As you may be aware, Christopher Hitchens recently announced that he’s been forced to cancel his public appearances for the sake of undergoing chemotherapy for an apparent case of esophageal (throat) cancer. While our best wishes for a speedy recovery fly out to him, there are others who have a rather different take on the whole thing. Hemant Mehta has just pointed to one such example, where George Berkin at NJ.com actually seems to believe that cancer is really just God’s way of being great and merciful towards Hitchens. The reasoning behind this is, as you can expect, a little very distorted [original emphasis]:
It seems against common sense to say this, but might I suggest that this turn of events shows that God is kind even to those who spend their lives fighting against him.
But to our question: how can cancer be an example of God’s grace to this suddenly stricken intellectual, who has made a career of arguing the case for atheism? A cancer which God didn’t “give,” but certainly permitted.
The short answer is this: if God really wanted to “get” Hitchens, God would just ignore the man, and let him go his blissful way, unchallenged, to a peaceful death.
At which point Hitchens would stand, face-to-face and unreconciled, with that very God.
There’s your typical Christian “saved vs. unsaved” brand of thinking right there. To believers like Berkin, it’s better to suffer through a lengthy battle with cancer and die with with having had the chance to “reconcile” yourself with God (ie. to have a deathbed conversion) than to just die quickly and painlessly without having turned into a believer first.
Personally, I don’t see Berkin as a bad person, and I don’t even think this post of his is, itself, reprehensible, even if, on the surface, it (and he) seems to be lauding the fact that someone is facing a painful and debilitating bout of cancer and chemotherapy with a possibly mortal outcome. I believe his heart is in the right place; he simply believes that this will save Hitchens’ soul, thus indicating that he does believe that cancer is actually a good thing to happen to him, however horrible such thinking may strike us as. And don’t get me wrong; by any rational and logical measure, it is. But seeing as it shows Berkin wishing (his idea of) the best to Hitchens rather than just reveling in his suffering and potential demise as so many other anti-atheists do, I honestly just can’t get worked up over it.
I will say, though, that perhaps Berkin ought to consider the possibility that if God truly were great and merciful (and at all influential over the course of people’s lives), that he would perhaps have chosen, say, not to smite Hitchens with cancer (and a particularly bad type, from what I hear). Only in Christian thinking can cancer, or any disease, really, actually be seen as a sign of mercy.