Dreher: Hitchens’s success has blinded him to Jebus

August 9, 2010 • 10:01 am

It’s admirable that some religious people have come out supporting Christopher Hitchens in his battle with cancer, and even publicly admiring him for his erudition and talent.  It takes magnanimity to do that when you’re dealing with the world’s most vocal atheist.  But who I really despise are those religious people who start off by paying lip service to Hitchens’s accomplishments, and then chastise him for refusing, in his straits, to even consider accepting God.  One of these is Rod Dreher, who, at Templeton’s Big Questions Online site, rebukes Hitchens for being so close minded:

Hitchens is a proud man who has much to be proud about. He sees the humility that cancer is likely to impose on him as a trap for his mind — as something that may compel him to do something he wouldn’t do in his right mind. He’s right about that: it just might. What he’s wrong about is assuming that truths that suffering may yet reveal to him are bound to be lies. He should at least consider that the comfort he has been living in for all his life — a world of security, wealth, pleasure and fame that his considerable talents have earned him — might actually be deceiving him by concealing certain truths.

Now what could those “certain truths” be that are revealed only when you’re maddened with pain or stupefied by drugs? Dreher explains:

My aunt died from cancer 20 years ago or so. She was not a religiously observant woman. On her final day in the hospital, she was delirious with pain, and as my grandmother, who was with her, reported, claiming to see people from our town who had already died, visiting her. At one point near the very end, my poor aunt was shrieking with pain. A nurse, a black Protestant lady, rushed in, took her hand and said, “Julia! Julia! Jesus loves you and died for you. Do you accept him as your lord and savior?” (This was a Catholic hospital, so this behavior was acceptable). Julia answered in the affirmative. She then was quiet and at peace for a few minutes, then died. I believe her conversion was true, and effective, and that that nurse, whose name I never learned, was an angel of mercy.

He just can’t stop himself from wringing a bit of Jesus propaganda from Hitchens’s sufferings.  I’m not as free as P.Z. with the epithets, but in this case I have no compunction about calling Dreher a contemptible little worm.


Oh, and if you’re over at the Big Questions site, and want to see apologetics at its squirming and laughable best, check out the piece by Mark Vernon (you may remember him as the apophatic writer of Holy Rabbit fame).  It’s his explanation, channeling John Polkinghorne, for why God might have used the wasteful and torturous process of natural selection to create the diversity of life. Hint: the world is groaning again!

And do remember that contributors to Big Questions Online are paid handsomely.

62 thoughts on “Dreher: Hitchens’s success has blinded him to Jebus

  1. The religionists would dearly love for Hitch to recant his atheism in his fight with cancer. He won’t oblige them.

  2. (This was a Catholic hospital, so this behavior was acceptable)

    Thank the FSM for secular hospitals.

      1. Heh. My little town is worse than yours. Not only are there no secular hospitals, the one closest to me is run by the 7th Day Adventists. Which means that the majority of the doctors are 7th Day Adventists. They do not believe in evolution. They also avow a 6000 year old universe.

        Loma Linda School of Medicine poops out a class of completely competent morons every year. My otolaryngologist has very soft hands – pulls the wax out of my ears with great care and skill. I do not trust him with anything other than care of the mechanical.

      2. Bigger hospitals are not always better. Here in Baltimore we have Hopkins, and I won’t even go there. Literally.

  3. Well, why be religious at all then, since even if you believe in God, you can do a deathbed conversion and get right into heaven! Sheesh, all those suckers that go to church every week and give up 10%. Just do a deathbed conversion, and feel really, really bad about it, and boom, you get the cake, and you eat it too!

    1. Of course, that’s why “faith without works is dead”…except that you can get to heaven by being a baby-killing serial rapist cannibal if only you die with the name Jesus on your lips.

      Yes, the cognitive dissonance is strong with them.

  4. “I’m not as free as P.Z. with the epithets, but in this case I have no compunction about calling Dreher a contemptible little worm”

    Yo, P.Z. !!!! Can you show Jerry how it’s REALLY done?

  5. “Many people come to faith in times of great emotional turmoil and stress.”

    Why do belevers say things like this and expect it to mean more than “a drowning man will clutch at a straw” or “a fool and his money are easily parted”?

    When you are desperate enough religion will look good? This is basically an admission that religion is a con.

    1. Well, that’s it. If a rational person only feebly grabs religious faith at his/her weakest and least rational moments, what does that say about faith?

      And we seldom hear of those religious folks who, driven to despair with pain, curse God and everything they believed in for years. Do we hold them up as examples to claim, “See — they were really atheists all along!”. That would be a shitty thing to do, and yet many religious folks seem to think that it’s OK the other way around.

  6. “What he’s wrong about is assuming that truths that suffering may yet reveal to him are bound to be lies.”
    Can it be both a truth and a lie? If so, is it a lie because the suffering thinks it is false when it reveals it through its pain?

  7. This was a Catholic hospital, so this behavior was acceptable

    Only in the minds of those who not give a fuck for professional ethics.

  8. It’s Rod Dreher, anybody who follows his blog would expect no different.

    Why it is worth discussing I don’t know. Dreher deserves exactly 0 links referencing his blog.

    We should not reward narrow-minded nasty people who say inconsequential things by referencing to them. Certainly I’m sure Hitchens is wise enough to not be goaded into responding to people who misconstrue what he says.

  9. Dreher may be a mental/emotional coward who enjoys grovelling to cover his back just in case, but Hitchens is not. And you know what, that is why Hitchens is successful–the world wants and needs a someone who is not a mental/emotional basket case. His personality and achievements enjoy an causative relationship, not an accidental one!

    Making a big deal of pride is typical religious stupidity. Hitchens’ recognizes his ability, so sue him, Dreher, you emptied head, cold-hearted, self-centered, backward, blubbering idiot.

    Revelation based on great pain is an abomination not a truth, showing simply that the person affected is unable to filter his personal, subjective experience through an objective and reality-based sieve. Hitchens recognizes that this may happen to him.

    And we all recognize that Dreher’s emphasis contributes to the reason why so many are leaving the pews, because there is no real comfort in being a drooling and gurgling life-long baby like Dreher.

  10. “I believe her conversion was true, and effective, and that that nurse, whose name I never learned, was an angel of mercy.”

    Remember that scene at the beginning of the latest superman movie? Where Lex Luthor tricks the old woman on her deathbed into marrying (signing away her fortune to) him? Yeah, that’s your “angel of mercy” right there.

    “What he’s wrong about is assuming that truths that suffering may yet reveal to him are bound to be lies.”

    No, Hitchens just recognizes that vulnerable people in emotionally fragile states (like your aunt who was “delirious with pain”) tend to make bad decisions on bad reasoning. That’s it.

    1. And, of course, that Protestant nurse had no authority to administer the sacraments of the True (Catholic) Church, and so his aunt went to hell anyway or in the best case Baptist heaven instead of Real (Catholic) heaven. Damn those meddling do-gooders who happen to hold the wrong religion!

      1. Sorry — see from Dreher’s Wikipedia that he’s gone from Methodism to Catholicism to Orthodoxy, so far. I assumed he was still Catholic. To his credit the pedophilia scandals did eventually piss him off enough to leave the RCC, although he previously tried to blame the problem on homosexuality. I mean, WTF!

        OK, that credit doesn’t go all that far.

  11. As I recall, all of the abuses of the Spanish Inquisition were inflicted on the basis of this belief. That suffering revealed “truth”.

    Really…are we going back to THAT?

    Torquemada would be puffed up with pride were he not by now merely bone fragments, undecomposed hair, and leftover collagen.

  12. Organized religion is a safe haven for those who are afraid to think for themselves. As for Rod Dreher, “He has spent most of the past two decades as an opinion journalist and critic.” His engagement at Templeton would be short lived if he detoured from the narrow Templeton road.

    I disagree with Hitch often, but endorse his independent point of view. Dreher, on the other hand, has become a money-changer, exchanging the party line for shekels.

    Hitch’s cancer challenge has nothing to do with his atheism.

  13. How can he be so certain that what he may see in the near future will not convince him that God exists?

    Rod Dreher has locked himself into this role. If it requires him to say reprehensible things, so be it.

    Kudos to his aunt, in all of her agony, for still knowing how to get the nurse to shut up about it.

  14. Career contemptible little worm Dreher has never had any compunction pimping out the misfortunes of his own family to serve his own venal interests, so why should the tragedy of a complete stranger like Hitchens be any surprise?

    If you look at his previous blog before BQO, you can see him in post after post, slobbering and munching on the cancer-ridden body of his own sister like some crazed, grinning cannibal media zombie in order to pump up his page view profit.

    At one point he even bemoans her lack of interest in Stage Four lung cancer stats, probably because the dismal results she would encounter there if she explored them would leave her with even more misery and despair for him to peddle, thereby letting him squeeze the absolute maximum amount of “human interest” blog profit from those vicariously following her previously very private misery.

    Contemptible little worm doesn’t BEGIN to describe the nonchalant soiling and rape of any human decency to come his way that this little huckster routinely traffics in.

  15. Well, actually Hitchens did say that if he lost his mental faculties he might turn religious, except that it wouldn’t be “him”.
    What this contemptible ghoul is not realizing is that in his condescending rant he is actually proving Hitchens right.
    The nonbelievers hold the moral high ground, in health and illness.

  16. Notice that Dreher plays the “humility” card. Humility! Is that what this is? Humility? Is it humility to think that belief in an imagined deity is superior to non-belief in an imagined deity? It seems to me to be the height of conceit. It amounts to saying that whatever I dream up is true. The rest of us understand that our imaginations are not powerful enough to conjure things into existence.

    1. It takes profound humility to think that a being created a universe of trillions of cubic light years just to give you a home.

      1. Yeah – I was watching Cosmos and thinking that against the backdrop of the known universe, religions seem at once petty and supremely arrogant in their self-absorption.

    2. Humility. Noun. The state of being on the look out for the dying and the vulnerable, hoping to win them over to your faith. Like vultures.

    3. It’s just part of the Christian myth, that unbelievers are “too proud” to “humbly” accept the gospel/God/Jesus/whatever they are told.

      Of course, that sort of “pride” is just reason, and I hope to remain guilty of it.

  17. Ick. Dreher said this in a comment –

    No, I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t lose my faith under that kind of duress. I hope and pray that I wouldn’t, but I can’t know for sure. I could hear myself saying something like Hitchens said, but from the other side — but it wouldn’t be true, no matter how much I would hope for it to be. I would have said at one point in my life that I could never lose my Catholic faith. But it happened. “Lead us not into temptation…”

    Faith is something you can “lose,” against your will, as if a big monster came along and grabbed your balloon. “Losing” your “faith” is a “temptation.” It’s vulnerable and tottery and anxious – you could lose your grip on it at any time. Well this is the problem with rootless belief systems – your grip on them is never secure.

    1. Ah, yes, absolutely! You see the point? This is why the religious are screaming like scalded cats because of the confident atheism of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, Benson and Hirsi Ali. It’s very unsettling.

      1. I do see. And it’s so depressing, this constant tightrope walk – do I still have it? And now? Now? Now? A self-imposed source of anxiety…it’s so pathetic.

        Clever humans, carefully inventing this wholly unnecessary source of misery and then refining it – in the sense of making it steadily worse – for century after century.

        1. It’s the leap of faith, it cannot be made only once, but has to be performed over and over again. Eventually you will fall down from exhaustion.

  18. What a vile toad of a man! And what a vile organisation Templeton is, to give such a toad a platform to speak from. But he’s got more than a platform, doesn’t he? He’s publications director and editor of the online rag that spouts such assinine drivel! So, no one with any self-respect should publish there!! No matter how well paid! No self-respecting person should do this!

    BQO pretends to be an intellectual online journal, but this is the lowest form of religious twaddle. What really infuriates me about this is that this is precisely the kind of thing that people say when they condemn the idea of assisted dying. People still have that part of their life to live, their dying, and it may be that, in that final suffering God has something to say to them that they cannot hear because they have lived so much to themselves alone.

    That’s what this consummate idiot is saying about Hitchens. He’s a proud man. He needs to be brought low. Only then will he hear God’s voice, which has been drowned out by his pride.

    Despicable people, these religious. And while not everyone will say such foolish and unkind things out loud, it is hard to think that anyone who prays for someone who may be dying will not include, if that person is an unbeliever, a prayer also that they may wake up from their sleep and recognise the truth. Even for them, suffering is a way through the maze. It has to be, otherwise it has no purpose.

    1. From what I’ve read it doesn’t sound much like anything I’ve ever known that went by the terms of either science or religion. It’s really neither, just that made up mish-mash of empty words made to somehow sound both profound and cool at the same time that we think of when we hear the term “New Age”. Like Peter Max should be illustrating the posts with star-shaped stars with arching comet tails exploding into radial exclamation points and stuff.

  19. Big Questions Online has only been up for a few weeks now and in his latest post on his own blog there its editor, Rod Dreher, has already hysterically started deleting comments that don’t agree with him. It’s a pretty good sign that when many of the comments in a post are from the post’s own author having to rephrase what he meant in a desperate hope you’ll agree with him this time or are spent telling the commenters they aren’t thinking the right way or deleting comments that might cut too close to the bone that the author of the post didn’t have shit to say to begin with. If he can’t run a string of blog posts and comments on his personal blog without shooting the messengers I really have to wonder how long they’ll keep letting him bully or run off the paid writers they need elsewhere.

  20. What he’s wrong about is assuming that truths that suffering may yet reveal to him are bound to be lies.

    No, Hitchens is absolutely correct about that. Desperate people will grasp at anything.

    Desperation attacks human predators like blood attracts sharks. It’s what stuffs the pockets of every con artist and snake oil salesman. Find someone with nowhere else to turn and promise them a miracle. “Try it. What have you got to lose?”

    The churchies are no different. They all try to get to people when they’re at their lowest point and therefore most vulnerable: in inconsolable bereavement, addicted to drugs or alcohol, in prison, facing a mortal illness. Suffering makes us more susceptible to being manipulated, and they damn well know it. They plan for it. Whatever “truths” suffering may yet reveal, you can trust that they’re not going to be coming from people like Dreher.

  21. I liked the conclusion of the Mark Vernon piece about how Christians who accept evolution can reconcile the issue of natural evil with their faith:

    Polkinghorne offers not so much a solution to the problem of evil as a conviction of hope despite it all. Whether you find his argument convincing will depend on your own faith or lack thereof.

    In other words: “Yeah, we got nothing.”

  22. Yes, a toad: Bufo Dreheriensis. He has a subsequent post quoting some religious bigot called Rieff in which it is asserted that the control of sexuality (a good thing) is the core of Christianity and that without it ‘our’ civilisation will disappear, and, no, Dreher says, lest we misunderstand, I’m not speaking out against same-sex marriage, merely pointing out…
    I put the ‘our’ in quotation marks, because it seems to wholly escape the little Christian toads who like to spit their venom that there is a world elsewhere, beyond Christianity, and there are – thank whatever – numerous religions in the world that are nothing like Christianity in its obsession with sex and sexuality. What strikes me, when reading Christian apologists, from the relative height of Newman through Chesterton and down at last to the dregs of Dreher is how fundamentally childish and parochial they are: they’ve got it all worked out, they’ve got their little box of tricks and they are going to keep on trying to stuff the wide, untidy, various world into it, and things that don’t fit they fail to notice, refuse to notice or try to chop off.

    1. Philip Rieff, husband for a time of the young Susan Sontag, father of David. Not really a religious bigot, I don’t think…more like a quirky and erudite sociologist. (I think he was a sociologist.)

      1. Thank you, Ophelia. I can’t say that I like his quirks, as reported by Dreher and as just now skimmed on Wikipedia. I came to dislike the cultural doom-mongers years ago, and Rieff, for all his wrll, things are going to change anyway and we can’t do anything about it, seems to be one of their number. Or am I being too readily judgmental and harsh?

      2. The funniest thing is, nothing, I mean nothing, will drive Dreher into a foaming at the mouth tantrum quicker than pointing out to him that the Teacher’s Pet Pedantic Orthopraxy (TPPO) he obsesses over (“I followed all the rules. I never touched my pee-pee in a naughty way. The Big Teacher likes me best. I win.”), particularly with regard to his personal sexual squeamishness for the therapeutic benefits he so desperately needs from it,
        is exactly what Rieff means by his “Moral Therapeutic Deism” (MTD) which Dreher so loves to tar others with when tarring as his spiritual inferiors.

        Particularly now that he’s sold his soul to what has to be the Papacy of MTD, Templeton, and become one of its bishops, tell him he longs to have sex with his mother all day long, tell him anything else, but never, ever point out that he’s the one and only poster boy in the blogosphere for his dreaded MTD, lol.

        1. And of course there was Origen who, according to Eusebius, chopped off his pee-pee or a couple of things close to it in order to become a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, following Christ’s words in Matthew… Perhaps His Dreariness Bufo Dreheriensis would regard that as an admirable act.

  23. I spent a month with my mom in a cancer ward. One day she said to me, in ernest, “can you find some way, any way, to tell the Christians to stop coming to bother me? I can’t stand their music.” She died a few days later. The Christians seem to be one of the few things that tortured her in her last few days of life.

  24. How do we know that Dreher isn’t pulling another “Tom Johnson” with this story? Anybody can make up any kind of fiction to illustrate his point.

  25. just to put a little more oo in the woo, Dreher includes this bit of uneeded detail, “A nurse, a black Protestant lady”

    1. To the contrary. As a member of the south Louisiana Mayberry aristocracy Rod Dreher claims as his superior heritage, it was important for him to note that his aunt was properly by someone subservient to her by being doubly inferior to her in social class. A Protestant, that empty headed and misguided cult responsible for Dreher’s twin hatreds, the Enlightenment and the Reformation, and of course a black woman, who probably shouldn’t have even been there as a nurse but rather invisibly cleaning the aunt’s house instead.

  26. taxonomic pedantry alert: If a species of Bufo were named after this dufus (can’t imagine why he should be so honored), would it not be Bufo dreheria or similar? I think the -ensis ending implies, “from the region of”. We have lots of X sanvichensis critters here in the Sandwich Islands, including our iconic state bird, Branta sandvichensis.

  27. The truth or falsehood of any claim should be ascertained while one is healthy, sane, stable, and by using trustworthy, replicable methods. Why do these religious people put so much stake in the emotional impulsive decisions of people on their death beds, people who are nowhere near to thinking straight? Since they’re OK with exploiting people’s fear of death to get a few more “saved”, they might as well exploit people’s fear of torture and get the same results.

  28. Along with his imagined humility, I suppose Dreher imagines that religion makes him more moral.

    Should Dreher be on his deathbed, I hope some Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons or Muslims tsk tsk him for believing in the wrong indicating that his suffering is a sign to convert before it’s too late.

    And if I’m screaming in pain, I’d much rather a nurse administer morphine rather than manipulative trite religious nuttery (WTF?!)

    I lost my husband to cancer when we were in our twenties and I have my own “war stories”. One Mormon friend tried to comfort(?) me by saying, “it’s too bad you aren’t Mormon because then you’d be sealed and you’d know you and your husband would spend eternity together…” ?! All I can figure as that religion must blind people to their own crassness.

    In my experience, the religious are the least likely to say or do anything helpful during a life crises. They will let you know how they are praying for you, though.

    1. You are absolutely right. My closest friend died of cancer in his early forties. A quite common assumption among the more religious or spiritual of our acquaintances was that his cancer must have been a punishment for the severity of the criticism he published(he was a writer, and a good one). And one religiously^minded Japanese acquaintance deceived him, and after his death me, in going to a meeting which turned out to be a meeting where those who had been brought along were encouraged to become members of some fashionable cult: the introducer, of course, gained kudos for bringing people along. No, when somebody close to you dies, it can be an eye-opener.

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