We all know that the editor of ABC online’s Religion and Ethics website is not the brightest tool in the shed at the best of times, and he serves as a painful but powerful reminder to all of us of what wearing religious goggles does to the functioning of the human brain, but this time he has really set a new low.
His embarrassing attempt at an obituary for Christopher Hitchens can only be called a farsical, painfully tasteless and bizarre piece.
But over the next eighteen months, Hitchens’ bloated, hirsute complexion would be replaced by a gaunt, colourless, almost plastic visage, his perennially youthful looks stripped from him by the regular doses of toxin he would be administered in order to arrest the onslaught of oesophageal cancer
What is this ? Stephens being unable to hide his glee that someone is suffering from cancer ? A failed attempt at Christian poetry ? I can’t tell.
Now, the spontaneous explanation for Hitchens’ renewed sense of vocation is that the prospect of dying caused him to sober up somewhat. But that seems to me neither an entirely accurate nor a particularly interesting explanation, for, among other things, it ignores the fact that Hitchens has always been beset by a certain contradiction: the incongruity between his political convictions and his wanton prodigality, between his lean Trotskyite soul and his increasingly corpulent body – an incongruity which, apparently, earned him the adage “Hypocritchens” while a student at Balliol.
Stephens is wasting the reader’s time and the ABC’s space to tell us that he thinks Hitchens was overweight ? It’s hard to believe this drivel got published.
The first is his unwavering fidelity to justice, truth and solidarity – a kind of alternative triumvirate to the Christian “faith, hope and love” or the Jacobin “liberty, equality, fraternity,” and which consistently proved more fundamental to Hitchens than any ideological alignment with the Right or the Left.
Just that his fidelity to justice and truth came out of himself, not by decree from a Stone Age text, or through the threat of eternal torment for noncompliance. These are fundamentally different concepts.
But I think there is a parallel here with Hitchens’ later embrace of a flailing, uneven variety of atheism (or, as he always insisted, miso-theism, God-hatred rather than just God-denial).
When you google Hitchens + misotheism, there are no quotes by Hitchens where he ever used the term. He used “antitheist”, but there is still no “hatred” anywhere, Scott Stephens made that one up.
Nevertheless, an intellectually serious form of Christianity was engraved deeply, irrevocably, on Hitchens’ thinking and moral formation. It guided him, however much he might have kicked against the goads.
And with that paragraph we come to the real beef, the claiming of Hitchens for Christianity. Aren’t the Christians cute when they always try to claim dead people for their cult. It’s obscene, it’s embarrassing, and it happens as regular as day and night. Of course Hitchens was the product of a Christian culture, of course he was exposed to and educated in religious matters, but I see no evidence to prove Stephens’ frivolous assertion that religion, or Christianity in particular, had any role in shaping his moral views. Quite the opposite in fact, he often spoke about how it takes religion to make good people do bad things, and as even Scott Stephens may remember, the subtitle to “God is not great” was that religion poisons everything. And he meant “everything”, including morality.
It was precisely this inherent idolatrous dimension that drove Hitchens in the last few years to conflate religion with totalitarianism, to depict existence under any god as living in “a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea” – hence Hitchens’ preference for miso-theism, God-hatred, over any sort of benign a-theism.
There is that lie again, “god-hatred”. I have read most of Hitchens’ books and watched many of his talks and debates, but not once do I recall him saying that he hated imaginary beings. Kind of pointless too, if you think about it. And it comes as no surprise that Scott Stephens does not view himself as living under a celestial dictatorship. A North Korean would say the same thing, after all.
He then goes on with a cringeworthy comparison between a Hitchens quote and one from Pope Ratzinger, trying to assert that both were somehow enemies of totalitarianism, and therefore god. Or something. I lost patience at this point.
A tasteless, embarrassing and yet revealing piece. And a new low, even for Scott Stephens.