Hitch-22: Ode To A Departed Atheist
by Dennis Michelson
Psalm 14:1 - The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God . . ."
Introduction: Christopher Hitchens is dead. If that name does not ring a bell with you then the most outspoken and articulate atheist of your time slipped into eternity and escaped your attention. This self-professed atheist knew more about what Christians believe than many Christians I know. Of course he spent his life rejecting such beliefs as superstitious, infantile, and damaging to human progress.
An "ode" is generally a poem or writing devoted to honoring or recognizing someone. In that sense, what you are reading is an "ode" to Christopher Hitchens and I want to recognize his consistency in standing for his convictions. He never wavered - even when staring death in the face. In fact, he made it clear that if anyone reported a "death-bed conversion" then it should be attributed to dementia or drugs.
Hitchens - in his sound mind - rejected the concept of an infinite, personal, creator-redeemer God as about the most repugnant thing a human could imagine. If you read his books and essays then you might conclude that this man may have been the most erudite and convincing voice for atheism in the last 100 years.
Read his "Letters To a Young Contrarian" or "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" and you will admire his consistent line of argument even if you reject his basic premise. One of his last books - "Hitch-22" - is the basis for the title of this message. Please notice three things about the text and the man -
1. His Character - "The Fool"
Properly understood in a biblical sense, the "fool" is seen as the most intelligent of all the three character progressions in the Proverbs. They are:
(a) The Simpleton - This person is gullible and easily led. It is striking that Hitchens would often say that the term "flock" most closely resembled the great weakness of Christianity. Hitchens broke from the "flock" at an early age and began to question everything and everyone. He would often say that he was baptized into the Church of England in 1949 with the "slimmest of qualifications." The Simpleton is lacking in critical thinking ability. Hitchens seemed to have this at a early age and quickly moved him to the next stage of charcter progression.
(b) The Scorner - This is the scoffer. He delights in making fun of "the flock mentality." When Jerry Falwell died, Hitchens observed that if he were given an enema then they could bury him in a matchbox! Regarding Mother Teresa, he branded her as not loving the poor but loving poverty as a means for raising more money. This is the character of the scorner. No one in modern times has been able to verbalize venom better than Christopher Hitchens. However, the scorner when left unconvinced to the contrary will ultimately become the most intractible character of all.
(c) The Fool - Hitchens dogmatically argued for an open and free exchange of ideas, unfettered by the constraints of religious dogma. Of course the fool has come to believe that he can assert his irreligious dogma and exempts himself from the terminally unique inconsistency of his own argument. The fool does not merely "whistle by the graveyard." He will exhume all of the bodies, spread them out on the ground, and conclude that God is absent since those decomposed corpses are still present.
2. His Communication - "Hath Said in His Heart"
It takes time to become a fool. One must engage in an abundance of self-talk. Hitchens was an eminently quotable proponent for atheism.
"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."
"The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism."
"Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it."
"Organized religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children."
"Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of the 'flock'"
"I cannot, of course, prove that there is no supervising deity who invigilates my every moment and who will pursue me even after I am dead. I can only be happy that there is no evidence for such a ghastly idea, which would resemble a celestial North Korea in which liberty was not just impossible but inconceivable."
One can never accuse Hitchens of not telling you what he really thought.
3. His Creed - "There is no God."
In almost every lecture or debate (in recent years) Hitchens would lambast the concept that Jesus Christ died vicariously for sinners. He would posit that a person might die in someone's stead and relieve them of the penalty for their immoral action but no one could die in the stead of another and absolve them from the responsibility for the act itself. This atheist could spell out the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ better than some seminary professors.
Of course if there is no God then none of this matters. I like R.C. Sproul's book title - "If There Is No God Then Why Are There So Many Atheists?" Hitchens often complained that he just wanted zealous Christians to respect him and leave him alone. If there is no God, then repsect becomes meaningless. If we are just the sum total of time plus chance driven by chemical reactions then the death of a famous atheist means no more than the death of any other mammal.
One of my favorite quotes from Hitchens is that "owners of dogs will have noticed that , if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will draw the conclusion that they are gods."
I am not sure, but I suspect Christopher (name means Christ bearer) Hitchens was more of a cat man. However, I am confident that he is more concerned at present with the distinction between sheep and goats than with dogs and cats. I miss Sagan, Russell, Updike, Cousins and others of their "flock." I am sure Dawkins will carry on since Hitchens has now gone the way of all flesh.
It seems to me a bit ironic that those who devote their lives to "storming the gates of heaven" may be more intellectually rigorous than some who "storm the gates of hell." However, when intellectual rigor and superior debating skills lead one to conclude "there is no God" then something (or Someone) beyond human intellect is needed.
Os Guiness said it best in his "Dust of Death" - "If there was any lingering doubt as to whether or not philosophy had transferred its support from theology to humanism, this was finally dispelled for most people when the mechanistic world view of science provided an explanation of the origin and development of the universe."
The fact that a towering intellect like Hitchens concluded that "there is no God" is either a proof of the evolution of the species or a confirmation of reprobation as outlined in Romans 1. One thing is certain - Christopher Hitchens now knows which one is true.