When I was kid, I once thought I saw the ghost of my grandma at the foot of my bed. The apparition was so real, and it frightened me so bad, that for the next two years I slept with my fingers in my ears and the blankets pulled over my head.
It was the only way I could fall asleep. It was a ritual I performed every night along with the prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." I saw it as a way to protect myself from the dangers of the unknown things that came out of the darkness at night.
I have been reading Martin Amis's collection of essays The Rub of Time and was especially taken by his essay on his good friend Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, a writer and critic, has been called a great many things including professional crank and contrarian.
The truth is that he was a very remarkable man and equally astute social critic who could argue a point like nobody's business. He is the person who I most liked listening to when it came to debate. He was very learned, witty as hell, and, while using impeccable manners, would completely eviscerate the person carrying the water for the opposite point of view.
The problem I've always had with Hitchens was his unapologetic atheism. He died of cancer at age sixty-two in 2011 and to the bitter end denied man's need for religion.
Amis, who is an agnostic, wrote about his efforts to move his friend over to his line of thinking quoting Vladimir Nabokov, "What divides you and me is a rut that any frog could straddle," and explaining that agnosticism is really just an acceptance of man's ignorance of the vast unknowable features of all creation, state of ignorance that should prevent a man from holding to the definite belief that there is no God.
I find it interesting that most avowed atheists attack the idea that mankind created God out of fear of death and the unknown. I find no shame in that position. Instead, it speaks powerfully about mankind's needs. I have no problem with the idea that God came out of the void in response to our desire to believe that life has a greater purpose than becoming a transcendent form of high end fertilizer.
If I needed a toothpick and whittled down a twig to use, no one would have a problem with it. Yet creating a means to deal with existential fear and anxiety by whittling down a bit on the immensity of creation to create something to clutch on in a hour of despair hardly seems that crazy to me.
Atheists would then declaim that God causes men to kill other men in his name. When has man ever needed God's permission to kill? Mankind might use this idea to justify its actions in a court of law, or in the halls of power to justify murder for power, money, land, and just plain blood lust. But the same people who deny God's existence wouldn't accept the defense that it was okay to kill in the name of General Electric or Walmart, so why do they flip-flop when God's name is brought up?
Also atheists seem to have trouble with the idea that God has never knocked on their door and personally introduced himself to them, the spouse and the family. Yet, if you have convinced yourself that you have no great need for comfort and belief and have never allowed yourself to turn to the immensity of creation seeking comfort, why would you ever expect it to appear?
I don't know why Hitchens was so adamant about his denial of God. I think it might have something to do with some deep, unanswered need, an answer that he couldn't pull out of that immense noggin. I don't think God would hold it against him. Hitchens wasn't always right about things. He was the great individualist who loved taking on prevailing opinion, but considered himself a democratic socialist.
I quit plugging my ears and pulling the blanket over my head when it dawned on me that my Grandma's ghost probably never meant me any harm.