Grassroots Commentary

On Hitchens, the Suffering Atheist

B.P. Terpstra · Apr. 5, 2011

“Christopher Hitchens is undergoing radiation treatment and wasn’t able to write this week’s column on his usual schedule,” explains Slate, an online magazine. “He hopes to file soon.” The date: March 23, 2011.

It’s easy to disagree with Hitchens on some issues while agreeing with him on others. Still, hope is an apolitical creature and I hope he survives his battle (or what must seem like a war).

His cancer, for sure, is the focus of international attention.  But why? The Telegraph, March 28th article “Godless in Tumourville” was probably written earlier, but it’s insightful, for many reasons.  As Mick Brown notes, “Hitchens has always been a ferociously prolific and fastidious journalist. It is his proud boast that he has never missed a deadline, and he clearly has no intention of starting now.”

It’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room, with a name too: “One physician who is taking an active interest in Hitchens’s treatment is Francis Collins, the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, which pioneered the treatment Hitchens is receiving. Collins is now the director of America’s National Institutes of Health” and an evangelical Christian.

They are close friends. So we have this supposedly strange situation of a born-again trying to save an evangelical atheist from an early death through science. But it’s a more common story than some journalists admit. You can easily lose count of all the famous Protestant/Catholic intellectuals and their great contributions to healthcare/medicine.

Conversion politics

Another issue. I’m not an atheist or a churchgoing Christian, but I do believe in God and believe He believes in us. So then there’s the second elephant in the room: conversion politics. How does physical suffering consciously (or otherwise) influence our thoughts on death? And when is the “right” time to talk about the afterlife, if there is one?

Given that Hitchens has (a) made a career out of trashing religion, in a Christian-majority nation where he immigrated to (the United States of all places) and (b) is still talking faith down, the issue isn’t going away. Indeed, even without death in the background, it’s politically-incorrect for Christians to share their faith, but acceptable for militant atheists to evangelize 24/7.

In addition to attending a burial last week and watching Hitchens on 60 Minutes, my thoughts also turn to a Q & A I did with the atheist author S.E. Cupp last year. You see, we both agreed that it’s flattering when people try to convert us to their religious views. After all, why should we be threatened by intellectual challenges when conversion attempts are part of a free speech culture?

Hitchens strikes me as a knowledgeable person. But few people possess wisdom. I’ve never understood why some atheists use suffering to disprove God, but never see joy as proof of Him. It’s a circular ideology that makes little sense, especially with Christ’s promise of eternal life.

Are we surprised that so many atheists pray though?

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