A labor of vision

December 16, 2011

This morning, I read of Christopher Hitchens’ passing and felt very sad.

I did not know the man personally, of
course, nor did I share many of his convictions about the world.
 Indeed, Hitchens spent a good deal of time and energy (articulately and
entertainingly) attacking some of the things most important to me.  But
today’s news really hit me.  It was kind of like hearing that a friend
had died—or at least a distant cousin that you once stayed up late into
the night having an intense conversation where you both got really
worked up and ended up simply having to agree to disagree!  

I suppose the one thing that I came to
most appreciate about Hitchens over the course of my time spent with his
work during the writing of my thesis a few years back was the strong
element of moral protest that characterized his atheism.  He expected
better—from God, from religious institutions, and from those who claimed
to have some divinely inspired insight into the nature and purpose of
the cosmos.  Very often, after reading another of his scathing passages,
I would think, “yeah, you know he’s right about that… that shouldn’t be…. that doesn’t make sense… that is profoundly screwed up… why do we
say/do that?”  He held up an uncomfortable mirror to the religious, and
in this sense he functioned, however ironically or unintentionally, as a

So, the news of Hitchens’ death combined
with moving toward the last Sunday of Advent—this season of at times
uncomfortable, expectant, and frustrated waiting and longing for God to
come and finally fix our screwed-up sin-soaked world—has me thinking
about what I see as the profoundly religious nature of protest.  And
about the necessity of hope.

On these themes, I am often drawn to a little book by David Bently Hart called The Doors of the Sea,
written after the tsunami in December, 2004.  It is a book that
honestly and compellingly looks at the stark pain, waste, and horror of
our world, that acknowledges the force—even necessity—of moral protest,
and moves on to hope.  I won’t dishonour the life and convictions of Mr.
Hitchens by pretending that he shared or even admired this hope, but
words like these sustain me during times when there seems so much to
protest, so many reasons to be angry, so few grounds for faith:

such times, to see the goodness indwelling all creation requires a
labor of vision that only a faith in Easter can sustain; but it is
there, effulgent, unfading, innocent, but languishing in bondage to
corruption, groaning in anticipation of a glory yet to be revealed, both
a promise of a Kingdom yet to come and a portent of its beauty.

Until that final glory, however, the
world remains divided between two kingdoms, where light and darkness,
life and death grow up together and await the harvest.  In such a world,
our portion is charity, and our sustenance is faith, and so it will be
until the end of days…. Such faith might never seem credible to someone
like Ivan Karamazov, or still the disquiet of his conscience, or give
him peace in place of rebellion, but neither is it a faith that his
arguments can defeat: for it is a faith that set us free from optimism
long ago and taught us hope instead.

Originally posted at Rumblings.