Even some of the critical commentary on Hitchens’s passing pays tribute to his atheism, which no doubt shocked readers of Vanity Fair.
But the ultimate irony seems to have gone over everyone’s head.
When I first learned that Hitchens was diagnosed with an excruciating and terminal cancer, it caused me to doubt my atheism.
Could it be merely chance?
The news came just as Hitchens was about to go on a book tour for his memoir.
Could it be the hidden hand of a Jehovah?
If I still had doubts, the events of the past week dispelled them.
First Hitchens passed.
If that wasn’t burden enough to bear, the next day Vaclav Havel imploded.
The deep thinkers among us were now beside themselves with grief.
But then, on the third day, Kim Jong-il kicked the bucket.
Was this a practical joke, and who was the joker?
Biblical scholars report that divine interventions usually come in threes.
Moe, Larry, Curly.
Christopher, Vaclav, Kim.
I cannot help but see in this otherwise improbable sequence a divine intelligence at play.
The irony could not be more perfect: the god that the vindictive but witty Mr. Hitchens made a career scoffing at turns out to be…vindictive but witty.
But I will leave the last word to a close buddy of Hitchens’ who is himself a true believer.
When Saddam Hussein was executed, Tony Blair remarked: “I do not believe in capital punishment, but I think the world is a better place without him.”
When I heard that Hitchens was dead, I took a deep breath.
The air felt cleaner, as if after a 40-day and 40-night downpour.
I get no satisfaction from Hitchens’s passing.
Although he was the last to know it, every death is a tragedy, if only for the bereft child—or, as in the case of Cindy Sheehan, bereft parent—left behind.
But, still, life is full of surprises.
No one should be too smug in his certitudes.
And if you’ve made a career of pissing on other people’s mostly innocuous beliefs, should it surprise that outside the tiny tent called Vanity Fair, your memory stinks of urine?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN is author of five books, including Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Beyond Chutzpah and The Holocaust Industry, which have been translated into more than 40 foreign editions. He is the son of Holocaust survivors. His website is www.NormanFinkelstein.com