You rarely come across stories as sad as this one: Christopher Hitchens, one of the world’s best known proponents of atheism, has asked religious people not to pray for him as he battles throat cancer. He says that if he survives the cancer while people have been praying for him, they’ll attribute the recovery to a supernatural cause, and that would be “irritating.”
So here we have what appears to be a man who prefers death to admitting the possibility that intercessory prayer is effective. Of course we should pray for him anyway.
Make no mistake: Christopher Hitchens is one of the Bad Guys. (I write this with the full knowledge and appreciation of the fact that all of us were once Bad Guys.) His eloquent writing and speaking on behalf of atheism, to say nothing of his repeated arguments for aggressive wars to bring the Enlightenment to benighted regions of the world, have probably aided and abetted the loss of many souls. He seems to relish making the most vile and offensive statements about religion, especially Christianity, and to all appearances has seared his own conscience beyond recall.
However, we know that with God all things are possible. I had the opportunity to see and hear Hitchens from the front row at a semi-formal event in 2007 (the annual Oxford Literary Festival) and kept thinking what a powerful asset he could be if he played for the right team. He’s quick on his feet, has a sharp wit, and clearly possesses a powerful mind. It’s so sad that his gifts have been wasted up to now. It reminds me of Cornelius Van Til’s analogy of the circular saw: no matter how sharp it is, if it’s set incorrectly, it won’t cut the way it’s supposed to.
So while many people will be praying for the healing of Christopher Hitchens’s body during this crisis, I’ll pray for the healing of his soul, and I suggest you do the same. In the end, that’s the only thing that really matters for him, even if he doesn’t know it.