It’s probably not on your Google calendar, but today is Everybody Pray for Christopher Hitchens Day — Christopher Hitchens, the atheist, who wrote God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything; Christopher Hitchens, the man with esophageal cancer, the disease that killed his father. Who started this prayer day? Not him. He’s made it widely public that he will not be participating, even writing an essay in Vanity Fair on the topic.
So, who prays for an atheist who won’t pray for himself and doesn’t want anyone else’s prayers? And aren’t those who insist on praying for someone who doesn’t want it kind of like the overbearing mother force-feeding her kids “because it’s good for them,” or the person who gives you a present you never asked for (nor desired) and expects kudos? In other existential questions, if you do something “good” for someone who doesn’t believe it’s good at all, what does that make it — even if you think it’s really, really good?
Beyond that, if you do think something is really, really good, do you declare a day for it?
The Facebook group actually began before Hitchens’ cancer diagnosis “to pray that Hitchens would come to know Christ and find the meaning for the life that He has given us.” When Hitchens was found to have cancer, the group transitioned slightly, praying double duty for “comfort in Christ, but at the same time, pray that he his (sic) fully healed from this painful sickness.”
Hitchens himself breaks his pray-ers into three groups:
Those who seem genuinely glad he’s suffering and dying from cancer; those who want him to become a believer in their religious faith; and those who are asking God to heal him.
Each of these groups, of course, has their own agenda, which isn’t necessarily about his getting well.
So, who prays for an atheist who won’t pray for himself and doesn’t want anyone else’s prayers? Simply: People who are going to pray anyway. If you’re one of them, go for it. If not, don’t…or you can write Hitchens a religious or not-religious-at-all note. A sampling:
Either way, just don’t expect a conversion. Hitchens writes in Vanity Fair:
A different secular problem also occurs to me: what if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating.
But it makes us wonder, what if everyone stopped insisting on praying for Christopher Hitchens?