Bell, Book, and Candle
Thursday September 23, 2010
By A.G. Harmon
Christopher Hitchens, journalist, author, and member of the “new atheists,” is in danger of death. After a recent diagnosis of cancer, he is reported to be building fortifications around his soul, to keep it from betraying his professed non-belief. As such, his position is now both foxhole and bunker, a place from which he lobs public promises against grace, and public vows to those with whom he stands in league. Any religious conversion that might occur, he swears, should be understood as nothing more than the ravings of a diseased mind. With his last will and testament, he desires to excommunicate himself: ring the bell—close the book—snuff the candle.
But despite Mr. Hitchens' wishes, I can only partly share his aspirations. I both hope that he lives and hope that he fails. That is, I hope not only that he survives this affliction, but also, if he cannot, that God dashes all of his well-laid plans.
Strangely tasteless as it may sound, I don’t want him to get what he desires—though I cannot rightly think what could break down the Alcatraz he has made. Still, that I cannot imagine it is of no consequence; there might be something; there might even be someone.
My optimism is born from an unlikely encounter. I was back visiting a bookstore last Sunday, rearranging displays as I’m wont to do, moving magazines about and foregrounding underappreciated novels, when someone interrupted my labors.
“But even the chaos, God made,” said a passing voice.
When I turned to see who had said this thing, I spied two people: a boy of about fourteen—in basketball shorts, flip flops, cotton hoodie—and, trailing behind him, an old man—tall, ungainly, spectacled. He was a spry octogenarian, though, and no matter how fast the boy walked, the man kept apace; the Roman missal was curled into a tube and held behind his back.
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