Christopher Hitchens: Staring Death in the Face

And the difference that Biblical Creation makes!1

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.

Published: 22 December 2011

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.

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