Footnote 23 — How To Think About the Death of An Atheist

Footnote 23 – Douglas Wilson, “How To Think About the Death of An Atheist: An Opponent Reflects Upon the Death of a Famous Atheist” (Christianity Today, December 16, 2011)

This excerpt comes from an online Christianity Today article by Douglas Wilson, reflecting upon his relationship with Christopher Hitchens.  The two formed a relationship during the course of Hitchens’ promotional book tour for “God Is Not Great.”

Wilson’s article reminds us that Christ died for atheists as well, and we should not allow strong feelings of antipathy for their beliefs to deter us from seeing them as fallen human beings, as we all are, and praying that the good news of God’s grace might move them to repentance and salvation. Observing the frequent hypocrisy and self-righteousness apparent in the lives of many “Christians” may help explain the virulent anti-Christian rhetoric which seems to abound these days.

My memory of this article was triggered by a request from a friend that we who claim to follow the Messiah should pray fervently, specifically, and by name for another well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins, whose recent bizarre comments about child sexual abuse are easily explained as a perfectly logical consequence of atheistic assumptions.  Still, such abhorrent views do not excuse Christians from our duty to speak with grace and truth.

Excerpts of Douglas Wilson’s article, originally posted 12/16/2011, are reproduced below. Read more of Wilson’s reflections at

Christopher Hitchens was a celebrity intellectual, and, as such, the basic outlines of his life are generally well known… I came to know Christopher during the promotion tour for his atheist encyclical, God Is Not Great. True to form, Christopher did not want to write a book attacking God and his minions only to have the release be a wine and cheese party in Manhattan with a bunch of fellow unbelievers, where they could all laugh knowingly about the rubes and cornpones down in the Bible Belt. So he told his publicist that he wanted to debate with any and all comers, and in the course of promoting his book, he did exactly that. I believe his book tour began in Arkansas, and the range of his debate partners included Al Sharpton, Dinesh D’Souza, and numerous others.

In response to this general defiance he delivered to the armies of Israel, my agent Aaron Rench contacted Christianity Today to see if they would be willing to host a written exchange. They were, and when Christopher was contacted, he quickly agreed as well. That online exchange attracted some attention, and the debate was made into a small book (Is Christianity Good for the World?). The short promotion tour for the release of the book was a series of debates that Christopher and I held in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, which were filmed for the documentary Collision.

As a result of all this, we were thrown together in a number of situations. One time we shared a panel in Dallas, and I told the crowd there that if Christopher and I were not careful, we were in danger of becoming friends. During the time we spent together, he never said an unkind thing to me—except on stage, up in front of everybody. After doing this, he didn’t wink at me, but he might as well have.

So we got on well with each other, because each of us knew where the other one stood. Eugene Genovese, before he became a believer, once commented on the tendency that some have to try to garner respect by giving away portions, big or small, of what they profess to believe. “If other religions offer equally valid ways to salvation and if Christianity itself may be understood solely as a code of morals and ethics, then we may as well all become Buddhists or, better, atheists. I intend no offense, but it takes one to know one. And when I read much Protestant theology and religious history today, I have the warm feeling that I am in the company of fellow unbelievers” (The Southern Front, pp. 9–10).

….Unbelievers can smell accommodation, and when someone like Christopher meets someone who actually believes all the articles in the Creed, including that part about Jesus coming back from the dead, it delights him. Here is someone actually willing to defend what is being attacked. Militant atheists are often exasperated with opponents whose strategy appears to be “surrender slowly.”

G. K. Chesterton once pointed to the salutary effect that the great agnostics had on him—that effect being that of “arousing doubts deeper than their own.” Christopher was an heir of the Enlightenment tradition, and would have felt right at home in the 18th-century salons of Paris. He wanted to carry on the grand tradition of doubting what had been inherited from Christendom, and to take great delight in doubting it. This worked well, or appeared to, for a time.

But skepticism is a universal solvent, and once applied, it does not stop just because Christendom is gone. “I think, therefore I am. I think.” We pulled out the stopper of faith, and the bathwater of reason appeared undisturbed for a time. But modernism slowly receded and now postmodernism is circling the drain. Our intelligentsia needs to figure out how to do more than sit in an empty tub and reminisce about the days when Voltaire knew how to keep the water hot.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s