Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ebert talks Hitchens and cancer

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Christopher Hitchens (during CNN interview)
Christopher Hitchens
[source: Roger Ebert's Journal]

Roger Ebert has a blog post up about Christopher Hitchens and his cancerous ailment. Of course, you just know that means you have to read it and that I must quote a wonderful excerpt, below:

The militant atheist mentioned to Cooper "the astonishing number of prayer groups" that were supporting him. He noted there were also groups praying for him to suffer and die. And other groups praying that he be redeemed, "so my soul gets saved even if my wretched carcass does not."

"So you don't pray at all?" Cooper said. "No, that's all meaningless to me. I don't think souls or bodies can be changed by incantation." There was a catch in his voice, and the slightest hint of tears. That was the moment -- not the cancer or the dying -- that got to me. Prayer groups also prayed for me, and I was grateful and moved. It isn't the sad people in movies who make me cry, it's the good ones.

Hitchens added that if there should be reports of his deathbed conversion, they would be reports of a man "irrational and babbling with pain." As long as he retains his thinking ability, he said, there will be no conversion to belief in God. This is what I expected him to say. Deathbed conversions have always seemed to me like a Hail Mary Pass, proving nothing about religion and much about desperation.


Hitchens shows himself as a man temperamentally driven to test his own opinions. He reasons instead of proselytizing. He exists as that most daring of writers, a freelance intellectual. He's a good speaker, can be funny, has bad teeth, is passably good-looking, and is at no pains to be a charmer. He's popular because he's smart. He says nothing merely to be politic, although in some situations he may keep his meaning coiled well within. Some years ago when I met him at the Telluride Film Festival, I was unaware of his fairly recent defection from the Left. I told him I read him in the Nation, which he'd by then severed his ties with. His reply was a masterpiece of irony, masked as egotism: "How clever of you."

I can just imagine Hitchens saying that last little quip and somehow making it sound trenchant yet benign. I’m somewhat disturbed by Ebert’s tone, however, as he makes his post sound like an advance obituary or something, as though Hitchens were lying on his deathbed. Granted, I’m not aware of his chances of pulling through (anyone know where to find such info?), but I don’t like to think of the man as truly dying until it’s relatively certain that he won’t make it out of his struggle. Keep hope.