Mortality

Mortality

You always listen a little more intently when it’s a man’s last words. Sadly, Hitch didn’t have much to say. Atheists rarely do at death’s door. Preparing to die without the anticipation of future hope is very sad business indeed. One of his saddest lines in the book is:

“One finds that every passing day represents more and more relentlessly subtracted from less and less”

As Hitch suffers he is forced to confess a truth about grave illness:

“It forces you to examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings”

One such confidant that withers under the scrutiny of Hitch’s suffering is Nietzsche. His famous maxim “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a load of bilge! Hitch’s battle with cancer had only made him weaker, not stronger. Was a pillar starting to crumble? Maybe.

But Hitch still had plenty of spunk. He is at his best when pointing out the flaws of organized religion – he is very good at it. His criticisms in many cases should not be ignored. Other times, he gets more of an “eye roll” from me.

For example:

On Prayer: The idea of prayer disgusts him. He mentions a statistic from some non-footnoted study about how prayer makes things worse – and then moves on. I give him a pass for his poor scholarship since he was dying when he wrote it. Who has time to check facts when any day could be your last?

“Don’t trouble heaven with your bootless cries!” is the counsel of this dying man.

He reminds me of Monsieur Thénardier in Les Miserables

“And the God of Heaven, he don’t interfere, cause he’s dead as the stiffs at my feet, I raise my eyes to the heavens and only the moon, the harvest moon shines down…” 

That’s one way to look at life, I guess, but why would you? “Because, it’s the truth!” is the loud bombastic response I’m imagining. Is it? We are all of faith. Hitch believed his story of rugged materialism and reason alone to the bitter end – it was his faith story. For me I’m picking Jean Val Jean over Monsieur Thenaridier, thank you very much.

On Eternity: The idea of eternity is appalling to Hitch.

“With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives… sons never escape from the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own…such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.” 

Isn’t there a better way of looking at this? Like an eternal family reunion without the weird uncle? Could we embrace infinite life by thinking in terms of all the joys that make up family life without any of its difficulties? It takes a special person to rain on heaven’s parade.

On Doubt: He curses any god who would punish “irreconcilable doubt”. To which I would say, God is not anti-doubt – he is pro-faith. The faithful enter in not because they are doubt free: they enter in because their hope manages to overshadow their doubt.

This is a sad story of pain and death with no hope beyond the grave. Interestingly, in the first part of the book, Hitch chews on the idea of Pascal’s Wager for a little bit, but then spits it out as distasteful.  However, towards the end of his book and his life, we see him becoming less and less critical of Pascal’s Wager. In one of his final musings, he says “Atheists ought not to be offering consolation… If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.” — Was he betting on God in the end?

Good for him if he did.