Can we control our atheist image after death?

An evangelical Christian author claims that he had private conversations with Christopher Hitchens just before he died where the latter had contemplated becoming a Christian.

Of course fake stories of deathbed conversions of prominent atheists are not new, with Voltaire and Charles Darwin being prominent examples. Hitchens was well aware of this and in his last days went to extraordinary lengths to warn people not to be taken in by such stories about him.

But can one really prevent this kind of story? People who are dying publicly often have a stream of visitors towards the end even though they usually die alone or in the company of a very few people, and atheists usually have many religious people among their circle of friends and relatives. Even if the people at the final bedside deny hearing any kind of conversion, there is nothing to stop any of the earlier visitors claiming that the deceased secretly told them of having second thoughts. I think we have no choice but to expect that the death of any prominent atheist is going to be followed by a story of conversion.

Oddly enough, I have not seen the reverse, of reports of very religious people at the end telling those close to them that they actually suspected that there was no god, unless there is concrete evidence like in the case of the posthumous publication of Mother Theresa’s letters describing her struggles with belief.

I suspect that the problem for believers is that they find it hard to accept that atheists can face with equanimity the thought of death being the end. On the other hand, atheists understand that the idea of heaven and god, while not doing anything for them personally, can for others be a source of comfort that they will cling on to until the very end.


  1. says

    Character assassination of the dead, attacking those who can no longer defend themselves, only works some of the time. The next obvious step is revisionism, to claim to speak for those who no longer can. As you said above, Bojaxhiu’s own letters speak volumes about her doubts, no one had to put words into her mouth (except to feed the cult of personality).

    As with anti-trans and anti-gay nonsense, as with racist propaganda, those peddling it are pandering to those willing to swallow fictions. It’s easy to make a rabid mob believe lies when they are already predisposed to believe them.

  2. says

    Mother Theresa’s last words were “more blow, gin, and porn, please…” It’s true. I heard it from an angel who was there. It’s why she wasn’t ascended into heaven and remained just a sad corpse of meat like all the others.

    The problem is it’s not news when holy rollers are discovered to be hypocrites. But in Hitchens’ case it’d be news? During his lifetime Hitchens had enemies like Tony Blair and Noam Chomsky. It’s sad to see such a sharp drop in quality. He was no Voltaire (because only Voltaire could be…) but he deserves better.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    I wouldn’t want to control any image I had had as an atheist in life. After I’m dead, dude, I am DEAD, and by definition past caring. In any case, anyone who knows me at all would see straight through any scum charlatan who tried to pretend I’d recanted at the last, as I suspect anyone who really knew Hitchens does. And that is what they reveal themselves to be by this type of calumny -- the worst kind of person, the worst sort of coward.

  4. Randall Lee says

    After death images of the dead are only maintained by the living. The degree of veracity that such an image will have remains a combination of the record of one’s life’s work and the ability and desire of the living to convey that record.
    To a large degree, we can’t even control our image while we live. There are always those who seek to either reveal any hypocrisy we may have or to paint us as hypocritical if at all possible, the first of which should be done rightly so.

  5. doublereed says

    There’s something really gross and disgusting about doing that to another human being. Opportunistic slander.

    I would ask how such a person lives with themselves, but I’m afraid the answer would be that they live quite comfortably with a decent cash flow.

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