December 20, 2011
This quote from Lawrence Auster on Christopher Hitchens is worth rereading:
The way these Christians talk about Hitchens is the way conservatives justify our trade relations with China: we have trade relations with China, they say, because such relations will convert the Chinese to be like us. In reality, we are having trade relations with a tyrannical, inhuman regime which is our determined adversary. But the conservatives don’t want to face that unpleasant fact, so instead they imagine that by having relations with China we are “really” turning China, against its will, into a free, democratic country. Similarly, Hitchens’s absurd Christian fans couldn’t face the fact that Hitchens utterly hated and despised them and was seeking to create a world without Christianity; so they imagined that by their affection and good will toward him they were turning him, against his will, into a Christian. In both cases, there is disgusting soft-headedness combined with an imperial will to imagine that everyone in the world, including one’s enemy, is becoming like oneself.
Jesus had the understanding of human beings to know who was “convertible” and who wasn’t: “Don’t throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again, and rend you.” Jesus knew that some people you just stay away from: “But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” Jesus’ sentimental contemporary followers manifestly lack that understanding.
It’s sad how far too many Christians are so neutered as to not understand tough love. This emotionalism has the same people swooning over any little scrap of positive attention: Observe the gushing over Tim Tebow. Hitchens was committed to the eradication or at least utter marginalization of Christianity and those of his ilk are enemies of the Faith and God. This is not to say I advocate harm to them à la Jihad but that Christians should acknowledge this as reality and act accordingly. The embrace of certain positions as evidence of common cause or a supposed vector for conversion I believe is more often viewed as further evidence of weakness and justifiable contempt by our enemies. Christians in this day and age should reacquaint themselves with the Christ that cast the money changers from the temple, not the hippy, dippy, sappy character he has been turned into in our overly feminized age. Hitchen’s needed tough love, not a hug.
— Comments —
Mr. Auster writes:
“Hitchen’s needed tough love, not a hug.”
Hitchens didn’t need tough love! He needed to be ruthlessly exposed and put down and treated like the evil, destructive man he was. He needed to be excluded from decent society.
The problem, of course, is that we don’t have “decent society” today. We just have liberalism.
Mark L. writes:
I generally admire Mr. Auster’s tough-mindedness, and I also agree that Christians do tend to drift into sentimentality (see immigration as Exhibit A). But both his and Fitzgerald’s comments on the attempts to reach out to the atheist Christopher Hitchens seem wrong-headed.
If Christianity is merely cultural, then fine, we can talk in very straightforward terms about Friends and Enemies. And by those natural standards, then Hitchens was an enemy not worthy of attempts at conversion. In other words, play the probabilities, don’t waste your resources on this guy, keep your eye on the prize (which in the end is all about preserving our culture and civilization).
But if there’s more to it than that – if Christianity is truly something spiritual, with eternal implications – then many of the normal rules don’t apply. I agree that Jesus wasn’t the hippy he is often portrayed as. He said some very harsh things that even many of his professed followers find difficult to accept. But He was also the embodiment of grace. Yes, He cast out the money changers (though note the context), but He also said to love and pray for one’s enemy and to do good to those who despitefully use you (Matt. 5). And what was the motive? Seeing them won over to Himself. That’s what it means to pour hot coals on their head – it’s not to intensify their torment, but to break them down and lead them to repent. Think of Saul of Tarsus, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” against the early Christians (Acts 9). Would Fitzgerald/Auster have written him off as enemy swine, and advised them not to pray for his conversion?
Now, this “loving one’s enemies” is certainly not a command for nations or societies. That doesn’t work. At its root, what has been termed the “social gospel” is fundamentally flawed, because it confuses things that are deeply personal with those that are political. And I believe Mr. Auster has written persuasively to this effect in the past.
Hence, Christians should support any attempts by government to preserve social order, and should not take liberal, sappy, hippy-dippy positions on such things as crime, race relations and immigration (to name just a few).
But reaching out to a raging journalist who has a soul in need of salvation? That’s a completely different matter. Here we are in Saul of Tarsus territory. Hitchens is said to have been impressed with the kindness showed him by Christians who attended his debates with Christians like William Lane Craig (in which, it must be said, Hitchens does not seem to have fared all that well). His brother, Peter, is apparently a believing Christian. Facing death, looking into the undiscovered country, who’s to say what his mental state might have been, and where it might have led. Attempts toward conversion were absolutely worth the effort.
I disagree. It is not always appropriate to try and convert someone through kindness. The warmth and receptiveness Hitchens encountered may have endangered his soul. He did not live in the wilderness where he had no access to many of the thousands of volumes of Christian apologetics. The idea that Christians who debated him were providing him with needed counsel or guidance is just plain false. He had ample opportunity to consider the counter-arguments long before he wrote his book and he had considered them. He argued that Christianity was evil. What message did Christians convey to him when they responded to his overt hatred of Christ with warmth and kindness? It suggested they were not defending something real.
Douglas Wilson wrote recently in Christianity Today:
During the time we spent together, he never said an unkind thing to me—except on stage, up in front of everybody. After doing this, he didn’t wink at me, but he might as well have.
So we got on well with each other, because each of us knew where the other one stood.
A man publicly insults Wilson and insults Christ, but Wilson sees him as a friend. That’s disturbing. One wonders how much he truly cared about Hitchens’ salvation or just wanted to take part in his celebrity. Sure, Hitchens may have been likeable, but so what?
By the way, Hitchens left specific instructions that if he should have a deathbed conversion it was to be totally disregarded. It would mean that he had lost his mind. He was not arguing with Christians in good faith.
In the “old days,” before computer drafting programs, we used to use a “vanishing point” to create a perspective drawing, in drafting house plans. Hitchens created his own vanishing point and has disappeared into it. He forcefully argued for nothing.
He seemed to lineup his whole life on his vanishing point. Sensory perception: sexual pleasure, alcohol, cigarettes, pain and death; everything else was carnival. He removed the “meat” from human existence. He was depressing. Ironically, he will remain in print and in the digital cloud forever. He argued with dying certainty that at his death there will be eternal nothing. Why did he live his whole life seemingly dedicated to a singular endeavor – the documenting for posterity, of everything that he ever thought, said or did? Why, if he was certain that after death there is nothing?
To honor Hitchens, to respect his most devout belief, he should be erased in the same way that Stalin’s “associates” were erased from history after he had them killed. Hitchens is now no more than a unicorn, a noun, an abstraction, a thought, a collection of descriptive attributes queued up on his personal vanishing point.
Hitchens was a hater of religious faith, yet he was devout and unwavering in his own faith, all the way to the end. He worshipped man and his own mind. He seemed fearless. I read that he wrote all about his impending death, chronicling it and his own thoughts; which was a hope or a demand that he be valued after his life, for its material, when absolutely nothing could possibly matter. How does any of that make sense, when in his own mind and heart he was only absolutely certain about nothing?
Fred Owens writes:
Hitchens was no threat to Christianity. His headlong attack is easily dismissed. But look for the devil in a popular show like Seinfeld — a show about “nothing” as they proudly boasted, a show about people in hell, with no friendship, no affection, no learning, and no transcendence — Seinfeld was truly nihilistic and yet it was immensely popular in the 1990s. That show was a threat to Christianity.
And you, as an intelligent and believing woman, could come up with another dozen example of threats far more serious than that of Christopher Hitchens.
I did not mean to suggest that he was a threat to Christianity. My point was that the way he was treated by Christians was a threat to Christianity.
I agree with you, Laura. I used to be an an atheist, and one of my sinful enjoyments was beating up on wimpy Christians in debate. It was easy to do because almost all of them wanted to show their “luv” to me. One who didn’t was a friend who firmly and passionately defended his faith. After my conversion, I got in touch with him and thanked him for not taking my guff. I told him he was just about the only Christian I had any respect for.
I’m disturbed by the attitude of Christians who speak so warmly of Hitchens. To my mind, this reflects the intimidation many Christians and traditionalists feel toward liberals, our supposed social and intellectual betters. Tact and kindness certainly have their place, but I think it’s useful to recall what David said after seeing his kinsmen cower before Goliath: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
Mark responds to Laura:
Thanks for the link to the article by Douglas Wilson. In my original post, I wasn’t thinking so much of the debaters who became his “friends.” I was thinking more of the people in the audience who came to the debates and afterwards assured him they were praying for him.
I did not attend any of these debates, so I can’t say whether there was something craven or simpering in Wilson’s “friendly” remarks toward Hitchens, which might have contributed toward endangering the latter’s soul, as you suggested. Maybe you’re right and Wilson and others stepped beyond cordiality and conveyed a sense of weakness that made it less likely that his opponent would take the faith seriously. I have seen that done. On the other hand, I’m not sure that ratcheting up the heat against someone like Hitchens – who himself was mainly heat and very little light – would have had a better effect.
I think in many cases Christians appreciated and even admired Hitchens for his willingness to at least step in the ring. By even agreeing to debate top-level Christian scholars, far from the Oxford Debating Societies of the world, he was making himself vulnerable in a way that other hard-core atheists, like Richard Dawkins, seem unwilling to do. He may have held their religion in contempt, but didn’t regard Christians as so contemptible that he wouldn’t even share a room with them and seek to challenge them. For a leftist, that’s not nothing.
It seems there was an element of pity for the man, particularly after it was revealed he was suffering from cancer. Here’s what William Lane Craig, who debated (though never personally befriended) Hitchens, said about him in a podcast back in September:
“He wants to hold his integrity as an unbeliever right till the end, but in my debates and dialogues with him, I didn’t see that he had any good grounds for his unbelief. It wasn’t as though this is a rationally based skepticism on his part; it’s just an emotional anger and resistance against God. And so although he likes to portray himself as this sort of noble skeptic, I saw no reasons whatsoever to suggest that he had any kind of substantive grounds for his atheism. He’s resisting God and God’s efforts to save him right up until the end.”
In other words, many Christians understood Hitchens was an enemy of God, but not one to be feared or hated (because his arguments were mainly empty bluster), but pitied and prayed for. Was this casting pearls before swine? Or loving one’s enemies?
The appropriate thing, beyond perhaps a few debates with him, would have been to ignore him, not necessarily to apply much heat to him (and certainly not to fear him). Those who had befriended him could have continued their own private relationships with him and they might have come to some good. But there is no reason for Christians to eulogize him now or ask for prayers for him.
Let’s say someone had been an unrepentant liar and a thief, who had stolen the material goods of many people. It’s not appropriate to publicly say, upon his death, “Well, he was a really nice person and let’s hope he rests in peace.” If one knew him and liked him, one might privately pray to God that his punishment be swift and just. That would make sense.
Douglas Wilson by publicly praying for eternal rest for Hitchens, who stole the spiritual goods of many people by encouraging them in indifference toward God, suggests that nothing Hitchens said had any real significance and it all should be swept aside, which logically means that nothing anyone said to the contrary has much significance either.
Mark L. replies:
Agree completely that the RIP at the end of Wilson’s article was wrong, and undermined the other points brought out in his article. It’s almost as if he was being cheeky.
Agree with you also that praying for Hitchens AFTER his death is wrong, and pointless too. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
“Agree with you also that praying for Hitchens AFTER his death is wrong, and pointless too.”
Actually it is appropriate. I am not sure I would single out Christopher Hitchens in my prayers, but praying for the salvation of the dead is a Christian concept. My grandmother was not Christian to my knowledge but I did pray for her after her funeral. I am sure Christopher Hitchens Catholic friends will pray for him most likely, on the off chance he is not damned. It is usually considered wrong to presume someones damnation.
I didn’t say praying for the dead was wrong! Nor did I say that praying for Hitchens was wrong, just as it is not wrong to pray for an unrepentant liar and thief. Publicly praying that he “rest in peace,” as Wilson and others have done, is inappropriate.
Art F., a reader of VFR, wrote to Lawrence Auster in regard to this post there:
I read the exchange at Laura Wood’s site and I have to say for the first time she is wrong.
Christians are absolutely enjoined to try to convert, through kindness, misguided men such as Christopher Hitchens. Remember what converted the Romans. They said, “Look at those Christians. Look at how they treat each other.” They were not converted by apologetics from evangelists on a stage in an auditorium. They were converted by example: by the watching the Christians get thrown into boiling oil, and roasted on racks. They were converted by examples of love. Again, “look at those Christians!” they said.
Let us suppose that just one more kind word or conversation with Hitchens, or one last few moments with a fine Christian man, would have converted him? What then? If Junipero Serra were dropped into the middle of San Francisco today, he would not say, “get those homos away from me,” and understandable sentiment. He would say, “Eureka! More souls to convert!”
As well, we are absolutely enjoined to pray for the dead, including Hitchens, and our enemies, including Hitchens. Clearly, he was a troubled man in a lot of pain. We are supposed, as Christians, to understand that. That does not mean we do not admonish the sinner, is our duty. We must do so firmly, but with kindess. And we must always, as Christians, give someone the benefit of the doubt, no matter how hard that may be. When someone wrongs us or we see someone do something wrong perhaps it would be better to say, “the temptation must have been very great!”
It greatly disturbs me when I see Christians ignoring these basic tenets of the faith. Which is not to say we cannot express righteous anger and a healthy desire for just vengeance, say, in the case of a yet another feral murder. But the key word there is righteous.
None of this excuses his relentless attacks on the Church or its heroes, such as Mother Teresa. I had always imagined myself running into the man in the men’s room at the National Press Club and knocking his teeth down his throat for what he said about that living saint. But when he got the cancer, those thoughts went away. God will punish him for his sins. But we are enjoined to imitate Christ and forgive him. I believe, as I recall, we are to forgive 70 times 7. That is certainly what Christ does for us, is it not?
As a side note, I saw a comment from some preacher the other day, who implied Hitchens is in Hell. We do not know the disposition of his soul. The preacher’s conclusion is not unreasonable, but it is by no means a certainty. For all we know, Hitchens could have made his peace with Christ at the last moment. Christ never abandons us, even unto our last moment.
Remember what Scripture teaches us: The last shall be first.
Everything Art says about kindness, mercy and forgiveness is true. Perhaps I have carried my aversion to the public fawning over Hitchens and to prayers that seem a form of celebrity worship too far. But I don’t understand why Hitchens is the beneficiary of public prayers when so many others – murderers and rapists and liars who never tried to spread their hatred of God to others – die every day of the week and are never singled out by Christian leaders for prayers. We have only so many prayers to offer and every time we pray for one person we deny prayers for someone else. Prayers for the unrepentant tend to come in the form of general petitions on their behalf – or as private prayers from those who knew and loved them – because it would be indiscreet and presumptuous to ask God to wipe away the gravest sins. All of our prayers presume we don’t know the final disposition of the dead. My point was that it is indiscreet to pray publicly that Hitchens “rest in peace,” not that it was wrong to pray for him at all.
If Douglas Wilson had said, “I pray that Hitchens did have some last-minute change of heart,” his remark wouldn’t have seemed so inappropriate. And if he had then added, “I pray that all those who were swayed by his pompous idiocies someday rest in peace too,” that would have been even better.
I’m less concerned about Christians fawning over Hitchens than I am Christians regarding Muslims with starry eyes as a hopeful mass of converts whose conversion will either help solve the deadly problem Muslims are causing the world, or will help satisfy the proselytizing desideratum of the Christians in question — or, more or less incoherently — some combination of the two.
(Notice my utter disregard for Auster’s Arbitrary Rule on the Em Dash-&-Comma.)
Art F. replies to Laura:
Thanks for posting my comment.
Apropos of my post and your answer, I was not distinguishing between public and private prayer.
Just to add a point, we don’t typically hear about praying for rapists and murderers because they are generally not celebrities and we don’t know who they are. But they are indeed singled out by some Christians for prayers, if only in a general sense, in those prayers for evil-doers who have sinned and appear to be unrepentant.
I also do not agree that it is indiscreet to publicly pray for his deliverance and peaceful repose. Praying for a man of Hitchens’ spleen is precisely what we ought to do. Indeed, by doing so, again, we demonstrate the genuine charity that converts those who are not Christians.
“See,” the non-believers will say, “they even pray for those who hate them.”
Just to add a point, we don’t typically hear about praying for rapists and murderers because they are generally not celebrities and we don’t know who they are.
Murderers and criminals are in the news. Would you be surprised if the day after Osama Bin Laden’s death, Christians asked that he “rest in peace?”
But they are indeed singled out by some Christians for prayers, if only in a general sense, in those prayers for evil-doers who have sinned and appear to be unrepentant.
Yes, exactly. That was a point I made previously. We usually pray for the unrepentant in general petitions. We don’t typically single them out.
Posted by Laura Wood in Uncategorized