Fr. Peter Daly

Parish Diary

December 21, 2011


Fr. Peter Daly reflects on the life of Christopher Hitchens and his dispute with the famous atheist.


            The famous atheist, Christopher Hitchens, 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 both toward the Irish and toward Catholics.

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

Hitchens had attacked Mother Teresa in his 1995 biography of her provocatively called the “The Missionary Position.”   He said that Mother was not a friend of the poor, but rather a friend of poverty. He accused her absurdly 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 Mother died in 1997, he revived his fortunes by attacking her again. The Washington Post published his telephone answering machine message which 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. Then, 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 John Paul II called an unjust war. He was a cheerleader for the “war on terror” and he defended the torture and indefinite detention.

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

He described himself as “dissolute.”  He was a heavy drinker and a sexual libertine.

Unlike Mother Teresa, he never cared for the sick and dying. He never lifted anyone up from the gutters of the world. He never rescued children from abandonment or cared for the mentally ill or the elderly. He did not feed the hungry, cloth 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’re cheering Mother Teresa.