Christopher Hitchens passed away on December 15, 2011. Almost certainly, somewhere a self-proclaimed Christian celebrated. Hitchens, you see, was an unrepentant atheist.
On a somewhat uncomfortably regular basis, I hear from people who write to tell me they are praying for my soul. While I deeply appreciate it, I fear that how I write leads people to make assumptions about my own religion, or perceived lack thereof. I use the word “karma” and people write in telling me about Christianity. I write about feeling astray in the world and people write in telling me about Christianity. I write with questions about what this whole thing called life really is and people write in telling me about Christianity. Don’t get me wrong — I do very much appreciate the input and the prayers, but I’m afraid I wasn’t very good about making my points.
I am a Christian. I have read the Bible, but I do not bang anyone over the head with the Bible. I believe what Observer News Positive Talk columnist Bill Hodges wrote: “Preaching your religion is not nearly as powerful as living it in a manner that others will want to emulate.” That is true, at least for me.
I also firmly believe that Christopher Hitchens is not in hell. Now that may get some emails fired off, but hear me out. It’s not that I think no one goes to Hell; I think some people just might and more than a few deserve their own special place in it. But that’s not for me to decide, of course.
There are bevies of complex, intelligent-sounding and beautiful words that can be used to describe Christopher Hitchens and they have been used by writers who are far better than I am. He was a literary man’s man, a bon vivant at home in a war zone or at a black tie party. Hitchens was an incredibly gifted and talented writer, an exceptional, natural orator, a remarkably passionate advocate for a mixed bag of things that he believed in and a prosecutor for things that he did not. God was among the latter group. I found myself reading his work, often in disagreement but almost always in admiration of his intellect, style and prose.
From my perspective, God has endowed each of us with unique talents. We all have gifts; whether or not we take the time to use them or even choose to recognize them. I don’t believe God wants to be worshipped by a flock of sheep. I don’t think He needs or wants blind followers. In my view, I think He may have created Hitchens just as he was, with Hitchens’ incredible talent providing us the opportunity to think, to consider and reconsider, and thus reaffirming our faith by allowing us to question His existence.
Hitchens’ final book, entitled Mortality, was about “living dyingly.” He had stage 4 cancer of the esophagus and very suddenly came face-to-face with his own mortality. At 104 pages, it is a short book for Hitchens, but the end was known in advance. He died and the book trailed off with incomplete thoughts and loose notes. Despite his prognosis, no one was expecting him to die when he did — not his wife of two decades, not Hitchens himself. Cancer or no, the same thing could be said for any of us. We don’t know what any day might bring.
In the book, he discussed converting to Christianity or any other religion and the reasons why he simply could not. Like it or not, some of his reasons made sense. To me, it seemed as though Hitchens had a conversation with God and God understood. In my opinion, God created him and his talent, after all. He opened the doors for Hitchens.
Last night, my wife and I watched a movie entitled The Answer Man about a famous but reclusive author and his relationship with God. The tone was set early on, with the camera panning around a man praying and the scene punctuated with him bursting into a string of profanities when the doorbell rang. Today, even the F-bomb has become a mere firecracker, with both children and the elderly spewing it with abandon. I honestly don’t think God cares much about how we throw consonants and vowels together to form words in just one of the world’s many languages. I honestly don’t think God cares much about any of the sounds we make — the intent of those sounds, now that’s a different story.
In the Miami area last week, a 24-year-old man murdered a 49-year-old loss prevention worker at a Walmart over a $16 package of undershirts. He then killed himself. Here in the Bay area, a 34-year-old mother, unemployed with an unemployed husband, facing charges of welfare fraud, living in a trash-filled home without electricity and about to be foreclosed, murdered her children, ages nine and five, and then hung herself from a ceiling fan. These are the stories of life that garner the headlines. Where is God in all of this? I don’t know, but I feel certain He was looking on in horror.
The Answer Man was not a terribly great movie, but there was some inspiration in it. The protagonist told his love interest that each and every day God can’t wait for her to wake up to see the world through her eyes. He literally can’t wait. I like the idea of thinking that God can’t wait for my wife Michelle to wake up and see the world through her eyes. It gives me a reason to try to make her happy, thus to make God happy. That is really fairly simple, isn’t it? Now I just need to apply that to everyone else.
Perhaps some of us are meant to be Mother Teresa and others are meant to simply be decent people, raising families and struggling to get by. I don’t know why bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Some people wrote to Hitchens suggesting that his cancer was God’s punishment, also sometimes mentioning they would pray for him. In such a case, wouldn’t praying away the cancer be subverting God’s will? It would seem so, just as praying for a change in direction of an oncoming hurricane only puts other potential innocent victims into danger.
We have the gift (sometimes the curse) known as free will and, thus, God isn’t placing neon signs for us in the sky. Nothing would subvert free will like some celestial neon sign, in my opinion. From God’s perspective, every door is open to all of us; nobody and nothing can make us do anything we don’t want to do. Everything is a choice and our choices ultimately dictate how we live. I believe it is rare for God to push anyone through an opened door — the choice is ours. We can choose to help or hurt, create or destroy, love or hate, praise or criticize. We can choose to let God see life through our eyes. I like the thought of trying to make Him happy that way. Just think about how easy that is. Just think about how much happier we all would be.