Going, Going…

As Christopher Hitchens publicly stares death in the face, Bill Vallicella offers an excellent meditation on the man, on men such as he, and on mortality. Hitchens will live on, in some sense, in his writing, but as Bill points out, that is cold comfort. Woody Allen summed it up:

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”

Bill argues, as so many have, that regardless of the truth of their belief, the faithful come out ahead in such dark hours:

What would Hitch lose by believing? Of course, he can’t bring himself to believe, it is not a Jamesian live option, but suppose he could. Would he lose ‘the truth’? But nobody knows what the truth is about death and the hereafter. People only think they do. Well, suppose ‘the truth’ is that we are nothing but complex physical systems slated for annihilation. Why would knowing this ‘truth’ be a value? Even if one is facing reality by believing that death is the utter end of the self, what is the good of facing reality in a situation in which one is but a material system?

It is awful to watch death stalk this outstanding mind, to see a light that burns so brightly about to be extinguished. Hitchens continues to give interviews: here is a recent one with Charlie Rose.

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4 Comments

  1. Dom says

    I’m sorry, but using Hitchen’s death as an argument for belief strikes me as a little demented.

    And wrong-headed. When he writes, “Why would knowing this ‘truth’ [that death is just the end of life] be a value?” we can also add, “Why would believing in a supernatural being that allowed cancer to end a life painfully be any better”?

    Posted August 17, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Well, you are preaching to the choir, of course, and Hitchens certainly agrees. But Bill’s point (also made of course by Pascal) is that if one can get oneself to believe despite these objections, there is comfort.

    As Bill acknowledges:

    In the teeth of death the man remains intransigent in his unbelief. And why not? He lived in unbelief and so it is only fitting that he should die in it as well. He lived for this life alone; it is fitting that he should die without hope. As I read him, God and the soul were never Jamesian live options. To cop out now as debility and death approach must appear to him to be utterly contemptible, a grasping for straws, a fooling himself into a palliative illusion to ease the horror of annihilation.

    Such belief doesn’t seem to be a “live option” to you or me, either. With due respect to Pascal, who advised unbelievers to “fake it till they make it” (not in those precise terms), there are limits to doxastic voluntarism. I do not even find the idea of God attractive, save as a bulwark against extinction. As Thomas Nagel said:

    I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

    Bill asks: who is better off?

    Posted August 17, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    I can’t help but think about the old National Lampoon contest where the winner guesses the correct future date of Mamie Eisenhower’s death (Forgotten But Not Gone).

    However, the reason for this post is not only to be tasteless, but also to note that Christopher Hitchens was on the Charlie Rose show this week, which repeats throughout the weekend on Bloomberg Television.

    Posted August 21, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  4. the one eyed man says

    Whoops. Ignore that post. I just saw the reference to the Rose interview at the bottom of your post.

    Posted August 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink