I stumbled onto this interview last night while I was channel surfing:
Hitchens looks and sounds like a dying man. Physically and emotionally vulnerable. Faltering. Unsure of himself. A drastic contrast to the strutting rhetoric of god is not Great. There’s clearly an undertone of trepidation in the glare of death, now that he’s got one foot in the grave. Not so easy to be the cocky atheist when you have nth stage cancer.
From the viewpoint of the average atheist, death doesn’t merely rob you of your future, but of your past as well. It lops off both sides of your life, for the dead can’t experience the future or remember the past. So you lose both at one stroke. (And from a Christian viewpoint, their fate is even worse.)
Infidels have very conflicted views of death. At least, when speaking polemically.
On the one hand, they try to shame Christians as cowards. We invent heaven because we can’t face the finality of death.
On the other hand, they also act as if the way you live and die is still important. As if it’s noble to confront oblivion bravely. As if it matters that you were a philanthropist rather than a robber baron or a serial killer.
But if we should come to terms with the grim finality of death, then it’s cowardly to ameliorate the grim finality of death by pretending that it matters what you did before you die, or whether your deathbed demeanor is unbecoming. So what if you cringe like a frightened puppy? "Better a living dog than a dead lion!" (Eccl 9:4).
It’s also striking to see how self-conscious many people are around someone who is evidently dying. After all, we are all dying. It’s just a matter of time. Sooner or later, death comes to the best of us and the worst of us.
But usually we’re vague on the timing. Some men die without warning. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Others linger for years on end, in a state of steady, almost imperceptible decline. They could die at anytime, so there’s no telling when the ax will strike.
But something like terminal cancer makes the end-game a bit more predictable. Foreseeable. The inexorable countdown begins. And that, in turn, exposes the hidden insecurity–which is easier to ignore or conceal when the prospect is safely out of sight.
Some unbelievers greet their demise with apparent equanimity because they are so old, so physically and emotionally worn out that it’s hard to muster much feeling about anything at that juncture.
Some maintain a heroic façade out of pride. Or fear of losing face.
Some would like to live much longer if only they had more to live for, but their best years are behind them. There’s not much to look forward too anymore.