It would be a huge blow to Hitchens’ ego (as it is to any ego) to admit that he’s been wrong these many years. But Hitchens’ rebellion against God has been so public that God may require a very public humbling.But maybe God is doing it this way because he desires that Hitchens give up his “god,” that is, Hitchens’ pride in being different from the run-of-the-mill mortal. Maybe God is doing it this way so that Hitchens can encounter the God he has been denying for so long, before eternity sets in.
Those are the words of George Berkin, who writes for the online N.J.com site of the Star-Ledger New Jersey Voices. Nice sentiment, isn’t it? God gave Hitchens cancer.
But Berkin isn’t alone in this opinion. The internet is abuzz with speculation that this is all part of a magnificent plan. Hitchens is going to have a deathbed conversion, and the rest of us heathens will see what a bad idea it is to defy god… by, golly!
The mythology of the deathbed conversion is powerful. There are almost always rumors when a famous atheist dies. And who can say for sure? Until an atheist comes back to refute his own deathbed conversion, it’s a matter of faith.
I have a personal grudge against the deathbed meme. It was used on my father, who died after many years in a persistent vegetative state. Several of my family members invented a story that he woke up just long enough to tell them that he had accepted Jesus as his personal savior. It was horse-shit, to be sure. He was missing the parts of his brain necessary for such a conversion. (I admit, I found it kind of funny that my family couldn’t even keep their own story straight and told several versions of it.)
There haven’t been many studies on deathbed conversions. For one thing, how do you study it? Like the philosophical tactic of backing god up one step every time science advances, a theist can always claim a “last instant” conversion. I’ve heard it myself at funerals. “Well, yeah, John was an atheist, but it only takes one thought in the last fraction of a second of life for God to forgive, so I believe he’s in heaven.”
What can you say to that? Nothing. No matter how much data we could acquire about how many atheists do not convert on their death beds, theists could always retort with… “Yeah, but they lived for seconds (or minutes, or hours) after that data was gathered. You don’t know that they didn’t convert in the very last instant.”
I hope Hitchens beats cancer. The variety he has doesn’t have a good prognosis. If he dies, it will be a big loss. People with his writing skill and boldness are few and far between. Is it wrong for me to hope for a comeback from the edge? It would be very powerful for him to be able to say, “Yeah, I was sure I was going to die. No, I didn’t find Jesus.”
Not that it would matter, though. Because when he eventually dies, someone will likely make up a bullshit story of a last minute confession, and believers will believe it.
Oh, and that’s a picture I took back at the 2007 AAI convention. Ten in the morning, and already well into the Johnny Walker Black and soda. Never slurred a word.