Oct 032010
Authors: Samuel Lustgarten

Christopher Hitchens, the man who gave atheism poetic prose, has stage four esophageal cancer. His life may be abruptly shortened. In pictures and video his hair has thinned, leading me to question why he keeps the remaining wisps. Much of his weight has progressively diminished, as his belt jousts and tightens against the newly lanky flesh.

In late June, Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer during his wry book tour for “Hitch-22.” The memoir, in which Hitchens dutifully navigates his well-worn years, enthralls the reader with a prologue that mentions him as “the late Christopher Hitchens.”

Now, only a few months since the book was published, he stands before the ultimate test: life and death.

Christoper Hitchens has, for years, been a role-model for my writing, critical-thinking and atheoretical approach to the world. As a fraternal brother to his work and compatriot for the causes of science, I’m saddened.

His irreverence and intolerance for violent, religious dogma will surely be missed. My heart is torn because a patriot and literary protagonist is in limbo for his livelihood. The ache is further burdened by the sordid believers who pray for Hitchens.

The prayers all-too-publicly defame and admonish his beliefs as an atheist. In the throws of cancer, some of the prayers wish him adieu –– they’re glad he’ll soon be departing. Even the warm blessings continue without listening to the man who is dying.

Flying in the face of Hitchen’s possibly last wish, they continue to pray. It’s what they’ve been raised to do. Instead of questioning this reactionary modality, prayer takes precedent. It replaces a healthy, questioning skepticism of religion.

As a teenager, I began to read his ardent claims of disbelief –– they were fuel to a fire that was already kindling. I constantly had inner questions about life. And my parents, wondering what to do with their first-born, decided to do the “right thing” and enroll me into a variety of church programs and encourage faith.

Comically, one is an ancestral Jew and the other spiritually-inclined (hardly a fundamentalist duo). They didn’t know any better. My growth fostered a vehement rage towards organized religion’s crusades and downfalls, but it didn’t spawn from my parents.

Nor did they tolerate much of a rebellion toward the status-quo of faith. There wasn’t some scar that forever changed me. As I saw it, religion was simply a claptrap of nonsense.

My lack of faith was conceived from these nascent reservations and basic questioning –– independent from familial ties. Simply asking the questions that others didn’t prompted the feeble strings of religion to snap.

Now I see a man, role-model and outspoken atheist listening to the prayers of believers.

Too frequently, we promulgate a message that says faith is what you’re supposed to have. And too frequently, believers encroach on the boundaries and freedoms that make this country great.

My biases run deep. I’m without religion, and personally better for it. If you have a belief system and want to keep it, that’s fantastic. For those without religion, these prayers are abrasive. One’s final days are marred by the ignorance of continued blessings.

Imagine a funeral service where I whisper into your ear and repeatedly say, “There is no heaven for whom you’re grieving.” Perhaps you’re tranquil and this is but a minor annoyance. Or, perhaps this is tantamount to disgracing your lost loved one. The latter rings truer for me.

Morally, I wouldn’t tolerate such caustic outcries. And yet, this is what’s been virulently occurring across the Internet.

It’s one thing to pray to your respective deity and keep it to yourself, in honor of those nonbelievers who are suffering their impending demise. But to record yourself on YouTube, write columns, email and otherwise abuse a method to spread your message –– with the potential to reach Hitchens’ eyes –– seems like a futile affair at best. At worst, a conjecture that censures Hitchens’ lifeblood and work.

Let him live in peace; without intimating religious idolatry, for his final days.
It’s the least we can do.

Samuel Lustgarten is a senior psychology major. His column appears on Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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