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Not Everyone Is Praying for Christopher Hitchens Today

Sep 20 2010
I worry that Christians have jumped on praying for the atheist just to reaffirm their own faith.

One of this generation's most celebrated atheists, Christopher Hitchens, is dying. He has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Since his cancer was made public, people of various faith traditions have been encouraging others to pray for the man who penned God Is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything, an indulgent bestseller rant against all things God. There's an online push designating September 20 as Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day. There's a Facebook page for those committed to Praying for Christopher Hitchens. Robert Barron, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, wrote an essay for CNN on "Why Christians should pray for Christopher Hitchens." And Larry Taunton, executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama, has issued a video blog urging Christians to pray for Hitchens.

Taunton recently drove to Washington, D.C., to fetch Hitchens and carry him back to Birmingham for a previously scheduled debate about all things God with David Berlinski, author of The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. A reported 1,200 people turned up for the event.

Asked what he considered the most damaging tenet of the Christian faith, Hitchens said, "The idea of vicarious redemption is a disgusting moral teaching … it abandons moral responsibility. Faith is a refuge in cowardice."

Hitchens is no lightweight atheist. He considers faith the least admirable of all virtues. He doesn't even like the term "atheist" because it leaves too much wiggle room for the notion of God. In his most current book, Hitch-22, a memoir, he says, "I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with 'you' in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. That modesty is too arrogant for me."

Hitchens has cultivated a keen knack for the ironic as was evident during a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for The Atlantic.

"Does it offend you that people are praying for you?" Goldberg asked.

"No. No," Hitchens replied. "I take it kindly on the assumption that they are praying for my recovery, but not to be saved."

Under no circumstances does Hitchens want people praying for his salvation. And should a rumor circulate that at some point during this process of dying he has made some death-bed confession, Hitchens warns people to not believe it. Perhaps, in some state of delirium, some state of physical anguish, such a prayer would be uttered, don't put any stock into it. It would only be a raving, mad entity whose cancer had spread to the brain, he said.

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