Hitchens, Prayer, and Decency

August 10, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More

Christopher Hitchens has esophageal cancer.  He is undergoing chemotherapy.  His prognosis is not good, as this is a particularly nasty form of cancer with a low survival rate.

It turns out that many people are praying for his recovery, which I find ironic but wonderful.  This is, I’ve been told, what true christianity is supposed to be like—extending the benevolence of your faith to those who might qualify as an enemy.  If only all christians were like that.  If only those who are like that were the loudest voices.

Image: Wikipedia

Unfortunately, the screaming meme misanthropic anti-intellectual pre-Enlightenment ignoramus branch of the movement tends to dominate a lot of the discourse, from the supporters of Proposition 8 to those who are not only praying for Hitch to die, but are sending notice of such prayers to public fora and putting megaphone to mouth so as many people as they can blast with their message will hear.

I will let Jeffrey Goldberg, correspondent for The Atlantic, express it for me.  He summed my feelings up quite nicely here.

I know many christians who find their uncouth brethren-in-name an embarrassment.  When they say that “we’re not all like that” they tell the truth.  It is my personal opinion that they would “not be like that” whether they believed in god or nothing, that decency has no denomination and requires no supernatural support mechanism.  I agree with the sentiments of people like Hitch and Richard Dawkins that by and large most people are secular, both in their outlook and their morality, that what is considered good and decent behavior today and what is considered unsupportable have changed over time and it is the pressure of evolving cultural demands, not any new revelation, that has had the most positive effect.  The Enlightenment, wherein many if not all of the ideas of equality and human dignity and the motives for social justice and progress came into their own, was a para-religious movement, sometimes a-religious, occasionally anti-religious.  We do not, most of us, live according to biblical precepts and rules nor would we find it acceptable to do so.

Whatever the reality, Hitch has argued that history is littered with the bodies of religion’s victims, and while it is legitimate to say that those who performed the atrocities did so outside the proper moral ground of religious feeling, it is also legitimate to argue that they in fact found justification for their actions in those same feelings and in the writings of their various faiths.

Hitch has spoken positively about Jesus the man and has argued that whoever he was, he was ahead of his time, a great teacher, and laid down a program those who have claimed for two millennia to be his followers have in aggregate failed to live up to.  Those who are praying for Hitch to recover, to be well, are, in this moment, succeeding.  They should deny those who pray for his death the use of the sobriquet Christian.  Not in that they are not living up to the expectations of their faith—in their eyes they are—but in that they have failed to see how their faith has severed them from legitimate moral feeling.

I do not pray.  But I wish Hitch well.  And for all those believers praying on his behalf—I wish you all well, too.

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Category: Bigotry, Culture, Current Events, Good and Evil, Religion

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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  1. Rob says:

    Quite right and well said. I have been late to the table with the New Atheists. I've been recently getting a crash course of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris via podcasts.

    They've all been asked the question on whether they would be doing what they are doing (proselytizing atheism) if all religious people were the current moderate version of their religion. They all similarly answered that they probably would not.

    I have no real beef with people who are religious. I think they are mostly, if not completely, delusional. Regardless, there is a lot of good that comes from religion. Jesus' philosophy is certainly not a bad one to emulate. It doesn't get much better than the Golden Rule (although it didn't originate with Christianity).

    I celebrate Christians that pray for Hitchens because that's what they do when they care.

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