The Catholic Thing
Hitch Lives Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Thursday, 29 July 2010

I refuse to believe that Christopher Hitchens is dying. My sense is he will beat this esophageal cancer that – given his personal habits – seems to have been all but inevitable, and that Hitchens will live long enough to become the Malcolm Muggeridge of his generation, i.e., one of the preeminent Catholic apologists of our time.

I love Hitchens and I know I am not alone among orthodox Catholics.

Some years ago he debated Catholic League President Bill Donohue at the Union League Club in New York City about whether the New York Times is anti-Catholic. Among other things Hitchens said that if the Times was not anti-Catholic then the Church was not doing its job. Donohue beat up on Hitchens and got so rough that a long line of conservative Catholics stood in line to shake Hitchens’ hand and apologize to him for Donohue’s behavior.

Now certainly Bill Donohue is not the only rough customer out on the religious-political-cultural hustings. Hitchens is one rough customer, too, and can certainly take care of himself. But there is some measure of respect and perhaps even love that would make orthodox Catholics line up and apologize for the unfair battering he got from one of their own.

I buttonholed him once at a bar in Washington DC called Timberlakes. I had just heard about the Donohue dustup and wanted to add my good wishes to all the others he received that night. Remarkably warm and engaging, he stood there and talked and talked and talked. He wobbled a bit, but so did I.  Leaving, he said, “I’m in the phone book, call me any time.”

I saw him another time at the American Enterprise Institute at a reading of children’s poetry organized by Jody Bottum of First Things. Hitchens sat behind the dais reciting children’s poetry, each delivered beautifully and from memory, All the while he slugged surreptitiously from a small flask kept hidden in his hand at belt level – as surreptitiously as one could slug while sitting at a dais. Poor Hitch, I thought.

He has a lot to overcome to come our way, maybe more than most. After all, Hitchens is the guy who wrote a vicious attack on Mother Teresa with the ghastly title The Missionary Position, in which he called her a thug and accused her of taking money from thugs. He also characterized her as a ghoul preying on the dying men and women of Calcutta, and criticized her for not having an elevator in her center for the dying, instead using the strong backs of her nuns to carry the dying from floor to floor.

One of the outspoken leaders of the new atheist movement, he’s written a book called God is Not Great. In his recently released memoir Hitch-22, he quotes his close friend Salman Rushdie who said that the earlier book had a good title, but just one word too long. In years of debates on the question of religion, he has usually gives better than he gets and takes every opportunity to sock God, religion, and the Catholic Church right in the kisser.

If he is dying, he’s not going down without a fight. Even in the last few days, even after the news of his perhaps terminal illness, he was going at the Catholic Church in the pages of using the occasion of Mel Gibson’s latest sinister rant to say that Catholicism has always been inclined toward fascism.

Many of us watched eagerly as he came gingerly to the political right. He wrote a wonderful book about the Clinton’s called No One Left to Lie To. He broke quite publically with his long time friend, left-wing hatchet man Sidney Blumenthal when Blumenthal tried to get Hitchens to lie about some of Clinton’s female victims. Eventually Hitchens started hanging around with guys like Paul Wolfowitz and defending George Bush over the war in Iraq.

Still he kept after the Church. In his New Criterion review of Hitchens’ memoir, Christopher Caldwell says his anti-Christianity is the only thing remaining that tethers him to the Left. British journalist Douglas Murray questions whether this is even real, claiming recently that Hitchens told him that his attacks on the Church are mere cover so he can also go after Islam.

So what is it that makes me think Hitchens could come our way? Well, I don’t know. Wishful thinking, certainly. Perhaps his hatred for the Church is one reason. I don’t believe Murray; Hitchens hatred does not seem like anything other than genuine. You have to think something so pure and unalloyed as his hatred could, under certain circumstances, turn intensely to love. You don’t pay so much attention to something that does not arouse your deepest passions.

I think often of the parallel between Hitchens and Muggeridge. Muggs was the most famous British journalist of his time, a man of the Left who visited the Soviet Union and left the Left. He was a roustabout and a bit of a rapscallion and immensely and publically fascinating. Later in life, he went off to do a documentary about Mother Teresa and his life was changed unto eventual conversion to the Catholic Church.

You have to think that Hitchens has chosen to tangle with the wrong one – besides God – I mean that tough old bird, Mother Teresa. She likely did not know who he was until he wrote that book. Maybe she didn’t even know him then. She did not seem like someone who kept up with her detractors. But she did seem like someone who would love someone as lovable as Hitch. Even now, right now, you can almost see her whispering in Jesus’ ear, “Save that young man’s life. I love him so.”

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washinton, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
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Comments (19)Add Comment
Why I Hope for Hitchens
written by Anita Moore OPL, July 30, 2010
It is precisely the passion of his hatred for the Holy Bride of Christ that makes me hope for Hitchens' soul. It is those who are neither hot nor cold whom Jesus spits out of His mouth.
Hitch A Nano-Second After Death
written by Yezhov, July 30, 2010
I pray Hitch will avail himself of Christ's last offer of mercy.
written by Joe, July 30, 2010
From the Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson:

How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might'st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for the at home;
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!"
written by MartinK, July 30, 2010
Interesting piece. I too am a fan of Hitchens notwithstanding the fact that his pieces directed at the Church and the Holy Father are, though sometimes justified, ususally unfair and always so painful to read. Funny though that I've often had the thought that he his destined for conversion. I get the same thought about Camille Paglia.
written by Giuseppe, July 30, 2010
I wouldn't count on Hitch making a deathbed conversion. Somehow I think he's been brainwashed all these years by the likes of Dawkins and other atheists who have made a living out of denouncing a denying the God Who made them. As Chesterton said, "If there were no God there would be no atheists."

Hitch exuded much hate toward religion, especially Catholicism, and now as he nears the end it appears that he may yet decide that Pascal's Wager is worth a gamble. After all, what has he got to lose, except his soul.

On the other hand, maybe Chris is right after all and we're all worm food. I'll guess we'll all find out someday.
written by Austin Ruse, July 30, 2010
I knew i was not alone in this!
written by Austin Ruse, July 30, 2010
I knew i was not alone!
Not Alone
written by Joe, July 30, 2010
The thing about the current crop of Brit atheists is, methinks they do protest too much. Mr. Chesterton (as always) was on to something.
written by Achilles, July 30, 2010
This was a most beautiful and hopeful article-Giuseppe, hard to over estimate the power of the Holy Spirit. I too was a terrible Catholic basher before God bashed me- This article brought tears of hope to my eye and painful longing to my heart. Hitch is in our prayers!
Thankyou Mr. Ruse
out of the box
written by Pete brown, July 30, 2010
Thanks Austin for a very out of the box and provocative essay. You've helped crystallize similar half-formed ideas in my head that I've had for a while!
One More Miracle
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., July 30, 2010
Doesn't Mother Teresa need just one more miracle for canonization? Let us all pray through her for Hitch's cure and conversion. The poor fellow's disbelief is the result of intellectual rigor, like that of Nietzsche, who longed for someone to say that "my own truths are incredible." Hitch's atheism springs from a wounded heart. We're talking about a man who even hated Bob Hope!
written by John, July 31, 2010
I was at the debate between Donohue and Hitchens, Ruse was not as he stated. The fact is Bill Donohue went over to
shake Christopher Hitchens' hand after the debate with Father Perricone in which Hitchens refused.

Donohue clearly won the debate, how could he not he was defending a saintly women Mother Teresa from Hitchens' attacks in which he could not document any of them as Donohue kept pointing out.

We all should be grateful to Bill Donohue for his defense of this saintly women and the Catholic Church.

One wonders why Ruse writes about a debate he was not at, that took place more than ten years ago. Maybe he should have shared more about the night he buttonholded Hitch at Timberlakes.

Hitch & Muggeridge
written by Christian, July 31, 2010
"Hitchens will live long enough to become the Malcolm Muggeridge of his generation, i.e., one of the preeminent Catholic apologists of our time."

A great idea even if it doesn't come true, and something I'd thought about about with less clarity over the last 5 years or so.
written by Austin Ruse, August 01, 2010
Many witnesses told me about the night at the Union League Club. In fact, I could have told more.

But . . . "Maybe [I] should have shared more about the night [I] buttonholed Hitch at Timberlakes?" What exactly does that mean?
I hope you are right...
written by Graham Combs, August 01, 2010
I hope and pray that Mr. Ruse is right about Mr. Hitchens. British writers are the least sentimental of thinkers and when their thought is aimed in the the right direction they are a powerful and clear voice for the Church. We need look no further than the Blessed Cardinal Newman. And if any British writer of this generation can think through the "doctrinal confusion" (to use Mr. Muggeridge's phrase) of Anglicanism (my own former faith) and leftism in general, Hitch is that writer. We can use all the "brights" (thank you Prof Dennett) we can get.
written by C. Torio, August 04, 2010
Mr. Ruse,
I admire your faith in what seems to be impossible. You seem to be saying that the impossibility of his conversion after a long timeline somehow becomes the inevitable. Hitch definitely has a lot to overcome to indeed come our way, and it will definitely require divine intervention. FYI, he has an article in Vanity Fair entitled, "Topic of Cancer."
written by Steve, August 04, 2010
I am growing bored with those who think Mr hitchens will repent and become Catholic before his death. When I read your columns you seem to be infatuated with his intellect. this will never lead anyone to God and is respecting the person over the truth. He claims to hate those who serve God; believe him and move on. Oh, and if he does repent let me know I will gladly admit with all praise to God that I was wrong.
written by Scourge of Modernity, August 04, 2010
If Hitch converts to Catholicism, it will be to traditionalism. Then what will Ruse do?
written by Austin Ruse, August 15, 2010
As a traditional Catholic, I would cheer.

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