Christopher Hitchens, the man who made a name for himself by proclaiming that there is no God and who wrote a book titled god is not great, has cancer of the esophagus. According to published reports, Hitchens’ cancer had reached stage IIB or possibly stage III and for this reason he may not have many more years to live. Once a person reaches stage III, the chances of surviving five years is 15%.
In an article published in Vanity Fair, Hitchens reflects on the cancer that attacked his vocal cords. He begins his article by quoting a poem by T. S. Eliot titled “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
Reflecting on these words by T. S. Elliot, Hitchens wrote:
“Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.”
In the article, Hitchens discusses his feelings about the loss of his voice. He wrote: “Deprivation of the ability to speak is more like an attack of impotence, or the amputation of part of the personality.”
I do not agree with Christopher Hitchens’ views of God, but as one whose livelihood depends on the gift of speech, I sympathize with Hitchens’ situation. I need my voice because I teach and I preach. Without a voice I would be unable to do what I love to do most.
Many times we take for granted these wonderful gifts that our Creator has given to us. We take for granted our ability to see, to speak, to walk, and to use so many of the other gifts God has given to us. To lose one of these gifts, as Hitchens is losing his voice, would be devastating. As Hitchens wrote: “Like health itself, the loss of such a thing can’t be imagined until it occurs.”
At the end of the article, Hitchens expresses his hope for the near future: “If not a cure, then a remission.” But, his greatest desire is to have back “the freedom of speech.”
Christopher Hitchens shows another side of himself in this article. He freely expresses his feelings about this illness that is taking away his most precious possession. He also expresses a vulnerable side of himself, a side that was never revealed in his theological debates about the nature of God. For these reasons alone, I believe that people should read Hitchens’ article. You can read it here.
Christopher (may I call you Christopher?), I hope that your wishes be granted: that you be cured of your illness and that you never lose “the freedom of speech.”
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary