The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“Praying for what?”

“Of the astonishing and flattering number of people who wrote to me when I fell so ill, very few failed to say one of two things. Either they assured me that they wouldn’t offend me by offering prayers or they tenderly insisted that they would pray anyway. Devotional Web sites consecrated special space to the question. (If you should read this in time, by all means keep in mind that September 20 has already been designated “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day.”) Pat Archbold, at the National Catholic Register, and Deacon Greg Kandra were among the Roman Catholics who thought me a worthy object of prayer. Rabbi David Wolpe, author of “Why Faith Matters” and the leader of a major congregation in Los Angeles, said the same. He has been a debating partner of mine, as have several Protestant evangelical conservatives like Pastor Douglas Wilson of the New St. Andrews College and Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama. Both wrote to say that their assemblies were praying for me. And it was to them that it first occurred to me to write back, asking: Praying for what?”


— Christopher Hitchens, in the current issue of Vanity Fair.
He was responding to this piece, among many others. 

“Praying for what?” Okay.  Good question. 

Speaking for myself, I’d say simply: praying for gifts.  Intangible, beautiful gifts.  Praying for things like grace, and light, and God’s tender mercies.  Praying for the gift of faith.  And time.  Time to accept what seems unacceptable — whether it’s a diagnosis, or a deity.

And praying, ultimately, for the gift of salvation — that a soul will be saved, and may know the hope of eternal life.


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posted September 5, 2010 at 5:05 pm

I hear
thank you
pray for me

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Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher

posted September 5, 2010 at 5:57 pm

For the grace to believe, for the grace to forgive, for the grace to accept.

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posted September 5, 2010 at 7:33 pm

For what it’s worth:
At our local community college, in a course entitled “Introduction to Ethics,” the instructors introduce Christopher Hitchen’s book GOD IS NOT GREAT into their classes in the week-long unit entitled “Ethics and Religion.” In this book, Hitchens pushes a theme that the American voting public ought to elect an American President who is an atheist. For the past ten years, none of the classes — and this is a PUBLIC college — agreed with that theory at all.
BUT, then, maybe it is the instructional pool. The current pool of instructors who teach this course (all part time) include one Lutheran Minister; one non-denominational minister; one Methodist minister and one permanently ordained Roman Catholic Deacon.
AND, the normal time for this topic to come up in the discussion is Week Three of the course — in 2010, this would be the week coming up — Tuesday September 7 through to Saturday September 11.

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posted September 5, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Dear Christopher Hitchens (if you are reading):
Nothing matters more than your eternal salvation, period. I pray for it for you everyday, and especailly during mass, which to a Catholic, is no different than kneeling under the Cross of Calvary and asking Jesus to pray to God the Father in Heaven for you.
Of course, I ditto all that Dcn. Greg wrote, because without grace, there is no hope. Nor is there any hope sans your receptivity TO the grace, that all praying for you know you will be offered, as God never denies spiritual gifts to those who pray in faith.
While your salvaiton is the utmost concern, I also pray for your healing, IF it be God’s will. If it is not God’s will, than I pray for the grace for you to understand the power of humman suffering, especially when accepted and united to the suffering of Jesus Christ.
And one more thing, never admitted until now. I have asked Mother Teresa for intercession. If I am not mistaken, she still needs a miracle or two for her sainthood.
Who better than you?

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posted September 5, 2010 at 10:14 pm

I think the better question is ‘Why pray for you, a veritable stranger?”
And the answer is that these people love you, Mr. Hitchens. And because of that love, they desire your ultimate good.

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posted September 6, 2010 at 12:36 am

Fiergenholt, actually the past results of polling Americans shows that they would be more likely to vote for a gay for president than an atheist. Remember though, it was also once inconceivable that a Catholic could become president.
I think people have the mistaken assumption that atheists can’t be moral, because many believe morals originated with God; however, morality appears to have evolved as a result of our social behavior and being religious or not really doesn’t really tell us how moral a person is. But of course a religion can add many layers of top of a basic tendency towards morality. There seem to be a lot of people who just have no empathy and compassion anymore. It’s sad.
Apart from his anti-religion position, there is a reason to pray for Christopher Hitchens, because he does care about people and has used his considerable intelligence to fight against tyranny and genocide, traveling to countries where it is happening, and speaking, reporting, and writing about it to enlighten the public. And it seems to me, it’s not so much that he dislikes religious people as he dislikes hypocrites and those who try to tell others what to do based on their personal religion.
I was raised Catholic and I have been a biologist now for about 30 years. I most definitely believe in evolution and I love reading about the evolution of human behavior and consciousness and animal cognition and other new areas of research. My personal morals are closest to those of Buddhists, but I have never felt there had to be a disagreement between a belief and joy in science and a belief and joy in God. In fact, I feel sorry for those who have to try and support a case against evolution, especially against Hitchens! And I feel fortunate that my family did not try to create such a division in me.
cheers :)

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posted September 6, 2010 at 8:41 am

I think a lot of the impetus to pray for Christopher Hitchens is based on an expression of good will towards a known and respected man who is suffering from a horrible and deadly illness. There is an element of empathy, and it is expressed in the form that the person feeling the empathy feels is appropriate. And there are some, hopefully a minority, who are stating that they are praying for Christopher Hitchens, and for a less wholesome reason, but let’s just leave that minority at the side for the moment.
Hitchens has always objected to the idea of a God who would show favour to some who suffer and ignore others. Why is he anymore worthy of an act of divine intervention than say a child dying of disease in Pakistan? He would say he isn’t, and I think he would tell you, “Instead of praying for me, why not do something about human rights abuses? Why not use your intelligence and personal resources to alleviate suffering where you can have an effect instead of wasting your efforts praying for me. Do that, and I would thank-you for doing something real and effective.”
Now I know I am putting words in his mouth, but that is something we do, we project an image of someone and relate to that as if it were the person. It is part of the internal dialogue. Think about that a bit in the context of prayer. And if you want to do something real, help those who suffer in a practical way. Cleaning bedpans and soiled sheets is not glorious work, but is a lot more useful to a person dying from cancer than praying for them.

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