Guest Columnists

Hitchens’ Bigotry Won’t Be Missed

by Father Peter J. Daly

Christopher Hitchens, the famous militant atheist, died in December from esophageal cancer. He was 62. I am sorry for his painful death at a young age, but I cannot say that I am grieved.

Hitchens was the only person ever to attack me by name in the pages of a national publication. He called me a “Hibernian blowhard priest” in the pages of Vanity Fair, the famously anti-Catholic journal of the American chattering classes.

His epithet revealed his English upper-class bigotry toward both the Irish and Catholics.

The cause of his name-calling was my defense of Blessed Mother Teresa.

Hitchens had attacked Mother Teresa in his 1995 biography of her, provocatively called The Missionary Position. He said she was not a friend of the poor but rather a friend of poverty.

He absurdly accused her of supporting dictators and enriching herself at the expense of the poor. It was a world-class example of sophistry. He distorted her life to promote his career.

When she died in 1997, he revived his fortunes by attacking her again. The Washington Post published his telephone answering machine message that was a full-blown attack on Mother and her character.

Since he had made his telephone message public, I thought I would respond. I called him up and got his answering machine. His voice was dripping with contempt for Mother Teresa. It was so vicious it literally took my breath away.

I left a message, complete with my name and phone number. I told him I had read his poorly researched book. I said that millions of people were grieving Mother Teresa and human decency demanded silence from him at that time.

Evidently I touched a nerve. He called me back, angry and sarcastic. He left a message on my machine. A few weeks later, he went after me in print.

Hitchens was a polemicist. He made his career attacking people and ideas. In my view he was consistently wrong, even if he was a clever writer.

In his youth he was pro-communist and pro-socialist. He described himself as a Trotskyite.

In his older years, he was defender of capitalism and the rich. He was always anti-religious. At times he was anti-Israeli.He broke with the left when he supported the Iraqi war, which Pope John Paul II called an unjust war. He was a cheerleader for the “war on terror” and he defended the torture and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists.

Hitchens’ life was all talk. His never did anything or built anything. His was the life of a privileged intellectual who sits on the sidelines and snipes at people who are actually in the game. He attacked the Dalai Lama, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Princess Diana and the British royal family.

Unlike Mother Teresa, he never cared for the sick and dying. He never lifted anyone from the gutters of the world. He never rescued children nor cared for the mentally ill or the elderly. He did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick or bury the dead. Those are all things we believers do. They are not for Oxford-educated atheists.

When the final roll is called, I would rather line up with Mother Teresa than Christopher Hitchens. He will be missed in the fancy salons of the world where cynics look down their noses at others. But he won’t be missed by the poor. They are cheering Mother Teresa.

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Father Peter J. Daly writes a syndicated column for Catholic News Service.

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