Notes from Hitchens

Hitchens on death-bed evangelism.

 ‘It’s considered acceptable in our culture to approach perfect strangers, as often or not who may be in extremis, and evangelise. I don’t see why that’s considered a normal thing.’ His voice rises in indignation. ‘They’re allowed to roam the wards. They tried it on me.’I know people old and young who’ve been terrified by attentions of this kind.’

He has been thinking of making a short speech along precisely these lines, to the effect that he, Harris and Dawkins may set up a secular equivalent of hospital visitors. ‘We’d go round – “Hope you don’t mind, you said you were Catholic? Only three weeks to live? Well, listen, you don’t have to live them as a mental slave, you know; you could have three weeks of freedom from fear of the priest. Don’t be a mug all your life…” I don’t think it would be considered in very good taste.’

I don’t think it would be a kindness either, I say.

‘I think it would,’ Hitchens says. ‘Absolutely.’

On whether he thinks he’s been a good person.

‘No, not particularly. Not as the world counts these things, because the world expects, for that definition to apply, a good deal of selflessness. And while no one scores very high on that, I score lower than most. I don’t do much living for others, I really don’t.’

On what being good actually is.

Thinking of his damning critique of Mother Teresa in his 1995 book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, I say, rather unkindly perhaps, that it would be unfortunate if he were to be remembered not as the person who had fed the poor and comforted the dying, but the person who had given a good kicking to the woman who did.

He looks at me. ‘I don’t think the contingency comes up. Those who do feed the poor and comfort the dying are safe from me. Mother Teresa did neither. She was a fraud.’

Quite so, and thus the question was not so much unkind as mindless. Hitchens didn’t give a good kicking to “the woman who did” – notice that “the” as if there were only one and that one were Ma T. How her reputation does persist, for no reason apart from sheer reputationicity.

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