Christopher Hitchens, as you’ve likely heard, has cancer. He’s one of the “new atheists,” and of course people asked “now that he’s going to die, will he find God?” to which he replied in the negative. In this article, he discusses his “fan” reactions (i.e. people praying for him to get better in spite of his atheism, or assuring him that they wouldn’t condescend by praying for him, or gloating that God has sent him such suffering), to which he responds:
…Why not a thunderbolt for yours truly, or something similarly awe-inspiring? The vengeful deity has a sadly depleted arsenal if all he can think of is exactly the cancer that my age and former “lifestyle” would suggest that I got.
I recently received a lengthy “fan” e-mail from someone positing that those atheists probably never had to deal with real suffering and loss, and that it’s positively cruel to take away religion from those who need it. This is a common response, and one directly responded to by the new atheists (and by Freud, at some length). I’m not going to repeat those arguments here, but I wanted to weigh in from my current situation (my mother just passed away last week…).
One of the great things about atheism is that your thoughts are private. For believers, doubt is an affront. For those like myself for whom the actual existence of a personal God who listens and judges is simply not a live option for belief, if I talk to “God,” if I talk to the souls of the departed, if I let the flood of warmth wash over me that comes with reflection on a felt, immediate connectedness to the dead, who is going to care?