• April 20, 2014

No One Left to Pray To?

No One Left to Pray To? 1

Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

Christopher Hitchens outside a New York hotel, June 2010

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Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

Christopher Hitchens outside a New York hotel, June 2010

If God occasionally intervenes in the world to shoot down an atheist—to show who's boss, or simply to vent—it makes sense for Him to target the esophagus.

As organs go, it's long and conveniently placed, stretching from throat to stomach, making a good target for an elderly yet determined deity with possibly shaky hands. Its importance to speech heightens the symbolic force intended. And its connection to swallowing suggests the irony some believers think God enjoys too much: You can't swallow me? You won't swallow anything!

For atheist apostle and recent memoirista Christopher Hitchens, who announced on June 30 that he'd cancel the rest of his Hitch-22 book tour to undergo chemotherapy on said cancerous organ, the argument for such personalized intelligent design presumably doesn't hold. Hitch does recognize the role of vengeance and ressentiment in believer/nonbeliever relations, but only in fueling institutions established by believers further down the Great Chain of Being. "Religion," he wrote in God Is Not Great, "does not, and in the long run cannot, be content with its own marvelous claims and sublime assurances. It must seek to interfere with the lives of nonbelievers, or heretics, or adherents of other faiths."

One thing's for sure—Hitch is not in great health. Indeed, he faces the possibility of not being at all if the chemo proves useless. Should believers pray for him, a man celebratedly insensitive to norms of politeness and acts of altruism? He is, after all, the same character who, in The Missionary Position (1995) and elsewhere (a film, Hell's Angel, and numerous author appearances), deemed Mother Teresa "the ghoul of Calcutta." To Hitchens, the "world's best-known symbol of selfless charity" (as The Philadelphia Inquirer once described her) evinced "a penchant for the rich and famous, no matter how corrupt and brutal." Hitch is also the stern moralist who judged onetime Oxford acquaintance Bill Clinton, who's done a few good deeds in his time, as "indescribably loathsome," a phony with "no one left to lie to." Hitchens is the self-appointed judge and jury who found Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter "a pious, born-again creep," and Jewish philosopher Martin Buber a "pious old hypocrite."

Within a week of Hitchens's announcement, 1,619 people offered comments on Huffington Post's report of his bad news. Another 335 kicked in on his own Vanity Fair blog. Hundreds of comments appeared on the personal site of one woman who set out a formal argument for why Christians should pray for Hitchens.

'Twas not always so for curmudgeons. On November 23, 1948, H.L. Mencken, who launched more trenchant invective than any other 20th-century American writer, suffered a severe stroke that left him unable to read and write. "No Dante," observed Southern literary scholar Louis Rubin Jr., "prescribing punishment for the sinners in the Inferno, could have devised a more hideous conclusion for this man, of all men."

Though he remained intellectually aware, Mencken never wrote again. He spoke only with difficulty, and began referring to himself in the past tense, beginning sentences with phrases like, "Back when I was alive" and "Since my death." He spent an enormous amount of the seven-plus years remaining to him organizing his papers, right down to grade-school report cards. So far as we know from his biographers, no avalanche of hate mail or admiring buck-up messages followed in the wake of the stroke. Mencken, at any rate, had typically gotten the jump on his enemies. In 1928 he'd published Menckeniana: A Schimpflexikon, a 132-page collection of epithets directed at him.

The explosion of comments on Hitchens's plight, by contrast, confirms the uncertain state of free-expression etiquette in our time, as well as the impact of Hitchens's work. It also highlights the peculiar issue of parallelism that comes up when curmudgeons, contrarians, and provocateurs find themselves on the ropes, as with all violators of society's norms. Just as we can debate whether it's acceptable to use terrorism or torture against terrorists and torturers—those who don't sign on to the social contract by which everyone else lives—we can ask whether it's OK to be scabrously unsympathetic to a stinging gadfly who is possibly in his ninth inning.

Most of the postings on Hitchens and his predicament offer conventional wishes for his good health and praise for his iconoclastic books. Many joke or play off Hitch's uncompromising atheism and characteristic attitudes. "He'd be glad to know that my prayers are not with him," assures one fan on Salon. "If they're going to start removing bits of Hitchens that are indignant," writes bilejones, "there's not going to be much left." Over at Vanity Fair, Marvin writes, "Your fans trust that you're too mean to die just yet." Another in that category, Tim Windsor, adds: "Hitch, I hope it's a very, very, very, very, very long time until you find out whether you were right or wrong about God." Several posters offer concrete medical advice, complete with names, addresses, and phone numbers, in the grand tradition of cancer patients helping one another: Call the Block Center, call Loma Linda, try garlic and cloves.

But the most thought-provoking comments grapple with two issues: an appropriate tone at a moment like this, and whether believers should pray for nonbelievers.

"There are some vile trolls here," writes ingersOll at Vanity Fair. "Best of luck with the treatment." By wide agreement, the biggest troll is someone signed on as Catdog: "If you don't die a excruciatingly painful death, I suspect you will have months of incredible and terrible agony. Sort of like reading your articles, but not nearly as bad. You are a nasty and hateful man." Templewhore reacts quickly, declaring that Catdog's post says "shamefully much about you." Then Styrer joins in: "To those denouncingly spitting at CatDog—have you learned nothing from the Hitch? Let him have his say. It's Hitch's devotion to freedom of expression that the little [expletive] is unwittingly endorsing, after all, rather than his own censorious cultish intolerance of anything gainsaying his cherished, malignant, faith-derived stupidities. I'd ask Hitch to reread his comment, in fact, and take heart from it. Let now the doctors' hard-won knowledge and expertise keep Christopher alive for as long as possible."

Do as Hitch does? Be better than Hitch? A tough call for a Hitchite.

Many of the comments from believers strike an endearing, un-Hitch note of simple, nonironic kindness. "Dr. Hitchens," writes Boringfileclerk, "as a person of faith, the thought of your early departure seems to me unbearable. Who else could there be to keep us on our toes and thinking? For this I am truly thankful. May your recovery be swift and without incident. You and your family will be in our thoughts and prayers."

Some believers, however, grapple with whether Hitchens's vituperative contempt for all things religious places him outside the circle of those for whom believers should pray. Jeffrey Goldberg, on his Atlantic.com blog, consults a mutual friend of his and Hitch's, Rabbi David Wolpe, who debated Hitchens on God's existence.

"I asked David," Goldberg writes, "what sort of intercessory praying a believer should do on behalf of a declared nonbeliever, or if one should pray at all, and he wrote back with some very wise words: 'I would say it is appropriate and even mandatory to do what one can for another who is sick; and if you believe that praying helps, to pray. It is in any case an expression of one's deep hopes. So yes, I will pray for him, but I will not insult him by asking or implying that he should be grateful for my prayers."

Goldberg continues: "So, friends and admirers of Hitchens, pray away, but expect him to consider you silly for doing so. And by the way, though Rabbi Wolpe will be praying to the Jewish God he shares with Hitchens (whether Hitchens wants to share in this gift or not), there are many different and exciting religions out there, and since Hitch believes in none of them, it is the position of Goldblog that you should pray to the god of your choice."

For Hitchens it sounds like an unhappy upshot of his illness: an uptick in Beltway prayer, possibly multireligious, possibly sucking in even the secular, and all blamable, most likely, on his Tertullian-like belief (Credo quia absurdum/"I believe because it is absurd") in liquor and cigarettes.

The memoir that Hitch's cancer now threatens to overwhelm provides ideal context for those clashing about him in cyberspace. Regardless of whether one shares Hitch's stances—hard-core "rational' skepticism (as he sees it), equal-opportunity opposition to fascism, rejection of almost all aspects of organized religion and theology, a morally serious commitment to literature that admits its aesthetic aims as well (i.e., his admiration for Borges)—Hitch-22 nudges readers of every stripe toward the version of Hitch they prefer.

Has Hitchens always been, at heart, a literary bad boy on the make? The anecdotes about Margaret Thatcher playfully whipping him with rolled up papers, of bordello-romping with Martin Amis, will persuade any reductionist that Hitch's pleasure principle trumps his work ethic, though he's knocked out quality work at a fearsome pace. His desire now to be seen more as the author of books on Orwell and Jefferson, and less as a gunslinger in policy wars, will confirm the opinion of those who perceive him as grown too big for his cultural britches.

The gaps in Hitch-22 (a self-described "selective memoir") about controversial moments in Hitchens's life—his leaving of first wife Eleni Meleagrou, for instance, when she was pregnant with their second child—will steer others to the view that his ego often rules all else. But then we read of the enduring friendships with brilliant peers such as Amis, James Fenton, Julian Barnes, and Salman Rushdie, displaying Hitch's lifelong ecumenical openness to others, their ideas, and sometimes their tragedies. If one follows his globe-trotting through both the pranks and the deadly-serious commitments, the result is a writer who has put his body where his mouth is, and never asked anyone to feel sorry for him.

Over the years, many (including this writer) have experienced the occasional stiletto from his direction, along with more-frequent graciousness, the blade usually appearing when one acts in any manner that Hitch sees as holier than thou. That probably explains why personalities such as Mother Teresa and Elie Wiesel infuriate him. British writer Tibor Fischer recently put his finger on the matter, apropos of Hitchens, when he wrote of "the great boon of being a media gadfly"—that "you have all the joy of condemnation, without any of the tiresome business of responsibility."

Yet how can one not delight in a writer who, when asked at a recent New York gathering whether he accepted any criticism of God Is Not Great, replied, "The title might be one word too long."

Hitch combines the best and the worst of writers and thinkers: passion, wit, quickness, erudition, and independence in the plus column, with too-frequent smugness, unearned certainty, and visceral hostility toward flawed do-gooders spoiling the picture. Having known for decades the likely denouement to his endless alcohol and cigarettes, he's unlikely to be at loose ends. He called his first collection of pieces Prepared for the Worst. Being a big boy as well as a bad boy, he undoubtedly is.

Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle Review, teaches philosophy and media theory at the University of Pennsylvania.

Comments

1. duchess_of_malfi - July 18, 2010 at 03:05 pm

The jokey tone in the beginning of the piece about what must be a very painful condition, let alone prospect, strike a callous note. And I would have thought that most believers who lived and worked in academia would have found their own solutions to expressing hopes and gratitude to atheists long ago. I have been influenced by a dear friend of mine, one of the kindest people I know in other ways, who reacts with reflexive revulsion when a well-meaning person says, "You're in my prayers," and she holds that grudge for years. I wouldn't want to upset someone like her, so I choose my words carefully.

On the main point, what to say about someone who is brilliant, astonishingly learned, funny, gorgeous to listen to, fiercely loyal, true to his own morality--and vain, petty, and cruel? I am not sure I would have liked knowing Hitchens the person, but Hitchens the character has made the world a more interesting place. I hope that his last night is a long time off and comes gently when it falls.

2. bobkinkead - July 19, 2010 at 03:33 am

St. Peregrine, please pray for us.
St. Rita, please pray for us.
St. Jude, please pray for us.
St. Joseph, please pray for us.

I consider Christopher Hitchens an education hero.

3. blindboy - July 19, 2010 at 03:51 am

"The jokey tone in the beginning of the piece about what must be a very painful condition, let alone prospect, strike a callous note." which is exactly as Hitch would have it I imagine.

Whatever else you can say about the man, he has never lacked courage, of either the moral or physical kind, nor tolerated sentimentality. A man unafraid to flirt with Margaret Thatcher; willing to be waterboarded; demanding the arrest of the Pope; enraging the Imams; housing Salman Rushdie; seeing through the hagiography surrounding Mother Teresa (..and Bill Clinton!).

I wouldn't worry about a "jokey tone" upsetting him. In fact I am looking forward to that penetrating intellect and wicked sense of humour turning their attention to his present situation.

4. strefanash - July 19, 2010 at 04:08 am


though a christian i am not spiritual enough to offer prayers for Mr Hitchens without humbug or hypocrisy, so I will offer none for him.

Oh, and neither will I practise that abomination beloved of some fundamentalists, and pray AGAINST him

One wonders if Hitchens would be amused.

By the way, I might tend to agree with him about the Albanian nun whose given name was Agnes, you know the one, the one they desperately need to vcall Mother Teresa, but hopefully my agreement with Hitch on this one will be without his apparent penchant for nastiness: Faith or no faith, some facts are facts irrespective of relgious outlook

And yes, the title of his magnum opus IS one word too long. take out the "NOT".

But he will discover this in due course, as will we all

5. vindolanda - July 19, 2010 at 06:07 am

I wish Mr Stefanash could explain what happens to the facts that are not facts due to one's religious outlook. " some facts are facts irrespective of religious outlook" He writes.
I hope too that his "discovery" that he looks forward to will not prove disappointing-say a deity who did not approve of his particular sect.
Again in all this what are we to deduce from the early deaths of devout believers in car-crashes?

6. mr_siegal - July 19, 2010 at 06:45 am

I think Hitch would, as I do, appreciate the irony that we will only discover if we are wrong, whereas believers will never know if they are.

7. java2010 - July 19, 2010 at 06:50 am

Re: Hitchens's risk factors for cancer of the esophagus.
He chain-smoked, drank alcohol, is in his sixties, and his father died of the disease.

But maybe a witch doctor gave him a curse. Maybe there is a god, made in Al Capone's image, that goes around breaking kneecaps.
Most of the people who get this disease are religious. Maybe this particular god hates his followers as much as atheists?

Why go there when there is a simpler, more natural explanation

The moral thing to do is fight cancer. Give a small donation to the American Cancer Society. You will do good for a man and mankind.






8. dave24 - July 19, 2010 at 07:31 am

Three points:

1) Read Dan Dennett's Edge Essay called "Thank Goodness" to see where many Atheists stand on the condescension of prayer.

2) Believers in God never get throat cancer?

3) So long as Hitchens has fingers to type, he'll always have a voice.

9. dinkytown - July 19, 2010 at 08:28 am

As a true agnostic, I have no idea whether or not there is a god or gods. I don't see any real evidence either way, and all the babble proving the existence or non-existence of the supernatural just sounds like more evidence that most men can't say "I don't know." However, if there is a supreme god who approves of that nasty little creep, Carlin Romano, the universe is in deep trouble.

10. rickinchina09 - July 19, 2010 at 08:49 am

I used to loathe atheists but over the years have come to pity them. For their relentless quest for rationalism prevents them from seeing what is wondrous in the spiritual life and cannot be ascertained by other means of one's faculties.

I pity him, too, for the moment that will inevitably comes, however fleeting, in which he struggles to imagine some meaningful existence beyond this temporal world but, alas, finally cannot.

Of course, he would not want me, or anyone else, to pity him and therein lies the supreme irony. I sometimes wonder whether one must pity another at least on some level, or to some degree, in order to pray for their soul convincingly. But with Hitchins, I am left not wondering much at all. Indeed, I am almost dismissive, which is if nothing else consistent with his dismissiveness toward so many others and other things.

So then I suppose he will conclude before his final breath that one enters the ultimate void, without any awareness of self, after one's death? Dread the prospect, dear Christopher, though you won't need to dread for even a nanosecond if there is, in fact, no afterlife as you so fervently claim.

As for your life, that too will/would be left to God to judge. Suffice it for me to say, at the risk of passing judgment, that any man who abandons his pregnant wife is a most detestable sort. But then perhaps he regretted his selfishness, so who is to say, really?

Hitchins has certainly made for an interesting read over the years. I hope he is content with what he has put to print, though we know he prefers his more serious writing on others. Being content with oneself on Death's doorstep would be no small achievement. For an atheist, it might very well be all he has left to hope for.

11. 11174142 - July 19, 2010 at 09:01 am

All you can say to a dying atheist is, "Vaya con nada."

12. dave24 - July 19, 2010 at 09:10 am

@10, rickinchina09: Your arrogant pretension of truth is what deserves pity. Spirituality is recognizing the interconnectedness of everything around us and between us. And it is unbiased science that reveals the complexity and simplicity of these relationships. Instead, you try to ramp up your own sense of spirituality by pretending to know your faith is superior, and in so doing you reveal exactly what is so vile about irrational wish-thinking.

You try to rationalize rationality away by using a warped sense of reason, but the malady of the ignorant is that they do not know see their own ignorance, which you so exemplify.

The fact that this may be the only life we get makes it more special, more meaningful, not less, because it's all we get. You may see this as bleak, but worshipping a celestial dictator, as Hitchens would say, remains reserved for people like you, who are so blind that they've convinced themselves of sight.

Two links for you, just for fun:

1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFMmzKDonRY

2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o

13. dave24 - July 19, 2010 at 09:14 am

Correction: know / see

14. celtjew - July 19, 2010 at 09:17 am

As someone whose faith is that the righteous believer earns the same reward in the afterlife as the righteous nonbeliever, I have no problems wishing the best for Christopher Hitchens.

And all of the sudden, I realize that Hitchens most likely agrees with me that the righteous believer and nonbeliever earn the same reward in the afterlife ... We just disagree on what the reward is.

15. mrmars - July 19, 2010 at 09:57 am

There is no justice for atheists really, for whom not only life but death is not fair! If there is no God, and no life after death, then when you're dead that's it - the party's over. We won't even get to gloat.

16. rickk - July 19, 2010 at 10:24 am

rickinchina - Your lack of compassion for a fellow human being who is suffering, your judgemental view of atheists in general and Hitchens specifically, and your narrow-minded, comic book portrayal of atheistic "spirituality" all combine to present a perfect example of the hypocrisy that Hitchens spent his career exposing.

17. maya2080 - July 19, 2010 at 10:36 am

This is unbelievably mean-spirited. My prayers are with all who suffer, whether from the sort of dire health condition with which Hitchens is contending or from the garden variety smugness that seems to afflict you both.

18. dank48 - July 19, 2010 at 10:46 am

I hope the medical treatment is successful and the recovery rapid and trouble-free. And I hope Christopher Hitchens is able to continue to annoy the living daylights out of the superstitious and superficial and silly for a long time to come.

As for prayer, I like Dan Dennett's response when people have told him they've been praying for him: "I forgive you." That is, as I understand it, he forgives them their arrogance in thinking that their expressed wishes can be instrumental in getting the laws of nature altered, mitigated, or suspended altogether.

19. morgnan7 - July 19, 2010 at 11:12 am

Carlin,
Just wanted to say hello. A Penn Professor of Philosophy! Well done. I knew you slightly when you were a book critic for the Inky and I was a suburban newspaper editor. I'm now in the communications department at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, PA. I've been reading your Chronicle pieceS for a year or so but never got in touch. Really some high-level work you are doing. Congrats.

20. raghuvansh1 - July 19, 2010 at 11:14 am

Death is only giving meaning to life if death is not, there is no meaning to mankind.Man `s highest ambition is overcome the death.Man may sacrifice his life of some good cause, suicide, murdered somebody, anything he do behind his doing death is predominantly haunting in his psyche.Idea of God is also occurred from fear of death.Atheist are not recent concept. In India Charvak was born ed three thousand year back. He was first atheist,there were long tradition of Atheists in India but no one accepted their teaching.Though GOD is illusion but how can man live without illusion? Can Atheist live without illusion?On the last moment of death man do not want live? No one want to die and here idea of God appeared in man`s mind.

21. revgrant - July 19, 2010 at 11:23 am

God does act in this manner...striking down someone for his pomposity. This sort of cancer is often found in people who smoke and drink too much. Natural consequence. God still loves him though.

22. m10001 - July 19, 2010 at 11:33 am

1. What a terrible photo of the guy!

2. For a faithless person, that faithful people want to pray for such a one doesn't conflict the faithless person, at least not any more than when a person is offered something as a gift that the receiver believes to be valueless. Hasn't this happened to any child whose aunt has given socks as a gift in the winter holidays?

3. One of the consequences of being wrong in public is that one must suffer being shown to have been wrong. One compounds the wrongness if one seeks to strike back at the person who shows the error.

4. I don't know how Mr. Hitchens's first marriage broke up. If I discover that he acted monsterously (viz. Rousseau), I will repudiate him. But I've read a lot of his stuff over the last few months. He has not claimed to be sexually continent, a temperant drinker in his youth or a good father. What he has claimed in his writings seems generally to be right. THAT is his greatness. It's even a moral greatness.

5. Java2010 has it right: the American Cancer Society. What I did was to buy a couple of books of Hitchens's faster than I would have otherwise. I figure extra royalties help with co-pays.

23. allardkent - July 19, 2010 at 11:49 am

Ha, ha, ha, ho. I get it. An atheist has a terrible illness and it provides an opportunity to mock a belief system contrary to one's own. How Christian of you, you miserable twit. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways.

We all have an expiration date stamped on our person, and you are not exempt. Mr. Romano. I can only imagine the mirth when you face the void, or whatever explanation for what follows death that you have determined is superior to Hitchen's world view. Hitchens can illuminate and infuriate in equal measures, but he never fails to stimulate thought. You, on the other hand, have stimulated not thought, but pathos and pity - that the human mind is capable of finding giggles in a life threatening illness - because of someone's lack of supernatural faith. I have rarely had the printed word fill me with such contempt.

Many Christian's never tire of sharing their faith, of proselytizing ad infinitum, of insulting non believers by announcing they will pray for them, but heaven forbid an atheist should publicly pronounce his beliefs.

I don't know what forces guide the universe, but I do know this. Carl Romano is a pitiful ass. Shame on the Chronicle for printing this heartless swill.

24. allardkent - July 19, 2010 at 11:54 am

Revgrant - how reassuring that you have intimate knowledge of how the creator of the universe operates. Perhaps He can explain oblivious smugness to you. Also, I have a mole I am concerned about. Could you huddle with the Creator and let me know what His plan is for that bit of tissue? Aside from the occasional application of guilt, the Creator seems to be ignoring my entreaties.

25. et001247 - July 19, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Comparisons between Hitchens' and Mencken's health crises can be misleading. Both men made their careers in continuing to act out their origins -- German-American Baltimore bourgeois and mishcievous English public school boy. But Hitchens has been able to reinvent himself over and over, which is why he has so many friends and foes through boom and bust. Mencken, never an admirer of The People, went out of style with other brilliant 1920s people and compounded his isolation by denouncing the New Deal. So of course there was no outpouring; he had died as a major public intellectual when he gave up editorship of the American Mercury and lost his Baltimore Sun column in the 1930s.

26. spearmint - July 19, 2010 at 12:59 pm

If god is doling out appropriate cancers, rickinchina09 can surely expect an ICD 10 C60.1 any time soon.

27. lindaolsonlevy - July 19, 2010 at 01:13 pm

In agreement with allardkent's opinions of the column and the columnist's particularly smug and unsavory mean-spiritedness. As an agnostic, who has suffered the ravages of cancer, I have welcomed various expressions of support and care, ranging from prayers, buddhist meditations, books on positive thinking, totems, Hallmark greeting cards, flower arrangements, and a "Cancer Sucks" t-shirt. Whatever form it takes, I appreciate the thought and effort behind these expressions of caring. But, I have a problem, as many cancer patients do, when others "thrust" their religious belief systems upon me in a chiding manner, as if to say, "If you don't believe and you don't pray" you will surely die." As others note, but some "believers" refuse to admit to themselves, this contradictory and illogical claim has no basis in reality.
Best wishes to Christopher Hitchens for a full recovery and my "prayers" to Carlin Romano for a full recovery from the perverted pleasure he takes in another's suffering. Shame!
I know that

28. dank48 - July 19, 2010 at 01:50 pm

Dinkytown, Allardkent, and Lindolsonlevy apparently saw something in Carlin Romano's column I didn't. Perhaps I have a reading problem.

29. mainiac - July 19, 2010 at 02:51 pm

Hitchens is one of the finest satirists of the age. All of us needs a sharp barb now an then, to lance ignorance and complacency. I do find the reactions to his illness a visceral attempt at understanding the poetics of death.

30. dave24 - July 19, 2010 at 03:18 pm

"Science flies you to the Moon. Religion flies you into buildings."

31. minnesotan - July 19, 2010 at 03:41 pm

Wow. What an inappropriate article. Would you like to find some senior citizens to beat up, Romano? I heard one or two of them were atheists, too!

32. alain787 - July 19, 2010 at 03:43 pm

How can I pray, by name, for every celeb that needs help? My family and friends get the formal treatment ... I will include Hitch in my generic prayer for all those who suffer and need the peace of God.

33. whistle_pig - July 19, 2010 at 03:55 pm

An interesting read on an interesting, seemingly sad character. Yes, for Believers, he's definitely been lost. Will he remain so in the light of his upcoming earthly demise? Easy, perhaps for some even hopeful to project he might. But for those genuinely in search of Creator God of the universe, visionary and producer of all things and folks, including Hitchens, it's not in our cards. Rather, out of most certainly compassion for a suffering brother and most scripturally out of obedience to what we are instructed as God's biblical words,we pray for God's goodness. Only God knows if that goodness may include Hitchens' healing. But more so our collective prayerful hope and conviction is that Hitchens and his soul are now realizing that despite his intellectual stiff-arming of the Being who knew him before he was conceived and allowed his birth along with his free-will rants against his Heavenly Procreator, that spurned Maker is still walking with Hitch in what would otherwise simply be another dog dying from re-eating his own rat-poisoned vomit, while the other dogs simply caught another nap. No, we cannot be those sun-sapping hounds. We are called to care,to love Hitch, and to hate his behaviors that are killing his body, and up to this point, slaughtered his spirit. Even now, at this late hour now, Hitch's time is neither past nor "too late." Remember the one repentent cross-hung crook swinging next to Jesus? Like it's always been, Hitch's been free to believe what he will, receive or reject forgiveness and a future. The only real question is will even Hitchens confess his errant ways, and take the Gift? Someone's knocking and Hitch has been given the great luxury of knowing his death is now imminent, but not necessarily fatal. Stay tuned, it's not over until the fat lady sings, and Hitch meets his Maker. P.S.Looking back at this man's body of work, isn't it sad that he's devoted his entire career toward disclaiming He whom Hitch has heretofore proclaimed doesn't even exist. Talk about jousting at windmills. C.S. Lewis got it. My prayer will be that Hitch will too. It'd be fun hearing these two talking Up Yonder.

34. tomdoyal - July 19, 2010 at 04:26 pm

As an agnostic, I have no where to take my concerns about Mr. Hitchens, but I as an admirer of him and his work, I do wish him the best possible treatment and the maximum of comfort in his coming ordeal. Some of these wishes spring from my own experience of surviving cancer and some from my sense of connection to Mr. Hitchens and his ideals.

35. 22250655 - July 19, 2010 at 05:00 pm

Anyone who thinks that Carlin Romano is a smug Christian obviously has not been reading his work. As far as I can tell, he is an agnostic and Jewish in culture if not practice. I suspect that the people who are slamming him for his "smug" attitude and rejoicing over Hitchen's illness are giving a knee-jerk reaction, much as Hitchens himself does on some topics. At any rate, they suffer from an anger that does them and others no good. I think that Mr. Romano has written a complex piece about a very complex individual and has asked some very difficult questions. Good for him.
The obvious Christian reaction to Hitchens is to pray for him. If folks get offended by that, well, try looking at it from another point of view. I pray for people, good and bad, because that is generally the only thing I can do for folks with whom I have no personal contact. Unbelievers can't even do that, and I feel sorry for them because they have lost a natural human connection.

36. michelsouris - July 19, 2010 at 05:10 pm

Romano teaches philosophy?! Holy heck, education in the US is in a worse state than I imagined.

37. barbarajmoon - July 19, 2010 at 05:37 pm

What I find the most alarming is the first sentence, even written in jest. "If God occasionally intervenes in the world..." This supports the medieval thinking that is all to prevalent in modern America (just think back to all the public posturing after 9/11). And from a professor of philosophy no less!

38. benjamin999 - July 19, 2010 at 06:19 pm

To All you religious zealots:
What happen to Hitchens is physical, it has nothing to do with any God. If he recovers, it means that his immune systems kicked in and prevailed. If he got sicker and died; we will dearly miss him!
Keep your prayers to yourself, they do not help anybody!
Vive Hitchens!

39. sid_from_somalia - July 19, 2010 at 06:27 pm

Serious thinking takes a blow in this piece and Hitchens couldn't give a rat's ass if someone is praying for him. We all need support in difficult times but a friendly hug and warm words from a dear friend will always trump the babblings of true believers far removed from the action. WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THESE THINGS PEOPLE? Sara Palin and Romano ought to do a Talking Heads cover of this topic.

40. genghiskern - July 19, 2010 at 07:04 pm

Meh. He can die if he wants to, but he's still too much of a fame-whore to be a major writer.

41. pembl - July 19, 2010 at 08:19 pm

Umm, the accumulation of mutations from decades of smoking and alcohol likely caused the esophageal carcinoma. It's ridiculous to suggest that a deity tweaks the cellular DNA-repair machinery in order to settle scores with a mortal primate.

42. nabi18 - July 19, 2010 at 08:53 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

43. lovethetruth - July 19, 2010 at 09:24 pm

To Dave24

The first 3 people who went to the moon ackowledged God.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EreYmNM0N0s

Science and the true God can fly you to the moon.

Jews and Christians have not flown planes into buildings.

44. lovethetruth - July 19, 2010 at 09:47 pm

I apologize on behalf of all Christians who have said things that cause you to think there is even a remote possibility that God caused this sickness to shoot down an atheist or show who's boss. God loves Christopher Hitchens.

45. darkroomjames - July 19, 2010 at 10:09 pm

God is a perception.

We all develop our own POV as we use up our mortality and have to die of something, although the celebrated phrase "old people dying of nothing" comes to mind. This age celebrates DNA and the periodic Table, and so it is my humble opinion that life on earth began with the smaller God of DNA, derived from the God the Periodic Table. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombs vetted the Periodic Table's Big Magic to toss aside the quaint Christian God among all others in the intellectual junkheap of good intentions, rendering life on earth a momentary cosmic vacation from a mysteriously "dead" universe that inexplicably made life possible.

Landing a man on the moon was only further Big Magic, and the Theory of Evolution proved so potent and threatening that the slightly smaller Christian monkeys had to hit back at the nerd atheist or non-deist monkeys. Rod Serling's "Planet of the Apes" was a brialliant, if overlooked satire on issues in science and religion. Leave it to the establishment's first responders to declare thoughts on God illegal in my backwards neck of the woods. My thirty-year "speak-out" and "letters to the editors" columns on issues in science and religion sent by fax to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican and no other entanglements became met with leaks and finally hostile police posturing in near-by Keeseville, NY! End of First Amendment immunity and free speech. The Big Chill from local first responder idiots is law.

I once wrote a soul-catcher poem in 1975 called "The Demon's Craving" that stunk to high heaven worthy of its name, and patiently waited over the decades for those who were obsessive-compulsive to develop all of the poem's symptoms without realizing it... The air was so sensitive to my scrawlings that I used my label-maker to write: "Insanely jealous Christians are feeling the demon's cravings." I put it on my car's rear bumper. Later, I never heard so many people chuckling at what must have been an outbreak of apparent local or even international demonic possession! I removed it a few days later, rather than belabor a fictitious, if amusing point. Of course when I shook hands with Rod Serling in 1976 at SUNY Plattsburgh, I said: "I'm the messiah" and turned and walked away, trapped by my own baffling behavior. Thirty years of writing about issues in science and religion have the locals convinced along partisan lines. Who knows who is on my case after 9/11.

Yeah, I feel for Hitchins. My turn will come some day too. The God of DNA takes us all as mysteriously as he brought life to this planet in the first place, and even brought us religions to explain everything in our magnificent cosmic isolation. Will the God of a silicone-based (instead of carbon-based) life form arise next? Who's your daddy then?.... The God of the Periodic Table's first congregation was seen in the "Planet of the Apes", worshiping the Bomb. But I think we can do better. May you die of nothing when you are ready, lucky bastards ("Grumpy Old Men" with Peter Lemmon and Walter Mathauu.).

46. supertatie - July 19, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I'm baffled by all this agonizing over whether or not to pray for Hitchens. As if what? You're going to tell him about it? If it's legitimately a spiritual gift for him, then do it in silence and modesty, and don't announce it. (And note to agnostics and atheists who cannot find it in their hearts to be well-bred when on the receiving end of well-intentioned but unsought spiritual aid: Grow up.)

Whether Mr. Hitchens either merits or benefits from prayers is not up to us, and certainly his rejection of the help isn't the deciding factor. Would you not leave food for someone who was hungry, even if they said they weren't, and even if they weren't grateful for it? Kindness is expected of us, mercy is expected of us, and each one of us will damn well need it at some point, precisely because in some way, we haven't earned it. If you only "pray for" (or forgive) someone when they "deserve" it, you've missed Christ's point entirely.

As for Hitchens' own ire, I've read something of his sad boyhood, and his anger with his own father, whom he blames for his mother's unhappiness and death. To me, that says EVERYTHING about Hitchens' anger with God.

If one were to take the word "God" or "religion" out of Hitchens' writings, and substitute "Dad" or "father," the sadness of a little boy becomes immediately apparent, and his rants against a faith betrayed become all the more poignant for their intensity. Just as Hitchens' cancer can be scientifically explained by his smoking, drinking and hard living, so too can his tirades against God be explained by psychological transference.

This is sad enough to warrant prayers. What is even sadder is that, for all his anger with his own father, Hitchens himself admits that he was a largely absent parent. And so the cycle continues.

47. jmonroe6400 - July 19, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Having read a few of Romano's "posts" (I won't call them articles)Romano seems bent on proving two things: 1) He is incapable of serious thought, and 2) That he possesses a degraded and mean sensibility.

I have never been a fan of Hitchensesque atheism, but I see much of his, and others', outrage at the preposterousness of religion's moral claims and the vileness of many of its adherents confirmed when I read this kind of vengeful rant. Indeed, there is cause to fear the resurgence of religion if it carries in its breast the evils we can see on display here. It isn't much of a jump, is it, to the fanaticism that claims: "everything is permitted."

48. darkroomjames - July 20, 2010 at 12:11 am

@ Supertatie

It's always a refreshing pleasure to hear from a mature and kindly and perhaps even wiser person after such a heated discussion among jaded and disconnected souls. May your path of teaching succeed with grateful students happily visiting you in retirement years.

49. benjamin999 - July 20, 2010 at 02:38 am

Supertatie:
I think you are another Christian nut (misinformed). Again Christopher Hitchens does not need you prayer (a prayer is another name for bullshit); at least he is following up with his belief by seeking chemotherapy (relying on science) not an imaginary creature called "God" who never existed in the first place. You need to recognize Hitchens wisdom and resolve: he will prevail!

50. darkroomjames - July 20, 2010 at 09:16 am

That was Jack Lemmon, not Peter.

Romano was a bit crudely judgemental, if not attempting cruelty and abuse from a lofty pinnacle. Funny how Christians all think they are God, or on God's side. Every one of us is walking on thin ice with "God", God, or Sagan's molecular machinery of DNA. The future religion of the human genome will become God's House for the intellectually honest spiritualists, centuries of genetic discoveries from now. Enjoy the charming simplicity of supernaturalism from a doomed world view, if you can.

As for fearing retribution from today's religious authorities, I don't write for them; I write as a Jules Verne of the spiritual future, and not for fame, money, girls or personal gain. Just for the satisfaction of seeing what I estimate to be true from my paradigm-shattering 1970's college-level science education that caused me to Flunk God in the eyes of the unforgiving world, but that has become Supreme Being without any doubts. Condemn me as you like, I forbid becoming a public person.

51. oldgus2 - July 20, 2010 at 10:32 am

Alas! Maybe we can desensitize ourselves to the adolescent antics of both Romano and Hitchens. Romano, like Hitchens, loves to toss turds in punchbowls. Both love to produce outrage. While I don't know much about Romano, I do know that Hitchens is a skunk regarding the treatment of his second wife and was dead wrong about the neo-con intervention in Iraq. God or no god, no one deserves cancer.

52. acholt21 - July 20, 2010 at 10:53 am

As a believer, Penn Jillette said it best in a blog video. How much do you have to hate someone to not prophesize to them? So, with that the prayers to Christopher are from those that share the love of Christ. Unfortunately, not everyone will see it that way. Just know that when a Christian does tell you about the Gospel, they don't hate you enough to not tell you about hell, and you should respect that like Penn does.

53. koshkamat - July 20, 2010 at 11:33 am

@benjamin999 - AMEN! They can shove their snide, superior BS. And as if Christians never get cancer? News to me!

Question: Who does God hate more? An athiest, or those who do evil under his guise? Will God rejoice more at Hitchen's death or Pat Robertson's? Will Romano write an article like this about Robertson, the most vile of millionaire, hateful, snake-oil salesmen? Let's see.

54. 11233028 - July 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm

My God loves everyone, especially Mr. Hutchins. Doesn't mean Mr. Hutchins has to believe in God. Since he doesn't have my beliefs, he may be in for an unusual afterlife. To Mr. Hutchins: " Don't be afraid of death; I hope that your afterlife is everything you imagined and expected."

55. dinkytown - July 20, 2010 at 12:26 pm

That's so sweet, 11233028. Your god has obviously mellowed since the bad old days when he was forcing the Israelites to smite everyone in sight. As for Christopher Hitchins and the rest of the unbelievers, we'll gladly take our chances. As koshkamat has noted, even if there is an afterlife, we'll probably get off more lightly than a lot of the professional believers. When I see some of those guys on tv, I always think of David Hume's quip. "When I hear a man is religious, I conclude that he is a rascal, although I have known some instances of very good men being religious."

56. mikerol - July 20, 2010 at 02:17 pm

A lot of hard liquor in combination produces esophagal cancer. Freud cotinued to smoke cigars and so did Heiner Mueller. I have one problem with the amusing Hitch, or maybe two, [1] that he is not original in his attacks, but sort of an Alka-Selzer; [b] that he is a quick sell out when the opportunity affords; a real Trotzkyite would never have jumped on the anti-Serbian bandwagon, the self-righteous Meute to use a Menken word; nor joined Bush and Co. in the grrism hunt - after all, who terroririzes the world more than any other nationl; which has made moreenemies for itself in the past 60 years? Hitchens Marxism is what Tom Wolfe, a verbally more amusing but equally shallow writer called what? Anyone remember?? The Hitch is quite honest in his interview with Ms. Solomon, is it, in the NY Times Magazine: he's in it for the money; the noise. I am of course glad that he seems to have got under a lot of stupid skins. I expect he'll be around for quite a while and continue in the same vein. An HL Mencken of dictionary fame the Hitch is not.http://www.facebook.com/mike.roloff1?ref=name

57. profdave - July 20, 2010 at 04:58 pm

I wasn't a Philosophy major in college. I was only required to take one "philosophy" course as an undergrad, and that course was a business ethics elective. So I lack the familiarity with the discipline to criticize the way a Philosophy professor expresses himself.

However, I do have a question for those presumably qualified critics who have posted above. What is wrong with the hypothetical, "If God intervenes..." as an opening thesis? How does using such an expression evidence the actual beliefs of the writer?

58. dexter_peabody - July 20, 2010 at 05:43 pm

memoiristo

59. elcerrito - July 20, 2010 at 07:09 pm

1. The esophagus has no "importance to speech." It is an organ of deglutition. It has nothing to do with articulation or vocal resonance.

2. Human beings know they will die. This, perhaps arguably, is the singular characteristic of human consciousness. Without this knowledge, perhaps almost inarguably, religion, as we all seem to define it, would not exist. When an individual, as aware (since childhood) of his mortality as any of us, and whatever his point of view with respect to religion, appears to be nearer death than we, there is no place for anything other than deference to the mystery. Only someone steeped in the culture of facile academic argumentation, resident among a rarefied crowd of people whose only frame of reference (at least with regard to this world) is others in that crowd, and with no useful knowledge or insight, would turn Mr. Hitchens' predicament into an article so utterly devoid of value. Reading Christopher himself, one has, at least, from time to time, the exciting sense that what is said might (at least with regard to this world) count for something.

60. studentsuccess10 - July 20, 2010 at 08:39 pm

I am glad that Hitch exists in this world and I have enjoyed reading his thoughts along with many other atheists of the world. I am concerned that the religious right and the evangelicals will get too strong a grip on the American political scene and turn our country into another version of the dark ages. Good luck to you Hitch and thank you for speeking out when the obvious risks are visible to all who do not buy the fables and myths of religiosity!

61. diplomatic - July 20, 2010 at 09:58 pm

Viva, Hitch!

We don't need to repeat the 17th Century, people.

Healthy skepticism and Science should be welcome in every home, curriculum, government, sentient brain, etc.



62. ejb_123 - July 20, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Ever since a nun tried to scare us little Catholic boys and girls into singing during Mass by telling us the story about a little boy with a beautiful voice who refused to use sing, and as a result, God punished him by striking him down with throat cancer, I have never trusted religious explanations of a wrathful God who inflicts pain and suffering on people, nor religious people who use those kinds of explanations to explain why people suffer. This article is a waste of space, and certainly is not the kind of article I would expect from a website that supposedly devotes itself to "higher education."

63. mal1000 - July 21, 2010 at 01:29 am

What is the logic of praying for someone who is ill or going through some other difficulties? One of the implications seems to me to be is that people who have more prayers said for them will have a higher chance of God (whowever the people who pray perceive of God to be) deciding to return health to them than if no prayers or less prayers were said on their behalf. Why would God be influenced in this way?

Also, would not someone who prays for someone in such circumstances be assuming that God wants the person to live - or more broadly that there is something wrong with dying - or even more broadly, that they (the people who are praying for the person to get well) know what God's intentions are? This seems to me to be a questionable assumption for Christians to make. (I have no experience with other religions.)

I do not have an agenda - I simply see many, many problems with the idea of praying for others to get well/ not die - since I believe (I may be wrong) that most Christians believe that dying is just a moment on the way to (hopefully) eternal life. I have no desire to be flippant, but if the suffering of a person who is dying can be minimized/alleviated as much as possible, dying seems to me to be a natural and not unwelcome phenomenon for those who believe dying to be the gateway to a blissfulet ernal life.

I have asked these questions (and many more) before, and have never received any answer that appeared reasonable to me.

For some unknown reason - summer vacation at last!? - after reading this piece and the ensuing comments, I thought I would pose the question here.

64. mal1000 - July 21, 2010 at 01:31 am

Spelling correction

ernal--> eternal

65. rickinchina09 - July 21, 2010 at 03:00 am

No. 12 dave24,

In your flailing about, you haven't grasped my essential point. As any religious person knows, reason alone will not grant you access to humanistic enlightenment and science at many levels is biased if for no other "reason" than it cannot perceive all that is real.

Aside from your venomous tone, your retort projects feelings onto my positionality that I don't assume. I don't feel superior in my insights to Hitchins, but fortunate for having seen the Light. I have no need to "ramp up my spirituality" because I am already comfortable with it and have no need to triumph over others who do not see the Light. The atheist seeks evidence for all religious claims in vain, and out of vanity, whether they admit to it or not. While an atheist can indeed be a good person, and many certainly are, it is insufficient for the afterlife. Oneness with God requires selflessness and trying one's best to avoid an excess of pride. Hitchens is proud to a fault, and therein lies his arrogance. Though he detests the religious for passing judgment on him (I do not, however), he routinely passes judgment on others who have arguably done far more than he has to help the downtrodden in this life. Where is the humility in Hitchin's writing, or for that matter in your own response, which fails to grant me the benefit of the doubt? I wish Hitchins well. I hope he recovers enough to have something of a change of heart, for his pen has much to offer. For his own sake, I hope he sees the Light before the Darkness closes in.

Willful disbelief in God is far worse than a lack of belief due to genuine ignorance.

Finally, I will add that presume too much if you think the religious cherish this life less than the atheist; if anything the preparation for the next life commands us to make the most of this one, and not only in self-serving ways.

66. rapa707 - July 21, 2010 at 03:26 am

I note with distress Hitchens illness, one of my most influential friends died of this complaint and although they came from opposite ends of the political spectrum I recognise something of the same charm in both. I would not wish it on anyone,
I hope he responds to treatment and I hope that he is at least appreciative of any prayers that are said for him to do less would be impolite at the very least.
My friend died as he was waiting to have his P.H.D. approved and as a mature aged student it had long been his dream.
Three cheers for the Mayflies and long may they shimmer

67. echogram - July 21, 2010 at 04:29 am

To #23, #59, and #62: very well said. I do not seem to be very eloquent tonight, so I'll just say that this "article" was stupid and mean.

68. echogram - July 21, 2010 at 04:35 am

I might add that a neighbour lady, a Christian who had never drunk nor smoked, recently died of esophageal cancer. People who think they know all about cancer are as tiresome as those who think they know all about god. I think they are hung up on consequences.

69. anthonyflacco - July 21, 2010 at 04:58 am

Carlin Romano is a prototype of that new and most unfortunate breed of quasi-journalists who need to seem "edgy" by saying pointlessly disrtespectul things -- in this case, about a writer many levels beyond the drivel of Roman and his sorry ilk. No doubt he will sneer at these remarks and offer nothing but snark if he responds at all, but his folly is in failing to see that his rotten attitude and disrespectful mouth do not make him cool or edgy or even interesting. His own words show him as a grasping desperado lacking the talent to write better work and, apparently, the determination to even try. His "kick a man when he's down" point of view in this piece is the hallmark of a coward. No doubt Romano would sneer at that, too. Because really, what else does such a writer have left?

70. thinkpoint - July 21, 2010 at 07:38 am

I hope there is no God
http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2008/12/03/i-hope-there-is-no-god-thomas-nagel/

71. marychestnut - July 21, 2010 at 08:41 am

The editorial decision that passeth human understanding: Shame on the Chronicle editors for publishing this philosophicically incoherent, scientifically illiterate and morally bankrupt piece of mean-spirited drivel. Mr. Romano may indeed be feeling smug in witnessing the imminent mortal peril of a writer who so far surpasses him in analytical skill and capacity for reflective thought. Shame on the editors for sharing his pointless and disgusting self-satisfaction with the rest of us.

72. darkroomjames - July 21, 2010 at 09:21 am

Defining God would be a basic solution to editing out all the untruths in a poorly clarified snipe hunt.

All the world used to define God in terms of existing holy books, but now we are all divided by developmental POV's that may or may not include evolution, which then will or won't include the Periodic Table. The Periodic Table defines the material universe in terms of molecular compounds, elements, and organic and inorganic chemical reactions-- organic, biochemical reactions eventually resembling DNA molecules that ultimately became replicating DNA, or life on earth. Dr. Carl Sagan called life "molecular machines" in his "Cosmos" TV series.

We humans have read "God" between the meanings of life on earth: hope, joy, love, promises, vows, and everything else that we dreamt up to create civilizations and gods. Civilization and God are two intangibles we confuse with the tangible world. God exists in the minds of those who experience the sublime presence of the Supreme Being, but who usually can't define God.

Hand-me-down gods are dubious second-hand assertions that aren't the original experience. It is across this empty assertion and meaningless Bible readings that the supernatural experience is lost and the phrase "religion ruins everything" becomes true. The sad poignancy of the drinking clergyman who lost his faith comes to mind.

Each of us would probably hope for a geniune, tangible god experience, but no one would believe us, except perhaps at the funny farm or church. This is the source of annoyance with all claims of Godly credibility, is it not?

As the human genome is explored in the coming centuries, the search for God experiences in our mind/brains' schematics will eventually be verified, if not made available soon after. Clarity will rescue us from this sad polarization of claimants and critics, believers and atheists.

Our better selves, our best behavior, our species' self-esteem and indeed survival may hinge on such inner explorations, more important than space exploration or sea-bed explorations. Our generation gaps threaten the quality of our nation's and world's character, and the arts of maintaining social order and integrity.

73. performance_expert2 - July 21, 2010 at 11:49 am

Glen Beck just found out he has a serious degenerative eye disorder, very serious. Some will quip regarding him already being blind. I confess to a weakness towards this type of thinking at the expense of the subject, who, as any of us, is suffering great distress.

On the subject of a spirited harpooning of holy people, a couple others have practiced this entertainment with verve: Shree Rashneesh, also know known as "Osho," and the oh so wonderful lesser know U.G. Krishnamurti. Great stuff, very bitter! Here is some U.G. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3azqF_OMu4

74. diplomatic - July 21, 2010 at 01:07 pm

Here is my extra two cents.

He doesn't have to pray to anyone or anything. He has a left legacy of entertaining and healthy skepticism that is probably far more satisfying.

To be truly agnostic or skeptic, one has to NOT claim to know everything, as presumably an omnipotent God would, to allow for doubt and that possibility, leaves some room for speculation, that it is perhaps okay to be wrong, to thus refine the worldview into a finer truth, to be skeptical, to be human.

A hard-nosed phenomenologist may believe that this is all there is, whatever our senses sense, and then beyond that, whatever our invented instruments can then detect, until someone discovers more knowledge and information about our world and universe. This information can be humbling and motivating for the industrious, curious knowledgeable person. And earth-shattering and mind-blowing, devastating (or at least enlightening or insightful) to some.

An agnostic scientists may say, There is something out there. At least agnostics speculate (or study) about something that is unseen, in the clouds, in outer space, on another planet or galaxy or other solar system, ethereal and nebulous at best. But at least Science will strive to create practical applications, instead of leaving it up to somebody else. Absolute Faith assumes that a Supreme Being will tidy everything up in the end since this anthropomorphized entity presumably created everything from scratch and has pre-determined the fate of everyone and everything. Tell me our fate is not in our own hands. Look at what we are doing to our environment, there is a very real physical impact, measurable. At least a secular humanist position seems more rational, regarding stewardship of the planet and going to task about things. One can only hope that being on the brink of disaster can unify humanity to a common cause. Scientists seem to understand this.

The best guess (this is a humorous take) is that the universe is a very slow, ordered and oddly chaotic, slowly cooling and paradoxically fast-expanding explosion (faster than the speed of light), from the big bang, the singularity, the event horizon from which all of time and space originated (see Hawking), that after the dust cloud, condensed and cooled, and planets and moons, galaxies spun into orbit around millions, billions (Carl Sagan, ) of suns, it happened to result in the creation of life, from all of the elements that existed in the cloud of the explosion, mixing, catalyzing,reacting, evolving, growing, with water and sunshine, volcanic oceans and lightning, photosynthesis of plankton and plant life, fish in the oceans, then land mammals, and then resulting in all the weird species on earth, then of hominids with advanced communication, sentient and presumably intelligent life. And these processes continue. How did we get here? Evolution. Mutation. Survival of the fittest (Darwin), over many millions of generations, war, famine, cataclysms, hunting, gathering, farming, beer, civilizations, weapons, more war, then the printing press, then the automobile, then the H-bomb then the Internet. Here we are. None of us would be here without water, the sun, photosynthesis, and basic elements like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. But we are all ape-like creatures, very, very likely direct descendants of primates (99.9% similar DNA, come on, How else?), some with more melanin than others, all of us anthropological marvels a remarkable chain of events and processes that led us here to communicate language electronically.

In science, a hypothesis is just an educated guess, and thus provable or disprovable by physical evidence, and a good scholar or scientist has much previously established knowledge of other scholars/scientists to draw conclusions or form new hypotheses from. But most scientists seem open to the idea that their premises may be wrong when a better theory or more accurate worldview is created. That is why science progresses and gives awesome stuff like washing machines and increasingly efficient and lower cost transportation for everybody. Ya know, stuff that makes everyone's lives better. So we can have more time for leisure activities like reading and learning, maybe we can read more about the latest science, and devote time to engineering a better future.

Stay with us, Hitch. We need more people to challenge the status quo with well-researched and erudite rationality.


75. mainiac - July 22, 2010 at 09:05 am

After rereading Romano, the misguided enthusiasm, or the glee for the (spiritually?) diseased Hitchens reminds me of a Medieval monk hoovering over the deathbed of an errant aristocrat, with the intent of fleecing him moments before death. What is man, but a twentyfive foot tube with a foul mouth on one end, and an arse on the other?

76. texas2step - July 22, 2010 at 11:17 am

It is really too bad this article is about only one aspect of Hitchen's work - his writings about religion. He writes over such a vast landscape and he does so with deep intellect and an amazing command of the English language. I have admired his writing since I was first introduced to it in Letters to a Young Contrarian. I cannot think of anyone I would rather have as a guest for dinner.

77. 22268045 - July 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Not having deity-like inclinations, I usually keep quiet during comments on my own article. (Yes, I know, someone will write in saying that's precisely what a deity would do.) But I must tip my hat to "profdave," Poster 57. You should have been a philosophy major. Others troubled by my opening lines might try looking up the word "facetious."

Carlin Romano

78. elcerrito - July 22, 2010 at 02:28 pm

Nice try, Professor Romano (comment #77).

If all you were up to was to posit "'if God intervenes'...as an opening thesis," you failed. You write so poorly that no scrupulous reader can seriously conjecture, no less confidently conclude, that you're being "facetious." And if your opening lines were intended to be a facetious hypothesis, it underscores my point (comment #59) that you are an utterly self-infatuated academic.

To be sure, philosophy, as a field of scholarship, involves speculation that has no apparent use in the everyday world. But this article has no use at all. If human minds had esophageal powers (they do, of course, unlike the esophagus, have "importance to speech), then healthy ones could not but reverse the normal direction of their peristalsis upon attempting to ingest this swill.

79. elcerrito - July 22, 2010 at 03:03 pm

One more thing, in reference to the (lack of) clarity in your writing, Professor Romano.

"Others troubled by my opening lines might...'" you say in comment #77. A comma after "Others," and another after the phrase "troubled by my opening lines," would convey what you apparently meant to say, since you praised Poster 57 precisely because he was not troubled.

Maybe you were just leaving it to the reader to figure out that what you meant was far from what you wrote. Maybe this is just a game you play all the time. Oh, you clever professionals in the hermetic realms of deep and abstract thinking! Hee, hee, hee!

They can't get away with this kind of stuff in disciplines whose language is mathematics. But, hey, the rest of us are stuck with slippery words, y'know? And we're only just bullshitting here, know what I mean? And we have tenure, and good pay with benefits, and the world is full of fools who respect us because we cadged a diploma off the Wizard of Oz.

80. mkbre0829 - July 22, 2010 at 03:43 pm

How does anyone know there is no God? If anyone can give a succinct, logical, unemotional, polite answer to that question -- an answer the provides hard and fast proof of the non-existence and that avoids all vituperative language and general nastiness,I will then attempt the same for explaining why I have faith there is a God.

81. darkroomjames - July 22, 2010 at 08:42 pm

@ #80, mkbreo829

Having faith there is a God is a ubiquitous testament that may bore the readers totears here. Sharing the experience of God or actually getting God to post would be a far better parlor trick!

82. darkroomjames - July 22, 2010 at 08:56 pm

I have to admit that most atheists and other non-believers are more likely motivated by the disappointment they feel with supernatural tall tales in church, than a visionary, practical, science-educated and logically consistent church service (and set of programs) that would maximize mortality quality time in a cooperative and community-supportive setting of compassion, learning, mentoring, and celebrating life in all of its natural yet mysterious splendor. Surviving the death process in dignity and comfort could further be resolved without the moments of panic that some unfortunately face. Mortality presents us with the realization that everyone dies. The signs of old age become steps towards that confrontation, with a lifetime to resolve it all. Does truth have to be so impossible? Do we have to be in such denial and fantasy to feel comfort? Self-preservation has mission creep when it comes to the final mortal moment. Police and soldiers tell about dying right in the moment of facing death, only to survive the encounter and enter a new paradigm.

83. darkroomjames - July 22, 2010 at 10:18 pm

I guess the reason that Homeland Security followed me here (judging from some unlikely articles posted this week) was because they know some things about the impact my writings must have had that I don't know about.

By the way, I like Diplomat's above assessment of clinching arguments on evolution-- like the 98.2% identicle DNA between chimps and humans, and the author chiming in giving away the interventionist hints.

Thanks for the freedom of speech, freedom of thought, the higher education, thirty years of not knowing what to think out loud, and the sudden disapproval and suspension of freedom of speech by turning this forum into a courtroom transcript search for evidence or contraband of some kind. I can't believe it's the end of the Constitution in front of academia central. What do you people think you have on me?

84. rickinchina09 - July 23, 2010 at 01:15 am

Post 16)rickk snarled:

"Your lack of compassion for a fellow human being who is suffering, your judgemental view of atheists in general and Hitchens specifically, and your narrow-minded, comic book portrayal of atheistic "spirituality" all combine to present a perfect example of the hypocrisy that Hitchens spent his career exposing."

How did you manage to infer that I have no compassion for Hitchens' plight? I could respond to the rest of your little rant but I've learned that celebration of atheism is its own form of punishment.

Post 30)dave24 relayed:

"Science flies you to the Moon. Religion flies you into buildings."

Or you could say:

Religion lets your spirit take wing; science lets you drop nukes from bomber wings.

85. eli1970 - July 23, 2010 at 09:56 am

Many years ago I asked an atheist friend what he thought when other friends said they would pray for his soul. He said he took it as a compliment and a sincere form of friendship. He went on to say that he felt when the devout prayed for him they wanted to help and, while he did not share their beliefs, he was touched by the act of kindness. As an agnostic myself, I've always been intrigued by his perspective.

86. supertatie - July 23, 2010 at 01:32 pm

@benjamin999:

My goodness! Such hostility! Do you launch those kinds of diatribes at the other believers in your diverse universe? Buddhists? Hindus? Sikhs? Witch doctors? Voodoo priestesses? Indigenous shamans? Do you call them "nuts" and their beliefs "bullshit"? How very tolerant of you. Can I report you to your campus' or company's cultural sensitivity police?

Your antipathy to Judeo-Christian practices confirms what I continue to suspect: that some self-proclaimed intellectuals profess to be "tolerant" of many of the world's religious belief systems because they have no fear that they are true, but are wildly and inexplicably hostile to Judeo-Christianity precisely because they are afraid that it IS.

That aside, let me clarify your mischaracterization of my comments:

First, I didn't say I would pray for Mr. Hitchens, or that I wouldn't. (But I will say it now - I will, and I wish him rapid healing, good health, and long life.) I remonstrated those who profess to be Christian but who want public credit for their kindness, or who withhold what they believe to be meaningful intercession because the object of that intercession appears not to have complied with their worldview.

What I DID express for Mr. Hitchens was PITY, and this I am also free to do. His writings about his family life ARE poignant, and his background obviously caused him intense suffering and emotional pain. We have plenty of scientific evidence that parental rejection, or the abuse of one parent by another does damage to a child, and that that damage often manifests itself as anger and resentment. Even if God did not exist, it would be perfectly consistent for a man with Hitchens' background and talent to rail against a father-figure with as much cultural sway as God has in our society. (It is also irrelevant as to whether or not God exists.)

Further to the point of science, I find it interesting that so few commentators who seek to "prove" the non-existence of God (and by extension, the human soul, or some form of life after what we think of as death) completely ignore a huge and growing body of work exploring the experiences of individuals who have been through "near death experiences."

There are detractors, of course, but their "explanations" (e.g., hallucinations caused by anoxia) do not hold up under scrutiny. First, no two people have the same hallucinations even under the same stimuli, and it is therefore absurd to hypothesize that all dying people would hallucinate identically. And yet, those who have had near-death experiences describe remarkable similar phenomena.

Second, if one has been declared "brain dead," then it strains credulity to suggest that the brain is still working. This is particularly true when the individual reports seeing things later confirmed by others present (such as the surgery in the operating room) which are not visible from their vantage point on the operating table.

All of this is to say that there are fascinating scientific avenues for exploring the existence of a human soul (or identity, or spirit, or whatever you would like to call it), and this also raises the possibility of the existence of God. By dismissing faith in God out of hand, we also dismiss legitimate scientific inquiry. The last time I checked, scientists were in the business of investigating things that others are unaware of, cannot see, or do not believe are possible.

Finally, benjamin999, it is silly and counterfactual to suggest, as your comment does, that Christians don't believe in medical treatment like chemotherapy, wouldn't seek those treatments, or wouldn't recommend it for others, and I don't believe you're really ignorant enough to believe that.

87. goxewu - July 23, 2010 at 09:22 pm

Re some gems from the keyboard of rickinchina:

"Willful disbelief in God is far worse than a lack of belief due to genuine ignorance."

This be how? You get a hotter spot in the Lake of Fire if you're an atheist as opposed to--gee, with all the proselytizers around these days, it'd have to be--some stoneage natives on a tiny, lost island somewhere? And even if Jack van Impe's telecasts can't reach everybody, how come, what with the deity's omnipotence and all, anybody on the planet still suffers from "genuine ignorance"? He/She/It deliberately leaves people in the dark?

"Religion lets your spirit take wing; science lets you drop nukes from bomber wings."

Uh, if my old high school American history text hasn't been proven wrong, the only nukes dropped in anger from bomber wings were from our airplanes. The crew of the Enola Gay were atheists? The majority of scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project were, too? (One could credit rickinchina's embarrassment with rhyming, except that pairing "wing" and "wings" doesn't really count.)

Is rickinchina really "rick in china," i.e., trapped over there among all those godless Commies?

88. rickinchina09 - July 24, 2010 at 08:23 am

In response to goxewu:

Genuine ignorance can take many forms. It includes those completely unexposed to the monotheistic deity known as God and those reared in other religious traditions. In both cases one can lead a good life and my belief is that they can be made one with God in the afterlife for they are already spiritually minded. Not so the atheist who clings to his disbelief out of arrogant conviction that humankind at its best is separate from and better than God the Maker.

I made to mention of a fate in Dante's Inferno, so I'll make no effort to defend myself on that score.

Your point about the first atomic bomb being developed in the U.S. by a group of American and European scientists is irrelevant. And actually you missed the point, or rather dodged it. I'd spell it out for you if I thought your response was sincerely intended. As for inability to rhyme, I made no attempt to. It is trite to even mention it all the same.

For the record, I am not a missionary nor do I have any aspirations to become one. But if you had spent as much time in China as I have you'd come to realize that much of the current malaise (rampant, unchecked materialism and lack of a civil society) can in fact be attributed to "godless Communism." One can only scoff at the notion from the comfort of a distant shore.

Interesting to note how many atheists and roadies of Hitchens here merely confirm their own inability to be critiqued, not to mention a nasty streak. But then their ilk are prone to such displays.

89. rickinchina09 - July 24, 2010 at 08:24 am

correction: "no mention of a fate in...."

90. goxewu - July 24, 2010 at 09:33 am

Re #88:

* "...one can lead a good life and my belief is that they can be made one with God in the afterlife for they are already spiritually minded."

So, if one religion's as good as another in the afterlife (presumably even those that don't posit an afterlife), what's imperative to be of a particular belief, e.g., Catholicism?

* "...of arrogant conviction that humankind at its best is separate from and better than God the Maker"

Two things wrong with this: 1) one can be an atheist without being arrogant (it's only the few who stand up in public and advoate atheism who are labeled as "arrogant," while the thousandfold more who do the same touting their religions--and the putative necessity of converting in order to avoid some terrible fate in the putative afterlife--somehow aren't); 2) to say that humankind is "separate from and better than God the Maker" is to posit the existence of a "God the Maker," which is, of course, exactly what atheists don't do.

* I made no mention at all of rickinchina's being a missionary. Why would he bring it up?

* I've only spent a little time in China, and all of it in big cities, where the society seemed fairly civil to me. It's a big country, with 1,300,000,000 people, not all of them Han Chinese, a diverse geography, and it's not long removed from Mao and such things as the Cultural Revolution (just as Russia is not long removed from Stalin and the Terror and the Gulag). So I'd expect that pretty nearly everything under the sun, good and bad, can be found there. As for the materialism in the everyday sense (and not the philosophical idea of "dialectical materialism"), the Chinese are now pursuing "directed capitalism," with the goal of the "enrichment of the people." To most Chinese, that means a house, a car, and a TV. Sound familiar?

* Aw, c'mon, I need the whatever point rickinchina has about dropping nukes from bomber wings spelled out for me. Am I labeling under a misapprehension in thinking that a whole lot of the scientists on the Manhattan Project and in the crews of the two B-29s that dropped the only nukes that killed anybody were believing members in one major religion or another, who knew more or less what they were doing? And if that's the case, how can the deed of killing a few hundred thousand Japanese be laid solely at the feet of (a somehow godless) science?

* Christopher Hitchens is, by all accounts, a rather nasty guy. And some atheists are nasty guys. But a lot of atheists, e.g., Daniel Dennett, are fairly nice. They're just dogged and uncompromising, like so many religious people, many of whom seem to take great pride in being dogged and uncompromising. I'd even go so far to say that the nature of religious belief is to be dogged and uncompromising on the basis of something that nobody is allowed to argue with called "faith."

* How come when the likes of rickinchina "pity" atheists (#10), it's not arrogant, but when some atheists "pity" (I'm not one of 'em; I have more deserving people on whom to expend my pity) religious believers it's the height of arrogance?


91. goxewu - July 24, 2010 at 09:35 am

Sorry: "laboring under a misapprehension"

92. dinkytown - July 24, 2010 at 10:48 am

Good one, goxewu. The answer to rick's double standard is that he and his friends have God on their side and therefore they should rule the world. The US is only the start. Dominion theology, don't you know? In this way, they are like their Hindu fundamentalist counterparts in India and the Muslim fundamentalists in every Muslim majority country. If God is on your side, you never have to say you're sorry, think through your arguments, or anything else. Everything you do is right. Sorry, Rick, even if there is a God, He or She has little interest in us and no interest in you and your narrow-minded, parochial view of Him or Her. And if we don't like you, it has nothing to do with any notion that you could be right. We just don't like the fact that you want special privileges due to your supposed relationship with the big God in the Sky. For what it's worth, I'm an agnostic when it comes to Spinoza's or Einstein's god, but an atheist when it comes to rick's parochial little god.

93. paprieto - July 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm

rickinchina09,

You pity one of the most powerful intellects of our generation? If someone has explored the human spirit in all is grandeur and flaws is Hitchens. I feel somehow as if I was a traitor because God needs defenders but Hitch doesnt

94. bobkinkead - July 24, 2010 at 02:11 pm

I apologize if my public display of religion cheapened religion.

95. benjamin999 - July 25, 2010 at 05:11 am

Supertatie:
"Your antipathy to Judeo-Christian practices confirms what I continue to suspect: that some self-proclaimed intellectuals profess to be "tolerant" of many of the world's religious belief systems because they have no fear that they are true, but are wildly and inexplicably hostile to judeo-christianity precisely because they are afraid that it IS."
and I will add islam to the mix: you are trying to prove that Judeo-Christianity-Islam God(s) is/are true... You use the words truth and science very loosely, allot of science and especially the death experience is no science.
I urge you not bring up Hitchens childhood, he normal as he can be. The idea that Hitchens was abused by his father is a campaign smear by the rabai Shmuley, a spineless religious nut who only wants to make money in the name of religion.
Yes, I am tolerent to all religions, because the world religion does not mean anything to me.
Peace!

96. jruiz - July 25, 2010 at 10:50 am

Anyone else notice the irony of Hitchens' first name?

97. lakubo - July 26, 2010 at 12:42 am

Before thinking about the malignant consequences of prayer, read Francis Galton's empirical study of its efficacy. ("Statistical Inquiry into the Efficacy of Prayer", 1872)

98. goxewu - July 26, 2010 at 09:10 am

Re #96:

Unless Mr. Hitchens named himself at birth, what's the irony in his first name?

Mr. Hitchens's last name--which he didn't give himself, either--seems to have evolved from a Middle English word meaning to move abruptly. Is there some alleged irony in that, too?

99. ralandbeck - July 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm


I would think that God owes Mr. Hitchens a small debt of some sort. For with his other atheist friends, has forced a rethinking of religious ideas, well demonstrating their seriously flawed intellectual foundations. No, I'm sure God has no intention of taking down Mr. Hitchens. He has bigger fish to fry. Like how one demolishes two thousand years of theological counterfeit and tradition? Anyone for a literal proof of God? http://www.energon.org.uk

100. sahara - July 26, 2010 at 01:57 pm

Ya know, it's between Christopher and God, and you won't know the outcome until your own time comes...but if you really think that the end is just the end, then why not fast-forward and go there now?

101. 22250655 - July 26, 2010 at 02:48 pm

I continue to be dumbfounded by the people who think that Romano is taking advantage of Hitchens' illness to attack him and to advance a Christian agenda. Neither is true. Hitchens is a complex individual, and the article is complex as well. Romano treats Hitchens with considerably more sympathy than Hitchens extends to others. Then too, Romano is hardly a defender of Christian values. If he is, we need better friends. If nothing else, this lengthy set of comments demonstrates just how bigoted, illogical, ad hominem, and implacable the "new" atheists are.

102. darkroomjames - July 26, 2010 at 10:32 pm

@22250655

Nothing personal, sir(?), but it seemed to this post-Christian, post-secular humanist, believer in the God of the Order of the Periodic Table and the God of DNA (which both birthed all the human-made gods of all human history) that Romano was enjoying his little toot. A nuetral critic might read into it "A Monster Christian Self-Esteem Project" as a more apropos description. Does this phrase do anything for you? Character assassination or anger come to mind? Baiting the masks of unawares imposters does clarify hypocrasy and required self-study for honest, humble, and worthy Christians. I remember how traumatic it was to lose my belief in the supernatural Yahweh, and the terrible disorientation among secular humanists that I felt for decades.

I put it all in perspective by rebuilding the elements of the gods at the source: human experiences in the mind/brain that describe the world. God is a perception, not a conception... As students, we all learn our religious lessons and our science lessons second-hand, although lab in science allows first-hand witness. Lab in religion, alas, doesn't yield a first-hand god experience. (Unless one is an ethnic mystic taking ill-advised medicines.) We can't verify Jesus' encounters with God or the Devil, because this isn't 30 c.e. nor are any of us Jesus Christ.

Going off the deep end, one can join Reverend Sun-Myong Moon's Unification Church, but I'd just rather skip my own futurist church on lazy Sunday mornings! It's a whole lot easier to avoid applying for tax-exempt status, raising funds, fending off crazed critics, getting burned at the stake as a witch, getting arrested for preaching without a license, etc. And that means I still don't qualify as an atheist: a vaunted enemy of the FBI and police that (off the record) enforce bully Christianity.

To avoid further blabbing, I'm afraid I must banish my pen from the likes of possible infamy in the public square. I'm getting too old and lazy to have a young man's fun these days. Peace.

103. hbg8888 - August 13, 2010 at 03:20 am

As decent human beings we do not wish ill of anybody, as we've seen in many of the postings. However, Hitchens doesn't really care. Let's move on.

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