In Theory

Monday was "Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day," when believers prayed for Christopher Hitchens, 61, the writer and author of books, including "God is Not Great." Hitchens was diagnosed recently with cancer of the esophagus. However, in his cancer-stricken state, Hitchens, an unapologetic atheist, appears to be holding firmly to his godlessness. He declined an invitation to participate in the day of prayer for himself.

"I don't mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries," Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair. "Unless, of course, it makes you feel better."

Would you pray for him or other gravely ill people who do not believe in God, even if they chose to skip out on a day of prayer in their name?

Christopher Hitchens recently spoke at my temple, after which we conversed. I submitted I was surprised that a person of his age would cling to atheism, because it was so sophomoric. I also told him that I love atheists, because they talk more about God than believers!

Atheists affirm that everything is random happenstance. Hitchens' disease is just an event that happened, without rhyme or reason. We cannot pray to "chance" or "good fortune" for healing. It either happens, or it does not!

Because Hitchens considers faith to be fallacious, why offend him by indulging in "superstitious prayer?" Surely, there are others on whose behalf we should direct our limited resources of time and supplications!

What could it possibly matter to Hitchens whether he lives or dies? Existence is no more meaningful than non-existence to an atheist. Because his life has no purpose, neither does his death have any consequence!

Rabbi Mark S. Miller

Temple Bat Yahm

Newport Beach

Prayer changes only one thing: the mind of the person praying. If Mr. Hitchens doesn't believe in the healing power of prayer, I doubt if he would ask for prayer. If, on the other hand, Mr. Hitchens' asked me to pray, I would first recognize the universal presence of God's intelligence and then unify with that presence, declaring my oneness with God's perfection. Then I would speak my word for Mr. Hitchens, seeing him whole, complete and healed. If Mr. Hitchens did not believe in the power of prayer or his own healing, then it would be done unto him as he believed.

All prayer is answered according to one's belief. Belief is God and God is belief. Religion has nothing to do with healing. Mr. Hitchens' life is eternal and will move forward whether he believes or not. If someone asks me to pray for another who doesn't believe, I would pray for them; for their faith, belief, and acceptance that God knows exactly what she's doing — even in the non-believer. God has no stepchildren, for in God's eyes, we're all alive, we're all eternal, and we're all God's creation.

Jim Turrell

Center for Spiritual Living Newport-Mesa

I did not know Monday had been designated as a special day of prayer for Mr. Hitchens, nor do I know who took it upon themselves the position of "designator of special days of prayer." I do, however, know the Lord Jesus Christ who teaches his followers that we are to pray for all men, including those who "despitefully use you and persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)

To be quite frank, I have never bothered to read anything Hitchens wrote, but I read every day of my life the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have no animosity in my heart toward Mr. Hitchens nor any other atheist, but my advice to all of us would be to follow the words of the one who died for you, rose again from the dead and is able to give you eternal life. He says God is great, and I for one chose to align myself with the Lord Jesus. I will follow Jesus and pray for Mr. Hitchens to repent and believe before it is eternally too late.

Pastor Dwight Tomlinson

Liberty Baptist Church

Newport Beach

As an atheist I find it interesting that people pray at all, because all the personal experiences from all believers of all faiths are "answered" equally the same. Why pray at all, then? Trying to change God's mind seams pointless because he supposedly knows what's going to happen, anyway. There is not one faith that is granted prayers in the affirmative more than any other faith. All faiths from all religions haven't figured it out that prayer simply doesn't work. So, no, I won't be praying for Mr. Hitchens, unless someone can prove to me which one of the hundred of gods is real.

Bruce Gleason

Director, Freethought Alliance

It goes without saying that people of faith should pray for others, even those who claim they do not want or need such intercession. There seems to be some obstinacy and blockage on the part of Mr. Hitchens. Praying for a softening of his heart and a healing of whatever in his life needs to be healed is an act of charity. It is easier to motivate oneself to pray for friends and family who are in need of it, but when it comes to a stranger who says "don't bother," it gets more difficult. "Nothing will be impossible for God," to quote the Archangel Gabriel when he announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Savior. Storming heaven for Mr. Hitchens just may result in a deathbed conversion.

Fr. Stephen Doktorczyk

St. Joachim Church

Costa Mesa

Every week in church we pray for people we barely know: friend of friend of a friend, a second cousin twice removed. We pray because someone has a connection. We care because some else cares. We also pray for the healing of cancer. Cancer is a terrible thing for anyone to have. Cancer is never the will or the work of God. We hope for an end to cancer and lend our prayers in support for the healing of anyone who has cancer. We can do nothing less if we dare to call ourselves Christians.

But I will also pray Mr. Hitchens keeps his atheism. It takes great courage and strong conviction to live as an atheist. I suspect some Christians are praying for his healing as a way to convert his soul. I think such prayers impede God's work. Mr. Hitchens needs his faith in atheism as a source of strength for the struggle with cancer. God will not take that away from him. We always need to make sure our prayers for healing are actually helping God to heal.

God also understands and honors disbelief in him. Moses, Abraham, Gideon, Elijah, and Thomas all had serious qualms about God — even when standing in the presence of God — and were never reprimanded belittled or condemned. Actually, I think God loves a good argument. I suspect God is working hard to heal Mr. Hitchens so they can have a few more arguments. May it be so.

Pastor Mark Wiley

Mesa Verde United Methodist Church

Costa Mesa

Yes, of course I would pray for them. In praying for another it is irrelevant, from my side of the dynamic, whether or not the person is a believer or non-believer. The person is my brother or sister.

We pray for the other because we need to be prayerful persons. We must be concerned for the good of everyone. We need to be united with others who are prayerful as well as those who are not, with those who can pray and those who cannot. We pray for the believer and the non-believer, the sick and the well, the living and the dead. We need to maintain our awareness that every person, and all of creation, is in the embrace of the living and loving God who calls us into existence and never lets go of us.

Prayer is not the mounting of a petition drive so that God will get busy and act according to our instructions. "Not my will, but yours, be done." Prayer delivers us from a privatized, narcissistic spirituality and instead keeps us united with all God's people. The more we choose to live in prayerful communion, the healthier will we and our universe be.

As for Mr. Hitchens, I am not terribly worried about the condition of his soul, for I imagine he is denying a certain image of god — an idol — that needs to be denied. No one of us has a pure and adequate knowledge of God, and it would do no harm for us to discard our own false gods. Soon enough Mr. Hitchens will meet the God who is; and then he will become a happily surprised believer. And we pray we might join him in the discovery.

Msgr. Wilbur Davis

Our Lady Queen of Angels Church

Newport Beach

Episcopalians remembered Bishop John Coleridge Patteson and his companions, martyrs in Melanesia in 1871, last Monday. If I had prayed for Christopher Hitchens it would have been for his health and well-being and that God's will for him be done.

As I wrote here on Aug. 14, "prayer affirms what God is already doing in our lives: God is forgiving our sinfulness, restoring us to wholeness, and giving gifts of wisdom and skill and sympathy and patience.

Because of Hitchens' life and witness, people who might not otherwise do so are thinking about God and grace and goodness; for this I am grateful and thankful.

(The Very Rev'd Canon) Peter D. Haynes

Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church

The Savior told us to pray often, even for our enemies and those who might abuse us. Prayer is evidence of the relationship we have with God, not necessarily the relationship we have with those for whom we pray. In our prayer this morning, my wife Sheila and I prayed for President Obama, for a young friend and client who is entering rehab and claims to be an atheist, for the leaders of nations that they might make decisions that will promote peace and good values, and for many who are suffering from acute illness.

Frankly, we know that some for whom we pray, if they were aware, would reject our offerings. But at the end of our conversation with Heavenly Father, we feel fulfilled and enriched!

Tom Thorkelson

Director of Interfaith Relations

Orange County Council

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Of course I would pray for someone regardless of whether or not they believe in prayer! As we so often say, "It's the thought that counts." Most atheists and/or agnostics, etc., are grateful for the prayers whether or not they believe that prayer has any power. While I know nothing about a "Pray for Hitchens Day," I can only hope that praying for him was some sort of a testament that even as we have different belief systems we can still uplift each other in the ways that we know how. I don't expect people to think, believe, or pray the way I do, but saying a prayer on behalf of someone is one way I express concern, hope, and love in relationship to them and our Creator.

The Rev. Sarah Halverson

Fairview Community Church

Costa Mesa

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