The first listed in the article referenced the Bible and encapsulated in a phrase what I always liked about Hitchens—namely, his consequentiality and unflinching determination to bash and shatter anything he perceived as a false idol: He called the New Testament "a work of crude carpentry, hammered together long after its purported events, and full of improvised attempts to make things come out right."
That said, though, I have to say I have always found the man, like many an idol-smasher, mean-spirited and unlovable. A man smitten with one faultless hero (George Orwell) and countless irredeemable villains (everyone else). Always on the attack.
I mentioned Hitchens in one of my own books, A Field Guide to God, in which I explore the difficulties inherent in sensing the presence of an invisible, inaudible, and intangible God. In a chapter on Mother Teresa’s heartbreaking struggle to sense God’s presence, I wrote,
Could she have actually lost her faith? I wondered as I read her confessions. Or never had faith to begin with? Perhaps she was simply the manipulative hypocrite that her main detractor—her atheist counterpart in fame, Christopher Hitchens—presents her as in the book-length attack on Mother Teresa he wrote during her lifetime. In a review of Come Be My Light entitled “Teresa, Bright and Dark,” Hitchens diagnosed Mother Teresa’s spiritual dilemma as “the inevitable result of a dogma that asks people to believe impossible things and then makes them feel abject and guilty when their innate reason rebels.” He summed up her work as “a strenuous and almost hysterical effort to drown out the awful fear of ‘absence.’” He mocked even the anguish of her letters and found in her loss of a sense of God’s presence gleeful support for his own view that “the absence of evidence is evidence of absence.” In another review, he dismissed her as a “fraud.”
The BBC’s list contains many similarly dismissive sounding one-liners. We should dismiss scripture: "Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and—since there is no other metaphor—also the soul." We should dismiss Christianity’s or anyone else’s claims on the individual: “Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you." We should dismiss even our selves: “Suspect your own motives, and all excuses.”But, especially as he neared death, Hitchens’ voice sounded less secure about such dismissals. “It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one's everyday life as if this were so,” he once seemed to lament. Later, though, undergoing chemotherapy, "My main fear is of being incapacitated or imbecilic at the end. It's not something to be afraid of, it's something to be terrified of." Oh, let it be a joke!
Hitchens didn’t dismiss Mother Teresa, finally. He went on and on and on and on about her in books and articles. He talked about her so much that the Catholic church chose him as the best possible naysayer required—who knew?—in its canonization process as Teresa made her first post-death steps toward sainthood.
And that is the hope I take on his behalf. That, finally, he couldn’t just let the hope for something better lie.
As the writer of Hebrews points out of the Canaanite prostitute Rahab and Sarah—who laughed derisively when told that her lifetime of prayers for a son had been answered—and many others who predated Jesus:
They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. . . . [T]hey were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13, 16).