Hitch is barely cold and already the ghouls are coming for the corpse. It’s the strangest approach, too — they’re all sounding like Mormons, trying to retroactively baptize him in their faith.
Case #1: Ross Douthat. But then you knew that Christian hack would do his best to turn an atheist’s death into a moral fable for his faith. He compares his literary gifts to G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis and thereby, by some strange rambling logic, claims him as a kindred spirit, actually cites Hitchens denying that he was going to abandon his lifelong and strongly held principles and convert on his deathbed, only to then concludes that Hitchens wouldn’t have given in to atheistic despair. It’s appalling, sleazy, and contemptible, and exposes Douche-hat as someone completely incapable of comprehending any other perspective than his god-bothering own.
Do go read Charles Pierces’s takedown. If the NY Times had any sense, they’d fire Douthat on the spot (because he’s a fucking dimwitted ghoul), and put Pierce in his place (because he actually has talent and perspicacity).
Case #2: Scott Stephens. Stephens is the religion editor at ABC Online, and he actually makes Douthat look good. Douthat at least is constrained by the Times in his length; Stephens has a kind of spirit-infused theological diarrhea that he pours onto the page. I swear, I blacked out several times trying to read the whole thing — I think he was trying a novel argument for the soul by doing his best to make mine sick to the point of pining for mortality.
His obit is a weird one that simultaneously tries to be generous in its praise while sinking to new depths. One of the running themes seems to be ‘Hitchens got fat’, with comments like “his increasingly corpulent body”, “overindulged jowls”, “bloated, hirsute complexion” (that last one is strange) — aha, I thought, so that’s what Conservapædia looks like dressed up with a clerical collar and a thesaurus.
But then, he tries to “distill the essence” of Hitchens, and concludes that he was, at heart, a Christian. He quotes Hitchens saying that the Pope was one of his three most deeply hated people in the world (the others being bin Laden and Kissinger), and then declares that Hitchens’ anti-totalitarianism was exactly like the Pope’s.
Yet, on the other hand, it was precisely the form of rigorously Christocentric humanism advocated by Pope Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, that constituted the most powerful and persuasive critique of the totalitarian regimes of Eastern Europe. Moreover, it was from Christianity itself that Hitchens derived his keen sense of the illegitimacy, the idolatry of totalitarian power.
And then he quotes Hitchens acknowledging the contribution of Christianity.
The greatest contribution of Christianity in my life is the reminder of the complete ephemerality of human power, and indeed human existence – the transience of all states, empires, heroes, grandiose claims, and so forth. That’s always with me, and I daresay I could have got that from Einstein … and from Darwin. But the way I got it and the way it is implanted in me is certainly by Christianity.
That’s from a public conversation he had with his brother. But Stephens doesn’t bother to mention what Hitchens said further down:
If anything could prove what I so much believe, which is that we are not made by God and never were and could not have been, but that many, many gods have been made by men and women and it is precisely the other way around, the basic claim of materialism — if nothing else could persuade me of that obvious truth, the behavior of religion itself would be enough.
Hitchens was always blunt and plain-spoken about his opinion of religion. He would not ever deny that he was a product of a Western and English culture that had religion wrapped around its roots (like a parasitic fungus, I would say), he was also explicit in his denial of the validity of god-belief, and was frank in his accusations of the folly of faith. For a Christian to now try and put the mantle of Christianity on him is repulsive and disrespectful — it’s like witnessing the desecration of a corpse. The corpse may not mind anymore, but it’s still a distasteful spectacle and gives the lie to any pretense of appreciation of the person who once resided in that body.
But then, that’s what ghouls do.
It’s also such peculiar behavior. When popes die, you don’t find atheists lining up to write encomiums in which they claim that he was really an atheist, deep down, and that he lived as a humanist rather than a Catholic. When William Lane Craig dies, no one will speculate that he denied the gods on his deathbed; when Scott Stephens croaks, no one will winnow through his columns, straining occasional words and phrases out of context to suggest that maybe he really was sympathetic to atheism after all. They are who they are, deluded dunces who invoke no sense of envy in us at all.
And maybe that’s the explanation. Hitchens was a man of palpable talent and immense rhetorical skill, and maybe we should recognize it as flattery that these Christians desperately wish to appropriate him.
But there is one thing anyone who read his works could know: Hitchens was an atheist, without qualification.