Sunday, 18 December 2011

On the Passing of a Devil's Advocate

As I understand the origins of Christopher Hitchens' controversial book The Missionary Position he was asked to play an important role in the beatification of Mother Theresa. The role he was asked to play was that of Devil's Advocate. In other words, he was called upton to make a case against Mother Theresa becoming a saint and from what I have read he came up with an extremely interesting piece of work.

Christopher Hitchens died this past week and perhaps we can best sum up his published works with these two words: Devil's Advocate. This label is appropriate when we consider the sum total of his published (And unpublished) work. He was a brutally intelligent and aggressive contrarian. Nothing was sacred to this man. This is especially true when he wrote and spoke about all things religious.

It's public knowledge that he was an athiest but this is no reason to dismiss his ideas and work and it's affect on our lives. I don't think he expected us to agree with everything he wrote but he did seem to invite and perhaps even demand attention, engagement and debate. He called on us to see the world in a new and different way. He challenged us to change our thinking accordingly.

What makes his approach important is that we, as Christians are supposed to do something similar with the Good News we encounter in scripture. We're supposed to call for attention to what Jesus has taught and lived. Some could even argue that we are to engage in public debate so that our thoughts and beliefs can be heard in a public and effective way.

With this in mind, is Hitchens and his argumentative style any different than what contemporary Christian leaders and scholars are supposed to be doing? I don't think so. Our readers and listeners need information in which to make a spiritual decision one way or another. Hitchens is a must read in that he offers a contrary case for religion and Christianity. He offers a contrary position that really brings out the intensity of the Christian message and how it drives us towards a renewed life.

Hitchens was important to Christianity. This importance continues beyond his death this past week.

So the Hitchens is dead - long live Hitchens. Christopher Hitchens has left us physically but his readings live on and we have a continuing opportunity and perhaps even a responsibility to read them and allow them to play the role of devil's advocate in both our spiritual and intellectual lives. I think Hitchens would have wanted it that way.

Mike Jones

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