[box sid=”box-alert” type=”info” ]UPDATE: Christopher Hitchens died on Thursday December 15, 2011.[/box]

I may have been the only atheist who didn’t know that September 20th was supposedly “Everyone Pray for (Christopher) Hitchens Day.” Ever since he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, his illness and his attitude about it have been widely publicized and examined. I’m sure many congregations, groups, and individuals  murmured prayers for the healing and salvation of one of the most outspoken and unequivocal atheists of our time.

In response to people praying for him, Hitchens has made it clear that he:

  1. Doesn’t mind if they pray for his healing if it makes them feel better.
  2. Doesn’t want anyone praying for his salvation or demise.

Looking for Results

So, the 20th has passed, and I’m wondering if these millions of prayers for the healing of Mr. Hitchens have made any impact at all. Christians of all stripes are firm believers in the power prayer can have on the life of another, even to the point of miraculous healings, conversions, and so forth. So, is he healed? Does he suddenly believe in a god? Which god?  I’m sure people of many religions prayed to their gods for him. How would anyone be able to tell which one decided to act? What if all the gods teamed up together?

If Hitchens is not healed, converted, or shown any form of “improvement” in his situation, what sorts of excuses and rationalizations might be made to explain it? I can think of a few that I as a Christian might have used:

  • It wasn’t God’s will. He has a bigger plan that involves a terrible cancer and a painful death.
  • Hitchens has to have faith that he will be healed before it will work (aka “blame the victim”).
  • God doesn’t want to heal him.
  • And one I wouldn’t have used: Cancer is a punishment for his sin against God.

As an aside on this last point, Hitchens quotes a man who believes exactly that:

Who else feels Christopher Hitchens getting terminal throat cancer [sic] was God’s revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him? Atheists like to ignore FACTS. They like to act like everything is a “coincidence”. Really? It’s just a “coincidence” [that] out of any part of his body, Christopher Hitchens got cancer in the one part of his body he used for blasphemy? Yea, keep believing that Atheists. He’s going to writhe in agony and pain and wither away to nothing and then die a horrible agonizing death, and THEN comes the real fun, when he’s sent to HELLFIRE forever to be tortured and set afire.

I can’t say this surprises me. But most of the Christians I’ve talked to or read on the subject have expressed their hopes for Christopher Hitchens’ conversion and healing so that it would be a great sign to the world of how loving and powerful Yahweh truly is, and how much impact prayer can make.

So far as I know, even these millions of genuine prayers have done nothing to impact the life of Hitchens. Perhaps there is nothing to be done since there is no one to hear their prayers except themselves. That’s my belief, anyway.


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15 thoughts on “Did the Prayers for Christopher Hitchens Work?”

Laura · September 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

oh, I didn’t know about the praying thing, either, so that makes 2 of us. 🙂

I would have used #2. And I probably would have agreed with the guy who wrote that awful paragraph. :S :S

    Godless Girl · September 21, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Ain’t it grand that we aren’t like that anymore? Yikes.

Laura · September 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

PS: This could be a fun game:

Who else feels that so many Christians getting heart attacks is God’s revenge for them for being so heartless? Christians like to ignore FACTS. They like to act like everything is a “coincidence”. Really? It’s just a “coincidence” [that] out of any part of his body, Christians often have heart attacks when their attitudes so often reflect such cold cruelty toward others? Yea, keep believing that, Christians. They’re going to writhe in agony and pain and wither away to nothing and then die a horrible agonizing death, and THEN comes the real fun, when they realize they wasted their lives on absolutely nothing.

Hm, I can play, too. But I think since I actually used proper grammar and spelling, I win. (Please note: This was not serious!)

Laura · September 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Except I made a few typos. I lose. 🙁

    Godless Girl · September 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    lol, I enjoyed it!

Henway · September 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Wasn’t there an experiment in the 1990’s that concluded mass meditation/positive prayer led to a reduction in crime for Chicago (or some city, I forgot?)

Cara · September 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Whether there is a god to pray to or not, prayer can have positive effects by changing the person who prays. When I was in grad school, I was having the requisite strife with my adviser, and a devout friend urged me to pray for my enemies. I was into that sort of thing at the time, so I threw my adviser onto my daily prayer list. Every day when it was her turn, I thought a nice thought about her and wished her well. It started out a bit passive-aggressive (“Oh God, please help her be a wise and fair adviser!”) but became more sincere as time went on. Things did improve between us. I don’t think my praying really changed anything about her, but it helped me see her as a fellow human deserving of compassion just like anyone else.

Given that experience, I don’t think it’s necessarily a waste of time for all these people to be praying for Christopher Hitchens–it may make them better, more compassionate people in the end, if they really mean what they’re doing and pay attention. I think we can all agree, that would be a good thing.

    Godless Girl · September 22, 2010 at 1:05 am

    Keen insight here. I agree that calm, positive thinking and kind wishes for others can help us grow in compassion and calm our minds so we can think more clearly and relax. Prayer is almost exactly like meditation in that way,–except for the fact that praying people believe someone else is listening who takes action in response to those prayers to cause these positive results.

    Because of this, I encourage people to meditate. The same effects can be gained, and there is no need to believe in anything supernatural.

Rob Crompton · September 23, 2010 at 5:31 am

Of course Christopher Hitchens was healed. It was that very special sort of healing that doesn’t actually involve getting better. It happens all the time in healing services. Cardinal John Henry Newman was beatified on the strength of one such healing miracle.

    Godless Girl · September 23, 2010 at 8:32 am

    I used that exact same kind of excuse for healing when my dad died of cancer.
    Maybe I’ll write more about it later on, but for now: He was the most loving, giving, “holy” man I ever knew. If anyone deserved a miraculous healing, I thought it would be him because of his public witness to thousands of people. When the end was near, he said that God healed his soul, not his body. I repeated that comforting thought to others well after his death. Ah well. I’m glad he was at peace with the whole thing.

Roof Woofer · September 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I liked the Hitchens article in Vanity Fair, though I do wish he (and many atheists) would stop putting up straw men so they can then proceed to tear them down. The writer of that weird note was cruel and ignorant of basic Christian belief. His/her attitude does not typify what the overwhelming majority of Christians would think, much less say. Using it as a focus in the article makes it look like he leans on the hostility of the other side (rather than his own reasoning) to bolster his position. (I’m not saying he’s not credible – I’m saying that looking reactive can also make you look weak.)

If any athiest readers were brought up around Christians who acted and thought like that, I’d be sorry for you and surprised if you hadn’t turned your backs on religion. But I’ll bet you didn’t. There are unbalanced and hurtful churches out there, but most Christians I know have never really run across one.

So I challenge freethinkers to find out what Christians really believe and how they really try to live, without simply accepting the way it’s characterized in the media, in the blogs of other atheists, or on YouTube. It’s hard for Christians to offer atheists the respect that lots of them undoubtedly deserve when they pick twisted or laughable examples of Christianity and act as if they’re typical.

By the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did affect Hitchens to be prayed for, because many of the prayers will have been offered in good will. Love (and being made aware of love) is always a good thing, don’t you think?

Roof Woofer · September 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm

By the way, @Rob Crompton, your facts are wrong.

Harold · December 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm

_Atheists_ ignore the facts? How about the facts that Hitchens drank and smoked inveterately and that both vices increase the risk of esophageal cancer? Or how about the fact that the Bible, when it refers to the things people speak, refers to the tongue, not the throat. For thematic correctness, a vengeful deity should have given Hitchens cancer of the tongue.

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