Christopher Hitchens, The Vietnam War and the Awakening of an Evangelical

The PBS series on Vietnam makes me think of Christopher Hitchens. He was an activist as a journalist against the war.

I know that Christopher Hitchens in many people’s view is synonymous with the antichrist, but one of the things I appreciated about the man was his ability to see what was going on in the world while yet a very young man. While most people were preoccupied with making their own way in the world, Hitchens went to the world’s hotspots and wrote his heart out.

He and I are the same age, but he “saw” things that didn’t even show up on my radar. True, he was a man of the left, a Trotskyite. But he had X-ray vision when it came to human suffering, governmental injustice, oppression, and violations of human dignity. The last thing he was was pollyanna. I was on a different trajectory. My life was the life of the church, ministering at the level of the parish and its local concerns, even if with an eye toward world missions.

In my late 40s and early 50s my eyes began to open up to the world of the social/economic/political. It was then that I intersected Hitchens. He came on my screen when he offended his leftist comrades by supporting President George W. Bush in the war on Iraq. Interestingly enough, I was a fierce opponent of that war. Sort of like changing places with Hitchens. I took a position that many on the left had taken. Hitchens took a position that many on the right took. But he began to speak my language.

His attacks on religion had some resonance with me, though I clearly disagreed with his missives against Christianity and the spiritual world view. Yet he had a grasp of what Ross Douthat called “bad religion.” (Read Douthat’s book by the same name. It’s has staying power). Hitchens demonstrated to me how infantile was so much of my thinking about world affairs and how limited was my exposure to the great literature of the West. His partnership with Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis lit up a part of me that had not registered before. I remain a man of the Right, but Hitchens sharpened my pencil, as it were.

I have read his autobiography three times and still read his articles, though he has been dead for almost six years. In his later years he began to dip his toe into Evangelical Protestantism and formed lasting friendships with some people in our camp, notably Doug Wilson and Larry Taunton. See this analysis of Taunton’s book, “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens.” https://www.theatlantic.com/…/larry-tauntons-the-fa…/486164/

Thinking, analysis, passion, and courage – Hitchens paved the path for me in engagement. I wish I had listened to him more carefully when I was in college.

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