Christopher Hitchens is not quite a household name but he may be the most well known and outspoken atheist of our time.  Hitchens really hates God, and has spent his entire adult life trying to convince people to do the same.  He has written several books on the subject including; God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non- Believer and most recently his memoir, Hitch 22. The title of course is a play on words from Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 which in short is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.  He could not have picked a more apt title, which I will explain in a moment.

Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer just as his new book hit the store bookshelves.  This is an aggressive cancer that is almost always fatal.  Hitchens has resigned to the fact that he is probably not going to make it.  He has told people that want to pray for him; “Don’t, unless it makes YOU feel better!”  He has made it clear that under no circumstances is he going to change his mind about God.  He told CNN that if there are rumors of a deathbed conversion we are not to believe it as it is the drugs or delirium talking.  I don’t think he should flatter himself.  I’m not sure there are too many praying for Hitchens anyway.  Although he does have one committed prayer partner… his brother. Peter Hitchens, who also for years was himself an atheist, today is an ardent defender of the faith saying; “If you drive God out of the world then you create a harrowing wilderness.

More vindictive Christians are rejoicing in his ill health calling it the judgement of God. Hitchens, on the other hand, readily admits that it is a consequence of years of heavy smoking and drinking.  It is hard to like Mr. Hitchens.  He is one of the most mean-spirited and vitriolic people you will ever hear.  After the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, he was asked if Falwell would now be in heaven.  This is what he said:

I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to. The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing: that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you’ll just get yourself called Reverend. Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God’s punishment if they hadn’t got some kind of clerical qualification. People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup. The whole consideration of this horrible little person is offensive to very, very many of us who have some regard for truth and for morality and who think that ethics do not require that lies be told to children by evil old men, that we’re not told that people who believe like Falwell will be snatched up into heaven – I’m glad to see he skipped the rapture and was found on the floor of his office – while the rest of us go to hell. How dare they talk to children like this, how dare they raise money from credulous people on their huckster-like Elmer Gantry radio stations and fly around in private jets as he did, giggling and snickering all the time at what he was getting away with?…the fact is that the country suffers to a considerable extent from paying too much by way of compliment to anyone who can describe themselves as a person of faith – Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard: Chaucerian frauds, people who are simply pickpockets and frauds who prey on the gullible…He woke up every morning, as I say, pinching his chubby little flanks and thinking “I’ve got away with it again!”…I think he was a conscious charlatan and bully and fraud and I think if he read the Bible at all – and I would doubt whether he could actually read any long book at all – that he did so only in the most hucksterish, as we say, Bible-pounding way.  Lots of people are going to die and are already leading miserable lives because of the nonsense preached by this man.”

Needless to say he wasn’t asked to speak at the funeral.

His attacks on religious figures knew no bounds.  He was the only witness to intervene against Mother Teresa’s beatification and canonization hearings at the Vatican.  Speaking later on national TV he said, “The woman was a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud, and millions of people are much worse off because of her life, and it’s a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to.” Yikes!  Well, at least he’s not bitter!

One has to wonder what fills a man with such hatred towards someone who gave her entire life to serving the poorest of poor.  One clue has to do with his own mother.  She had an affair with a psychotic defrocked Anglican priest that ended in a joint suicide pact in a hotel room in Athens.  That has got to mess with a young man’s head.

Last week Christopher Hitchens debated former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Toronto.  The question was; Is religion a force for peace or conflict in the modern world? Three years ago Blair made the surprising announcement that he had converted to Catholicism from a life long Anglican faith.  He has now become an outspoken proponent of the need for faith in the world.  I watched the debate and it was a good one. No one threw any knockout punch but the crowd voted 2 to 1 in favour of Hitchens.  But it wasn’t  really an even match up.  Hitchens is an intellectual with a million dollar vocabulary and a lifetime of perfecting his arguments while Blair was handicapped by the long-winded rambling style of a politician.  Nevertheless he spoke with passion and conviction and clearly held his own.

Instead of feeling disgust for Hitchens I find myself feeling very sorry for him.  Many believe this will be his last debate and that he is not likely to survive 2011.  The apostle Paul said, “If there is no resurrection… we are the most pitiable of all men.” Christopher Hitchens is certainly in a Catch 22 scenario.  If he recants and repents, he turns his back on everything he ever espoused.  If he doesn’t, he is assured of eternal damnation.  He’s damned if he does, and DAMNED if he don’t.  He’s all dressed up with no place to go.