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Christopher Hitchens: Staring Death in the Face

And the difference that Biblical Creation makes!1

Published: 22 December 2011 (GMT+10)
CreativeCommons2.0/AndrewRusk Christopher Hitchens in late 2010 following cancer treatment.
Christopher Hitchens in late 2010 following cancer treatment.


Preliminary comment

Having failed in his fight against oesophageal cancer, well-known misotheist2 Christopher Hitchens died on 15 December at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. In an article in a British newspaper, The Independent, Richard Dawkins claimed that “his very character became an outstanding and unmistakable symbol of the honesty and dignity of atheism, as well as of the worth and dignity of the human being when not debased by the infantile babblings of religion.”3 Such virtues did not characterize Dawkins himself, whose tirade ended with the words “Farewell, great voice. Great voice of reason … against all tyrants including God.”

To what extent did Christopher Hitchens really come to terms with his unbelief? And how did this arch-rationalist view his impending death from cancer? In one of his last public interviews (late in 2010), he spoke at length on the subject. The following article was published in a printed CMI (United Kingdom) newsletter earlier in 2011 but we publish this website version in view of the poignancy of Hitchens’ own admissions and the lessons that can be learnt.

For all of us, the most pressing question of all relates to our ultimate destiny, when we pass from this life into eternity—whether or not we’re ready to face death. At the forefront of CMI’s mandate to uphold the truth and authority of the Bible is the need to make Christ known—not only as the Supreme Creator of all things, but as the only Saviour of men, women, boys and girls. “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”4

Asked whether he feared death, he said ‘No. I’m not afraid of being dead, that’s to say. There’s nothing to be afraid of; I won’t know I’m dead.’ The tragedy, of course, is that he couldn’t be more wrong.

I am convinced that this is a major reason why ministries such as this one are so despised by prominent leaders in science, the media and politics. The often bitter and venomous attacks on biblical creationists stem from the world’s hatred of the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s Word, just as Jesus indicated (John 17:14). Ongoing scientific discoveries reveal and affirm the reliability of Genesis—and Christ as the Creator (Romans 1:20)—and make clear the accountability of each and every human being to Him.

Among vocal opponents of biblical Christianity today, Christopher Hitchens has been a chief spokesperson;5 so it was with sober interest that I watched an interview which he gave to well-known journalist Jeremy Paxman in November 20106—occasioned by his recent diagnosis with terminal cancer. I should say, before I go any further, that I found it profoundly sad viewing. Although very accomplished and the recipient of many accolades in his life-time—and despite his godless writings—here was someone with no concern that he would soon forfeit his soul;7 indeed, my heart went out to him.

Gambling with life

Asked whether he feared death, he said “No. I’m not afraid of being dead, that’s to say. There’s nothing to be afraid of; I won’t know I’m dead.” The tragedy, of course, is that he couldn’t be more wrong. The truth may be unpalatable but the Bible is unmistakable that “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”8 Hitchens is well aware of Scripture’s teaching on this point. He said, “[I’d be] surprised to find, when I pass on from this veil of tears, that I’m facing a tribunal … [but, if I found I was, then I would tell God] that I was honestly unable to believe in the claims made by your human spokespersons.”

So there you have it. This man, like so many, is prepared to take a gamble on his most precious possession, his soul. And his reason is that he’s unable to believe? The truth of the matter is that there are countless people in our society who are unwilling to believe, regardless of the wealth of evidence that stares them in the face, both from God’s revelation of Himself in His Creation (Psalm 19:1–4) and His perfect revelation in Scripture (Psalm 19:7–11). In their wilful unbelief (2 Peter 3:5), they have chosen an evolutionary philosophy of life to avoid a sense of accountability to their Maker.

In terms of how people practically live out their lives, belief in [evolution] tends to make atheists of people. This places a great burden of responsibility on the shoulders of every Christian to actively engage in witnessing for Christ.

Evolution, heaven and hell

Earlier in the interview, Hitchens admitted “My view is already quite stark, which is that we’re born into a losing struggle … something meaningless or random. … it’s a stark existence.” This tragically illustrates a point I often make in my speaking ministry. How people choose to answer the question, “Where do I come from?” (My origins) will make a huge difference to how they answer life’s other big questions; namely, “Why am I here?” (The meaning and purpose of my life) and, “Where will I go after death?” (My ultimate destiny). In terms of how people practically live out their lives, belief in the evolutionary struggle for existence certainly tends to make atheists of people.

This places a great burden of responsibility on the shoulders of every Christian to actively engage in witnessing for Christ. “If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward … How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? … to believe that eternal life is possible and not to tell them that?” So said an American atheist in describing his respect for a Christian who had made an effort to talk to him.9 This provides quite a challenge to the professing Christian!

Many non-Christians are willing to talk with us about the Big Questions, and biblical Creation is often the key to get them thinking hard about their ultimate destiny. Hitchen’s stark view of life follows from his disbelief in God’s Word. Indeed, evolution is a way that seems right to many, but it so often leads to pessimism and a rejection of eternal life.10 However, every true Christian can rejoice because of their faith in the Son of God and His amazing love for us. Since Jesus gave up His life at the Cross, we have been set free from the law of sin and death11 and view our passing from this life as just the beginning of a glorious eternal future!

Faith in action!

The message we have is as relevant as ever—the church is only viewed as irrelevant and out of touch if we neglect to deal with people’s questions. Christians today have more information and evidence to uphold the truth and reliability of the Bible than at any time in the Church’s recent history. However, there are still many who don’t even know of CMI’s existence, and how they could benefit from the wealth of resources we offer. Your help in making these things known and in supporting us is invaluable.

References and notes

  1. This article first appeared in the newsletter for CMI (UK & Europe), Prayer News, January–March 2011. Return to text.
  2. A eulogy by Australia’s ABC Religious Affairs Editor, Scott Stephens, 20 December 2011, stated: “But I think there is a parallel here with Hitchens’ later embrace of a flailing, uneven variety of atheism (or, as he always insisted, miso-theism, God-hatred rather than just God-denial).” See www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/12/20/3394402.htm, accessed 20 December 2011. Return to text.
  3. Dawkins, R., The Independent, 17 December 2011; see www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/richard-dawkins-illness-made-hitchens-a-symbol-of-the-honesty-and-dignity-of-atheism-6278298.html, accessed 18 December 2011. Return to text.
  4. Acts 4:12. Return to text.
  5. For instance, he authored God is not Great! in 2007. See also this article: Christopher Hitchens—blind to salamander reality. Return to text.
  6. BBC Newsnight Special, broadcast 29 November 2010. Return to text.
  7. See Matthew 16:26. Return to text.
  8. Hebrews 9:27. Return to text.
  9. Penn Jillette, atheist and ordinarily foul-mouthed US comedian, www.downshoredrift.com/downshoredrift/2009/02/atheist-penn-jillette-tells-christians-to-evangelize.html. Return to text.
  10. Compare Proverbs 14:12. Return to text.
  11. Romans 8:2. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

The God Reality
by Rob Slane
US $8.00
Soft Cover
The Greatest Hoax on Earth?
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $16.00
Soft Cover
Does God exist?
by Drs Don Batten, Jonathan Sarfati
US $0.75
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

David G.
The great irony of the work of Hitchens, Dawkins, et al, is that they behave as though their work has significance, and presumably significance beyond their life; yet their espousal denies that there is any such significance!
Mark A.
In response to Mike J., Hitchens didn’t hate god any more than he hated any other character he considered to be fictional; he hated RELIGION. Accusing atheists of being “angry at god” is asinine and childish. Why don’t you believe in Sauron? Are you ANGRY at him?

Also, there IS a correlation (a NEGATIVE one) observed in every study of religiosity and intelligence. That is not to say that ANY atheist is more intelligent than EVERY theist, but that the more intelligent a person is, the less likely they are to be religious. No causation, in either direction, can be verified, but the results are there.

Finally, repudiating Hitchens’ inability to believe and declaring that he was UNWILLING? Two things:

a) Are you psychic? How could you possibly know why Hitchen’s didn’t believe?

b) If you don’t believe in fairies-are you UNWILLING, or UNABLE, to believe this? Could you CHOOSE to believe in fairies? Of course not.
Philip Bell
You say Chris Hitchens “didn’t hate god any more than he hated any other character he considered to be fictional”. With respect, this opinion fails to fit the facts. Consider the following:

“He was a virtuoso hater and his hatreds were redeemed, when they had to be, by the sheer relish with which they were expressed,” wrote Michael Ignatieff upon his death.

Source: https://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/12/20/father-raymond-j-de-souza-christopher-hitchens-lived-in-service-of-plain-hatred/
Certainly, those whom society labels Christians (i.e. who took their stand as believers in God) were often the victims of his “hate speech” and the above article gives clear examples that few would be prepared to defend. In keeping with this, we note that hatred towards God has always manifested itself most especially in hatred for Christians, as Christ Himself warned—John 15:18–20 and 23–25.
Every study of religion and intelligence shows a negative correlation between the two? It would be nice to see documentation or references of these ‘scientific’ studies. So, we merely measure people’s intelligence and measure how religious they are and plot a graph … Hmm.
We do not profess to know all of Hitchens’ reasons for his unbelief (in his lifetime), neither did the article do so. Nevertheless, atheism and the concomitant disbelief in Creation is a point of view held in spite of the abundant evidence for God’s existence and for a Created world (Romans 1:20 and 2 Peter 3:5,6). Depending on the version one uses, the latter verses refer to people as being “wilfully” ignorant of such things—or those who “deliberately forget” the things around them that are inimical to atheism.
There are so many reasons why the analogy of belief in fairies with belief in God fails and proves merely to be a smoke screen to avoid what is really at stake. Just one should suffice. Nobody claims (to my knowledge) that fairies are responsible for the Creation of the Universe, or of human beings. Yet millions throughout history have believed (and continue to believe) that a Creator God is the Sufficient and Efficient Cause for all that exists. Atheists must persuade themselves that the Universe made itself. Thus, the real argument is not between those who believe in fairies versus those who believe in God, but between the belief in a Creator God versus a blind, reasonless, nothing-to-a-Universe belief.
Harry C.
he shoulda known….its like the lottery…cant win unless you play right???? please….you christians are pathetic….
Philip Bell
Actually, life is a lottery if we’re all nothing more than rearranged pond scum. In which case, facing death is simply waiting for the lights to finally go out for the last time.
If that’s all true, why do many professing atheists get so worked up about those people who have, in their view, the misguided notion that there is a God and there is an afterlife? If we’re all going to become fertiliser when we die, I wonder why atheists don’t just chill out and leave these ‘weak-minded’ Christians to their foolish views. Therein lies the rub—the opprobrium heaped upon believers in God (especially Christians) belies the insecurity of most atheists I know—including practically all who I have personally known too, including some I’ve counted among my friends.
Russ H.
The admission by Christopher Hitchens the article quotes is very useful: “… [if I found I was facing a tribunal after death, then I would tell God] that I was honestly [sic] unable to believe in the claims made by your human spokespersons.” When I was a professing atheist (I feel no real ones exist), I had that very thought. Though it was really a dishonest excuse, it allowed me to continue living my life for myself and yet hope I could avoid hell anyhow. Hitchens’ remark makes me think that the excuse is common among people trying to deny God’s existence. Knowing this is in the hearts of such people helps me witness to them with more understanding.
Mike J.
Christopher Hitchens tells us that if he meets up with God he will say, “… I was honestly unable to believe in the claims made by your human spokespersons.”

—Are we supposed to believe that while his brother was able to believe in God that he wasn’t? We see from this case (of the two brothers) that belief in God has nothing to do with intelligence or education, despite the claims of atheists that this is the case. (There are a great many atheists who don’t read a book a year or even in a decade.)

—The atheist, because he bears the image of God (however tattered this flag may be toward the end of his life) is necessarily a double minded man. e.g. On the one hand he writes books claiming that God doesn’t exist, while on the other hand he hates the God he know exists. The misotheist engages in what Orwell called doublethink.

“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies-all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”—1984
Rus N.
Great article (you always have great articles), just a very tragic end to Hitchens’ life. Hitchens, like so many others before him, are truly foolish in their beliefs. No wonder God has said: “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.” Wilful unbelief…each one has made their choice. I have a friend that told me many years ago: “I know I’m going to hell, but when I get there, I’ll just take off more clothes.” Another person I once met told me he knew he was going to hell, but when he got there, he would be with his friends & they would have a good time. How tragic! As I was reading this article, the thought came into my mind, to try something with people, essentially with those who do not believe in God but do believe in evolution. Have someone work on baking a cake, and someone else wait for it to happen by chance. Several different examples could be stated here. Then I would ask the ones waiting for the cake, etc. to happen by chance: “How long are you going to have to wait for your belief in evolution to be proven right in these cases? If it isn’t going to happen by chance in these cases, then it never happened in the past. Look at more complex cases. Science has already proven matter had a beginning. You believe matter just suddenly appeared, and everything has originated from that matter, this without any purpose or direction from anyone or Superior Being. Think of all the millions/billions of things that ALL had to happen by chance to come about from the right order & right combination at the right time. And the one person who is sitting in your chair waiting for the computer parts to assemble themselves, will it ever happen by chance, especially the software creating itself!? If you say no, then how can something 1,000s of times more complex like the human cell happen by chance, especially the DNA code, which isn’t even a material entity!? Aren’t gravity and other scientific laws of motion & etc. all non-material entities also!? My point people: You could wait for an eternity and time will never prove your belief in evolution to be true. I, on the other hand, see evidence everywhere I go that there has always been a Creator God that has made every one of us and everything around us. And even in the simpliest things such as baking a cake, proves to me and everyone (whether we want to accept it or not) that things just do not happen by themselves. Oh, by the way, God made everything out of nothing. You that believe in evolution had a head start in the experiment we just had. The cake ingredients, computer parts, etc. were already there. God didn’t need a head start; He’s the Uncaused Creator God of all things, you know! So if you cannot prove evolution in these simple, every day examples in our experiments, then you are left with only faith to believe that evolution produced everything that is even more complex—even though the laws of science speak against your beliefs in evolution! What do you think now about what you believe, especially those of you who believe in evolution!?”

Thanks for your interest and help for all of us who greatly benefit from your ministry at CMI. …
Rose B.
I remember seeing the interview you are talking about and I recall an obvious sadness I felt looking into his eyes as he spoke of a life with no real meaning or point. I was hoping when I clicked this link you were going to give me a testimonial of how he changed his view upon facing death. We all have a choice and he made his.
Jennifer P.
Thank you for this article and the others associated with Christopher Hitchens and Peter Hitchens. Also the link to the debate by Hitchens and Dinesh D’ Sousa was well worth watching. The palpable hatred and mockery of God is something to watch in ‘Hitch’. His arguments can be boiled down to ad hominen attacks against Jesus. He also uses the moral equivalency of conflating Christ and Christianity with Islam and its evil manifestations. Somehow trying to argue Christianity and Islam are the same. Quite bizarre really.

I also viewed a documentary by a rather eccentric British politican Anne (can’t recall her surname) There was a debate, she was with Lennox and Hitchens and someone else were the opposition. The contention was Christianity provides morals and ethics to live by, decline of civility in Britain etc. There were post debate interviews that Anne conducted (Hitchens stormed out of his) and she dutifully looked into the history of Christianity interviewing Coptic Egyptians and many others, going to Mt Sinai, visiting liberal scholars etc . It was very interesting from a secular viewpoint.

Philip Bell’s comment: The lady you refer to is Ann Widdecombe, who retired from politics in 2010. Her conversion to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism was widely publicised at the time (1993) and she is known for her more conservative views on Christian matters.

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