On Saturday the Church of Atheism will formally canonize Christopher Hitchens, who died two years ago at the age of 62. The decision was announced last week and was immediately met with jubilation from adoring members of the church.
“Christopher Hitchens was a god — if I may use the expression,” said Jamie Blanton, 39, a Minneapolis-area atheist. “I’ve read all of his books and watched pretty much every interview he ever gave. He inspired me more than anyone else, ever. I was lost before he came into my life.”
“He helped to clear the grime from my eyes,” said Cassie Howell, 25, a popular blogger on atheism, science, and fashion and makeup tips. “I was raised in a Christian household. My parents were missionaries in Uganda, for crying out loud. When I first read Hitchens’s book God is Not Great, I was like, ‘ah ha. Here are the answers I was searching for my whole life.’”
The decision to canonize Hitchens was unsurprising, considering his high place within the church as well as his close relationship with Richard Dawkins, the church’s long-serving archbishop.
Hitchens, who had been a member since childhood — when he was considered to be intellectually advanced for his age — is said by many to have played a key role in modernizing and popularizing the church and its teachings. He wrote many books and articles, and went on speaking tours and gave interviews. His wit and intelligence helped draw in hundreds of thousands of youth who felt marginalized by traditional religions.
Fans are gathering outside church headquarters in Oxford and they are expected to remain there until Saturday when Dawkins will appear on the balcony to address the crowd. All four major American networks, as well as the BBC, Sky News and dozens of others, are planning to give live coverage to the ceremony. T-shirt and bumper-sticker manufacturers are expecting a sharp spike in sales of products with lines such as “Intelligent Design is Unintelligent” and “I Believe In Science, Not Sky Fairies.”
Todd O’Brien, spokesman for the church, asked the public to keep the soon-to-be canonized apostle in their hearts and prayers during the next few weeks.
“Christopher Hitchens — or ‘Hitch,’ as he was affectionately known — was a tireless promoter of atheism,” O’Brien said. “He used his mind and his charm to decimate theists’ arguments and characterize their complex theologies as nothing more than goofy belief in vengeful goblins and variations on Santa Claus.”
“He also inspired millions of atheists around the world to elevate smugness to a lifestyle,” O’Brien added.
Some observers warn of an increase in awkward social situations when church members share the news of Hitchens’s canonization with friends and coworkers whom they assume are also church members.
“I have been advising people in my congregation to be sensitive,” said Kathy Norman, a pastor at the Memphis Unitarian Church. “If friends or family members approach you and mention the Hitchens canonization, you should probably just smile and say ‘that’s great’ and change the subject. Don’t admit that you don’t know who Mr. Hitchens is, and above all don’t say that you find his ideas offensive or narrow. You don’t want to upset any of his followers and have them launch into a tirade about your stupidity.”