Monday, September 20, 2010

Humanity's Oldest Argument

Years ago, when my mother and I were discussing my abandoned Catholicism, she said, "You know, there are no atheists in foxholes." Meaning, I guess, that when faced with the certainty of impending death most people turn back to religion.

That's why I have such respect for author and journalist Christopher Hitchens on what has been designated "Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day." Stricken with esophageal cancer and wracked by chemotherapy, the 62-year-old atheist, when asked about the religious movement arranged for his benefit through viral online networking, said, "I shall not be participating."

The fact that Hitchens is sticking to his guns in the face of the ultimate challenge is heartening to an atheist like me. It's a public display of a philosophical stance that gets very little exposure in a world where politicians invoke God at every opportunity and even our currency kowtows to the divine deity.

Hitchens says that the people praying for him today break down into three distinct groups: those who see his cancer diagnosis as vindication that he has displeased God with his outspoken anti-theism, those who want him to "see the light" and join their particular religious faith, and those who are asking God to heal him to demonstrate the Almighty's, well, might.

Hitchens told the Associate Press that he intends to stand by his atheistic views to the end, and would like to be recalled as one of those "who are attempting to uphold reason and science against superstition."

"This is a very long, long, long story," he said. "It's humanity's oldest argument. If I played a small part in keeping it going that would be enough for me."

I'm not going to be praying for Christopher Hitchens today. But I wish him the best, and sincerely appreciate his sage words on this most volatile of topics -- and how he's still fighting his final battle from that foxhole.  


  1. Hi, I was moved by this stand Hitchens is taking, by your personal introduction to his story, and by your impulse to wish him well.

    Thanks for sending me your blog.

    I enjoy it.

    Jonathan freedman

  2. Thanks Jonathan. I hope to pick it up again, as I've been dealing with extensive dental work. Now there's a blog topic!