On December 15, 2011 the prominent, militant and charismatic atheist, Christopher Hitchens died of cancer. The author and outspoken critic of anything holy was 62. Evangelical pastor Dough Wilson (who publicly debated and got along quite well with Hitchens) wrote an article in Christianity Today reflecting upon the passing away of the famous intellectual. The article, “Christopher Hitchens Has Died, Doug Wilson Reflects” tells the story of Hitchens without demonizing the man, but it was the final few paragraphs that caught my attention as they dealt with the final few months of Hitchens’ life and concerns about death and belief in Christ:
Christopher knew that faithful Christians believe that it is appointed to man once to die, and after that the Judgment. He knew that we believe what Jesus taught about the reality of damnation. He also knew that we believe—for I told him—that in this life, the door of repentance is always open. A wise Puritan once noted what we learn from the last-minute conversion of the thief on the cross—one, that no one might despair, but only one, that no one might presume. We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever. But we do have every indication that Christ died for sinners, men and women just like Christopher. We know that the Lord has more than once hired workers for his vineyard when the sun was almost down (Matt. 20:6).
We also know that Christopher was worried about this, and was afraid of letting down the infidel team. In a number of interviews during the course of his cancer treatments, he discussed the prospect of a “death bed” conversion, and it was clear that he was concerned about the prospect. But, he assured interviewers, if anything like that ever happened, we should all be certain that the cancer or the chemo or something had gotten to his brain. If he confessed faith, then he, the Christopher Hitchens that we all knew, should be counted as already dead. In short, he was preparing a narrative for us, just in case. But it is interesting that the narrative he prepped us with did not involve some ethically challenged evangelical nurses on the late shift who were ready to claim that they had heard him cry out to God, thus misrepresenting another great infidel into heaven. It has been done with Einstein, and with Darwin. Why not Hitchens? But Christopher actually prepared us by saying that if he said anything like this, then he did not know what he was saying.
This is interesting, not so much because of what it says about what he did or did not do as death approached him, and as he at the same time approached death. It is interesting because, when he gave these interviews, he was manifestly in his right mind, and the thought had clearly occurred to him that he might not feel in just a few months the way he did at present. The subject came up repeatedly, and was plainly a concern to him….
We therefore commend Christopher to the Judge of the whole earth, who will certainly do right. Christopher Eric Hitchens (1949-2011). R.I.P.