Overheard on CNN.com: Vanity Fair essayist's death sparks atheism debate
Christopher Hitchens was "a master of the stunning line and the biting quip," Vanity Fair said in a statement.
December 16th, 2011
02:43 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Vanity Fair essayist's death sparks atheism debate

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

"The world has lost an intellectual spark. May it have fired a million engines."
–mandarax

More than 1,000 comments poured in as tributes to Vanity Fair essayist Christopher Hitchens, 62, who died of esophageal cancer. Readers talked about his wit, his writing and his atheism, and Hitchens' outspoken beliefs ignited a vibrant discussion. We saw our community talking honestly about their own personal beliefs and trying to understand the views of others, which makes for a great set of comments.

Vanity Fair essayist Christopher Hitchens dead at 62

Many readers paid tribute to a man they admired. This reader vowed to carry on his legacy:

jimbacabaca: "Hitchens was for lack of a better word ... brilliant! May you rest in peace Mr. Hitchens. I will simply thank you for opening not only my mind a little more but countless others. Thank you for standing up to the churches, to the politicians, to the ignorance that holds billions of people down. Thank you for using your head. Thank you for shoving your middle finger in the face of all those who tried to drag the global population and yourself down. The world will be a little dumber now that you are gone. But I and many others will try to fill the void that you have left."

Some said his appeal goes beyond his beliefs.

THDUDEABlDES: "I don't have to be an atheist to appreciate the brilliance of Christopher Hitchens. While I may not have agreed with him on most things regarding matters of faith, I was able to appreciate the way he expressed his beliefs, even though they weren't always the most tolerant views. We don't have many independent thinkers in the media today, and it's a shame we've lost this one."

There were a few critics. One commenter said he thought Hitchens used a ridiculing tone. His comment sparked a conversation about the nature of God and science.

DavidOH: "The problem I had with Hitchens is not that he was an atheist, but rather that he ridiculed theists as somehow being less intelligent. Like there were not equally if not more intelligent people like Aquinas or even Einstein who did believe in God. Fact is that from a purely intellectual standpoint theism, atheism, and pantheism, etc., are all equally coherent and intellegent metaphysical standpoints. The rest is a matter of faith. I don't like people who go out the way to belittle other people's faith choices."

smlynch: "Einstein did not believe in God the way theists do. To him, God was the composite of physical laws, not some bearded white guy in the clouds passing judgment."

tneng: " I just hope all you atheists can be intellectually consistent and refuse to believe in things like love, morality, and the value of human life. If we are just a bunch of molecules, then those don't exist. If God is a delusion, then so are all of those things."

Readers said one thing they respected about Hitchens was that he advocated being good to their fellow man.

Terryshilo: "I believed Chris to be a brilliant man, thinker, speaker, debater, writer, etc. As compelling an argument as he could make against believing in God I cannot be shaken. It's part of me, it's who I am. I will agree, as I often do, that I have known many non believers that are kind, caring honest and compassionate that trump some loudmouth Christians bellowing misunderstood prophecy and verses. I have always maintained, believer or not, it's our actions towards our fellow man much more than verses that is the mark of a decent human being. His pain is over and I would like to think he now rests in peace or becomes beneficial organic material that will benefit mother nature. My condolences to his family and friends."

Several of our commenters identifying themselves as believers also spoke up in honor of Hitchens.

thatguy13: "I'm a strong christian, but even I can respect the intellectual prowess of Mr. Hitchens. He was a hell of a debater; a brilliant guy. Don't agree with his stance on religion at all, but he was a noteworthy man."

Dhamre: "As a Christian, I feel the separation of church and state is fundamental to democracy. As you have said it can, and does, often create problems for both."

There seemed to be a majority of comments from readers taking an atheist's perspective, and they said they respected Hitchens for being true to his beliefs to the very end.

Booval: "I guess the evangelicals who claim 'there are no atheists in foxholes' will have to eat their words. He never became an 11th-hour theist as his death approached."

SteelBeach: "I just love meeting the 'no atheists in foxholes' types. I enjoy shaking their hands and smiling as I inform them that there are many thousands of us serving, and many thousands more who are veterans. I then remind them about Pat Tillman."

Debate did get heated, but many readers tried to smooth things over and understand the other side's point of view. That's not always easy to do.

SeanAus: "It's great to see christians rejoicing in his death. It just further proves the point that their religion is not peaceful or loving at all and that they are just hypocrites."

mechols1225: "Can you be sure that a majority of christians are rejoicing, and can you be sure that all calling themselves christians actually follow christian teachings? Now, I'm sure you're one who despises those who paint a group with such a broad brush, are you not?"

SleepyinSF: "Well, I consider myself a believer and I'm not rejoicing. In fact, I still remember the disappointment last yr when he was scheduled to speak at Borders here in SF and had to cancel because he'd just been diagnosed. I'd never heard him speak and was rather looking forward to it. Goodbye Hitch, you'll be missed."

Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. PEB63

    And, BTW, Catholics are Christians, too.

    December 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. F1

    Lets do this again,,,,, god is knowledge in the which such knowledge is light , in which this lite is matter ,which this earth i stand on is made of correct? Will there you have it, we did not come from algea or should i say salamanders or what ever, but god gave us life, in the life is intelligence, make since now? Now come on people im not active in religion but dammit it is easy to understand that it takes intelligence to creat life period

    December 17, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • VernB

      Prove it.

      December 17, 2011 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • ThinkRationally

      "Now come on people im not active in religion but dammit it is easy to understand that it takes intelligence to creat life period"

      No, this is an argument from incredulity (look it up). It is not logical–you cannot remotely establish this as fact. It is what you choose to believe, nothing more.

      December 23, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. F1

    @peb63 its said judge not now you fear god! You will be judged by how you live and treat others ye shall all be judged for casting or saying others are going to hell , satanists maybe but most of these wroing or off beat religions the people have been lead astray by the secret combinations of the worldly man and his priestcraft

    December 17, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. F1

    And further more how can anyone sell god? A lot of religions out there are ran by people who are payed to preach to there congregation. This makes no sense since christ only expected his followers to live by the commandments that is not selling gods word!

    December 17, 2011 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. ***Dude***

    A boy'z gotza eat F1

    December 17, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mike

    Why do the atheist care if others believe in God? I don't care that they don't and won't waste my time trying to prove that there is. I know there is a God and sorry that many don't. I had a heart felt God experience when I was 16 – I am so glad because other wise since we can't see God I may be as ignorant like many. Sad for those that don't believe but happy for me and my relationship with my God.

    December 17, 2011 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • ThinkRationally

      Because reasoned thinking is important and, I'm sorry, but religious explanations are so often lacking in proper logic and reason.

      Worse than this is the encroachment of religious belief into the public sphere. Some people want to teach creationism instead of evolution AS SCIENCE. This must be resisted. Many want to deny rights to g_ay people–they want to force others to follow the doctrines of their own beliefs. This must also be resisted.

      Where such nonsense is seen, expect some reasoned push-back.

      December 23, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bugs Ears

    @ Mike, 🙂 They MUST prove there isn't a God other wise their argument is mute. The prof we have is our very own being alive! we exist because of him. 🙂

    December 17, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      moot, not mute

      December 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThinkRationally

      "They MUST prove there isn't a God other wise their argument is mute."

      You couldn't be more wrong. Most atheists do not try to disprove God. They realize that the burden of proof does not lie with them. Do you feel compelled to disprove leprechauns? Could you do it if you wanted to?

      No, your statement is nothing more than a straw man argument. You are attributing false motives to atheists just so you can argue against them. It really is a weak way to debate.

      December 23, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bugs Ears

    @ f1, It take a very dull mind such those who don't believe in God to come up with the alega 'theory' or any other theory. God gave of a mind... US it people!!!

    December 17, 2011 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  9. saywhat

    God perceived as the omnipotent Creator has to be a just God for all His creation. Why would He bless just those" for who Christ died" and condemn the rest of His creatures to Hell. Or would all His creatures by judged by their deeds if He is a just God?

    December 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bugs Ears

    @ saywhat, come again? reword please... not sure I understood what you meant.

    December 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bugs Ears

    Btw , I didn't get enough sleep, so it's probably me! 😦

    December 17, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bugs Ears

    And ya know I would really welcome an though provoking conversation with an atheist! A real 'lets get down in the trenches and dig deep' discussion. Anyone game?

    December 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. saywhat

    @ Bugs Ears

    My question was, why would only those claiming that 'Christ died for them" b e blessed by God? What about those of His creation who do not believe that? Would they be condemned to an eternity of "Hell fire" or all of God's creatures be judged by Him on their deeds ?
    I think this is simple enough.

    December 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Blasphemy

    You mean all I have to do is quit believing in God and start believing in the redistribution of wealth and I'll be smarter? Or will I just feel intellectually superior to others?

    December 17, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bugs Ears

    @saywhat. God's blessing makes it rain and shine on you no matter your personal beliefs. However, the God of the bible clearly demonstrates that Jesus died for our sins. Why would he further bless those who claim that this is a lie? That he himself is a liar? The TRUTH sets one free, not the lie. As far as hellfire goes, I don't know of any loving father who would even consider allowing even his most disobedient child to be burned alive. Do you know of any?

    December 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
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