This morning brings news of the death of the public intellectual Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens had been battling with esophogeal cancer for the past year or so, a struggle he chronicled in the pages of Vanity Fair, where he was a longtime columnist. Fr. James Martin, SJ, has a wonderful blog post on Hitchens today. It really is must reading. Fr. Martin writes, “Someone asked me this morning what I hoped for Christopher Hitchens … and my first response was to say that I hope he’s pleasantly surprised. And I do.”
As do I. Obviously, I didn’t agree with Hitchens on much, especially his atheism and his perplexing defense of the war in Iraq. But in a country where the public discourse grows more stupid by the day – where stupidity is even counted as a qualification for high office in some quarters – Hitchens was a reminder that there is great value in intelligence, clear articulation and the honest search for truth. Hitchens found the claims of the Christian faith wanting, even perverse. But he took them seriously in a way even many Christians do not. He challenged Christians to defend the often contradictory practice of our faith, and to reconcile the seeming absurdity of its assumptions with the hard truths of the world around us. I never viewed Hitchens as an enemy of Christianity, but he was one of its most severe critics. And thank God for that. The honest critic is always a friend of those who seek the truth.
I’ll close with words that Hitchens would have found hopelessly irrational and even a bit demeaning when applied to him. I don’t care, and whether he or we were right about what happens at death, I’m confident he doesn’t care any longer either: “Eternal rest grant to him, Lord. In your mercy, welcome Christopher and all those for whom you died into your peace.”