As the holiest of Christian holidays approaches, I find myself reflecting on that great patron saint of the modern atheist movement, Christopher Hitchens, who was born, as it happens, during the Easter season.
When Hitchens was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2010, there was an outpouring of sympathy from believers around the world. Hitchens was acerbic, combative, provocative, and often offensive, but he could also be delightfully witty and likable. Many believers prayed for him during his illness and wrote encouraging letters to him. Hitchens took it all graciously, even commenting that the prayers were a show of concern, solidarity, and kindness. Nevertheless, he dismissed them as utterly useless and cited a 2006 study on the “Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer,” in which no correlation could be found between “the number and regularity of prayers offered and the likelihood that the person being prayed for would have improved chances.”
This is typical of the kind of atheistic thinking that so confounds people with common sense. It’s one thing to say you don’t believe in God — intelligent people can argue rationally about that. It’s quite another to make a ridiculous attempt to empirically observe and measure how God might go about answering people who pray to him — as if the Almighty Creator of the Cosmos would consent to be treated like some kind of High School science project.
The fact that Hitchens — a truly brilliant man — couldn’t recognize this is more proof that the dogmatism of atheists is sometimes powerful enough to overwhelm their whole thinking process.
Ironically, in the last year of his life, Hitchens received a good deal of care from a Catholic hospital in Washington D.C., with chaplains and nuns darting through the corridors, religious images on the walls, and crucifixes hung above all the doors — including the one in his room.
This interesting fact was reported by his wife in an interview she gave after his death, in which she complained that it was a bit “unsettling” to see such blatant Christian symbols all around them, especially while Hitchens lay on his bed, so sick. She said, “Perhaps we’d like to see a picture of the human genome. Perhaps that would be preferable to a giant Cross. I mean, how far is this going to get you in the modern world of medicine?”
A human genome?
Even in the face of death, atheistic absurdity knows no limits. The purpose of the crosses on the walls, of course, was to serve as a reminder to all the sick and suffering patients in the hospital that God himself underwent great suffering too, and that no matter what the outcome of their particular ailment, the end of the human story is not death, but resurrection and life.
Predictably, atheists like Hitchens failed to see either the simplicity or the sublimity of such a consoling message. They immediately jumped to the conclusion that because a cross was hung on a hospital wall (instead of a genome), the hospital must therefore not value science and medicine as highly as it should.
Somehow they failed to notice the much more important (and obvious) fact that the hospital itself was Catholic. It wasn’t an atheist hospital — there are none of those — and it wasn’t even a privately owned secular hospital. It was a hospital founded by the church, built by the church, and administered, in large part, by the church. Until the very end, the man who wrote that “religion poisons everything” couldn’t escape religious kindness.
Ultimately, the tragedy of Christopher Hitchens’s life is not that he died too soon, but that he failed in his search to find the truth. He failed to find it even when it was staring him right in the face.
As he lay on his hospital bed, weak and suffering, I’m sure he looked up at least occasionally and saw that big cross hanging over the doorway. That great, central symbol of Christianity contained all the truth he could ever hope for.
It contained the truth that there is a God and that he is not merely some abstraction but a personal, caring Creator and Father. It contained the truth that he is a Father who loves us so much that he became one of us and even suffered death for us. It contained the truth that the key to life is love; the key to love is self-sacrifice; and the key to self-sacrifice is the surrender of our own will in order to do the will of the Father.
It even contained the truth about the mystery of evil in the world. For the greatest evil ever committed was right there over Hitchens’ hospital door — the evil of the crucifixion; the murder of God by his own creatures. And yet, what did God manage to do with the most monstrous of all human deeds?
Out of the darkness of the crucifixion he brought forth the light of the resurrection. In a stunning and miraculous act of reversal, God turned evil on its head — redeeming mankind, and throwing open the gates of heaven so that one day we could all be reunited with our friends and loved ones for eternity.
If God was able to turn the worst kind of evil into the greatest kind of good, doesn’t that also mean that he can turn lesser kinds of evils into good as well? Doesn’t that mean he can take the bad things that happen to us in our lives and somehow transform them and bring some kind of blessing out of them?
That is the great truth we celebrate at Easter.
Christopher Hitchens tried his best to escape from it, but his efforts were futile. Just as he couldn’t get away from the fact that he was born with the very name of God branded into his identity — Christopher, after all, means “bearer of Christ” — so, too, he couldn’t get away from the cross of Christ as he lay dying.
In the end, God always has the last word.
Anthony DeStefano is the bestselling author of more than fifteen Christian books for adults and children, including "Inside the Atheist Mind: Unmasking the Religion of Those Who Say There is No God," "A Travel Guide to Heaven," "Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To," "The Donkey No One Could Ride, and Little Star." He has hosted two television series on EWTN and has received many awards and honors from religious organizations throughout the world. A Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, he is an avid pilot, a successful businessman, and a longtime pro-life activist, having worked with Fr. Frank Pavone for over two decades. Anthony has appeared on many national television and radio programs, including Fox’s "America’s Newsroom," CNN, the 700 Club, Focus on the Family Radio, and Janet Parshall’s “In the Market.” He lives with his wife, Jordan, in New Jersey. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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