Christopher Hitchens passed away yesterday at 62 after a battle with cancer.
Hitchens was one of the most outspoken atheists in contemporary culture. As a columnist for Vanity Fair and author of God is Not Great, an atheist manifesto, he challenged religion with wit and a razor sharp intellect. Along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, Hitchens formed the so-called “New Atheists,” a sort of atheist revival following 9/11.
Some religious people villainize atheists as “The Enemy.” I disagree. As a matter of fact, it may surprise some to know that I have enjoyed reading these authors. I am thankful for the role that Hitchens played as one who questioned, not only relgious belief itself, but, more importantly to me, the practice of accepting beliefs without examination.
Hitchens and the other New Atheist authors simply question what many do not. While some of their points are straw man arguments against the worst examples of religious practice, they have also helped me to think about what I believe and why. They are often overly-provocative, but in a world of hype and anti-intellectualism, I appreciate anyone who makes me think.
Throughout history, people like Hitchens have protested evil committed in the name of religion, and because of dissenters like them, religious and government institutions have been challenged to reform. Specific to Church history, ironically, it has at times been the preaching of atheists that resulted in Christians acting more Christianly.
Stating it as clearly as I am able, I believe that all religious people would benefit from being exposed to the thoughts of Christopher Hitchens. In a post-9/11 world, we realize that it is dangerous to hold beliefs that one has never questioned. More personally, my faith means far more to me now than it did before I allowed myself to test it.
Hitchens helped me to examine my faith. Someone as intelligent as Christopher Hitchens is hard to stump, but I like to imagine that it would make him scratch his head for a moment to hear that I am a better Christian because of him.