Hitchens spits his last breath at Chesterton

In the climax of MOBY DICK, Captain Ahab utters these dying words: “To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

Grimly enough, Ahab’s harpoon with which he hoped to spear the great sea beast tangles its line with his leg, and Ahab is pulled into the sea and drawn after the whale literally which he had been drawn after psychologically all this time.

Those of you with a sci fi bent might recall these same words breathed out with his dying breath by the genetic superhuman Khan Noonean Singh against Captain Kirk before he attempts to blow up the Enterprise with one last superweapon.

In both cases the White Whale and the famous starship emerge unharmed from the assault.

The Catholic Thing reports that Christopher Hitchens has written a final article before he passed away, his last publication. Oddly, and to my mind, sadly, he chose to drive his harpoon against the vast bulk and vaster spirit of GK Chesterton.

Foolishly, Hitchens titled an article — I assume it was Hitchens’ title since he uses the word throughout — about the lifelong arch-anti-aristocrat anti-Imperialist anti-Capitalist pro-Irish Chesterton ‘The Reactionary.’ The man who coined the brilliantly exaggerated caricatures of Hudge and Gudge when discussing the dismal state of British politics can be called many things, but ‘Reactionary’ is hardly one of them.

I recommend only that those who regard Mr Chesterton as a ‘Reactionary’ (which means a reflexive and thoughtless defender of the status quo, that is, of industrial capitalism, if has any meaning at all) please read his EUGENICS AND OTHER EVILS, wherein Chesterton (in a lapse of his normal wisdom and lucidity) describes Capitalism as ‘a corrupt prison’ where the rich somehow have the power deliberately to create and maintain the poverty of the poor in order to force an unwilling workforce to toil for starvation wages in their dark, satanic mills.

The article is not worth reading, as the insight into Chesterton is on a par with that wildly wide-o’-the-mark envenomed dart. It consists of Hitchens listing some famous paradoxes or insights of Chesterton’s, sneering at them in an airy albeit leaden fashion without addressing them, as if this showed Chesterton, rather than Hitchens, to be arid. It quotes some of his poetry without saying anything about its literary merit or place in history, aside from a dismissive snort that Chesterton was Catholic. The article touches on the claims the Chesterton, who was nearly a Zionist, was an anti-semite, as if this were the crucial point in the man’s life. Next it tries to link Distributism to Nazism by a sort of Hitchensian free association.

Speaking as a yellow journalist, I submit that, even by the standards of yellow journalism, the article is crap.

You would be more edified to seek out an eleven year old and solicit his opinions on Goddard’s versus Tsiolovsky’s contribution to rocket science. You might run across a Boy Scout with a merit badge in rocketry, and be pleasantly surprised that the child knew whereof he spoke.

Like many Christians, I had been praying for an eleventh hour conversion by Mr Hitchens.

Exactly such circumstances as this wonderfully focused my own mind on the issue of my atheism, its hopelessness and its inadequacy as a moral, metaphysical, mental or physical model to the cosmos, or guide to navigate life. My own experience makes me unable to see either the harshness or the ghoulishness of using the deathbed as an instrument to jar the blinded soul awake. To me, using the threat of death to reach a lost soul seems no more than benevolent common sense.

And yet, it seems, Mr Hitchens was not reached. We know not for sure, but it looks like he died in his sins, and fell into the outer darkness.

At times like this, I wish I were a Calvanist, who thinks that Christ’s salvation was only meant for those who, by the high command of overarching predestination, had been foreknown and foreordained for salvation, and the good Lord meant and intended a dying man should not repent; for then at least I would have the cold comfort of thinking this was God’s Will.

But I am, for better or worse, for fairer or fouler, wedded to a gentler and more rational mother Church. I believe the inscrutable purposes of God leaves free men’s will to seek their own damnation, if men freely choose pride and hell over humility and heaven. So I believe the Blessed Virgin weeps to see a child of God cast into the dark inferno, and all the saints with her.

My prayers for Mr Hitchens seem not to have been heard. Neither seemed our Lord’s in the garden of Gethsemane: the cup He prayed to pass Him by He drained to the lees.

Instead we have the heathen raging impotently against the apostle of Common Sense, our own beloved GK Chesterton, a pygmy against a titan.  I doubt the reputation of Chesterton is marred, any more than the reputation of Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

One of the first things that led me to doubt the crystalline logical purity of my atheist was antics like this from public atheist figures. Hitchens, who has never once washed the wounds of a leprous beggar from Calcutta, spent his reputation mocking the saintly Mother Theresa.

Mr Hitchens is more on his own level attempting to belittle a fellow man of letters like Chesterton, but even here poor little Chris is over his head. Chesterton was something of a polymath, writing everything from Father Brown mysteries, to MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH to biographies of George Bernard Shaw or Saint Thomas Aquinas to epic poems about the battles of Alfred the Great to quasi-science fictional flights of fancy to apologetics to eugenics to all the topics of his day. Is the bitter and witty Mr Hitchens prepared to match wits against the corpulent and jovial inventor of Innocence Smith?

Was that the best thing Mr Hitchens could find to do in his last days, with the shadow of the Grim Reaper’s sickle already falling across his pages?

We are all of us, for all we know, in our last days, and all the dead who ever were, great and small, were once as we are now. Let the sad example of Mr Hitchens serve as a remainder that our time on this hither shore is but brief.