Will atheism sustain him?

I like Christopher Hitchens.

He's erudite, charming, witty and the possessor of a massive ego. I find him fascinating to listen to, though in order to do so, one must abide his insufferable arrogance. Yet, I listen — and choose to disagree with much of what he has to say.

Hitchens takes no prisoners. He eviscerates opponents with scholarly brilliance and a rapier wit.

But it's been a rough last few weeks for the British-born atheist, journalist, social critic and provocateur.

Hitchens, 61, is author of the 2007 polemic, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." The book, he readily admits, "bashes" the Creator, who he's convinced is a figment invented by weak minds in search of succor.

The rumpled-looking intellectual, who exhibits an extraordinary capacity for dissipation, says that if Heaven exists it must look a lot like North Korea.

Hitchens, who experiences no insufficiencies in regards to his own ego, asserts in the book that Judaism and Christianity induce people to feel like lowly sinners, which, in turn, breeds low self-esteem.

Last week Hitchens unexpectedly cut short a book tour for his new memoir, "Hitch-22." Doctors diagnosed him with esophageal cancer, and the tour was canceled to permit him to undergo chemotherapy.

Esophageal cancer is particularly aggressive. People don't normally consult a doctor until the ability to swallow has become impaired or the voice has changed, and by then the tumor may be in an advanced state.

What will happen to Mr. Hitchens, his many admirers wonder. It's been said that there are no atheists in foxholes. Christopher Hitchens suddenly finds himself on the floor of an uncomfortable foxhole, taking a heavy pounding. Will atheism sustain him?

Here the rubber meets the road. One who's publicly railed against God must now publicly face a challenge that's sure to test his mettle. The world is watching. Many are praying for him.

Like it or not, we're changed by adversity, and often for the better.

The arrogant and nasty Brock Lesnar, Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion, is perhaps the brute-power equivalent of Hitchens' brainpower warrior. Lesnar nearly died of an intestinal ailment this past year and took time off from competition. He experienced what some have called an epiphany and is a changed person. Some claim he's no longer the "ornery SOB" he once was.

The book of James says God opposes the proud. The Apostle Paul — while he was yet Saul — was knocked from his horse largely because of pride.

Larry Taunton, executive director of Fixed Point Foundation, an agency that publicly defends Christianity, considers Hitchens a personal friend. Taunton says Hitchens confided to him after the diagnosis: "I had plans for the next decade of my life. I think perhaps I should cancel them."

An old proverb says that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I remember wondering, after a depressing medical diagnosis, if I even had a future.

Jesus tells the parable of the insouciant young man who fills his barns with vast stores and kicks back to enjoy life. His goal is to eat, drink and be merry.

"Tonight your life shall be demanded of you," God interjects.

Obviously, the man hadn't seen that coming.

I've viewed several debates in which Hitchens has argued passionately against the existence of God. He always provides a dazzling, though not entirely convincing, performance.

I remember he once called God out from the podium, challenging the Deity, if He existed, to smite him. Nothing happened, and Hitchens moved blithely forward. One must be circumspect when challenging the Creator of a billion galaxies. He's certain to have the last word.

I'm not suggesting that God caused Hitchens' cancer, but neither was He blindsided by it.

Hitchens' younger brother, Peter Hitchens, is a London journalist and former atheist who recently converted to Christianity. Peter has published a rebuttal to Christopher's "God is Not Great" book, titled "The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith." I expect that Christopher and Peter will have some animated conversations in the days ahead.

In the meantime, I'm praying for Christopher's healing. And his conversion!

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