Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Forsake not the works of thine own hands"

I am very disheartened, even dispirited, that I am starting to see snide, chiding, and sarcastic pieces written by Christians on the passing of Christopher Hitchens. I guess being provoked both by reality and by those who themselves are so provoked, especially those who arrive at very different conclusions, has no place in the lives of some Christians. In his book The Religious Sense, Msgr. Giussani discusses at length the "big" questions, the existential questions, that arise for all simply by being human, by being self-conscious. Humanity for Giussani being "that level of nature wherein nature becomes aware of itself and of its own purposes." These are the questions that initiate our search for meaning, which is our search for happiness, for complete fulfillment, those that constitute us as human beings. Giusanni also details the many ways, some of them quite ingenious to the point of being convincing, in which some have sought to banish these questions, or at least to attenuate them.

UPDATE: Msgr. Albacete reflects on his encounter with Christopher in New York in 2008 Hitchens/A man with a wounded heart in Il Sussidiario.

One of the great things about Hitch, as he was popularly known, is that he neither avoided these questions nor sought to attenuate them. He did go to lengths to criticize and even make fun of those who, at least in his view, did not do justice to the questions, short-circuiting them by taking a leap of faith.

Remembering his brother on his passing, Peter Hitchens wrote: "The one word that comes to mind when I think of my brother is ‘courage’. By this I don’t mean the lack of fear which some people have, which enables them to do very dangerous or frightening things because they have no idea what it is to be afraid. I mean a courage which overcomes real fear, while actually experiencing it." Christopher Hitchens faced the big question squarely and never more so than after being diagnosed with the cancer that ultimately killed him. In a piece that appeared in Vanity Fair- "Topic of Cancer"- he described his response to his diagnoses:
The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of “acceptance,” hasn’t so far had much application in my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity
Provocative, no?

His friend, the writer Ian McEwan, who is also an atheist, wrote in Friday's New York Times about his final visit with Hitch. McEwan revealed that at the time of his passing, Hitchens was working on a long piece critical of G.K. Chesterton. I for one would love to read it because, unlike his contemporary and friend, Hilare Belloc, with whose name he was linked as Chesterbelloc, about whom even Catholics ask, Is Belloc best forgotten?, it seems to me that Chesterton has never really been subjected to much intelligent scrutiny.

Bl. John Henry Newman had an unbelieving older brother, Charles Robert Newman, who lived a very dissolute life, often only being able to eat and keep a roof over his head with the financial help of John. Nonetheless, Charles was very ungrateful and often went out of his way to demonstrate his ingratitude. He died unrepentant and unreconciled. Of course, it was left to John to see to and pay for his brother's burial. John had this epitaph carved on the headstone of Charles: "Forsake not the works of thine own hands" (Ps. 138:8- KJV).

In my view, the biggest failure we can have as Christians is to fail to see both ourselves and others the way Christ sees us, to look on others, including those whose views diverge from ours and who might despise our beliefs, with a loving gaze.

I feel that I must post the first video clip of a dialogue that took place between Hitch and Msgr. Albacete back in September 2008 because it gives me hope, unlike some of what I read today, which made me realize all over again that some of Hitch's withering criticism of religion and those who are religious were more accurate than many would care to acknowledge:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this, both for your thoughts on Hitcens and the WWGS (what would Giussani say?)