Outspoken atheist and author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens died Thursday at the age of 62. Hitchens was fighting esophageal cancer. Coincidentally, Mr. Hitchens was being treated and subsequently died (relatively) close to my home in Houston, TX.
Given my interests in philosophy, theology and Christian Apologetics, I have watched, listened and read a fair amount of Mr. Hitchens’ material. Without a doubt, my most memorable Hitchens moment was his debate with Dr. William Lane Craig, conducted on the campus of Biola University. The topic was: Does God exist? This debate was fascinating. Although some may disagree, the general consensus was Craig won the debate, hands down. In fact, one atheist summed up the debate by saying:
Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.
Hitchens’ death triggered a few reflections that I would like to share. First, if atheism is correct, it does not ultimately provide any answers on the God question. What I mean is, if there were no God then the deceased would never be able to know this. Given atheism, when one dies, that is it. There are no thoughts or reflections after death. Obviously, one could not reflect on the existence of a divine being if they were not thinking. This is not an argument against atheism, only a reflection that even if the atheist turned out to be correct (I don’t think they are), they would never know it.
But on the other hand, if there is a God, the atheist knows without a doubt if God exists, postmortem. For if atheists are wrong, things do not go well for them in the afterlife. For this reason, I truly hope that Christians will think before they make snide, off color, rude or back handed comments about Hitchens or any other non-Christian’s eternal fate.
I think even the atheist would agree that, if Hell really does exist, it surely is nothing to joke about.
Christians ought not make light of someone who rejected the pardon that Christ. For we are all sinful (Rom. 3:23), and only by the grace of God, through Christ, can one be forgiven (Eph. 2:8).
Moreover, as I reflected on the death of Mr. Hitchens, I was reminded of his staunch rejection and hatred of God. He was in utter rebellion. I felt bad for him and hoped someday, before his inescapable death, saving grace would be found. Sadly, the many reports I’ve read say that nothing of the sort occurred…even in his final moments.
But what struck the strongest was the idea that Mr. Hitchens and I are not much different. Granted, he hated God and spoke against Him frequently and publicly. But ultimately I’m just as guilty as Hitchens. I’ve sinned against God, a lot. There are many mornings when I awake and reflect on my sin and it makes me ill. Even worse, at other times the sickness subsides and a different emotion surfaces: apathy. What could be worse?
It’s important to remember that all of us are the same. None follow after God (Rom. 3:10). We are all in rebellion. The fact of the matter is some simply hide it better than others. Hitchens, you and I are all in the same boat. Deep down, this is obvious. We all need forgiveness.
Therefore, let the death of one of the leading atheists, spur on reflections about rejection and sinfulness; not of the recently departed, but rather of the guilty reflection found in any mirror.
May God have mercy on us all.