The Folly Of Moral Conviction

Columnist Michael Gerson recently wrote a piece that appeared, slightly abridged, in my local paper today, “The Atheist As Moralist” (this link appears to give you the entire article). The subject of his commentary is Christopher Hitchens, famed atheist who has recently published his memoir, Hitch-22.

In essence, Mr. Gerson sees in Christopher Hitchens’ constancy and courage and “delight in all things human,” something worth commending. He has, after all, lived, and apparently will die, clinging to his moral convictions because he disdains deathbed religious conversions. “The idea ‘that you may be terrified’ is no reason to ‘abandon the principles of a lifetime,’ ” Mr. Gerson reports him as saying.

These moral convictions of his are the repudiation of tyranny—even “celestial tyranny”—and the championing of the underdog. And for this Mr. Gerson holds Christopher Hitchens up as one who accomplishes what his beliefs cannot—the provision of a moral compass.

How sadly empty! To praise a man for sticking to his guns, even in the face of terror and encroaching death, is meaningless unless he’s holding to something worthwhile. You might as well praise a terrorist suicide bomber for his example of “courage, loyalty and moral conviction.”

The fact is, Christopher Hitchens can be as dedicated and sincere, as tenacious and unswerving in his beliefs as he wants, but if those beliefs are wrong, his conviction is foolish, not admirable.

In addition, by including God in his hatred of tyranny he exposes the fact that his real hatred is having an authority over him. He doesn’t want God to have the final say, or any say, when it comes to Christopher Hitchens.

But perhaps he is closer to faith than even he realizes. When asked what positive lesson he’s learned from Christianity, Mr. Gerson reported him to say, “The transience and ephemeral nature of power and all things human.”

Human power and life on this side of the veil is indeed transient and ephemeral. In his letter included in Scripture, the apostle James says our lives are just a vapor. The prophet Isaiah says that we are like grass and the flowers of the field, withering and fading away.

Here’s the thing. Christopher Hitchens has apparently put all his trust in humanity. He delights “in all things human—in wit and wine and good company and conversation and fine writing and debate of large issues.” But in the end, he realizes it is passing. His moral convictions are grounded in vapor. He’s invested his life in nothing more solid than dry grass that shrivels in the desert wind.

And he refuses to rethink his options. After all, he’s a man of moral conviction! Does that make him a great example for the rest of humanity, as Mr. Gerson seems to think?

Hardly. It makes him a sad figure, a wasted intellect, a man destined to get what he has most feared—the wrath of a Sovereign—and what he most desires—to go it on his own.

I can’t stop there. As long as Christopher Hitchens has breath, he can repent. If the thief dying next to Jesus can turn from his sin, so can Christopher Hitchens. May God penetrate his hard heart and bring him to his knees so that he will know God’s kindness and mercy. That will continue to be my prayer.

Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 5:37 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: