Noted journalist and atheist Christopher Hitchens passed away on December 15 at the age of 62 from complications of esophageal cancer. Through his writing, lectures, and debates, Hitchens was neither timid nor tempered in expressing his views about God. Believing that the term “atheist” might erroneously suggest some room for ambivalence about the notion of Deity, he preferred a stronger and more definitive description of himself as an “antitheist.” Hitchens, who identified the monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as being “the real axis of evil,” offered a thorough presentation of his thoughts about religion in his 2007 book, God is Not Great.
As odd and counter-intuitive as it might seem, the fervor of Christopher Hitchens’ belief system and the tenacity with which he held to it offer a commendable model that Christians would do well to imitate in regard to their faith in Jesus Christ.
There was no mushy middle ground for Hitchens when it came to the existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ. “Hoping so” or “wishing so” was completely irrelevant to the discussion, and there was no room for sappy sentimentalism. Either God is, or He isn’t. Either Jesus is the divine Son of God and the world’s only hope for salvation, or He was a complete fraud. Of course, for Hitchens, it was a certainty that God isn’t; he staked his life, his reputation, and his intellect on it. He was sold-out, all-in, and unyielding in his convictions. He would challenge anyone on the subject, no matter who it made uncomfortable, angry, or indignant.
Am I as committed in my Christian faith as Hitchens was in his antagonism against it?
As his cancer worsened and death grew more imminent, Hitchens preemptively ruled out any possibility of a death-bed conversion. He warned friends not to believe him if, under the influence of palliative pain medication, he seemed to waffle about his disbelief in God. It would just be the drugs talking, he insisted. A terminal disease would not be allowed to undermine the foundation of his belief system.
Would I allow it to alter mine?
One of the qualities that made Christopher Hitchens so fascinating and frustrating to people was his deftness at being an equal-opportunity offender. His opinions about issues and personalities were truly his own, defying established conventions and simplistic labels. He was both vilified as a socialist liberal and ostracized for neo-conservatism and support for the Iraq war. He not only offered scathing critiques of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, but also Bill and Hillary Clinton and Michael Moore. Even Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama could not escape his pointed pen and tongue.
It would have been far easier (and would have cost him fewer friends) if he had completely cast his lot with one “camp” or the other by clearly pledging his singular allegiance in partisan, “them” and “us” ideological conflicts. He would have known where the safe ground was and which targets were strictly off-limits. However, Hitchens would not allow himself to be confined within parameters and expectations that were determined by others.
Christians, also, should resist allowing their faith to be determined and their spiritual thinking limited by the imposition of the artificial boundaries of sectarian partyism, regardless of whether it is traditional or progressive, right or left, conservative or liberal. One should seek to be Biblical, no matter how untidily it may fit into the prefabricated theological boxes of others.
Though the basis and object of our belief could not be more different, Christians should seek a “Hitchens kind of faith”: bold, courageous, unwavering, unapologetic, and uncompromising.