The National Catholic Review

What happens in the afterlife to an atheist?  Well, the answer to most questions about the afterlife needs to be, “We don’t know.”  While Jesus spoke about the Final Judgment and offered some striking images of heaven and hell, in the final analysis, no human being can say for sure what, precisely, awaits us.  Only God knows—literally.

Someone asked me this morning what I hoped for Christopher Hitchens, the fierce atheist who died after an agonizing bout with esophogeal cancer, and my first response was to say that I hope he’s pleasantly surprised.  And I do.  I certainly didn't agree with him on many things (on almost anything, frankly; and I was particularly annoyed at his treatment of Mother Teresa), but I always hoped that somehow he would experience an invitation from God in his earthly life; and I hope that he may now come to know God.  (I could never quite shake the feeling that Mr. Hitchens' lifelong struggle with God betokened a deep hunger for the divine, or at least for answers.)  Of course the famous atheist would surely dislike hearing that, as he objected to people praying for him in his final illness. 

But Christians believe in a forgiving God, and this is the God that Jesus spoke about many times, most clearly in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 16:11-32).  The parable could have just as easily been named the parable of the Prodigal Father, because it tells the story of a father who is prodigal—generous, lavish, even wasteful--with his love.  As almost every Christian knows, the story is about a father who forgives his wastrel son, a young man who has not only spent all that he has on fast living, but also has rejected the father.  (In the Ancient Near East, asking for your inheritance, as the son does, is tantamount to saying, “I wish you were dead.”)  The son would seem to be last person one should forgive.

When the Son returns after a long time away, though, the Father welcomes him with joy—even though the son is simply returning home to be housed and fed, and even though the son has not even asked for forgiveness.  Nonetheless, the father rushes to greet him, kisses him tenderly, and then asks his servants to prepare a great feast in honor of his return. 

The older son, however, is furious, and scolds the father for celebrating the son’s return.  How, wonders the older son, could his father rejoice?  What’s more, the older son protests that since he has worked hard he should be the one who is honored.

The father then says these famous words to his older son: “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and now he is found.”

Henri Nouwen, the Dutch priest and spiritual master, wrote in his book The Prodigal Son that most of us are like the older brother, despising any forgiving actions.  We feel that we are the ones who have worked hard, who have led good lives, who have tried to act morally; so why should others be forgiven for their failings?  We often resent forgiveness and reconciliation, because it doesn’t seem “fair.” 

But as Jesus points out, God’s love is far different than our own; it is prodigal, generous, even wasteful. 

I hope that Christopher Hitchens enjoys some of this prodigal love.  Of course committed atheists may not be ready to receive it.  So for them, and for many others, there will probably be a time of conversion, what Catholics call Purgatory: a time of preparation to meet God, a time of reviewing one’s life, and asking for forgiveness.  And of course it will be up to each individual to decide if he or she wants to accept that Father’s love or turn away.  For me, hell is the ultimate turning away of that forgiving love. 

So I hope that Christopher Hitchens, famous atheist, fearless polemicist and, in his own unique way, brave seeker, will now be pleasantly surprised by God.  And if he finally makes it to heaven, I hope he gets a chance to get to know the prodigal love of God, which eluded him on earth. After that, I hope he gets to know Mother Teresa a little better than he did on earth. 

May he rest in peace.

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Tony Podlecki | 1/13/2012 - 12:46am
Fr. Martin, thanks for your humane and nuanced reaction to Hitchens' death. I hope you're right about Purgatory giving us all a second chance.
6466379 | 1/9/2012 - 9:00am
I don’t know if it’s theologically sound to dare suggest that, even Jesus may at times have felt in his human nature, the tinge of disbelief in God. If so, it must have been a particularly acute and  deliberating “dark night of the soul” experience for him. For him to have doubted the existence of God would mean  to doubt his own validity, his own mission. As a matter of fact isn’t that what atheism is all about for everyone? Denial cripples one’s ability to freely believe. I forget his name but a French Cardinal back in the 50s I think, said, "With great ease I am pagan, whith great difficulty Christrian" a favorite motivator for me. Often the same honesty may apply to unbelief versus belief.
Personally, I tend to find the suggestion that Jesus, in his human nature may have at times experienced Faith-doubts consistent with scripture’s assertion that he was “like us in all ways except sin.” In the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus begged his Father in the confusion of the moment, to “take it away” heroically adding, “do it your way,” was he praying as did the Centurion, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”  Such reality beings me lovingly closer to Jesus, the Lord, making him for me someone I can depend on in this valley of tears when darkness in belief assails me! We all know that Faith in God is a dark light that can cast shadows of fright on the jagged walls of the tunnel of life. But thankfully, Faith is, nonetheless, a LIGHT!
But light can sometimes be blinding. I think that’s what happened to Christopher Hitchens. The light of Faith blinded him!  Now that he has passed into the  supreme light of eternity (surprise! surprise!) probably through corridors of purgation perfecting love, he must be saying “WOW!” which no matter how you spell it repeats itself! If it’s true that for God all things are possible might it be that atheism actually led Christopher to God in the long, hard run of life’s raw realities, where unbelief takes root and is nurtured? Only God knows. Let’s pray that Christopher has found Christ and that the promise of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska in the Divine Mercy revelations happened. There Jesus promises to come to everyone at the hour of death offering one last chance to say, “Yes, Lord. I believe!”    
Norman Costa | 12/22/2011 - 4:36am
@ Craig:

The one we had on girls as altar servers, a few months back, went over 200 comments. You should have been there. 
Craig McKee | 12/22/2011 - 4:05am
Phew! I have NEVER seen TRIPLE DIGITS on any other America blog topic...

Memo to Editorial staff:
Keep ' em coming!
Shall we attribute this to the arrival of the new boss from Creighton?

p.s. Apparently, the ultimate topic of Mr. Hitchens vehement protestations is not God or religion per se, but TOTALITARIANISM of any and all stripes as he indicated in his last interview:
KEN LOVASIK | 12/21/2011 - 9:24pm
The last comment in your latest post, David, that Hitchens ''looked for more in his God'' reminded me of the words attributed to Nietzsche:  ''If these Christians expect me to believe that this Jesus is their redeemer, they ought to look a little more redeemed!''
david power | 12/21/2011 - 4:42pm
Well now, Ken I concur with Norman and Jim about the whole language thing and more decidedly the witness thing.
In my life I have met maybe 4 or 5 people who were different.The rest were far from special.Those who were the most blatantly catholic were indistinguishable from those who were politically motivated be they a republican or democrat.
In all of his life Hitchens simply never met or saw a convincing argument in flesh and blood. His evangelical friend  seemed to be a question mark but that was stacked up against the medioce excalmation marks of all the rest of Christians.
He never really challenged theism very well on an existential level in his writings .
My 14 yearold nephew could probably demolish the pseudo- christianity of Pope John Paul which had more of Kant than of Christ in it.
And it seems that was what got Hitchen's goat.This was a man who had many homosexual encounters as a young man and was not prepared to turn into a self-loathing individual if that was what God was demanding for past deeds.Of course God does not ask that but Hitchens may never have received that message.
I think a Giussani or Albacete would have given him a few more headaches than Tony Blair and like could have ever done.    It could be just that like Kierkagaard Hitchens looked for a bit more in his God.   
Jim McCrea | 12/21/2011 - 3:21pm
What Ken L said @ 121 - particularly the very last sentence.  Very particularly!!!!
Des Farrell | 12/20/2011 - 9:32pm
My mistake and my apologies so.... 
Jim McCrea | 12/20/2011 - 8:38pm
Des:  my problem is with the many who seem to be insecure insensitive Catholics.
Des Farrell | 12/20/2011 - 8:16pm
Jim this is your fourth or fifth attempt in this thread alone to point out that you are not a fan of Catholicism or faith or religion. You've picked strange reading material so.
Why dont you have a read of the link in post 113 by Mr Hitchens's evangelical friend. It's very touching.
Merry Christmas! 
Jim McCrea | 12/20/2011 - 4:44pm
Oh for crying out loud!

The man was a militant atheist.  He died as such.  End of discussion.

Some people are not believers in any form of deity and never will be.  All the speculation, caterwauling and hoping in the world won't change that.

If your faith cannot handle that, then your faith is weaker than his lack of faith.
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/20/2011 - 7:31am
I am no expert on atheism, but it seems to me that there are many different expressions of it.

What if one does not know God as a Person, but as Being Itself?  God, in the usual, religious understanding (Supreme Being), does not exist for this person.  But there is still an underlying conversation with Reality going on in that person, and Christopher Hitchen's constant seeking is evidence of that Relationship.

This may not make Atheism right, but doesn't it make it more not wrong??
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/22/2011 - 3:37pm
How about one more comment, this one about CHESED - an act parallel to Creation, from nothing, and that is the beginning of any relationship of God to man...

The chesed of God is a gratuitous mercy that considers no fitness, no worthiness and no return. It is the way the Lord looks upon the guilty and with His look makes them at once innocent. This look seems to some to be anger because they fly from it. But if they face it, they see that it is love and that they are innocent. (Their flight and their confusion of their own fear make them guilty in their own eyes.) The chesed of God is truth. It is infallible strength. It is the love by which He seeks and chooses His chosen, and binds them to Himself. It is the love by which He is married to mankind, so that, if humanity is faithless to Him, it must still always have fidelity to which to return: that is His own fidelity. He has become inseparable from man in the chesed which we call "Incarnation," and "Cross" and "Resurrection." He has also given us is chesed in the Person of His Spirit. The Paraclete is the full, inexpressible mystery of chesed. So that in the depths of our own being there is an inexhaustible spring of mercy and love. Our own being has become love. Our own self has become God's love for us, and it is full of Christ, of chesed. But we must face and accept ourselves and others as chesed.

Thomas Merton. Seasons of Celebration. (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950): 178-179.
Norman Costa | 12/21/2011 - 6:07pm

@ David P.

More Kant than Christ? Hmmmm. I gotta think about that one. If you'd say or reference more, I'd appreciate it very much - either here or by email [click on my name.]
Norman Costa | 12/21/2011 - 12:06pm
 @ Ken L:

Norman Costa | 12/19/2011 - 4:46pm
@ Rault:

It is hard to argue against your point that public, intellectual anti-theists, like Hitchens, would scoff at being considered a crypto-believer. He had said so, himself, many times, since his diagnosis with a terminal disease. 

Fr. Jim will have to speak for himself, but what I sense in the article and comment thread is a generosity of spirit expressed in the language and images of religion and belief. How else might a devout Catholic demonstrate a fondness, an admiration, even love for a man whose words, penned and spoken, captivated believer and non-believer alike? 

Not everyone, here, was so enamoured of Hitchens, and for a variety of reasons. Yet, what is undeniable is that Hitch seemed to be the favorite anti-theist of many religious people, particularly, those with whom he debated and shared a panel table in public forums.

In my personal view, every person of faith should embrace Hitchens for what he has done for them. Beth (#108) said it better than I can. He carved a path for believers so they might look at their own faith, free of superstition and fundamentalist mindset. 

Peace, to you and yours.
Tom Rault | 12/19/2011 - 3:56pm
Two remarks: when James Martin S.J. writes:  (I could never quite shake the feeling that Mr. Hitchens' lifelong struggle with God betokened a deep hunger for the divine, or at least for answers., then to me this sounds condescending. Christopher Hitchens was not struggling with God at all. He was struggling with religion and its practices.  And "a deep hunger for the divine"sounds to my ears even more condescending.
And where James Martin writes that Hitchens was:"in his own unique way a brave seeker"there I see a , vain, attempt to reduce Hitchens to a crypto - believer who was lost.
Brave , yes that he was surely!
THis piece on him deserves another description: I call this a vain way to put him down.
Norman Costa | 12/19/2011 - 11:25am
@ Fernan:

Thank you for your comment. While I disagree with you about how to characterize Hitch's views, I applaud your reaction to him. If he challenged the thinking of young or old, and made them take a little bit of time to examine what they really believe, and why, then that is a good thing. I agree with you on George Carlin. Bless them both. 
Norman Costa | 12/19/2011 - 11:13am
@ Amy:

To whom, on this thread, were you responding, so that your comment in #101 would complete a snidey cycle?

Why do you choose the very style that you so clearly detest in views expressed outside this thread, to address people, here, who have been direct, up front, and clear about their views?

Why be derisively dismissive, play the insightful diviner of motivation, and presume you know what others are thinking?

Why reply with the non sequiter ''...thank God for Freedon of the Press,'' as if my calling you out for rude indirect put-downs of others were an attempt to cancel the U.S. Constitution, just in your case?

For example, there are plenty of people here who disagree with my views about  Hitchens. Yet, none has been so rude or insulting as to suggest I didn't read him, or, if I did, lacked the comprehension to achieve a level of understanding that matched their own. 

Leaving myself out of the equation, there are a lot of smart, well informed people on this thread on both sides of the debate about Hitchens, and who believe the other side got it wrong. If they thought the opposition were dishonest and stupid, they were polite enough not to be snidely suggestive.

monica carley | 12/19/2011 - 6:16pm
Re Steve's link about an evangelical friend of the man:

Since many posters here feel entitled to speculate on the state of a man's soul, here is another theory:  he was not willing to let down all his adoring fans by honestly admitting he was seeking God.  Why else would he have private respectful conversations with a beliveing Christian about the gospel of John?  This was not publicized until after his death.
Norman Costa | 12/19/2011 - 4:14pm
@ Beth:

''To my way of seeing and thinking, intellectuals are carving a path whereby we will be able to pull ourselves out of the superstition and fundamental mindsets that had kept humankind mired in war and misery for so long, and discover for ourselves the mysterious secrets that are inherent in the Christian message.''

I'm jealous. I wish I said that.

Merry Christmas.
Norman Costa | 12/19/2011 - 4:10pm
@ Dave P.:

It's amazing what can happen in 60+ comments. Be careful what you casually suggest. People might take you up on it.

Merry Christmas.
Fernán Jaramillo | 12/19/2011 - 10:23am
A number of posters have condemned the role that Hitchens played in leading young people astray and indeed that role is lamentable.  But for some older kids like me (I’m just 55) he played the opposite role.  For all his brilliance, erudition,  articulateness and reputation as an intellectual, I found Hitchens’ “theology” to be comically shallow and distorted and not as funny as George Carlin's. If these are our best opponents  then we have reason to be reassured in the faith.  Perhaps that will count a bit in his favor.
David Pasinski | 12/19/2011 - 9:40am
Wow! I stopped scanning these at about 40 posts the other day and who'd have thunk this would've generated over 100! Don't know what to make of us all and I haven't and probably won't do more than scan anything else...
What an interseting lot...even those who I radically disagree with! God bless us everyone... Would be fascinating to share some eggnog together!!!! Spiked optional!!
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/19/2011 - 8:32am
PS - the other thing that I like about Sullivan is his courage and ability to clearly articulate and expose injustice, group-think, and blindnesses that are ingrained in the culture.  He does this, especially, with the practice of torture - but extends the insight to the unjust and harsh sentences that are an epidemic throughout the United States. 

Like other high profile intellectuals, I suppose that he can seem condescending, and like all of us, I'm sure that he has his own blind spots and faults, but I am grateful for the writings of those who can articulate in a way that we, the masses, can see a little more clearly what is happening around us and what we are part of, without getting stuck in our individual darknesses.  That is a gift, and the way I see it, Andrew Sullivan (and Christopher Hitchens, for that matter) have no choice - if they were to be true to who they are - but to bring that give that gift of themselves.

I did not go to a glitzy school (but a small Jesuit school in the South), do not live in a fashionable town or work in a high profile profession.  But I do appreciate those who are able to write clearly and well, and who shine some light on my own thinking.  To my way of seeing and thinking, intellectuals are carving a path whereby we will be able to pull ourselves out of the superstition and fundamental mindsets that had kept humankind mired in war and misery for so long, and discover for ourselves the mysterious secrets that are inherent in the Christian message.
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/19/2011 - 7:18am
Amy - I am a long-time and almost daily reader of Andrew Sullivan.  What I like about him: - his authenticity, his passion, his honesty about who he is, his intellectual grappling with what is happening in real time, his loyalty to (and indeed his profound belief in) Catholic teaching, his willingness to backtrack and admit mistakes, his sense of fun, his willingness to listen.

In many ways, he is a lot like Christopher Hitchens, but with a difference - Sullivan is grounded in a living and dynamic admitted relationship with God.

Your hostility toward Sullivan is surprising to me.  I have a hard time seeing snideness and contempt in his writing.  Yes, he can be a bit full of himself at times, but he is also self-reflective and self-correcting.  Awhile back I had a personal email exchange with him concerning some very righteous writing he did after 9/11 that was personally destructive to someone I know.  He could see his error and was most ashamed and apologetic and continues to do everything that he can to correct the error.   
Amy Ho-Ohn | 12/19/2011 - 5:07am
Hi Norm,

If you haven't seen anything snide, you clearly haven't been reading Hitchens all these years. And you obviously are new to Sullivan too. Their currency is snideness and vulgar, unimaginative contempt for Americans, women, devout believers of every creed, people who didn't go to the glitzy schools, don't live in the fashionable towns and don't work in the high-profile professions.

Isn't that really what most of their readers like about their writing, and the writing their many imitators?

So, fine, again, thank God for freedom of the press. But it is not unreasonable to respond to snideness with snideness. It may even improve their writing, which increasingly betrays the laziness of the constantly-flattered.
Norman Costa | 12/19/2011 - 12:09am
@ Amy:

This comment thread has seen an exchange of very different and opposing views. There has been a lot of pushing back and forth, I'm right and your wrong stuff, with no real confusion where the other person stands. There's something comforting in that. 

Yet, with all the reasoning, and passion, and compiling reference bibiliographies, and dialing up, and dialing back, even a couple of ''Yo mama,'' I've not seen anything before this that I could call snide.
KEN LOVASIK | 12/21/2011 - 8:15am
Richard Kearney, a philosopher at Fairfield University, has pointed out that he believes that the atheist writers of our time - and Hitchens is certainl prominent among them - are really criticizing the inadequacy of our human attempts to describe the One whom we believe is the Source of our being.  That criticism can be a gift if it helps us to realize how inadequate our language is and drives us to continue to find more adequate words to describe the God we believe in.

The Church's doctrinal tradition is a developing one, with each age contributing to that development.  The notion that God could save everyone has been with us since the time of the early Church Fathers, and it is an idea that is prominent in the Christian East to this day.  Eastern Christians have not embraced rationalism as much as Western Christians.  Eastern Christians believe that the idea of Hell presumes a God who has the very human need to get even!

I wonder if those who are so certain, based on declarations of the Church in the Middle Ages, that Hitchens and others whom they deem to be "sinners" are condemned to eternal punishment, have ever seriously read the Documents of the Second Vatican Council.  This Council is of no less importance in the development of the Church's tradition that earlier Councils.  In fact, it reflects the ongoing development of the Church's self-understanding and faith.  The Church, in history, which issued the teachings that Hitchens' judges use so deftly, is the same Church that burned Joan of Arc at the stake and conducted the infamous Inquisition.

Let's leave the judging to God...remembering Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard:  God can forgive anyone He chooses to.  We humans, with our fallible and inadequate understanding of God, are sometimes more like the legalistic Jewish leaders in the Gospels to whom this parable was originally addressed.

When we live our Christian faith well, God manifests Himself through us.  Could it be that Hitchens - and others like him - have never met such a person?Ken
Jim McCrea | 12/20/2011 - 9:57pm
And, to be perfectly honest, I am less and less of a fan of Catholicism (my birth religion) as time goes on.
Norman Costa | 12/18/2011 - 9:45pm
@ Matt:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this link. What a moving and loving tribute to his friend. 
Des Farrell | 12/18/2011 - 9:43pm
In his favour, it does seem that Mr. Hitchens has brought more subscribers to this magazine? That has to count for something?
MATTHEW NANNERY | 12/18/2011 - 8:56pm
an obviously upset andrew sullivan mourning christopher hitchens even before his death. though sullivan identifies as strongly as catholic as hitchens did as an athiest, they always liked each other's company. stay with it to the end:
Amy Ho-Ohn | 12/18/2011 - 5:30pm
Of course, we all hope to meet Hitchens, Voltaire, Hitler, Mao and all atheists in Purgatory. To wish the damnation of any human soul is a grave sin.

But the question that seems to have generated so much vehemence in the responses to this post is the one David Smith asks (#47) "Why this particular atheist?" Why has the long-standing question of the salvation of dogmatic atheists suddenly excited so much consernation?

Clearly, one reason is that Hitchens, unlike Voltaire and Russell, is (very) recently deceased. But I was watching this blog when Francis Crick and Oriana Fallaci died and remember no similar eagerness to forbid speculation on the probable disposition of their souls.

Is it because the editorial staff of <i>America</i> magazine was personally acquainted with Hitchens, perhaps even attended some of his famous parties? Is it because Hitchens' opinions on the ever-fascinating issues of gender and sexuality correspond so closely to those of the editorial staff of <i>America?</i>. Is it because of the rather silly conviction held by so many of the self-proclaimed elite that even the most banal platitude sounds profound when uttered in a sufficiently plummy accent?

If so, fine. It's good to be loyal to one's friends. But we should all be careful to avoid the implication that having the right friends and holding popular opinions makes an atheist more likely to escape the Big Bonfire. Indeed, the testimony of the Church is that popularity in this world is negatively, not positively, correlated with saintliness.
david power | 12/18/2011 - 3:58pm
@Steve Killian,

Thanks a lot for the link.I loved the part on the cherry picking of the Gospel. 
GREGORY GUITERAS MR | 12/18/2011 - 3:37pm
Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus: Outside the Church there is no salvation.
Ah yes, that ole bugaboo...
As a progressive Catholic off the radar screen I whole-heartily agree!

If we clothe those ancient terms in 21st century language, we might come up with something like this:

Ecclesia = church, assembly, gathering, community
Salus = salvation, safety, health, wholeness

Extra Ecclesia Nulla Salus = Outside the Community there is no Wholeness.

What's not to like?!
C Walter Mattingly | 12/18/2011 - 12:12pm
Norm, Merry Christmas to you too! I always look forward to your postings, yet if you agreed with me, I suspect I would have to reexamine what I wrote.
Apparently if I should choose a career as a humorist I should not give up my day job, which at this point is watching grandkids and retirement. I will confess, my post was an attempt at what Joyce would have called jocoseriousness, an attempt to cool down the anomie that sometimes afflicts us here and was, as Fr Jim mentioned, in evidence. Although I offered no Tebowing, I thought the analogy might both further the conversation as it has validity and provide a bit of a breather and step back for us all. I also hoped it might tweak the spirit of Hutchens in the process; could he be more piqued than to be accused of being a man of faith? (It's the converse of what he did with Mother Teresa.) The entire essay was composed in that spirit. OK, so you found out I'm not Kingsley Amis. I'll check out Fr Albacete.
Best to you.

Norman Costa | 12/18/2011 - 10:43am
@ Walter #94:

Merry Christmas!

I don't agree with every sentiment you expressed, but that's not worth getting into. I understand how your last sentence flows from what came before.  But, if you go back and read it, alone, it sounds like a line from a Monty Python script.

''The Church has a long history of making good use of heretics.''

Walter, you intended something more serious and sprititual. You have to admit, though, it is very funny.  

Speaking of funny AND spiritual, here's a talk by Fr. Lorenzo Albacete (self-described, ''I'm just a simple Puerto Rican Monsignor.'') in which he discusses his gospel according to Monty Python. See HERE

(Communion and Liberation: A Lay Movement of the Catholic Church by Lorenzo Albacete)
C Walter Mattingly | 12/18/2011 - 9:49am
Stanley, FDR supported one of Saddam's heroes, Josef Stalin, far worse than even the Butcher of Bagdhad, killing dozens of times Saddam's million or so. Hutchens argued that that Sophie's Choice (between Khomeini or Saddam) made it even more incumbent and obligatory for the US to remove Saddam from power. Most reasonable people conclude capturing Saddam and killing Bin Laden, etc, were not murderous outrages. Yet this wanders a bit, really, as the subject is Hitchens, who despite great differences was perhaps even more outspoken on the issues of freedom and democracy than Bush.
Stanley Kopacz | 12/18/2011 - 6:30am
We supported Saddam while he was performing murderous outrages as long as he was useful to the empire.  Murderous outrages aren't a discriminator in our actions, just an excuse.  I'll change my imaginary purgatory for Hitchens:  two centuries in a pocket universe with his buddies Bush and Cheney.  I know Bush & Cheney are still blessing us with their earthly presence, but time is fluid even in our universe.
C Walter Mattingly | 12/18/2011 - 4:29am
Wow. Look at all these posts. It seems that Hitchens is the Tim Tebow of atheism. He seemed firm in his faith in atheism and preached his faith diligently and openly. And perhaps that is why he receives so much attention here, from both sides of the issue. 
We Catholic Christians are people of faith. Belief is, we perhaps can all agree, an act of the theological virtue of Faith. It is not knowledge. The Church itself has a long history of being rigorous in its assertions of human limitations, even including the absoluteness of man's abilities to perfect faith: after all, if we have perfect faith, why do we require its counterpart, the theological virtue of Hope?  Hitchens, like many of the Catholic posters here, was a man of faith: he believed there was no God, no divine intelligence anywhere, period. Yet of course, the materialism of the positivist is no more nor less rational than that an eternal intelligence on the ultimate question, the Uncaused Cause: the idea that one force, hydrogen atom, whatever awoke one day to create itself or existed from eternity is starkly illogical. So Hitchens was a man of faith for the other team. We can dislike the guys on the other team, admire the guys on the other team, or both simultaneously. We can vilify the other team because they cheat, or we can steal their tactics. There is evidence aplenty of both in the above commentaries. Some here castigate Hitchens because he supported Bush in his efforts to put an end to the murderous outrage that was the reign of Saddam Hussein; some castigate him because of his apparently heart-felt rejection of Jesus Christ as God and Savior. The traditional Church makes allowances for a man who diligently searched for faith and did not find it; as a commentator mentioned above, it is invinceable ignorance. Nor is difficulty with the idea of eternal damnation limited to the liberal end of the Church. It is interesting that one of Hitchens closest friends is the prodigy of one from the conservative side with whom Hitchens was frequently compared, William Buckley. Buckley himself had great trouble with hell. How could an all-merciful God torture one for eternity? As he put it, isn't a thousand years in flames enough for Adolf Hitler? 
Whatever your viewpoint of Hitchens, he has truly provided followers of Christ a great service. Nietzsche commented that the Death of God was inadequate, that the word God had to disappear from the vocabulary of mankind. Hitchens has had the exact opposite effect. God is, after all is said and done, eternally durable. Nietzsche is gone; Hitchens is gone; God remains with us. And Hitches makes thoughtful persons of faith more aware of that. The Church has a long history of making good use of heretics.

Norman Costa | 12/18/2011 - 12:44am

The Believer's Atheist

''OF the many remarkable things about Christopher Hitchens, who died on Thursday after one of the most prolific and provocative careers in modern Anglo-American letters, perhaps the most remarkable was how much religious believers liked him.'' -ROSS DOUTHAT, Op Ed Columnist, The New York Times, Published: December 17, 2011

Read more HERE.

Stephanie McCaffrey | 12/17/2011 - 11:52pm
I simply want to thank Fr. Jim for his article and Fr. Rick Malloy for his numerous corrective comments to Lara Martinez. As an adult convert to Catholicism, educated by the Jesuits in grad school, both Fr. Jim and Fr. Rick have expressed my own perspective beautifully.  Because of that, there is little else I have to add to this thread! Lara, like others, I will lovingly pray for you.  Please put down your stone.
Rick Malloy | 12/17/2011 - 9:24pm
@ #75.  You quote Pope Innocent: ‘There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.’  —Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, A.D. 1215

Pray over these sections from Lumen Gentium.  The church has developed doctrine since the year 1215

15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. (14*) For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. (15*) They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God.(16*) They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. (17*) Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.
16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126) But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature",(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.
Peace,  Fr. Rick
Norman Costa | 12/17/2011 - 8:27pm
@ Bill Mazzella:

This writer, at least, is not among your ''all'' who will agree to your mandate. Hitchens holds the tenets of the faith up in front of us and demands that we explain ourselves. As I mentioned, earlier, few people offer any real answer nor address the issues he raises. Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete is only one I know who has had anything personal and substantive to say to Hitchens, that even Hitch respects.

You ask why we are not discussing the impact of Hitchens. It's right in front of your very own eyes. It's in your first two sentences. Hitch is forcing us to make explicit what we believe to be the elements of our faith. Other than to quote approved creed, I wonder if we really understand the meaning of Christianity. Certainly, we don't have a concensus, let alone an agreed upon mandate. THIS IS THE IMPACT OF HITCHENS, and thank God he was around long enough to make his presence felt. 

I, for one, would like to hear a good reply to Hitch's characterization of Mother Theresa. The only reply that I've been able to decipher is that it's not nice to critisize Mother Theresa. 
david power | 12/17/2011 - 8:25pm
@Beth, Amen to all that you wrote.

@Fr Martin, I hope you're proud of all the consternation you have caused!! 
88 comments full of vitriol and disputation to such a simple blog?
This is what the Jesuits were capable of in days of yore.
No doubt they would say that you putting pillows under our elbows in the confessional.
I am proud to belong to a church with so many people who can live in trust of God as is exhibited here.
I know that some of those who have commented here have their  grievances with the Church but when the church was painted as hateful they rose in one voice and said that it is not so.
Those who grow in the catholic faith like Mother Teresa and dare I say Ratzinger and not really fazed  by the likes of Hitchens.It is only a holy Church if we can suffer his blows and love him still.Let is be said that on his deathbed Christopher   Hitchens was loved by the Catholic Church.Those who see him as an enemy have not realized what the Pope has been saying of late.The "real enemy is within ".
In your previous comment you tried to quell the fire that you yourself started but the horse has already bolted.You have put the whole dilemma in the head of everybody here.Who is this God ?What happens after the final breath is drawn?
I think it is your posting of the year and rather than feel unease you should realize that for once you have raised pulses for a worthy cause.

Bill Mazzella | 12/17/2011 - 7:23pm
Wow. Most. if not all posters, used the Hitchens subject to foster their own theology of the church and salvation. As a result, the opposing views are discussed rather than the Hitchens impact. Whether he was right or wrong on Mother Theresa is not the point either. We all seem to agree that only God can judge Hitchens. At the same time there are some points where we can perhaps all agree. Hitchens certainly flies in the face of a statement we all make in the Our Father: "Hallowed be your name"
Whether through invincible ignorance or not we can all agree that Hitchens outwardly did not revere the name of God. Whatever our differences we all agree on this mandate-On this point, on at least what we know of Hitchens, we must vigorously oppose him.  
Jim McCrea | 12/17/2011 - 6:23pm
"Vatican II era Catholic cardinal"

Dumb me; I didn't know that there were any non-Catholic cardinals around.
Jim McCrea | 12/17/2011 - 6:15pm
Oops - Intra ecclesia nulla salus.

And if my Latin is wrong don't bother to correct me because, in the immortal words of Rhett Butler:  Frankly my dear I don't give a damn.