Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on the presto-changeo deathbed conversion

There are people out there who are gleeful at Christopher Hitchens’ illness.  I’m not surprised, I for one am glad we’re on the same side, he’s formidable.  But Hitchens’ opponents can’t do anything as mundane as being honest, even about something like this, and lots of people around the world have been accusing him – somewhat prematurely – of undergoing a deathbed conversion.  He’s already said that the only way this would happen is if the cancer or the drugs cause a decline in his mental faculties.  Now he has this to say on those ghouls who prowl around hospitals preaching to dying atheists:

’It’s considered acceptable in our culture to approach perfect strangers, as often or not who may be in extremis, and evangelise. I don’t see why that’s considered a normal thing.’ His voice rises in indignation. ‘They’re allowed to roam the wards. They tried it on me.’I know people old and young who’ve been terrified by attentions of this kind.’

He has been thinking of making a short speech along precisely these lines, to the effect that he, Harris and Dawkins may set up a secular equivalent of hospital visitors. ‘We’d go round – “Hope you don’t mind, you said you were Catholic? Only three weeks to live? Well, listen, you don’t have to live them as a mental slave, you know; you could have three weeks of freedom from fear of the priest. Don’t be a mug all your life…” I don’t think it would be considered in very good taste.’

I don’t think it would be a kindness either, I say.

‘I think it would,’ Hitchens says. ‘Absolutely.’

I think it would too.  False comfort is a pale imitation of the real thing and three weeks of knowing the truth is worth one tricky conversation and a restless night.  What could be kinder than to tell someone that they don’t have to bow to a capricious, malevolent tyrant any more?

Members of my family have smugly insisted that I’ll change my mind about god as I grow closer to death.  They take delight in the fact: not because they think I’ll eventually be saved, although I expect that’s part of it, but because they think they’ll somehow be proved right if I do.  There is no possibility that it will happen, unless I lose my mind, and to say that it will is the worst and most profound insult anyone could make to me. 

It wouldn’t be a kindness to convince me to spend my remaining days in servitude to a horror show and woe betide anyone who tries it.

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