The Public Face of Atheism

Christopher Hitchens was born in the same year that I was. He lost his long battle with cancer and died a few weeks ago. I mourn his passing. Many have written much about him but I thought that Preston Gillham's comments about Hitchens on his blog were very thought provoking. Here is a clip from it ...

He gambled to the end that he was right about there being no God. Now he knows for sure, something he asserted vehemently that was not knowable in this life.

Joel Siegel of ABC News writes of Hitchens:

“Hitchens became the public face of atheism. Critics assumed his cancer diagnosis, in 2010, would lead Hitchens to relent and embrace God. But he remained a proud non-believer to the very end, as he made clear in an early October 2011 speech at the annual Atheist Alliance of America convention in Houston, as he accepted the Freethinker of the Year Award. His body gaunt from the ravages of cancer, Hitchens said, ‘We have the same job we always had: to say that there are no final solutions; there is no absolute truth; there is no supreme leader; there is no totalitarian solution that says if you would just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you would simply abandon your critical faculties, the world of idiotic bliss can be yours.’”
Lots of humanity in that quote, huh? Lots of misconceptions about what becoming a Believer means. Lots of hostility. Lots of strong words—too strong.

Strong words can belie doubt. Not always, of course. But I’m just saying: the superlatives in Hitchens’ acceptance speech caught my attention.

Lots of Christianity’s brightest minds debated Hitchens, ostensibly believing that by intellectual argument they could convince heartfelt assent. Apologetics are for Believers. Unbelief isn’t about belief at all. Unbelief is a conflict of wills—the divine in tension with the human.

Life and death are a wager. Pascal said in essence, if I believe in God, and govern my life according to that belief, only to die and discover I was mistaken—i.e., there is no God—then what have I lost? On the other hand, if I live a life of unbelief, and die to discover I was wrong, then I have lost all eternity.


  1. I was no Hitchens fan, though I did agree with him from time to time, and appreciate the discussions he brought forth. I've never enjoyed debates between Christians and atheists, because there is such a huge disconnect in world views.

    I've never been a fan of Pascal's Wager, simply because it's applicable to any deity ever conceived.

    My biggest problem with Hitchens and some other atheists is their complete dismissal of all spirituality. I have no problem with them disputing the claims of religion, but that doesn't mean there is nothing to be gained through spirituality.

  2. Hitchens was not a doubter, he was certain of his unbelief. He at asserts that he knows the truth, and that truth is that there is no absolute truth. (Isn't that an absolute statement in itself?) Thomas doubted. Zaccharius doubted. Surely Paul doubted his prior way of life once confronted by Jesus. Because of this, I say that doubt is not a bad thing.

    Lack of doubt is amazing. It is what gets so many into trouble. The Pharisees, for example. I don't agree with Hitchens position, and I don't agree with the position of many who hold certain religious positions either. I have certainly changed several positions as I have matured.

    As far as the debates go, seldom is the debating of two closed minded individuals worth watching. Even less compelling is when only one is such.

  3. If faith is a gift, then Mr. Hitchens didn't receive it. That makes me sad.

    May he rest in peace.

  4. faith is believing in something which eyes cannot see,hands cannot touch but the heart can feel.i like and want to believe that there is the existence of the Almighty,and if I'm wrong and that's a BIG if,well,that's a shot i'm willing to take.

    God bless and happy christmas!

  5. @Mike - Always appreciate your insight. Not too many folks have been on the opposite side of the fence after being on the faith side. I would appreciate hearing more about your thoughts on spirituality.

    @Spherical - Good point about Hitchens not being a doubter. Speaks to me of how arrogant I have been about some of my "beliefs". LOL, age can be a hard teacher.

    @Ma - Good point about faith being a gift to be received.

    @Clive - I am with you. The most important things in my life, like love, are the things of the heart. Don't know why folks put so much stock in the things of the head.

  6. Simply put, Bob, spirituality, to me, is about connection. How does your spirituality lead you to treat others? Does your faith lead you to take up a sword or a soup ladle? Of course, there is a time for each, but which do you live by? I'm much more interested in people who love, than people who are concerned about having correct theology.

  7. "take up a sword or a soup ladle" -well said Mike!


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