I just found out that Christopher Hitchens, one of the leading voices of the so-called “new atheism,” has been diagnosed and is being treated for esophageal cancer. Recently, Anderson Cooper of CNN interviewed Hitchens. The video is available online here. There is also an interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education commenting on Hitchens’ situation. The article is called justification by faith, and arises in reaction to Jeff Goldberg’s (of The Atlantic) interview with Hitchens. (This interview, you will be interested to know, begins with an excerpt from Dylan’s “Gates of Eden“)
What I found so very intriguing is Hitchens’ perspective on death-bed conversions. He does not deny that it is possible to have such an experience, but he wanted the interviewer and listeners to know that if there are future reports that he has had such a conversion, not to believe it. He is convinced that it will only be drugs and delirium that would cause it. A priori, he already knows that he couldn’t really have a religious conversion in the midst of his suffering. But how can one know this in advance?
I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction [Editorial note: Hitchens was at one time, a heavy smoker] and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. . . To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
You have to hand it to Hitchens. He has at least taken his materialistic atheism seriously. He sees that his own state of illness is probably related to the banal material cause and effect, and he also sees that being angry is impossible. For after all, who can he be angry at? Certainly he can’t be angry at a “god” who does not exist.
But it will be fascinating to listen to Hitchens in the coming days. For though he seems resigned to his ‘fate,’ he is bound to have to grapple with some new concepts, particularly the fact that there are so many people praying for him! As he ends his reflections, he says,
Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups. On both of these I hope to write next time if—as my father invariably said—I am spared.
I hope he is spared to write these reflections…