By Steven Grahmann

Why I Mourn Christopher Hitchens

I didn’t know Christopher Hitchens personally. We never spent time with each other, never had a one-on-one conversation, and never went to a bar together to debate the existence of God and the meaning of life. In fact, I never even saw him speak live. But when I heard of his death this past December, I was surprised with the deep sense of personal loss and sadness I felt.

My sadness deepened as I heard the reactions some of my Christian friends had to Hitchens’ death, especially online. I suppose I should have expected the flippant and hurtful comments I saw springing up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds that day (I won’t repeat them, but most boiled down to some derogatory and gleeful declaration that he’s getting his due in hell), but I was frustrated all the same. I had a sense that many of the people making these comments had actually been waiting for this moment, waiting to say “I told you so.”

And I realized that this attitude is pervasive in many of us as Christians - when our faith is threatened or questioned, especially by someone as intelligent and unflinching as Hitchens and others in his new-atheist movement, we choose to shrink back and avoid the threat, hoping it will go away. And when it does, even if it means the death of someone God loves, some of us rejoice.

Don’t get me wrong, Hitchens infuriated me. He said things that offended me to my core. I believe he did much more harm to the world than good, and I mourn those who have abandoned their faith because of him. I also believe the hard truth of scripture, which states that if Hitchens still clung to his unwavering unbelief in Jesus (which I can only assume he did), he is spending his eternity apart from Him.  However, I did not rejoice that day, for two reasons.

First, I was just plain sad. Even though I’d never met Hitchens, I felt a connection with him. His books and lectures, though difficult, helped me think critically about my faith in a way I’d never done before. I hoped and prayed I’d be able to tell him that someday, as I hoped and prayed that a miracle would happen and he would embrace Jesus in all His beautiful irrationality. So when Hitchens died, I was sad.

Second, it reminded me of our unwillingness as Christians to allow Jesus to speak to us through non-Christians. Instead of shrinking from Hitchens, I treated him like I treat the atheist students I come in contact with on campus: I allowed him to engage my mind and heart, leaned on the wisdom of the God of the universe, and came out on the other side a better thinker, apologist, and evangelist. When those atheist students on campus tell me they’ve never had a conversation with a Christian like they just had with me, I owe it in large to that engagement and to the fact that I didn’t shrink back. 

So I mourned the death of Christopher Hitchens. I mourned the attitude many of us have concerning those like him. And I prayed that I would continue to allow Jesus to make and shape me through everyone I come in contact with, whether they agree with me or not.

Watch Christopher Hitchens and John Haldane's entire discussion on 'We Don't Do God'? Secularism and Faith in the Public Square at The Veritas Forum

Steven Grahmann has been on staff with InterVarsity for eleven years, and is currently the Area Director in Arizona.  He speaks regularly at Large Groups and conferences around the state and region.  He also has a weekly running podcast called Two Gomers Run For Their Lives at www.twogomers.com or follow him on Twitter @gomer2.

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Comments

Steve, Thank you for this thoughtful and generous post. I felt much the same way that you did about Mr. Hitchen's passing. While much of what those in the new Atheist movement have said about faith, in general, and Christianity, in particular, has frustrated or offended me at times, I have appreciated the challenge that they have brought to the table and the intellectual engagement that their questions and arguments foster. In fact, in a recent sermon series entitled "Faith vs. Reason?", I encouraged my congregation members to read books by both Christian and non-Christian thinkers to help strengthen their own faith and witness. I mentioned books by Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Dawkins and was surprised by the response that I received from some of the members of my church. One person was angered that I even mentioned an atheist's book in church. Personally, I believe that this kind of intellectual engagement in a must for Christians, especially in our increasingly globalized world. I am saddened by those who fail to see this or who simply attack those with whom we disagree. Rather, I believe it is our responsibility to, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). So thank you again for including this post. Sincerely, Nick

So GLAD you wrote this! I felt the same way. Out of Christ's own mouth He said in Matthew "by your standard of judgement you will be judged," and even all through the old testament (esp. in Ezekiel) God declares that "He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked." It is sad that Christ came to "save the world, not condemn it" yet we as Christians do the opposite. I loved Hitchens and he challenged Christians beliefs at their core! Which is good. We need to know why we believe and definitely (as Hitchens historically exposed) need to "walk in a manner worthy of our calling." Sad, when we who claim to experience the Grace of God, refuse to give it to those who need it the most, the lost.

Steven, A great real response, thank you for your deep understanding of the power of love and Christ. To say with our lips and then follow through with our actions, as you have just wrote will have the unbelieving world simply finding unbelievable. thank you for all you do, still mentoring me years after I have left college! thanks Jamey McIntosh

We should not respect Hitchens. He was not a great thinker. He was completely wrong on the most vital question of all, so all of his thinking that led to that conclusion was flawed. He was a well spoken idiot. Most atheists are both hypocrites and a cowards, unwilling to admit and accept the nihilistic ramifications of their worldview. I haven't read much of Hitchens, but would guess that he falls into that category. We need to remember that Hitchens is worse that Hitler. Hitler destroyed the physical body, while Hitchens goal was to destroy the soul. Did I celebrate Hitchens' passing? No. Did I mourn it? Absolutely not. His punishment is as much to the glory of God as is the salvation of those that follow Christ. IVCF should be more concerned for the Gospel and less with trying to being respected in Godless academic circle.

You had an interesting comment: "I haven't read much of Hitchens, but would guess that he falls into that category." Whether it's Harry Potter or Hitchens, many Christians, I find are quick to make assumptions and not listen to what is being said. A month before Hitchens died, I had no idea who he was. And then I picked up an audio book by him at the local library to help pass the time on a long car ride. The book was "God is Not Great. How Religion Poisons" everything. I thought to myself, "Let's see how the other side thinks and has to offer..." Yes, he was condescending, militant and dismissive, but I wanted to see what he had to offer. That's where I was really amazed. He didn't really offer anything. He did make some good points I would have to agree with, but he seemed empty. If you accept the world - and truth - as only what you can see and hear and can "verify" you are in a difficult position. No. I would not recommend his books to a new Christian, but to older Christians seated well in life and the faith, he offers a glimpse into the heart of the lost.

Thank you for this. I had a reaction similar to yours - I don't think I'd ever read any Hitchens while he lived, but I prayed for him occasionally in the months before his death (I wish now I'd been more consistent), hoping he'd find Jesus, and was surprised by the depth of my own sadness when he died. ...I think the best reason not to be gleeful and derogatory at the death of an atheist is that, without God's work in our lives, many of us could easily have been atheists ourselves. It's probably what would have happened to me.

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