Can The Man Reads PART I: Christopher Hitchens “Mortality”

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On Christmas morning of this past year, I received Mortality by Christopher Hitchens and decided that a book review section could be beneficial to our readership at Can The Man.  After doctors informed Hitchens that cancer had taken over most of his throat the realization of mortality sank in and inspired this brilliant first hand account of death from a “non-believer.”  After reading Mortality I was inspired to discuss pieces of literature as a platform for social enlightenment and bring great literature to the minds of others.  Religion is a remarkable human invention that infiltrates nearly every aspect of life until now and contemplating death without God is a necessary discussion to furthering the advancement of humankind.  Hitchens expounds on this idea in Mortality while raising other questions about the legitimacy of prayer and who, really, will have the last laugh on their death beds.


In 2007 the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life performed a study of religious diversity in the United States; they interviewed more than 35,000 Americans over the age of 18.  Not surprisingly, the greatest percentage (78.4) of those interviewed classified themselves as Christian, with the Protestant denomination accounting for nearly half of those individuals.  There were interestingly low percentages of Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim populations—only 3.0% combined.  The truly interesting number sat next to the group titled, “Unaffiliated,” at an unprecedented 16%.  Unaffiliated does not mean that these people are non-believers, but rather they do not subscribe to an organized religion.  To put this number in perspective, “Among Americans aged 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”  In thirty years, these may be the nations politicians and leaders.  I hope that these people will make their decisions based on moral judgment and common sense, rather than abiding by religious doctrines of organized religion that poison politics, as well as inhibit the passage of necessary legislation for social issues like abortion and gay marriage.


I have not experienced death, but I often wonder if all of my beliefs will fade too if presented the same circumstances as Christopher Hitchens.  He did not waver in his beliefs and there were even bets placed that before passing away Hitchens would, “Repudiate my [his] atheism and embrace religion.” Although speculation was rampant that God gave Christopher Hitchens throat cancer because he used his voice to blaspheme, the rest of us understand that cancer is a disease that anyone on this planet is at risk to have.  We realize that this cancer was most likely a result of being a lifelong smoker.  Hitchens writes, “The vengeful deity has a sadly depressed arsenal if all he can think of is exactly the cancer that my age and former ‘lifestyle’ would suggest that I got.”  The dialogue Hitchens evokes in Mortality is one that is not openly discussed in society, that being how does someone begin to comprehend impending doom without the supporting crutch of religion?


While attending the Franciscan St. Bonaventure University I was privy to the study of Catholic history and many nuances that faith has invoked throughout time.  For those who do not know, the church would sell “indulgences” promising the buyer that these trinkets would grant favorable status to God in the after life.  These indulgences reaped massive amounts of profit for the church while simultaneously deluding the congregation into believing that a splinter of wood belonged to a historical artifact.  Hitchens explores this idea in Mortality and claims that indulgences are alive and well within the church.  Although parishioners are no longer buying slivers of the “Cross” they instead donate money with the hopes that it results in a spiritual benefit to themselves.  Hitchens writes, “The leaders of the church know perfectly well that prayer is not intended to gratify the devout.  So that, every time they accept a donation in return for some petition, they are accepting a gross negation of their faith.”  As a professed non-believer I feel that prayer is a serious miscalculation of the power of humanity.  Furthermore, it  disillusions a significant percentage of my peers into believing that God always knows best.


I can empathize with the necessity of prayer when death comes knocking, but even then, as Hitchens writes, “The religion which treats its flock as a credulous plaything offers one of the cruelest spectacles that can be imagined: a human being in fear and doubt who is openly exploited to believe in the impossible.”  I will never question the manner in which a person decides to handle their own death, and I hope that many can hold the same respect for me.  Mortality is an exceedingly beneficial text for those interested in exploring the realms of death, prayer, and the philosophical implications a life-threatening illness awakes in all those willing to look outside the theistic box—and into themselves.



[1] Hitchens, Christopher.  Mortality.  New York: Hachette Book Group, 2012


[2] U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.  Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life.  June 23, 2008.  <>


-Spencer Santilli-

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