The Christianity of Chris

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?


  1. Abel Winn

    He wrote that a popular Christian notion that heaven will entail standing in heaven for eternity and singing worship hymns sounds, well, like hell.

    In my experience it’s usually the worship pastor that peddles that particular heresy.

  2. Deb

    Douglas Wilson’s book, God Is, a response to Hitchen’s book, God is not Great gets at the inescapable knowledge every person has of God.

    Try as he might to deny God’s existence, Hitchens could never escape the fact that he was created in the image of God. Hitchens frequently crawled up onto God’s lap in order to slap Him with facts about His non-existence and the foolishness of His followers.

  3. Mary

    I want to read that essay, too. Badly. Most atheists I know are jaded ex-believers (or near believers) that got pummeled on the head by wrong theology so often and so mercilessly that they have no choice but to fight back. Aiming at the wrong target, unfortunately. The only time the insipid idea of singing and praising God all day long, day-in and day-out for all eternity seems like a good idea is when Earth itself is such Hell that anything as simple and straightforward as that seems a welcome relief. And, let’s face it, thinking of Heaven that way sure simplifies matters. But what about our God is simple? Perhaps it comforts some people (as was mentioned, worship pastors) and maybe those who have no energy for anything else — or who fear that in the New Heaven and New Earth their job will be something distasteful like dung-heap specialist (they’d better not be angling for my job!). Whatever the reason for such simple-mindedness, I do wish people would take an honest look at the God they know in their hearts, the God of the Universe with its intricacy and beauty and stop speculating on Heaven like it’s a known quantity. What is it about humans that we need to tether God to our meager expectations?

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