August 5th, 2010
04:51 PM ET

Thoughts before debating Christopher Hitchens

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/08/05/art.hitchens.jpg]Program Note: Anderson Cooper interviews Christopher Hitchens tonight at 10pm ET on AC360°.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero. Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

Stephen Prothero
Special to CNN

After professional provocateur Christopher Hitchens announced that he had come down with cancer, legions lined up to pray for him. I have been known to lapse into prayer on occasion, but I did not pray for Hitchens, and I don't expect I will.

I understand why Mormons want to baptize the dead and, on the theory of "no harm, no foul," I don't object to it in most cases. But praying to God for the Great Unbeliever seems like something akin to sacrilege (and not against the divine).

Not so ripping into him. In a scathing review of Hitchens' "God is Not Great" published in the Washington Post, I wrote that I had "never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject." I also wrote, however, that "there is no living journalist I more enjoy reading."

I stand by both statements. This post is prompted by the latter.

I teach a course at Boston University called "Death and Immortality," and in it we read remarkable work about the "undiscovered country" of death and whatever (if anything) lies beyond. Hitchens wrote this week in a piece in Vanity Fair of "the unfamiliar country" of people with cancer, and his reflections rank up there with the best writing I know on that sickness unto death.

Keep reading...

Filed under: 360° Interview • Christopher Hitchens • Opinion • Religion
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Ruth

    I am heartened to see that Mr. Hitchens' beliefs are real and not changed by the horrors of cancer. I think this is a real test of whether we are real or leisure intellectuals. My only wish is that Mr. Hitchens might find a little more grace and kindness in his writings and speeches. Partly just because it is not nice to be nasty without reason – merely critical will usually do. God knows (oops!) this world could use a little more civility. And second, because he would be more persuasive if he unnecessarily offended less. I wish him well and hope he may yet gentle down.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  2. John

    Let me ask all Christains a question:
    Why do you buy health insurance? The Bible tells you to Pray.
    Mark 11:24; John 14:14; Mark 16 Jesus talks about the laying of hands & healing you.: Even more remarkable is James 5:15, where the Bible says: and the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. Christains know that prayer doesn't work that's why you buy health insurance. But of course the majority of Christains never read the Bible. They just believe what has been hammered in their heads every Sunday of their life"Religion", which is nothing more than a fairytale.

    I am personally a "Rational" and have been actively searching for God for over 75 years without success. (after 75 years one would think he'd become an atheist).

    August 5, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  3. Bob Marshall

    He's such a talented writer. Him keeping a detailed diary of his treatments and the changes to his body and mind would be fabulious. Perhaps on Twitter. He could provide comfort or clarity to others.

    Rare for someone to possess his artistic talents. His narratives would be amazing.

    August 5, 2010 at 5:05 pm |