Christopher Hitchens on Prayer

Christopher Hitchens has written an over-the-top book God Is Not Great, that takes aggressive atheism to a new level of rhetoric. (Of course, to anyone who has read Hitchens on other topics such as Iraq and Bill Clinton, this is no surprise.) Michael Crowley of the New Republic reports on Hitchens' latest diatribe on NPR about (or rather against prayer):

Fans of that last Hitchens post should really listen to his appearance last week on NPR's "On Point," which in some ways was even more bracing.

At one point Hitchens was joined on-air by Stephan Munsey, an evangelical pastor from Indiana. After making some pretty weak arguments on behalf of his faith, Munsey got to the crux of things. He explained how his 11-year-old daughter developed a grave case of Hodgkins' Disease a few years ago. "She's dying in front of me," the minister recalled. "I kneel down, and I put my hand on her hand, and I ask God, 'Would you heal my baby?'" The girl recovered. "You've come to late to me, Christopher Hitchens, to tell me that that was not an act of a real God," Munsey declared.

Here I thought even Hitchens would put on kid gloves and grant the man his beliefs. "Are you going to call this father, Christopher Hitchens, a charlatan, a fool?" asked the host, Tom Ashbrook. Of course, that's precisely what Hitch proceeded to do:

Well, it's flat-out unbelievable testimony. And it's been the basis of religious charlatanry all along... I'm very sorry if I sound callous, but I do know of a lot of children who have died horribly despite being prayed over with exreme fervency. And I think it's disgusting to suppose that those prayers were infererior to other people's.... There are such things as unexpected recoveries... [T]o claim that you have a personal line to God and that he'll intervene for your convenience is a disgracefeul thing to say, mind you. And an insult to those whose children continue to suffer despite agonies of prayer on their behalf. This is a conscious attempt to defraud people. It's the basis of a great deal of religious hucksterism. And besides being immoral, it's highly unattractive.

Now I agree that a healthy degree of scepticism is warranted when it comes to any claimed miracle, and I agree that the notion that prayers of the worthy are answered while others are not is unbibical. Still, here Hitchens is flat-out denying even the possibility that prayer worked in this instance. It seems to me that this makes atheism as irrational as faith.


goodfornowt said…
I would describe Hitchen's reaction as righteous indignation, which has an important place in Christian tradition. The notion that the value of prayer is measured in terms of outcomes is spiritually questionable.
Thanks for your blog.
Chuck Blanchard said…

Thanks for your kind words, and for your comment. I agree with you that the only value of prayer is the outcome is spiritually questionable. But I think Hitchens indignation came more from a refusal to believe that prayer could have such an outcome.
goodfornowt said…
I prefer to think of prayer, like music, as essentially useless.
Anonymous said…
Key point - there is no way to prove that prayer worked, if in fact it did. This is why Atheists (like me) get so annoyed with the faithful - when discussing something like a child with a horrific disease, the faithful tend to pray and if god 'miracles' the child to health, well it's a miracle, praise be! If not, well then, god is still okay. First, jumping to a conclusion like 'it was a miracle' instead of rigorously pursuing how the cure occurred (the biological mechanisms, that is, which may be unknown, but are certainly knowable, given enough work) is just poor judgement. Second, IF there was a god and that god had some moral ideal he wanted humans to live up to, wht would such a god give a kid cancer, then cure them? Did such a morally superior god just allow the cancer to occur, so as to cure it? Or, did such a god deliberately give the kid cancer to elicit prayer? Considering these convinces me of only one thing - if god existed, I still would not worship him/her/it - such a god is unworthy of worship by any moral standard worth having. If god thinks otherwise, let him/her/it come down and explain it to me in a language I can understand. It wouldn't be asking too much from the creator of the universe, now would it?

Bet perhaps 'who am I to dictate to god how god communicates?' is the rule - perhaps I am nothing but a lowly human and have no place dictating to god how he/she/it communicates wth humanity. Fine - if I am that unimportant, then god doesn't need my worship anyway - I am insignificant.

Even if I were not an atheist, I could never be a Christian.

imj said…
Prayer is how we communicate with God. When we are troubled we have the option to pray, such an option is not open to a man like Hitchens.

The Lord our God is a great King who will not listen to the wicked or those that are filled with pride. A humble and broken heart are what the Lord listens to.

Our God can be found by those that seek him with all their heart.

Our Lord heals souls and sometimes he heals bodies. It cost nothing to request his help, but men would rather die than surrender their pride or their ways.

It is God who decides the day of our death and judgment.
Anonymous said…
"I'm very sorry if I sound callous, but I do know of a lot of children who have died horribly despite being prayed over with exreme fervency. "

I would be more convinced if he actually named one, along with when and where the poor child died, and how it was he happened to be there. Indeed, I really am unimpressed unless he is able to so name "a lot" of such children.

Brutality does not equal truth.

Hitchens is Brilliant and I admire him, but I don't gain any more points against him by labeling him a bitter, angry, mysogynist drunk than he does by labeling someone a charlatan.
Anonymous said…
Like every other atheist and secular "free thinker" before him, Christopher Hitchens is babbling, empty-headed fool. There are no "intellectual atheists," just glib, secular charlatans who, in spite of their denial concerning the existance of God, make obscene amounts of money by writing books about Him and attacking His servants.

I find it amusing that the atheist would point the finger at the Christian for believing in a God who created everything from nothing, while the atheist himself believes that nothing turned itself into everything.

Christopher Hitchens has been preached, to and prayed for, for some considerable time now. While our Heavenly father has stated that His word "will not return to Him empty" (Isaiah 55:6-13 ), I do not discount that a miracle may yet occure in Hitchen's life through the interventon of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless we should still be prepared to accept that Hitchens may still die in his sins (which he has loudly declared to be his preferernce) and thus become a marter for secular "brilliance."

And perhaps this is the crux of the matter. While Hitchens and his ilk rail on endlessly about the evils done in the name of religion, atheism has wrought far more evil upon mankind than religion has ever done. If men will not be ruled by God, they will be ruled by tyrants. And tyrants, I dare say, that have shared Hitchens atheistic philosophies, that those who profess religious faith ought to be despised and trampled upon in the name of "progress."

I can only imagine that, two minutes after Hitchens passes into eternity, he will surely regret the day he was ever born.

Bill Gibbons

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