Response: Christopher Hitchens and Prayer

Andrew Hall is a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on Online Computer Science Degree for Guide to Online Schools.


The seemingly large number of people who seem to expect – or want – to pray for Christopher Hitchens, or who see Hitchens himself turn to prayer in the wake of his learning that he has esophageal cancer, is completely and totally baffling. Carl’s piece on Hitchens and prayer understands this quite clearly.

As a self-described “anti-theist” and someone who has made much of his career writing about religion and its negative effects upon society, which he explored thoroughly in much of his journalistic work as well as his nonfiction (particularly God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), it would make no sense for Hitchens to suddenly become a religious person in any capacity. It would appear, rather, as a complete and total cop-out, evidence of a man’s desperation to continue living that simply could not be justified in any capacity given who Hitchens is and what he’s made his life doing.

Carl Packman’s passage about Pascal’s wager makes especially clear why this is the case, as Hitchens would be “only doing this in case” it somehow were to miraculously cure him of a condition that very few people ever survive for more than a few years. Furthermore, Hitchens’ lifestyle has in many ways encouraged the development of his cancer, and you’ll hear this from Hitchens before anyone else, as Hitchens readily acknowledges his heavy drinking and cigarette smoking as a major factor in his having developed this condition.

Given that this is the case – and that Hitchens didn’t change his behavior for decades and is now undergoing treatment, but expects to live not longer than perhaps five years – one can safely assume that the essential qualities that make Christopher Hitchens Christopher Hitchens are not going to change anytime soon, and this includes his lifelong dedication to anti-theism and criticism of religion. Were Hitchens to embrace religion now and for nothing to change, he would merely prove his point; were Hitchens to embrace religion now and to miraculously recover, he would invalidate his career and ruin his legacy as a writer and thinker over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Not mentioned in the piece but also certainly of interest is the fact that Hitchens has also said that those who feel compelled to pray for him are welcome to do so, since it’s essentially harmless and may make people feel better. Rather than vehemently oppose all prayer about him, he’s simply chosen not to participate in it (including the day of prayer for Hitchens that some seemed to be interested in making happen). This stance seems surprisingly more atheistic than anti-theistic, though given that it is a personal belief and not one necessarily being imposed upon others, it could be viewed as less damaging or potentially destructive than other forms of religious expression and thus less immediately menacing.

What happens to Hitchens in the next several years, and his last writings, will be of great interest, but I don’t think either of us expect to see him turn to prayer anytime soon.

This is a response to my blog entry called Christopher Hitchens and prayer.

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