Repent.

  • Shane Rothery

    No, Hitchens certainly did rally against Mother Teresa, and he was damn-well justified. She was a fraud. She took money and donations from not only ordinary people but crooks and murderers and used it not to take care of the sick and dying. She was also an extreme political fanatic on many issues (abortion, separation of Ireland). Hitch wrote a book about her called the Missionary Position. Or you can see on Youtube a documentary version he made for TV called Hell's Angel.

  • Chris

    No we wont transform, cry and beg for an imaginary afterlife. How sick that would be.

  • brenton

    I'm Catholic, I'm not certain if I agree with the article that would petition ones death as a miracle of God, especially if seen as a 'formidable' enemy of 'God' on earth, as there is a by for, more sinister evil than a simple human being allegedly, left by God's own decision for humanity to be at itself consul. Whatever C. Hitchens believes in, I personally hope he takes it to the grave to show all other peers and humans alike, to be a straight talker, honorable to others as you ought to be yourself.

    As for those that I share a fellowship in Communion, whether Catholic or whatsoever Protestant, or Theistic belief I cannot share any obligation with support that would ratify anyones death as an act of God, but simply as an act of freedom to all creation.

  • Hanoch

    I suspect, if anything, a post like this would only serve to validate Hitchens' unfortunate views on religion. How deplorable that a supposed “believer” can't move himself to sorrow over the terrible plight of another human being, simply because he holds views that differ from those of the author.

  • Lesfab01

    > he has my sympathy; prayers as well – a more practical remedy.

    If you want to do something practical to help a cancer victim, donate a little money to cancer research in their name.
    It will help society as a whole and make them feel better. That's what I do.