Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

I was sad to hear about the passing of Christopher Hitchens last night. He was a unique public intellectual with a rapier wit and an even sharper pen. He seemed to be able to hold forth on almost any topic put before him, and he was as charismatic as they come.

Hitchens always fascinated me not merely because of his intellect and prose, but also because of his independence. He was a liberal, but he didn’t always follow the liberal script. He was a darling of the left, yet he remained a firm supporter of the Iraq War. He was an avowed atheist, yet he insisted on the superior literary quality of the King James Bible and chaffed against gender neutral translations. He wanted to ban religious arguments from rational discourse, yet he wrote a book with Calvinist intellectual and pastor Doug Wilson—for whom Hitchens appeared to have a genuine respect and affection (their mutual admiration for P. G. Wodehouse was one of the best parts of the documentary “Collision”).

In the last year of his life, Hitchens wrote some searching essays about his cancer and impending death (here, here, and here). He seemed to stand ever resolute in his atheism and to insist that the hour of his demise must be the proving ground of his unbelief.

I would like to think that perhaps his skepticism didn’t win out in the end. I would like to think that the gospel he heard from Wilson and others might have broken through just in time—just as it did for the thief on the cross. Stranger things have happened, and the Lord’s arm is not too short to save even in such a moment (Isaiah 59:1). Nevertheless, we may never have any evidence this side of glory that the light finally broke through to Hitchens. Would we be surprised in heaven to find out that it did?

“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Indeed He shall just as He always has.

———-

Psalm 39:4-7

4 LORD, make me to know my end,
And what is the extent of my days,
Let me know how transient I am.
5 Behold, Thou hast made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight,
Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah.
6 Surely every man walks about as a phantom;
Surely they make an uproar for nothing;
He amasses riches, and does not know who will gather them.
7 And now, Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in Thee.

———-

Obits:

Doug Wilson, Christianity Today

Justin Taylor

Juli Weiner, Vanity Fair

Christopher Buckley, The New Yorker

John Podhoretz, Commentary

Russell Moore

65 Responses to Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

  1. Paula December 16, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    Either way, Hitchens believes in God now.

  2. Tom December 16, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    I love you like a brother, Denny but I say this in earnest and complete candor: I would like to think we have respect for the (especially very recent) dead. I would like to think that we would never use the end of natural human life to further any agenda or opinion. I would like to think that my friend did not just write a grandstanding, self-serving piece about a guy that just died TODAY of cancer. Seriously, brother Denny. This smacks a bit of “Ding, dong the witch (or, in this case, Warlock) is dead and seeing it at the tip of your opinion machine is a little disheartening. Again, I love you and have literally bled for your rights to freedom of speech. Thing is, I’ve also bled for mine. To Mr. Hitchens, the man who made many of us think, may you rest in peace… …whatever that means for you.

    • Ted Frazier December 16, 2011 at 2:43 am #

      Tom, I say this in earnest and complete candor: I would like to think we have respect for the religious beliefs of Mr. Burk. And out of that respect we would not expect him to write any significant piece in which his opinion on such matters of extreme importance to him(and to the deceased) are not allowed to be expressed in any way. An event such as death is of central importance to Burk’s particular religious viewpoint, so it is only proper for him to write a blog to show his respect for Hitchens while at the same time reiterating his viewpoint on the matter at large.

      • Tom December 16, 2011 at 10:29 am #

        Repeating my open is dripping with sarcasm. WWJD? I respect Denny’s views. Truth be told, I probably share many of them – just in a different manor. Mr. Burk and I have known each other since adolescence. I’ve seen SO many of these “hope he figured that out at the last second” pieces and I appreciate the concern in each one. I just take exception to the “they were such an amazing person, too bad they’re going to rot in Hell” sentiment. How would you like to hear that about anyone close to you, regardless of their death bed convicitons?

        I believe that Denny has a genuine concern, I just think it’s a little soon to pass judgement. I have recently had someone say that about a dear friend of mine that died over a year ago and was still a little offended at that judgement. Also note that I support Mr. Burk in expressing whatever he likes, whenever and wherever he chooses. I feel he supports my right to react (as I support yours to react to me 🙂 ). Merry Christmas from me to you.

        • Ted Frazier December 16, 2011 at 10:53 am #

          Why would saying “they were such an amazing person, too bad they’re going to rot in Hell.” make you so upset if you know that it what they sincerely believe? It is more accurately saying they were such an amazing person in so many ways, but(like all of us) they were rebellious against God and needed a savior. And it wouldn’t bother me a bit if that was said about someone close to me because it happens to be a belief I share.

          • Andy December 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

            It’s in poor taste. To take a man and deride his skepticism and hope/speculate that he faltered in his last breaths when his body is barely cold just to have an opportunity to spout on about how he was wrong (or to judge him, to use the Christian vernacular) is appalling. If you actually had any affection for him, you would merely respect his intellect, personality, and legacy then _leave it at that_.

            But no, this piece was written with an agenda. And, despite its subtlety, it’s disgusting.

        • Denny Burk December 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

          Tom,

          Still trying to figure out who I’m writing to here. Are you the Tom who dislocated-his-shoulder-doing-a-ho-ho Tom? The one I was riding with when he crashed into a camouflaged truck? My old skateboard buddy?

          If so, great to hear from you, and I’m honored you’ve taken the time to read and weigh-in.

          It was my aim to write something affectionate about Christopher Hitchens. Whether or not I achieved that, I guess I’ll leave it to the readers to decide. In any case, he was one of the most stimulating public intellectuals we’ve ever had, and I will miss him.

          As far as a possible death-bed conversion is concerned, two things made me hopeful.

          One, is all the talk he did in his final essays about not believing any reports after his death about a conversion. He said that if he did make claims to faith, it would be because he had lost his mind and was delusional. It struck me that he was clearly thinking that in a moment of weakness he might cave.

          Two, I can never forget Hitchens’ remarks at the end of the “Collision” documentary. He is telling Doug Wilson about a conversation he had had with atheist Richard Dawkins. Listen to what Hitchens says: http://youtu.be/yU0Ue-Ki-mU?t=1h24m14s. Maybe he stayed an unbeliever until the end. Then again, maybe whatever it was that kept him from eliminating the last Christian kicked in before he died.

          Thanks again,
          Denny

  3. Ali December 16, 2011 at 2:43 am #

    Denny, a good and fitting post. Not self-serving or gloating but genuinely respectful. Thanks.

  4. CD Triplet December 16, 2011 at 2:54 am #

    My heart truly sank in my chest tonight when I saw the news on the web. I pray the Lord has mercy on his soul, truly I do. I really liked him.

  5. heartlander December 16, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    BEAUTIFUL piece, Denny. Thank you.

  6. Michael David Hotard December 16, 2011 at 3:13 am #

    Ezekiel 33:11a

    “Say to them, As I live,declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,…”

    Ezekiel 33:11a
    ESV

    It is with a sad heart that I read the news of Christopher Hitchens’ death. As a Christian, I know that he spurned the God I worship and rejected the Savior that I have put my trust in, but there was something about his bold honesty that I liked. I am drawned to people who are “real” with their warts and all. Christopher Hitchens was “real” and he was interesting.

  7. Daniel Fincannon December 16, 2011 at 3:41 am #

    Christopher Hitchens lived and died happily, joyfully, and thankfully as an atheist. How sick it is of you who claim to have found some eternal goodness to delight in a hypothetical breach of integrity by a man of sound mind who never wavered nor gave any sign of weakness or stress or desire to be converted. How weak must one be to continue the God argument (an argument that Hitchens was not at all shy about having with you at every given opportunity) with the man after the man has left us, after he cannot defend himself, after he cannot scatter you all across the debate-room floor with a fiery condemnation of death-bed conversion stories as he did so often in the last years of his life. How dare you, and how pathetic of you.

    • Thomas Larsen December 16, 2011 at 5:15 am #

      Um, yeah… I think you may have misunderstood Denny’s post. It certainly didn’t come across that way to me.

    • Paul December 16, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

      Please get down from the soapbox. I thought I was the king of unsolicited anger. But…wow. Nice work.

  8. Jane Ellen Carlock December 16, 2011 at 4:09 am #

    Denny I read your post and at the end it was obvious that he was more than just a devout atheist, he was one of God’s lost children that you had admirable respect for and only wished to express that you hoped for his soul in the end to be with the Almighty God who created him to begin with. I’m so proud to know you my friend, your ability to speak honestly and biblically are worth having at the top of anyone’s opinion list.

    • Denny Burk December 16, 2011 at 5:33 am #

      Thank you, Jane Ellen. Great to hear from you!

  9. ABD December 16, 2011 at 4:19 am #

    Unless there is a creator out there somewhere in the vast universe, Hitchens is in the same place that we all will be someday. It is his legacy that matters, not his faith or lack thereof. He, like so many others, examined the Christian faith and realized there was absolutely no evidence for any of its proclaimed truths. Now that he is gone and only his words remain, I advise you to look into it for yourselves and stop being blind.

    • Charles Hodges December 16, 2011 at 8:13 am #

      ABD, if Hitchens is right there is no point to a legacy. Not his, and not yours. Without an eternal standard no legacy can even be evaluated.

  10. Contheist December 16, 2011 at 6:45 am #

    Of course you would like if “the light broke through” to Hitchens on his death bed, because the fact that atheists exist at all is a direct slap to your belief system. You hold on so dear to your imaginary sky daddy, that the fact that people realize the truth of it all just being a fairy tale, makes you actually question your beliefs, which is what a sane person should do. But somewhere in the recesses of your minds, you were poisoned with the idea that questioning your beliefs in wrong. Religion has and always will be an infectious virus that has passed on generation to generation, with no purpose but to give people false security in an imaginary friend who cares about them.

    RIP Hitchens. You were a better man than any theist ever could be.

  11. Don Johnson December 16, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    He showed up on my radar when he did the water boarding experiment and declared it torture and actual drowning and not simulated drowning. No question that Hitchens was a contrarian, to any and all. He did make one think.

    As Jesus was also a contrarian in many ways, I even see an affinity. I hope they get to be buddies.

  12. Joshua December 16, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    As an atheist, I’m pretty certain Hitchens wouldn’t have converted on his deathbed. While I don’t want to die any time soon, I do look forward to it as an eventuality and the final confirmation of my unbelief. One day, one day.

    • yankeegospelgirl December 16, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      Hitchens specifically requested that he only converse with Christians in his final days if they would NOT witness to him. If they intended to witness, he forbade them from visiting out of “respect for his dignity” or some such blather. Let’s just say that’s not very promising as far as his eternal destiny is concerned.

    • Ted Frazier December 16, 2011 at 11:00 am #

      From the atheists’s point of view, it should not make the slightest difference whether they convert on their deathbed or not. Why would it even be an issue of concern for an atheist?

      • yankeegospelgirl December 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

        But an atheist in Hitchens’ position who was really concerned with understanding the truth about life after death should have been more eager than ever to investigate the possible truth of the other side.

  13. RD December 16, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    Denny,

    Today is a sad day. Hitchens was a dynamic force in the culture precisely because he spoke thoughtfully and honestly, and he demanded open discourse. He never wavered on his personal beliefs, and I respected that, even if his beliefs were directly opposite my own. No matter the subject, Hitchens always made me think more critically.

    Very nice piece, Denny. Your admiration for Hitchen’s is evident and you conveyed great respect.

  14. Ron December 16, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    ADB,
    Your statement “it is his legacy that matters” is self-refuting. If God doesn’t exist, then NOTHING matters, not even “the legacy” of Mr. Hitchens. “Truth” doesn’t even matter.

  15. J David Eisenberg December 16, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    “we may never have any evidence ” –and therein is everything you need to know. Mr. Hitchens said it best: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

  16. yankeegospelgirl December 16, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    LOL. If anything, Denny was too generous and gave Hitchens more respect than he deserves. He was full of himself even though he always got pretty badly chewed up in debates with people who knew what they were doing—just ask William Lane Craig, Jay Richards, etc.

    • Christiane December 16, 2011 at 11:10 am #

      God have mercy on all of us.

  17. donsands December 16, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Sad. Very sad indeed. I liked Hitchens a lot. Loved to hear this man speak, even when I disagreed with him. Such a wonderful gift with words and such a dynamic accent.
    I will miss him.
    Thanks for the post. Well done.

  18. Daniel December 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Very good piece, Dr. Burk. When I first saw the news story on NPR on his passing, my jaw dropped and my heart ached. I pray that he found mercy in Christ.

    On another note, why are the atheists and anti-theists out in force on Christian blogs? Dr. Moore and Dr. Burk have shown nothing but compassion for a man who they should naturally ridicule and despise, yet are dogged by the commentators. Would these anti-theists write such sympathetic pieces on a Christian leader? Far from it.

    • Bruce H December 16, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

      Daniel,

      Could it be that the continuous blasphemy that an atheist lives in sees our respect as disrespect? Doesn’t blasphemy of the Holy Spirit call His actions Satan’s actions? They have called light darkness for so long that they can only see a complement as a disgrace.

      It is not that they wouldn’t pay homage to a saint. It is that their compliment would not be the glorification of God exhibited in the life of a sinner. That is what should be said of any believer, that Jesus changed a broken life.

  19. jigawatt December 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Isn’t it interesting how often that atheists want Christians to suspend or at least silence their worldview. Please, please in *this* situation (fill in the blank), can’t you just behave like a secularist?

    More on topic, I’m greatly saddened by Hitchens’ death. He seemed more interested in accurately understanding and engaging with what the other side was actually saying than most others.

    • Paula December 16, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

      I wonder how long Denny’s detractors think is an appropriate waiting period for Christians to maintain a vow of silence out of respect for Mr. Hitchens. Everyone from Vanity Fair, to the Huffington Post, to NPR, to the NY Times has weighed in, giving a mostly atheist point of view. Shouldn’t Christians also enter the discussion and provide some biblical context to this story over which so much ink (or bandwith) has been spilled this week? The occasion of a famous person’s death often leads people to search for answers that Vanity Fair and Huffington Post is incapable of or unwilling to grapple with. Denny, and others, like Doug Wilson, have provided that needed counterbalance.

    • Bruce H December 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

      You said, “He seemed more interested in accurately understanding and engaging with what the other side was actually saying than most others.”

      Christopher discovered at an early age that communication was the most improtant thing for him. Could it be a simple tactic to draw in his opposers with the disarming affect of sincerity to have their attention so he could convey his way of thinking?

      • jigawatt December 16, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

        Bruce H, I don’t think so. Hitchens did a good job offending nearly everyone — Christian, atheist, republican, democrat, you-name-it. From what I’ve heard and read, he really believed what he said and how he said it. He didn’t tow any party line. He was the real deal, atheistically speaking. I think that misleading his audience with an affect of sincerity would have gone against everything he stood for.

        But even if he did, I would much rather engage with an atheist who took the time and effort to correctly understand my position — even if for insincere reasons — than with, for example, Dawkins. I’d be much happier if my atheist friends actually looked up all those verses that I’ve talked about even if they just wanted to try and prove me wrong in some insincere way.

        • Bruce H December 16, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

          I didn’t listen or read any of his comments. I have listened to many who have come across with a sincere sounding comment and it caused me to buy the farm, so to speak.

          Penn of Penn and Teller is an atheist. He said, basically, if hell was real that Christians should be out telling the entire world that they needed to become Christians to avoid that place. He was very open and sincere but was committed to atheism. All that told me was that he remained a blasphemer. He simply didn’t want to talk about salvation like Christopher, but was sincere. That doesn’t impress me one bit.

          Thanks for your response. I respect your stance.

  20. Tom December 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    Denny,
    It’s me, your old skater buddy. Only now we both have a couple of decades of differing experiences that put us far away from the crazy kids we once were. I’m neither your check nor your balance on here. I do count you as a great friend and I do value your opinion. That’s why I bothered explaining why I was bothered by both the misplaced timing and agenda that I feel is fairly evident above. This is just one man’s reaction and there are several reasons for it. I’m not a huge fan of the deceased but I do reapect some of his observations and accomplishments. To post hope that a filthy Atheist comes to his senses smacks of a “those poor, ignorant peasants and their silly beliefs” stance. There are many US religious factions that preach this from the pulpit about the recently departed. For instance a Protestant believing that they will never see their departed loved one again because, horror of horrors, they died a CATHOLIC! *GASP!”

    I’m just fatigued by that mentality because I am surrounded by it here. Just know that if an Atheist were to post about you in the hours following your death hoping that you figured out that your magic man in the sky was nothing but a fairy tale before you expired… …well I would lead the charge in chiding them. Merry Christmas from the Bayou State, Bro. Denny. Once again, we simply will exercise our right to disagree.

    • Denny Burk December 16, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

      Again, Tom, great to hear from you! I am honored that you read and took time to comment. It means the world, even if we disagree. Blessings, old friend!

      • Tom December 16, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

        All the same to you and yours this joyous time of year. Hope you guys have the best Christmas ever! As always, all comments are made with deep respect.

  21. yankeegospelgirl December 17, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    I just think it’s hilarious that here Denny was practically bending over backwards to give Hitchens a (perhaps unnecessarily?) courteous and respectful eulogy, and yet people are STILL coming in and criticizing him.

    My motto stands: “People don’t care if you’re nice, so if it doesn’t matter, don’t waste the energy trying.”

    • Paul December 19, 2011 at 1:18 am #

      your motto explains an awful lot.

      • yankeegospelgirl December 19, 2011 at 10:19 am #

        You know what, it’s true. I’ve gone through periods where I bent over backwards to be nice, cooperate with this or that person’s demands, etc. I’ve discovered that if people are irrational and simply don’t like you, they’ll find a way to make you miserable regardless. Just the other day I made some mistake and immediately tried to smooth it over with the most abject apology you ever saw. In return, I got berated, patronized and unnecessarily lectured.

        Never explain, never apologize.

        • Christiane December 19, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

          I think you have been successful in finding a certain integrity . . . people have come to expect a certain standard from you in your responses.
          But from someone much older than you, a word of caution . . . bitterness towards the ways you have been treated in the past must never be allowed to form your responses as a Christian person.

          You want to be pro-actively Christian in this world. How the world responds is not your worry. If you have been hurt by the responses of others, do not let that pain influence your reaction to them or others.
          Christ frees us from treating others as they have treated us. He gives us the grace to respond without bitterness.

          • yankeegospelgirl December 20, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

            Thanks for the advice, but honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been objectively nasty. I’m just not that kind of person. Sure, I’m sarcastic with trolls, I get irritated with irritable people, etc., but I’ve never hurt someone innocent or gone out of my way to seek revenge.

            The problem is that people like you see the kind of normal, playful, incisive banter that I engage in, or the guys over at Team Pyro engage in, and see that as “hurtful” or “mean.” There I would have to disagree.

        • Paul December 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

          the problem is, at least with what I’ve seen is, anybody that disagrees with you is a troll. That taints your responses, and couple that with your whole, “I have no time for liberals” stance and you come off as someone who is smart, able to engage in deep discussion and often has something interesting to say…as long as you’re only engaged with people that think exactly like you do. Which is great inside of a bubble. Kind of annoying in real life, however.

          • Jim W December 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

            Sounds exactly like you, Paul. Funny how that works.

          • yankeegospelgirl December 20, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

            Nope. I have disagreements with friends, but I don’t consider them to be trolls. I only consider those who disagree with me in a way that is blatantly irrational/obnoxious/nasty to be trolls.

          • Paul December 20, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

            Jim, I’ve never said I have no time for liberals.

          • Jim W December 21, 2011 at 7:22 am #

            No, you’re right. You don’t have time for liberals. You just have time to mock anything conservative. You do have time to constantly display your displeasure with anyone who disagrees with you. So, like I said, maybe you should look in the mirror before you start slinging accusations around.

          • Paul December 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

            Jim,

            please. First off, you (a) can’t even read when someone’s clearly joking and (b) aren’t even reading something correctly.

            Here’s what you miss in my skirmishes with people around here: I start off skewering the “big person” that an article is about (Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, whoever else). Then someone else makes it personal (like someone telling me that I’m essentially a baby killer because I vote for liberals). Then what am I to do?

            You’re right, I have a problem with a lot of conservative IDEAS. I have a problem with conservative talking points and plans of action. That doesn’t have to mean a problem with people. That is something that folks on the right side of the aisle here do expertly, though. Look through all of the examples that I’m sure you’re citing in your head right now. I can maybe think of one or two where I attacked someone completely unprovoked.

            We can (AND SHOULD) attack ideas vociferously. That’s the only way you’ll get to the crux of the issue, most times. But that should very rarely turn into an attack on people. And now I’ve brought this conversation completely full circle, as such a position is exactly what Christopher Hitchens, at his best, anyway, excelled at.

          • yankeegospelgirl December 21, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

            The only thing Christopher Hitchens really excelled at was looking like an idiot.

          • Paul December 21, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

            clearly the words of someone who has never read or listened to Hitchens.

          • yankeegospelgirl December 21, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

            Does watching William Lane Craig pummel him in a debate count?

          • Paul December 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

            William Lane Craig pummels everyone in debates. I thought Sam Harris’ quote on Craig was priceless: William Lane Craig is the man who puts the fear of God into atheists. If anything, I credit Hitchens for going to the debate, something that Richard Dawkins is too scared to do.

            Strangely, the only time I ever saw Craig speak in person, I was left completely unimpressed. It was at Moody’s apologetics conference a few years ago. Ravi Zacharias, the former muslim that works at Liberty University, Philip Johnson and William Lane Craig were the speakers. Craig used a lot of circular reasoning in his argument, and it was a bit of a letdown. But, then, I’ve seen him in debate situations where he eats his opponents for lunch.

          • yankeegospelgirl December 21, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

            That’s funny… I’ve heard someone else say his reasoning is circular. Clearly they’ve never actually studied philosophy.

          • Paul December 21, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

            using the Bible to prove that the Bible is true works with those of us who are believers. But, if the point (one of the points) of apologetics is to be able to explain Christianity to potential believers at a level far beyond “say this prayer and get saved,” then that won’t work. And I would certainly expect more from someone like Craig who can run circles around his competition in debates.

  22. Nate December 20, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    Here is one of the better commentary’s (Cal Thomas) on Hitchens, void of the romanticism that many seem to want to imply about potential deathbed conversions, etc.

    http://townhall.com/columnists/calthomas/2011/12/20/death_of_an_atheist/page/full/

    • Paul December 22, 2011 at 12:43 am #

      I read that piece and a few others at townhall, and I swear I heard 10 or 15 IQ points hit the floor by the time I was done. I’m going to be doing MENSA riddles all weekend trying to get them back. You think THAT’S how I want to spend Christmas?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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