Atheist Christopher Hitchens was asked earlier this year how his struggle with cancer has affected his views on the question of an afterlife. "I would say it fractionally increases my contempt for the false consolation element of religion and my dislike for the dictatorial and totalitarian part of it," he responded. "It's considered perfectly normal in this society to approach dying people who you don't know but who are unbelievers and say, 'Now are you gonna change your mind?' That is considered almost a polite question."
Hitchens spoke (see above) during a debate on the question, "Is there an afterlife," with Sam Harris and Rabbis David Wolpe and Bradley Shavit Artson at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles on February 15. (You can watch the entire event here.) Hitchens' views on the subject have remained consistent over the years. "It's a religious falsification that people like myself scream for a priest at the end," Hitchens said before he was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer in the summer of 2010. "Most of us go to our end with dignity."
Hitchens writes memorably of one such figure in his 2006 book, Thomas Paine's Rights of Man: A Biography:
Paine's closing years, pitiful as they were, contained one closing triumph. He might have become a scarecrow-like figure. He might have been forced to subsist on the charity of friends. He might have been denied the right to vote by a bullying official, when presenting himself at the polling station, on the grounds that the author of Common Sense was not a true American. But as the buzzards began to circle, he rallied one more time. It was widely believed by the devout of those days that unbelievers would scream for a priest when their own death-beds loomed. Why this was thought to be valuable propaganda it is impossible to say. Surely the sobbing of a human creature in extremis is testimony not worth having, as well as testimony extracted by the most contemptible means? Boswell had been to visit David Hume under these conditions, because he had been reluctant to believe that the stoicism of the old philosopher would hold up, and as a result we have one excellent account of the refusal of the intelligence to yield to such moral blackmail. Our other account comes from those who attended Paine. Dying in ulcerated agony, he was imposed upon by two Presbyterian ministers who pushed past his housekeeper and urged him to avoid damnation by accepting Jesus Christ. 'Let me have none of your Popish stuff,' Paine responded. 'Get away with you, good morning, good morning.' The same demand was made of him as his eyes were closing. 'Do you wish to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?' He answered quite distinctly: 'I have no wish to believe on that subject.' Thus he expired with his reason, and his rights, both still staunchly defended until the very last.
via 3 Quarks Daily