This is not one of those reflections on the death of Christopher Hitchens, in which the writer labors to bolt his meager little meteor to that man’s literary supernova. I’ve read enough of those to make me retch, if not from their insipid attempts to rival his prose, then from their shameless me-and-Hitch reveries (“Once he stepped on my toe in the restroom at Le Bernardin, and I took the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated his essay on Mother Teresa, which though strident was quintessential Hitch…”).
I never met Hitchens. We never traded emails. I will not now reflect on his oeuvre, or narcissistically hold forth on what his death means to me. I prayed for him and I was sad when he died and whatever comes after that is between him and God.
Something of his that stuck with me came in the midst of my repudiating Calvinism. It was in one of his Atlantic book reviews. Who knows of what book; it didn’t really matter because it was Hitchens. He wrote that a popular Christian notion that heaven will entail standing in heaven for eternity and singing worship hymns sounds, well, like hell.
(Here we might pause, and ask to what extent his atheism could be attributed to the piss-poor theology of Christians.)
Oh my God, I thought, he’s right. At first I felt bad, because you’re supposed to love God and want to stand for eternity singing to him, just like you’re supposed to pretend to your church friends that you love prayer and being in the Word and having quiet time with God, when in reality sometimes you just want to scream at God and then curl up with a bottle of wine and a book that has nothing to do with religion whatsoever.
Which isn’t God’s fault, mind you, and chances are he knows that and forgives you and loves you all the same, loves you so much that in heaven there will be wine and books and more to do than stand around singing praise choruses, which, let’s be honest, have about as much likelihood of being in heaven as an Usher ditty.
Like I said, this is not an essay about Hitchens.
The point is, I wish someone would write an essay titled “The Hidden Christianity of Chris.” The first half would be sorting out just exactly what he believed Christianity is, and delineating how far removed that mish-mash of popular platitudes and misinterpreted scriptures is from actual dogma. The second half would be filled with things like this, from Mick Brown’s fine piece about Hitchens in The Telegraph sometime back:
“I felt the urge to tell him that such was his fighting spirit I was sure that he would win this most critical of battles.
‘It’s funny you say so,’ he said. ‘I hope you’re a person of hidden intuition. I actually don’t feel that. I can’t tell you why. It’s almost as hard for me to imagine being around in the next 10 years as not being, strangely enough. But it’s not in my hands, fortunately.’”
This sense that there is sense beyond the senses, the wistful human tendency to project forward to a time when we will not be in this world, the belief that sometimes it is good not to be in charge of one’s destiny — if only Hitch had seen more of these truths in the teachings of those he combated.
And if only he had seen how utterly outside Christian tradition were the Falwells and Robertsons and other quacks and blow-hards whom he so dearly loved to lampoon. How firmly does he stand with the Church fathers, contra modern evangelical Americans, for example, with this defense of the King James Bible:
“To seek relentlessly to update it or make it ‘relevant’ is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare.”
Then again, the internet is a big place, and maybe someone’s already written this much-needed essay. If so, can someone please direct me to it?