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Christopher Hitchens RIP


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#21 Ryan H.

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 11:45 PM

I agree that the Church, qua the Church, could not extend to Hitchens the hope signified by the rite of Christian burial in which is found the words I quoted. This would be scandalous in the proper sense of that word; not that people would be upset or offended (though it's certainly true that both Christians and atheists would certainly take umbrage were such words spoken in any official capacity at Hitchens' funeral!), but that it would give bad example to people who would wrongly be encouraged to think that one's final state doesn't really matter in the end.

But I am not the Church. I am an individual Christian, offering a private prayer for Hitchens' soul. I think that Hitchens himself would not be offended at this prayer, and would even appreciate the good will behind it, though he would also take no comfort in it.

Thanks for responding, Steven. And this is a helpful explanation.

I suppose, for me, at least, I have trouble in taking that section of the text and seeing it as purely personal utterance. That text, as far as I'm concerned, belongs to the Church. So while I would have no problem with a similar sentiment or the same sentiment expressed with different words, those words I hesitate to offer to an individual unless the Church, qua the Church, could rightly extend it to an individual.

Of course, this is more an emotional problem for me than any theological one. I'm not being particularly dogmatic here.

#22 Greg P

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 12:03 AM

Hitchens went to his death, to all appearances, in a most deplorable state. It is a fearful judgment he goes to. There is no torture in the world you could impose upon me, God help me, that would make me agreeable to die with a tenth part of the public statements of Hitchens' last year alone on my conscience.


Well, I take issue with your judgement of his final spiritual state-- who can rightly judge such things?

Hitchens called himself an anti-theist, rather than an atheist. As he used to say, it was not just that he found no evidence for the existence of God but secretly wished it were true; but he found no evidence for the christian deity and fancied it a terrible thing even if it were true. On the surface this is shocking statement for religious people to understand, but I think when you read him and listen to his debates, you realize he was primarily averse to the historic concepts of god as a petty, threatening, eternally-supervising deity. On that level, I found I had more solidarity with him than most christian authors.

Edited by Greg P, 19 December 2011 - 12:05 AM.


#23 SDG

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 12:22 AM

Well, I take issue with your judgement of his final spiritual state-- who can rightly judge such things?

As has often been the case in the past, Greg, I'm not sure how you arrived at your reading of what you seem to think I said.

I would have thought it was pretty clear that a) I've made no judgment regarding his final spiritual state, b ) I have explicitly said that God alone can rightly judge such things, and c) I have for my part commended his soul to God's mercy, with the desire that he should find eternal rest and perpetual light.

I suppose, for me, at least, I have trouble in taking that section of the text and seeing it as purely personal utterance. That text, as far as I'm concerned, belongs to the Church. So while I would have no problem with a similar sentiment or the same sentiment expressed with different words, those words I hesitate to offer to an individual unless the Church, qua the Church, could rightly extend it to an individual.

Of course, this is more an emotional problem for me than any theological one. I'm not being particularly dogmatic here.

This makes sense, Ryan, and I appreciate your thoughtful articulation of your response. I will be thinking about this for awhile, and how I may phrase my response in similar cases in the future.

Edited by SDG, 19 December 2011 - 12:19 AM.


#24 Greg P

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 06:44 AM

Well, I take issue with your judgement of his final spiritual state-- who can rightly judge such things?

As has often been the case in the past, Greg, I'm not sure how you arrived at your reading of what you seem to think I said.

You stated twice that he died in a "deplorable state"? If you referring to the miseries of esophageal cancer then I would agree. If you are referring to his spiritual conditionat the time of expiration, then I'm wondering how you-- or anyone-- could possibly know that.

In his public debates with religious people, more often than not, I found him to be the sole voice of reason. I don't quite know what to make of that conclusion, seeing that I am still a believer in God and the supernatural realm. He found religion to be the chief obstacle to seeing all that is transcendent and beautiful in the world, and I find it nigh impossible, at this point in my spiritual development, to argue against that.

I think over time, I began to see that there were some fundamental planks in his main arguments that christians and spiritual people could agree with wholeheartedly. It also didn't hurt that he was brilliant, funny as hell, charming under pressure and possessed an incredible facility with the English language-- attributes which his opponents so often lacked. His ability to leverage those attributes in public debates and make a point, was very much like watching a great jazz musician take a solo. His variations on themes and improvisational flourishes were Parker-esque. That didn't make him right, but it certainly made him infinitely more compelling to watch, read and ponder.

Edited by Greg P, 19 December 2011 - 08:09 AM.


#25 Ryan H.

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 09:20 AM


Well, I take issue with your judgement of his final spiritual state-- who can rightly judge such things?

As has often been the case in the past, Greg, I'm not sure how you arrived at your reading of what you seem to think I said.

You stated twice that he died in a "deplorable state"? If you referring to the miseries of esophageal cancer then I would agree. If you are referring to his spiritual conditionat the time of expiration, then I'm wondering how you-- or anyone-- could possibly know that.

Perhaps Steven's statement was less a judgment of his "spiritual state" than a matter-of-fact statement from a Catholic POV, an acknowledgment that Christopher died cut-off from the Church, without the administration of the last rites. (If I'm off-base, I'm sure Steven will correct me.)

#26 Greg P

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 09:51 AM

Perhaps Steven's statement was less a judgment of his "spiritual state" than a matter-of-fact statement from a Catholic POV...

I fail to see the difference.

#27 SDG

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:01 AM

Greg,

You don't have to defend Hitchens to me. I liked the guy quite a bit, I enjoyed reading him, I often agreed with him. Lots of Christians did. I appreciated the level of mutual respect he was able to have with some Christians like Doug Wilson. I'd like to think I could have been friends with him, however deplorable we might each have found one another's worldviews. I found him to be very human in ways that some of his fellow "New Atheists" are not. (I love Hitchens' anecdote at the end of the Collision documentary about how scandalized Dawkins was by Hitchens' remark that if religion were eradicated from the world except for one believer, and it were in Hitchens' power to take the faith of that last believer, he wouldn't do it -- and he wasn't sure why.)

I believe it is possible that Hitchens has been saved. (I would like to think he is even now gratefully and humbly submitting to the cleansing of purgatory, and that he may even learn to his delight that there have been in his life acts in which, unknown to him, God's grace was at work, for which he will be rewarded in heaven.)

It is no judgment regarding Hitchens' "final state" (which I understand to be lost-or-saved language, regarding which I make no judgment) that I say he died in a deplorable state, meaning simply a state I wouldn't want to see anyone die in. By this I mean only the observable facts that he died having overtly and vigorously rejected Jesus Christ's Lordship for decades of his life, having spent a great deal of energy persuading other people to do the same, and that he was determined both not to make a last-minute turn to God and not to have it thought that he had done so -- and, added to this, as Ryan points out, that he died outside the communion of the Church and the sacraments. All of this I don't hesitate to call deplorable, awful, dreadful, tragic.

Can God save even one in such a deplorable state? With God all things are possible. On the other hand, as a man thinks, so is he, and a man reaps what he sows. It is a fearful thing to go to meet one's Maker in such a state. I harbor no ill will for Hitchens. I pray for his soul.

The gifts Hitchens had in prodigious quantity that you celebrate are worth celebrating. They are also God's gift to Hitchens, not Hitchens' gift to God. God alone is judge of how well Hitchens used his talents. But one does not merit heaven by doing good in one's own strength. One enters heaven through the grace of God, which God forces on no one against his will. Was the man who wrote God is Not Great open to receiving the grace of God? God alone knows.

#28 Greg P

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:08 AM

Nice response, Steven.

According to my view as a conditionalist/annihilationist, Hitchens' worst case scenario is the reward of total cessation of being , which would be precisely what he expected.

Still, as a rule, I hate religious speculation about the after-life prospects of others-- even moreso when it's about someone I admired. Such considerations are all very human I suppose, but still pointless... and a bit crass.

Having said that, I admit that the idea of a heaven where grace extends fully to someone like Christopher Hitchens sounds like the kind of heaven I want to go to.

Edited by Greg P, 19 December 2011 - 10:29 AM.


#29 Anders

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:24 AM

I've appreciated the responses here. Some wonderful stuff.

I also just want to say that it's a shame that the clarity, erudition, and wit of Steven D. Greydanus are not celebrated on the same level as that of Christopher Hitchens.

#30 SDG

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 11:27 AM

I was maybe going to have something else to say, but Anders' accolade shuts me down pretty much completely. (Thank you, sir.)

Douthat:

OF the many remarkable things about Christopher Hitchens, who died on Thursday after one of the most prolific and provocative careers in modern Anglo-American letters, perhaps the most remarkable was how much religious believers liked him. ...

Recognizing this affinity, many Christian readers felt that in Hitchens’s case there had somehow been a terrible mix-up, and that a writer who loved the King James Bible and “Brideshead Revisited” surely belonged with them, rather than with the bloodless prophets of a world lit only by Science.

In this they were mistaken, but not entirely so. At the very least, Hitchens’s antireligious writings carried a whiff of something absent in many of atheism’s less talented apostles — a hint that he was not so much a disbeliever as a rebel, and that his atheism was mostly a political romantic’s attempt to pick a fight with the biggest Tyrant he could find.

This air of rebellion did not make him a believer, but it lent his blasphemies an air of danger and intrigue, as though he were an agent of the Free French distributing literature deep in Vichy. Certainly he always seemed well aware of the extent to which his writings traded on the unusual frisson of saying “No!” to a supposedly nonexistent being.

Perhaps he was a little too aware. Like most writers of a religious persuasion I was once enlisted to publicly debate Hitchens, with predictably disastrous results for God. But my strongest memory comes from a Washington dinner party two years ago, when he cornered me in the pantry and insisted on having a long argument about the Gospel narratives. The point he was particularly eager to make was this: “Suppose Jesus of Nazareth did rise from the dead — what would that prove, anyway?”

I don't know what Douthat said in response to that question, but I know what I would have said: The resurrection of Jesus doesn't prove anything, exactly. In principle Jesus could have been raised by alien technology, say, or by some as-yet-undiscovered biological mechanism that science will understand someday.

What can be said, though, is that the resurrection -- and the formulation of early Christian faith and praxis around the resurrection, and the subsequent spread of the Christian faith across the world, strikingly resonating with the prior Jewish expectation that the God of their nation would one day make Himself known to the pagan nations -- fits like a glove with the Christian narrative of God's definitive self-revelation in and through this historical context: the Jewish people, the Messiah, the Church. Those open to seeing the hand of God in history may reasonably see it here as nowhere else -- and those not open to seeing the hand of God in history have their hands full trying to fit these remarkable facts into a plausible god-free narrative.

#31 Thom Wade

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 02:33 PM

Douthat:

Perhaps he was a little too aware. Like most writers of a religious persuasion I was once enlisted to publicly debate Hitchens, with predictably disastrous results for God.



I really, really love the honesty here. What is is it about Hitchens that people feel so comfortable saying "in debates, he clobbered me"??? And yet people in profound disagreement with his world view are willing to say, "I was nowhere near as good at defending my position as he was his." It is written almost with a tone of "I just felt lucky to be a part of it." :)

#32 opus

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:12 PM

I also just want to say that it's a shame that the clarity, erudition, and wit of Steven D. Greydanus are not celebrated on the same level as that of Christopher Hitchens.

Word.

#33 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:51 PM

I really, really love the honesty here. What is is it about Hitchens that people feel so comfortable saying "in debates, he clobbered me"??? And yet people in profound disagreement with his world view are willing to say, "I was nowhere near as good at defending my position as he was his." It is written almost with a tone of "I just felt lucky to be a part of it." Posted Image


I think that your second statement hits the nail on the head. Often, atheists just insult and presume. Hitchens always seemed to bring his best game. Hitchens loved discussion and contention. It always bugged me that he was known as a "controversialist". That seems a slight. He passionately believed and passionately advocated what he believed. Hitchens walked that fine line between disdain for the propositions he attempted to defeat and disdain for their advocates. Most on his side of the God debate openly disdain those they contend against. Hitchens loved the contact. He loved the back and forth mostly. He loved the fight. Big difference. Getting your clock cleaned by a worthy opponent can be exhilarating though humbling. Having to contend against one who dismisses you as nothing is tedious and miserable even when you mop the floor with him or her.

As I think about it, theists usually win these things to the extent that one can win them. Hitchens was unique in his breadth of knowledge, his retention of same, extemporizing at length, and on and on. He was a wonder to watch and to listen to. I wouldn't be a bit surprized that some of his aversaries were mesmerized by the sheer weight and beauty of it all. Judging by the testimony of his close friends, he wasn't the sort to put on a show or razzle-dazzle for the sake of razzle-dazzle. Not that he wasn't proud of his abilities

EDIT: Ach! The portal for this thrread failed to show me all that I hadn't read. Seems that the above is rehashing much of what Steven and Greg have said. And thanks as well to Steven for bringing up the Doug Wilson debates (yes, plural and by all accounts a convivial stalemate). It is hard for me to keep track of all of the CT Wilsons these days, let alone extended families.

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 19 December 2011 - 10:59 PM.


#34 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 12:32 AM

SDG wrote:
: To me this is an obligation of charity.

Yeah, exactly. A number of Christians seem to have been friends with Hitchens. To the extent that friendship is a form of love, and to the extent that this love existed between Hitchens and those Christians, I have to believe that God was involved on some level. And I have to believe that God loved -- and loves -- Hitchens even more than those Christians did. Hoping for a rapprochement between Hitchens and God seems perfectly acceptable within such a context. The biggest hurdle, as I see it, is the degree to which Hitchens would be inclined to continue rejecting the God of Christian belief, even after death. Hence my reference to the final scene in The Rapture in one of my earlier posts: it's a chilling moment and, I think, a plausible one, for some people at least.

#35 Attica

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 01:19 AM

Yeah, exactly. A number of Christians seem to have been friends with Hitchens. To the extent that friendship is a form of love, and to the extent that this love existed between Hitchens and those Christians, I have to believe that God was involved on some level. And I have to believe that God loved -- and loves -- Hitchens even more than those Christians did. Hoping for a rapprochement between Hitchens and God seems perfectly acceptable within such a context. The biggest hurdle, as I see it, is the degree to which Hitchens would be inclined to continue rejecting the God of Christian belief, even after death.



As someone who in the last three or four years has come to believe in Apocatastasis (ultimate reconciliation through Christ alone) I was reluctant to mention this, on this thread, because I though it might come across as pushy or argumentative, and therefore be improper..... I'll save that for the Rob Bell thread ::blush:: . This post (and others) however have inspired me to share a couple of related scriptures, that are filled with hope.

Last week I got ahold of the Jonathan Mitchell New Testament.... found here, and here. He's a linguistics professor whose been studying the Koine Greek since 1962. This Bible is amplified with multiple renderings in order to help convey the depth of the Greek word. There are dozens of pertinent passages, but I'll throw out these texts..... one can look them up at the website. There are tonnes of other Bibles out there that convey the same context (I have several), but I love this one for the depth it explores, in the meanings of the words.


1'st Timothy 4: 10

For into the [end] are we constantly working hard unto weariness, and are continuously struggling in the contest, because we have placed our expectation
(or; set our hope) and thus rely upon a living God (or: upon {the} living God), Who is (exists being) {the} Savior (Deliverer; Rescuer; Restorer to health and wholeness) of All human beings (all mankind) - especially of believers (of folks full of faith and trust; of faithful ones)!


This seems to take the Idea of God (Is) the saviour of humans to another level, connecting this to being an aspect of his very existence.


Romans 3: 22

yet a righteousness of God
(or; a right relationsip with and which is God; justice from God; God's fair and equitable dealings in accord with the Way pointed out; a rightwised condition effected by God) through Jesus Christ's faith (trust; faithfulness; loyalty) [ coming] into All humanity - as well as upon and into all those believing, for there exists no distinction!.


Matthew 25: 46

"And so, these folks will be going off into an eonian pruning
(a lopping-off which last for an undetermined length of time; and age-lasting correction and rehabilitation; a pruning which brings betterment and which has its source and character in the Age; a cutting off during the ages), yet the fair and just folks who are in right relationship with people and are in accord with the Way pointed out [go off] into eonian life (life which has its source and chracter in the Age; life pertaining to the Age; or the life of and for the ages).



By the way, I can't recommend this Bible enough. It's fascinating and compelling in its richness.

Edited by Attica, 21 December 2011 - 11:40 AM.


#36 SDG

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 06:16 AM

As someone who in the last three or four years has come to believe in Apocatastasis (ultimate reconciliation through Christ alone) I was reluctant to mention this

To be sure I'm clear, I unequivocally believe in ultimate reconciliation through Christ alone. There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

#37 Benchwarmer

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 09:25 PM

Father Barron:

Edited by Benchwarmer, 28 December 2011 - 09:26 PM.