Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
If you are a religious person, do not read this book if you cannot challenge your beliefs. It will more than likely offend you. If you are a religious person, you might not want to read this post, but I will hope not to offend you if you do read it. I sat and read this book this morning. It's a quick read. In case you've never heard of him, he was an avowed atheist and wrote the book, among many others, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Mortality is the memoir he wrote as he died from esophageal cancer. I picked it up for our Christmas gift stack to each other this past year, thinking it would be interesting to me after the death of my oldest son last year. My son and I talked about religion often. Neither of us believed in religion any longer. He was turned off religion when a youth minister told him his mother was going to hell for divorcing his father, and me, well, it was a much longer, on and off process, but I too eventually said I just don't believe this. I generally call myself a spiritual agnostic, as I think there is something more, but I won't go into that here at this time.
In the book, Hitchens quotes a man who said Hitchens deserved what he got, a cancer that rendered him speechless, because it was God's revenge on him for his blasphemy. He said Hitchens deserved the "HELLFIRE" that awaited him. These are the kinds of things said that always puzzled me about Christians. This man was judging Hitchens. Condemning him to HELLFIRE, but yet, the same God he believes doled out the cancer, says do not judge. Hitchens goes on to say, "If you maintain that god awards the appropriate cancers, you must also account for the numbers of infants who contract leukemia. Devout persons have died young and in pain. Betrand Russell and Voltaire (also atheists, my comment), by contrast, remained spry until the end, as many psychopathic criminals and tyrants have also done. These visitations, then, seem awfully random."
When my twins were born, many people told me, "God doesn't give you more than you can handle," yet somehow babies kept being born to people who beat them, starved them or killed them, so I could never wrap my head around that one. And what about people who have something good happen to them and they say, I'm so blessed, or look what god has done for me, and I wonder, what makes them so special that god singled them out over all others for these blessings? So does god randomly pick people to bless? It's just all never made sense to me. I started questioning when I was in sixth grade, and basically never stopped, but the guilt trips I endured for the fear of god ruled me for many years.
I find myself these days continuing to question. I read a lot of Buddhist teachings, not because I'm becoming a Buddhist, but because there is something real and truthful about working on oneself, about trying to be the best person you can be in the world, and being kind to others, causing no harm. I am seeking wisdom through being aware of truth. "Truth is a combination of what we know and what we don't know, and gaining and maintaining awareness of both sides of this reality is the key to being wise." -Tim Urban. I think understanding we don't always know the truth, and knowing we don't know, IS what makes us wise. Absolutes leave no room for questioning, reasoning, or learning.
If you're up for some challenging thoughts, read Mortality. When I get back to the states I intend to find a copy of God is Not Great, and I'll let you know what I think of that one too. I will leave you with this, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought, without necessarily accepting it." -Aristotle. I always put that quote on my chalkboard each year when I was teaching because I wanted my students to be willing to consider ideas. How do you know what you believe if you never challenge your beliefs? Maybe we should all be trying to converse a little more and hear what others say, instead of yelling our objections. Maybe we should consider opening our minds to new ideas, to new people and new places. Maybe we should also consider our own mortality as we live our lives and know that whatever your beliefs, we all die. Life is short.
Peace and love,