Christopher Hitchens and the Freedom of Speech

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.”

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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7 Responses to Christopher Hitchens and the Freedom of Speech

  1. Daniel says:

    The inability to effectively communicate has got to be a blow. I too hope his cancer goes into remission and he regains his voice.

    I can’t help but to feel sorry for Hitchens. He has said he does not want people’s pity. However, expressing my sorrow over his suffering is my right, every bit as much as it is his right to spurn it.

    He is a proud man who has a keen mind. Unfortunately the thing that needs changed is his heart. Jeremiah had hard words about the nature of the heart. It really does hurt when God breaks us. But He heals and restores. Would that Hitchens experience the new life.

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    • Daniel,

      I agree with you. It is clear that Hitchens is struggling with his illness. And I am sure that he is also struggling with the reality of his mortality. I have prayed for him. Maybe this is the time for him to reconsider what will happen to him after death. The fear of death can be a great motivator.

      Claude Mariottini

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  2. Shawn says:

    ‘The fear of death can be a great motivator’
    Yes but not always to the truth my friend.

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    • Shawn,

      Thank you for sharing you perspective. You are right: the fear of death is not a motivator for people to seek the truth. Truth is everywhere. What death does is to make people look at their mortality realistically and then ask themselves whether death is the end of all things. And it is not.

      Claude Mariottini

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  3. joe jakes says:

    “Truth is everywhere. What death does is to make people look at their mortality realistically and then ask themselves whether death is the end of all things. And it is not.”

    How do you know it is not? How can you claim to state an absolute that you know something that I don’t. This is at the heart of the anti-theist argument against such belief systems. I do hope Hitchens get better so he can keep expaining, much more eloquantly that I, the concepts that seem to keep those of faith trapped within their own indoctrination.

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    • Joe,

      Thank you for your comment. Here we come to a situation that brings us to an impasse. Anti-theists say that there is no life after death but they cannot prove what they say. Theists affirm that there is life after death but anti-theists are not willing to accept what we say it is a valid argument.

      Theists believe the words of the disciples of Jesus who saw him alive after he had died on the cross. Anti-theists say that this argument is not valid because it is only the testimony of ignorant people.

      And here is where we find the impasse: you say that there is no life after death. The disciples say that there is life after death. So, it is your word against theirs. And I rather believe their word than to believe yours.

      I have prayed for Hitchens to get better. Every individual should be allowed to live and full and blessed life and Hitchens deserves no less.

      Claude Mariottini

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  4. Pingback: The Death of Christopher Hitchens | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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