Christopher Hitchens: my prayer for a worthy opponent

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach This Sunday evening, August 22nd, Christopher Hitchens will appear on my radio show on 77 WABC … Continued

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

This Sunday evening, August 22nd, Christopher Hitchens will appear on my radio show on 77 WABC in New York City to discuss his memoir, Hitch 22. It will not be our first meeting.

Hitchens and I have had three fiery, take-no-prisoners debates about G-d and religion. Millions of people have apparently watched them on YouTube. The first, at Makor, was the one I enjoyed the most. It was hard-hitting, but ended friendly. The second, at the 92nd St. Y, was cantankerous and at times almost brutal. The third, in Puebla, Mexico, followed that trend.

I was upset at Hitchens after the last two debates. I felt that subsequent to his publication of his screed against religion, G-d Is Not Great, he had become radicalized in his attitude toward religion. After the first debate we went out for dinner at a kosher restaurant. After the second we took a few photos together and that was it. Each of our partisan followers went to work spinning the debate according to their belief or lack thereof.

But when I heard that Hitchens had esophageal cancer and might even be dying, I was extremely sad and immediately began to pray for his health and recovery. I wrote to all my friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter to do the same. Hitchens would tell me not to waste my time, that no one is listening. But I know that G-d above has a special place for Hitchens, amid his status of being an avowed enemy of the faith.

The reason? Because when the whole world excoriated the United States for its invasion of Iraq, he was almost the only one of the leading liberal writers that championed the cause. Not because he supported Bush, or loved America. But because the one thing Hitchens has always been passionate about is his hatred of tyrants and his compassion for their victims. Hitchens has used his pen with unequaled eloquence as a sword to defend those being brutalized by despots. The most assured way of loving G-d is to love His children, and Hitchens has been a consistent and eloquent defender of innocents throughout his life.

Hitchens criticism of religion is, of course, sometimes accurate. But by and large I find his attacks on religion to be his weakest advocacy, lacking his usually robust intellectual rigor. He can sometimes come across as an atheist fundamentalist and be as close-minded as the most extreme religious extremist.

But notwithstanding our staunch disagreements on religion and faith, Hitchens is, quite simply, a pleasure to read. His prose have an unequaled elegance and he just might be the greatest living essayist in the English language. If he writes a new column, I have to read it. Which is why we all so want him to live. Eloquence and courage of his caliber is a potent and rare mixture. He sometimes has me pulling my hair (beard) out. But I love reading him. He is always entertaining, always iconoclastic, and always a contrarian. As someone who has been a fierce individualist throughout his life, I salute Hitchens’ daring to be different. Our society tends toward conformity. It’s terrifying to be out there on your own, different, isolated, alone. But Hitchens has trailblazed a solitary, yet fascinating path.

So, let’s conclude with a question. Can a man who spent his life thundering against religion as something fraudulent and dangerous be a hero to the faithful? Since Hitchens is Jewish, as am I, I must answer from the benefit of our tradition.

Judaism does not judge people by their faith, but by their actions. It does not look primarily at what people say but at what they do. Hitchens has been a courageous voice for the voiceless and has championed the cause of the persecuted. No doubt he has earned divine favor for doing so, and yes, we who espouse a belief in G-d can look up to his courage in speaking truth to power and walk in those footsteps.

G-d surely has his hands full with Christopher Hitchens, but He has a soft spot for him nonetheless. I just hope G-d doesn’t end up liking Hitch too much for fear that he will yank him up to the heavens way too soon, when we still want to spend a lot more time with him here on earth.

We pray for your healing Christopher and trust you will fight your illness with as much gusto and verve as you have fought everything else in life, and we all hope for your recovery and triumph.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts ‘The Shmuley Show’ on 77 WABC in NYC. He is the founder of This World: The Values Network, and is the author, most recently, of ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

  • decidenator

    How could anybody take you seriously if you won’t even write out the word “God”?

  • CarlosPi

    Shame on you. To use a dying man’s name like this.Christopher Hitchens could never possibly be a hero to the faithful.Have you not listened to a word he’s said or written on the topic? Or said to you? On your three debates with him?Of course you have. So it follows that you’re just happy to brush his words aside as if he didn’t *really* mean them, or they don’t *really* count, or you just *know* better. And then you go and write this.

  • alanshapiro

    To DecidenatorIn Judaism the name of God is not said. Thus, Rabbi Shmuley shows his piety by leaving out the ‘o’.

  • bpai_99

    Noble thoughts, Rabbi Boteach. Please don’t forget that there are Jews, Christians and Muslims who discount any value or worth in others simply for the reason that those people do not share their faith.P.S. Hitchens (one of my heroes) may be an atheist to you, but to God he is a conscientious objector.

  • bpai_99

    I would like to think that Hitchens, when his time finally comes (may it be many years from now), going out with a memorable quip, like Voltaire did when lamp flickered by his deathbed:”What, the flames already?”

  • Nymous

    Not naming is a measure of respect that goes back well into the BC, and there are plenty of reflections of this in modern practice of the religions of the one god.There’s a point about not blowing other people up over religion that’s being lost on the masses…

  • alance

    The problem with Hitch 22 is Catch 22. Hitch is no Yossarian. Hitch is in a no-win situation.There is only one catch and that is Catch-22. Now we just need to listen to divine laughter.

  • bowsie

    How terribly condescending to ask people to pray for Hitchens, and to express the opinion that God has a special place for him.Respect the person in sickness as in health and respect his beliefs by keeping your opinions on his divine position to yourself. If you were sick, I’m sure you wouldn’t have Hitchens express empathy for the eternal nothingness he believes you would face.A shocking lack of self-awareness. Only in America.

  • willemkraal

    oh darlings pleeze. pray what a scam what a fraud what a waste of time,its total hokus/pokus no one is listening.hitch is correct all that god/jezus stuff is pure bs.

  • henrycohen3

    Rabbi Boteach is wrong to say that Hitchens is Jewish. Hitchens’ mother was of Jewish heritage, and according to Jewish doctrine, that makes Hitchens Jewish. But Hitchens does not accept Jewish doctrine (and he didn’t even know until he was an adult that his mother was of Jewish heritage). In other words, to say that Hitchens is Jewish already assumes that Hitchens is Jewish; it is circular reasoning. Rabbi Boteach is free to consider Hitchens Jewish, but it is Hitchens who should have the final say, and he is not bound by Jewish doctrine.

  • medogsbstfrnd

    methinks the rabbi has Stockholm syndrome. Hitchens would prefer, I think, that you honor him by not praying for him. His acolytes will hold hands and sing his praises, which is also a riddle. There is nothing to praise here. Nothing. It all comes to nothing. He is suffering in a haze of nothingness, according to his evangelistic proclamations anyway. But well hell, let everyone be in denial then, both rabbi and atheist personality cult. It’s fascinating to behold, for sure.

  • jpfann

    The Post is ever so proud of its Faith blog (why, they have the serious religion expert Meachem and the connected gadfly Quinn as editors!), and devotes column after column to those who declare they have no faith. Another bit of silliness from the “Newspaper of Record.”Go figure.

  • AIPACiswar

    Christopher Hitchens reflected very clearly on Charlie Rose the other night; he has no negative thoughts for people who might pray for him. If it makes THEM feel better, what’s the harm? That’s the mind of a person confident in his own ideas.This rabbi, and most fundamentalist religious nutcase fools are not qualified to take Hitchens temperature, never mind challenge his well thought out ideas on how humans misuse their instinct for spirituality. That said I’m pleased to see how Hitchens good work has impressed him, as it should.I recommend people get the audiobook version of “God is Not Great,” if you have decent listening skills and an open mind you’ll never be the same. Hitchens combines a superb speaking voice and remarkably well thought out research for every concept he proposes. We all owe Chris Hitchens a deep debt of gratitude for his contributions to our society. Get educated, read & or listen to Hitchens.

  • joe_allen_doty

    “God” is whom YHWH Elohim (LORD God in English Bibles with the Old Testament) is. The above tetragammon (transliterated as YHWH) made up of 4 Hebrew syllables – Each of the 4 letter are actually syllables – is the real name of the Elohim of the God of the Israelites/Jews/Hebrews. YHWH, can be pronounced as Yahweh or Yehowah, was still being pronounced aloud when Jesus was ministering in the 1st Century AD. How can one swear an oath promise without using the Elohim’s name? YHWH is used in the Hebrew Text of Exodus 20:7 in regard to taking YHWH’s name in vain. The Jews stopped saying YHWH (or Yahweh) aloud after the Roman Army destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. They used “The Name” instead. How do I know that YHWH was still being used at the time of Jesus’ ministry? Because Jesus mentions it in Matthew 5:33-38. He said not to swear by anything… just let your “yes” be a “yes” and your “no” be a “no.” By Christian tradition, adding “so help me God” when taking a political office goes against what Jesus taught. If a politician says those words and he doesn’t keep his promise, in effect, he took the LORD’s name in vain.

  • kenk3

    Shmuley, go f-ck yourself, you ugly shm-ck.

  • henrycohen3

    I will not click “Report Offensive Comment” for “Shmuley, go f-ck yourself, you ugly shm-ck,” because I don’t find it offensive. Rather, I find it worthless. It conveys that Kenk3 is angry, but, as he doesn’t say why he is angry, why should anyone care that he is? It also conveys that Kenk3 is inarticulate.

  • kenk3

    Its true I am angry.I am angry with religious zealots like Shmuley, who won’t even spell the word “God” out of superstition. I’m angry with the extremists in every religion.

  • jjedif

    “Hitchens criticism of religion is, of course, sometimes accurate.”G-d and religion offers false hope to its masses of victims…along with great power to its leaders to abuse its masses of victims. That’s the long and the short of it.

  • m_richert

    As a life-long yellow-dog Democrat, I was stunned and felt betrayed when Hitchins switched to the right and supported Bush’s war. On a snobbish level I thought he was too fastidious to have “any truck with that trash” as we said in Kentucky. I using the past tense because I am 81 and doubt that anyone under 70 even know what it means today. But, like the mother of an adored, wayward child, I have never been able to withstand his intelligent, witty and utterly charming persona. To those who despise him, forgive me. I have never been able to not watch him any time ne appeared on TV and have just finished reading his memoir, Hitch-22, written before he was stricken with what is a really serious medical situation. So I thank him for the wonderful moments he has given me and wish him well.

  • m_richert

    I do not understand religions. The one thing they all have in common is the comforting idea that we never really die. Religion does give comfort to many people. Unfortunately, it brings out hateful and barbaric emotions in many others. Oddly, and terribly enough, it does both to a great many people. See comments above.

  • werowe1

    Can Hitchens be a hero to the faithful? Don’t know but he’s a hero to the faithless. Because of his courage standing up to conventional wisdom maybe one day we can elect an aetheist to office, someone who can think for themselves. As for your view that he is a great writer that’s not really true. What makes him so wonderful to read is the audacity of his views. He’s no novelist and says so in his memoir meaning while he can explain Saul Bellow he cannot write like him. As for the clarity of his argument on religion remember his basic tenet: it’s not a miracle that the grass is green. It’s just that we have grown accustomed to the color.

  • Ombudsman1

    I have to ask the Rabbi, if I say “Jehovah”, will I be stoned? I don’t think it should be a sin, just for saying “Jehovah”. Jehovah Jehovah Jehovah

  • davewyman

    Hitchens is Jewish? Then the Rabbi must be a Christian. He’s acting like Franklin Graham (Billy’s son), a Christian, who claimed Pres. Obama is a Muslim because he father was a Muslim. The intellectual dishonesty of people like Boteach and Graham is both transparent and pathetic.

  • ilpalazzo

    God is probably more likely to have a special place for Hitchens than this G-d deity you speak of.

  • ThomasBaum

    apspa1You wrote, “And are they not told this King of Kings can do no wrong even while the world drips with the blood of believers and non-believers alike while the King of Kings sits idly by watching the carnage he is said to know will happen?”Are you saying that God should have made us like puppets on a string rather than with free will or that our free will should only be free up to a point?Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.