Saturday, September 04, 2010

Prayer, Deathbed Conversions, Cowardice

Very interesting commentary by the great writer, noted atheist and dying Christopher Hitchens in the newest Vanity Fair.

Hitchens has terminal throat cancer and Christians (and other religious sorts) have predictably different reactions to the news. Some see it as a punishment for his ungodly and profane ways. Others pray for his recovery, but not necessarily out of concern for his physical well-being ... or maybe I should say not as their first concern. They pray for the salvation of his soul.

Perhaps they are hoping for the frequent deathbed conversions that you hear of. He would denounce his life of impiety and irreverence. God truly IS good. But what worth is this kind of conversion? Why do sinners find God in prison? The same reason people do a lot of things ... fear. The thought of being alone and the fear that their life didn't mean anything scares people. And it should. But that should influence how you live your life, not what you do as the door is closing on your life. Those gestures are useless, meaningless, and cowardly.

"... Suppose I ditch the principles I have held for a lifetime, in the hope of gaining favor at the last minute? I hope and trust that no serious person would be at all impressed by such a hucksterish choice. Meanwhile, the god who would reward cowardice and dishonesty and punish irreconcilable doubt is among the many gods in which (whom?) I do not believe. I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better." -- Hitchens

Some of the most famous conversions are complete fabrications, most notably Charles Darwin's. It may be comforting to think that Darwin would renounce all that he believed before meeting his maker, but it simply wouldn't be true. Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins professing their faith at the end would make good press, but it should provide comfort to none. They themselves say it won't happen (Dawkins on Maher).

Pray for him if it suits you. He might even appreciate it:

"I think that prayer and holy water, and things like that are all fine. They don’t do any good, but they don’t necessarily do any harm. It’s touching to be thought of in that way. It makes up for those who tell me that I’ve got my just desserts … I wish it was more consoling. But I have to say there’s some extremely nice people, including people known to you, have said that I’m in their prayers, and I can only say that I’m touched by the thought."

I am not offended by someone saying they pray for me if something ill has befallen me. You mean well. But let that prayer be its own reward. Hoping for a conversion by Hitchens, me, or anyone is not really about us ... it's about you.

Talking about praying for someone publicly and even parading one's piety around like a badge of honor is something Jesus would not agree with:

… And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

But you see it all the time. I don't believe in God, but I do know that hypocrites and self-aggrandizers like Sarah Palin, Pat Robertson, and Glenn Beck don't know the mind of God any more than I do. And the surest proof that God doesn't exist is that these type of people haven't been struck down by Him.

So, in those last days, if you hear of Christopher Hitchens accepting God, don't believe it, or at the very least question his sanity. He'll "continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it's hello darkness my old friend.":

"As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be 'me.' (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)"


wunelle said...

These things--this schadenfreude of believers--make perfect sense when you think of these people publicly espousing a thing which they themselves know fails to find any rational or evidentiary confirmation. (On the contrary.) It's the expected reaction of someone who has thrown all in on one side only to realize the other side was right.

I am pre-mourning for Hitchens. His every column is now a treasure.

dbackdad said...

I am pre-mourning as well. I would hope in my final days, I'd approach it with as much humor, clarity, and to borrow a religious term, grace.

CyberKitten said...

I'm pretty confident that no death-bed conversion will be taking place!