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Hitchens was no hero of mine

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By Rick Howell

I have enough ego to enjoy seeing my name on this page not once, but twice, and in a headline at that. Pretty cool!
    But I don’t think that my opposite here, the one who “speaks conservatively,” meant to flatter me when he titled his last column “Howell’s Hero and other thoughts.”
    My hero, John Barnhart says, is Christopher Hitchens, the polemicist and essayist who died Dec. 15. I cited Hitchens in regard to waterboarding, but didn’t feel the need to mention he was an atheist.
    Barnhart couldn’t resist. In his opening paragraph, he stated, “Christopher Hitchens now knows that God indeed exists.”
    Really? My point was simply that one writer had the guts to actually undergo “waterboarding,” and certainly felt that it was torture. I knew already that Hitchens had been a supporter of George W. Bush’s war of choice in Iraq.
    Yes, the Wall Street Journal is sometimes on my reading list. But I’m sure Barnhart doesn’t read “The Nation,” the liberal weekly that has been in business since 1865. If he had, he’d know that Hitchens, before the Iraq war, was a weekly columnist for that publication.
    After a famous falling out with the editors over their opposition to that war, he then went on to a highly lucrative assignment in the scented pages of “Vanity Fair.”
    Many on the left were surprised by his decision; others who knew him said that it could be explained by opportunism and his macho view of the world, which drives many men to support wars.
    Whatever the case, I stopped reading him after that. If he could be so wrong about Iraq, I wasn’t interested in what he wrote. I felt even stronger about that after he jumped on the atheist bandwagon.
    So in recent years, I refused to read any of his articles, especially when he wrote anything derogatory about the Catholic Church, to which I happily belong.
    He was not my hero, but on the other hand, I am not willing, as Barnhart seems to be, to assign him to hell for his atheism.
    Wait…a liberal such as Rick Howell…a Christian? Can it be? You bet it can. I have been a person of faith since I was 13 years old, and like many other Americans, I don’t find conservatism in the Scriptures.
    When Barnhart made his statement about Hitchens, well, I had the distinct impression that what he really wanted to say was this: Christopher Hitchens, the dead atheist, is now in hell.
    But he just couldn’t be that blunt about it. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, a Jerry Falwell clone, did the same thing. He wrote, in a column titled “Death of an Atheist,” “Hitchens now knows the truth and that can only be the worst possible news for him.”
    Again, I ask….Really? Who do such people think they are that they can judge these things? Thomas didn’t have the guts to really say what he was hinting about. Sometimes conservatives have the backbone of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
    Faith is about belief and hope. It is not necessarily about knowledge. Here’s what we know: Christopher Hitchens is dead. Where he “is” after that we do not know. John Barnhart doesn’t know; Cal Thomas doesn’t know; Rick Howell doesn’t know.
    Shame on people who set themselves up as conservative demi-gods who get to judge things that only God should judge.
    My real political hero was a man of great Catholic Christian faith, and certainly not a conservative. He fought all his life against war, poverty and social injustice. He paid for it with an early death at the hands of an assassin.
    His name was Robert F. Kennedy.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.