Eulogy for God’s favorite (?) atheist

There have been many admiring and moving RIPs for Christopher Hitchens from his “opponents” on the right.  My favorite, found at Creative Minority Report, has been Fr. Robert Barron on Why I loved to listen to Christopher Hitchens:

Over the years I’ve accused some of my atheist interlocutors (on Youtube) – in a playful spirit – of being “secret Herods.”  Herod arrested John the Baptist, was opposed to him, but loved to listen to him preach.  So I tease (them) that they’re secret Herods – they come on my sites, leave all sorts of acerbic remarks and so on – “you claim to be opposed to religion but you secretly like to listen.”  I will confess there was a reverse Herod syndrome for me regarding Christopher Hitchens…  I loved to listen to him… part of that was what the Romans called “gaudium de stylo” – the joy that we take simply in style.  I don’t know if there was a better writer on the scene today.

Later in the piece Fr. Barron makes a case for Hitchens – a case with which he would most certainly have found reasons to disagree, as several people, believer and atheist, do in the comments section.

It fleshes out a point I make to non-believing friends in (obviously) simpler terms when they raise “the problem of evil”:  the world is clearly a mess – fallen, if you will – and the fact that there is any love and kindness in it at all is evidence of God.  Here’s an excerpt:

The main reason I liked Christopher Hitchens was because of his deep religiosity.  I realize that requires a little bit of explanation. I’ll start with what I think was Hitchen’s great mistake when it comes to God.  Like Dawkins and Sam Harris and many others, Hitchens consistently misconstrued what serious religious people mean when they say God.

Time and again, Hitchens and now his millions of disciples – I hear from them, almost every day – refer to God as a “Sky Fairy” or “your invisible friend” or The Flying Spaghetti Monster – meaning some crazy mythological fantasy for which there is absolutely no evidence.  Hitchens would also excoriate religious people for what they call the “God of the gaps.”  You know – there’s a gap in our present scientific explanation so let’s put God there, and as science advances, God retreats to ever smaller gaps in the explanatory systems.

Here’s the thing:  all of that is wide of the mark when we say God.  God is not a being in the world.  The Creator of the entire universe is not an ingredient in the universe, is not an item among many in the universe.  God is not some reality for which there may or may not be evidence.  “Is there a moon, moons around Jupiter?  Let’s check and see.”  There are or there aren’t.  God isn’t like that, some “being” in the world.

Thomas Aquinas made the decisive distinction when he said God is not “en summum” – highest being; he’s “ipsum essay” – the sheer act of to be itself.  God is the reason why there’s something rather than nothing.  God is the reason why there is the nexus of condition causality at all.

God is not a true thing, but the truth itself.  God is not a good thing among many, God is goodness itself.  God is not one just state of affairs, God is justice itself.  Once we get this clear we can see what I mean when I say Christopher Hitchens was profoundly religious.  Something you see, book after book, essay after essay, speech after speech:  he was passionate for justice… he was a profoundly moral man, I would say, even moralizing, an intense sense of what’s right and just.  That is a sign that someone has been grasped by the unconditioned just.

If there’s no God, we’re just dumbly here by vague chance, the universe just spins along in utter indifference to human cruelty, human nobility.  One day this whole world will be incinerated.  All of us just live a short time and then fade away.  If that’s the case, truly – why would you care about justice?  Why would you care, ultimately?  Wouldn’t Dostoevsky be right in saying if there is not God then anything is permitted?

Those who burn with a passion for justice, I would argue, have a keen sense of an absolute unconditioned criterion of justice which I would call God…  I saw that on display in practically everything Christopher Hitchens wrote.  He was battling Sky Fairies and Flying Spaghetti Monsters – fine, I’d battle those too.  He’d claim there’s no evidence for some mythological supreme being.  I agree with him.  But what I caught behind his rhetoric, always, was a passion for God – not to put too find a point on it.

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