By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago is praising the Catholic media for calling for prayer for well-known atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who was recently diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer.
In an op-ed appearing CNN‘s religion blog, Fr. Robert Barron, founder of WordOnFire.org and Professor of Faith and Culture at Mundelein Seminary, was moved to write a touching commentary about Hitchens, author of the best-selling God is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything, upon hearing the news that he has been stricken with a particularly aggressive form of esophageal cancer.
While acknowleding him as one of the “four horsemen” of the New Atheism, Fr. Barron expected at least some in the Catholic media to declare this misfortune as the avenging hand of God against a man who had for so long blasphemed God.
“But what struck me with particular power as I surveyed the Catholic media was that the vast, vast majority of Catholics reported Hitchens’ disease and then, with transparent sincerity, urged people to pray for him,” Fr. Barron reported.
“In making that recommendation, of course, they were on very sure ground indeed. Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies; bless those who curse you; pray for those who maltreat you.’ Christopher Hitchens is undoubtedly the enemy of Christianity—even of Christians—but he is also a child of God, loved into being and destined for eternal life. Therefore, followers of Jesus must pray for him and want what is best for him.”
We can only speculate on why God allowed this to happen to Hitchens, Fr. Barron says. “Might it be an occasion for the famous atheist to reconsider his position? Perhaps. Might it be the means by which Hitchens comes to think more deeply about the ultimate meaning of things? Could be. Might it bring others to faith? Maybe. Might it have a significance that no one on the scene today could even in principle grasp? Probably.”
Fr. Barron goes on to advise that because Hitchens “seeks by means of specious argument, insinuation, and sometimes plain smear-tactics to undermine religion” he ought to be opposed vigorously, “but all the while, he ought to be respected.”
As an example, Fr. Barron recalls the great friendship between one of the greatest Catholic apologists of all time, G. K. Chesteron, and the diehard agnostic George Bernard Shaw. The two often engaged in aggressive public debates, but afterward, could be seen drinking and laughing together.
“That’s a model of how a Christian treats his intellectual opponents,” Fr. Barron writes. “So read Christopher Hitchens; disagree with him and get angry with him; defend the faith against his attacks. And pray for him.”
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