Friday, December 16, 2011

Pray for Christopher Hitchens

We previously considered the question of praying for one such as the late Christopher Hitchens, who at times was not merely atheist, but antitheist.

Love Your Enemy, Pray for Those Who Persecute You
Today, the Anchoress raises again The Hitchens/Prayer Debate. Recently, Christopher Hitchens has learned that he has cancer of the esophagus. Now, Hitchens is a writer who is not so much an atheist as he is an antitheist, he does not simply not believe, he attacks the belief and believers, and often disingenuously so. Nevertheless, we are called to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. On that issue of whether to pray for Hitchens or not, the Anchoress writes:
It seems the New York Times has noticed the debate as to whether people of faith should pray for Christopher Hitchens. I like this; it reflects my feelings, exactly:
    Jeffrey Goldberg, a colleague of Hitchens’s at The Atlantic Monthly, consulted the rabbinical authorities and decided that prayer was O.K. On his blog, Goldberg quoted the advice of David Wolpe, a Los Angeles rabbi who has publicly debated Hitchens on a number of occasions: “I would say it is appropriate and even mandatory to do what one can for another who is sick; and if you believe that praying helps, to pray. It is in any case an expression of one’s deep hopes. So yes, I will pray for him, but I will not insult him by asking or implying that he should be grateful for my prayers.”
The Anchoress wrote on this earlier, Hitchens' Challenge, where she said that she had been called to pray for him, and her post generated a lot of comments, including some opposition.

So, to pray or not to pray? What should one do?

The New York Times story notes, "While Hitchens himself doesn’t seem to have issued any official directives, prayers have rolled in from [the Anchoress] Elizabeth Scalia (no relation to the Supreme Court justice) at First Things, Greg Kandra at The Deacon’s Bench and Pat Archbold at The National Catholic Register."

“While Hitchens himself doesn’t seem to have issued any official directives . . .”

This is the real sticking point.

There are at least three points or perspectives, all of which need to be considered, in answering this question –
(1) Us, the one potentially offering the prayer. That is, do we have a moral obligation or permission to pray (or to not pray)?
(2) Hitchens (or any other person for whom it is to be offered). Is the prayer welcome or unwelcome? Is he receptive or at least neutral, or is he adamately opposed?
(3) The content of the prayer. Just exactly what does one pray for? His physical health, his spiritual health, his conversion?
We are obligated in faith to be charitable toward Hitchens, i.e. to love him, as we love ourselves and as Jesus loves us. BUT, part of love is respecting the free will of the other person. Love, even when expressed by prayer, cannot be forced upon the other against his will. The Samaritan dragging the wounded man out of the ditch when the man demands to be left alone is not “good”; what he does is an act of violence, not charity. Not even God forces His love upon people.

Hence the dillema. Does our prayer end up being a true act of love or an act of unlove against the will of the person? It depends.

Of course, the Samaritan can both love the man in the ditch and still respect his will by doing something else, call 911 perhaps, and let the EMTs come and offer their assistance. Perhaps the man will accept it then.

So, we have an obligation to love Hitchens. The question is how? For many people, we might in good faith and conscience simply assume that our prayers are welcomed. And since Hitchens has not publicly said “no,” perhaps we might assume the same for him, but we might be presuming too much. Which get us to (3) the content of the prayer.

Just exactly what do we or should we pray for in the case of Hitchens? If he welcomes prayer, then we have no problem, we can pray all out for whatever good thing we might want.

But if he does not welcome prayer, what then? We can still be charitable, and still pray, but we would seem to be limited in what we pray for, or at the very least, would need to make the petition conditional (e.g. “if he is willing to accept it Lord . . .”). We cannot go so far as to drag him out of the ditch and pour oil on him against his wishes, but we can call 911. We can stand by, ready to assist if he later wants it. We can tell him that lodging is available to him when and if he is willing to accept it.

It is not as easy a moral question as it might seem. It would be a lot easier if all we had to consider was (1) us. But (2) and (3) are factors we must consider as well.

The one thing that we CANNOT do is reflexively and arbitrarily say, “to hell with Hitchens, he’s only getting what he deserves.”

Love Your Enemy, Pray for Those Who Persecute You: Part Two
Some questions and objections have arisen with respect to the prior post Love Your Enemy, Pray for Those Who Persecute You.

You're confusing me. How do you pray for someone like Hitchens?

That's what I mean, it's not as easy a question as it first looks.

Love means respecting the other person as a person, as one with free will, and not as an object, a thing that we can manipulate or ask God to manipulate.

Hitchens is a person, not a puppet, and we should not treat him like a puppet. And God is Love, and we should not pray that God act contrary to Himself.

The same Jesus that said “pray for your persecutors” also said “shake the dust from your feet.”

To pray for a gross violation of another person’s free will is NOT an act of love. It is an act of violence.

Love cannot be forced upon another and still be love. And we are called to love, not to force ourselves on others. That means respecting their free will.

God gave them free will. We should respect His will to give them their will.

By no means am I saying “screw him, I’m not praying for him, period.” No, we should pray. But what I am suggesting is that we should actually think about what we pray for. That we make our prayer an act of love, and not an act contrary to love.

Of course, EVERY prayer of ours should include the proviso — “if it be thy will.” Maybe that in itself solves the dillema?

I respectfully disagree that it is not an easy moral question. On the contrary, it is quite simple to pray for Christopher’s mercy and forgiveness. We should even pray that God forgive against Hitchens’ will. After all, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Jesus did not simply say, “forgive them,” and stop. He added “they know not what they do.” This additional aspect is important.

He previously taught on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Church has understood this to mean that forgiveness is something that must be accepted in order to be accomplished, and consistent with the understanding that God is Love, and love cannot be forced upon someone, and that God gave us free will precisely for that reason, to freely choose to love Him or not to love Him, the Church has consistently taught that God will not, indeed, cannot forgive such person (Mt. 12:31-32).

Sure, pray that God forgive Hitchens — but NOT against his will. That is not love, that is the theological equivilent of rape. It is contrary to Love, it is contrary to Truth, the truth of God.

Rather, pray that God forgive Hitchens, but adding the proviso, if and when Hitchens accept it. Pray that God offer forgiveness, but do not pray that God act contrary to Himself and impose that love upon Hitchens. God cannot do so, being Love, He cannot act contrary to love, and it is important that we understand that.

Okay then – specifically – tell me how you would offer a prayer to God for him. And how does that differ from, say, someone who has left the church but maybe not left God?

One could simply pray that God be who He is — Love and Truth — and that He act accordingly. One could pray that God be there for him, that God, who is Divine Mercy, be merciful and loving and compassionate.

I would suppose He can be compassionate (from the Latin “to suffer with”) with or without Hitchens’ consent, but implicit in that prayer is our understanding that love and mercy, from the Latin miserere, meaning to allievate misery, cannot be imposed. Those who have chosen Hell over Him must be respected in that choice. Of course, it is still not yet a definitive choice for Hitchens, but it is his choice to make, not ours.

Or I suppose one could pray for whatever one wants to pray for, so long as there is the added provisos of “if it be Thy will Lord” and “if he is willing to accept it Lord . . .” That might accomplish the requisite need to respect the other’s free will.

I disagree that the other person’s feelings should be considered. Hitchens’ free will is not involved in this matter. Nobody is pointing a gun at him or conning him into anything.

If someone tells a non-believer that they don’t care what he thinks or wants, that they are going to “pray” for him even against his wishes and consent — does that sentiment cause him to want to draw closer to God? Or does it cause resentment and drive him away?

Respect for the other person -- which is a part of love -- requires that one consider his wishes. To be sure, "love" means seeking the good of the other, and not necessarily what makes him happy, but if going against his wishes leads him away from the good, then it obviously needs to be taken into account.

Consider the younger son who asked his father for his inheritence and then left home. What did the father do? He gave the son his interitence and let him go. He did not bind the son in chains, he did not lock him in his room. And the father did not go after him and drag him back home. Rather, the father respected his son's decision.

Had the older son implored their father to go after his brother and forcibly try to bring him home, it may have only served to set the younger son permanently against their father.

Sorry, I think you are over-thinking this one. We should not have to think twice about this one: pray for Hitchens, and trust God’s wisdom.

Ours is not an unthinking Faith. Rather, ours is a Faith that seeks understanding, that seeks to know the Logos.

Believer #1: “I’ll pray for you.”
Nonbeliever: “What does that mean?”
Believer #2: “Yeah, I’m curious too. What does that mean?”
Believer #1: "It means . . . um . . ."

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” 1 Pet. 3:15. Furthermore, we should be ready to give ourselves a reason for our hope, for our faith.

It is not enough to simply hear Jesus say, “love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you.”

We should ask “What does that mean?” Before praying, we should actually think about what it is we are praying for and why. We should think about what “love” is, what it means.

As set out in the prior post and above, I submit that “love” is not self-centered; it is not merely a matter of what we do. We MUST consider the other person. We cannot simply stop at (1) ourselves, we must also take into account (2) the other, in this case, the non-believing if not anti-believing Hitchens. But that brings into our consideration (3) as well — what to pray for and how and why.

Maybe the first prayer of petition we offer should be for ourselves, to ask for the grace to understand how best to love, how best to simultaneously offer up prayers on behalf of another and still respect them as a person, that is, respecting their freedom to reject us and our love expressed in prayer.

But we cannot, I further submit, not even bother to think about such things.

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