Early in the following debate, which has a few interesting points made, Christopher Hitchens responds to the perception that he might be warming to the idea of religion. This was an idea that all good-willing Christians hope and pray for, but I found from the beginning to be unrealistic.
I battled cancer twice and I have looked worse than Christopher Hitchens does in this debate, but I have also mentored cancer patients and spoken with even more. I can tell you that there are two reactions to a diagnosis with cancer, with regard to religious devotion:
1) You draw closer to God and are comforted by the grace He offers in difficult times; or 2) You detest a God who would allow such suffering to happen.
The difference between the first and second reaction is usually one's devotion to God prior to the suffering. Strong faith in God is what helped me come through my first battle with cancer, and a weak faith in God is what allowed my life to crumble in my second diagnosis.
Christopher Hitchens has no religious faith and even goes so far as to consider himself an "anti-theist." He hates religion. Cases in which people with little, no, or weak faith going into a battle with cancer who come out with a fervent belief in God are extremely rare and to expect that in each instance is unrealistic. Miracles happen and should be adamantly prayed for, but there is a reason we call them miracles.
Peter Hitchens, the lesser known brother of Christopher Hitchens, makes an equally interesting point that we should consider. He says, "I find it to be quite grotesque to imagine that someone would have to get cancer to see the merits of religion. It's an absurd idea and I don't know why anyone imagines that it should be so."
I disagree with him. The merits of religion are definitely more greatly experienced in a time of suffering, assuming that we are welcome to God's grace in those times. The merit of religion over non-belief, aside from eternal condemnation, is the fact that the Christian faith, specifically, is what best explains the human condition. (I'm using the word "merit" as a claim worthy of specific praise or benefit.)
It is contrary to our nature to reject God's freely given grace in the times we need it most. Our grasp of the consequences of our decisions and religious faith become very real when we go to meet our maker, assuming that we are right in saying that He exists, which is another reason religion has higher merit during tough times.
The reality of religion intensifies during times of suffering, which might be what Peter Hitchens was really trying to address. The intellectual arguments for religion stand apart from human experience, since they are fundamentally true and not contingent on us. The effects of those realities on us are what take new meaning and perhaps becomes more real to us. To say that the truth of God is heightened during times of suffering, would be a detestable notion since His reality would be contingent on our experience and acknowledgement of Him.
Whether he likes them or not, miracles could still happen with Christopher Hitchens and his anti-theist beliefs. As such, our prayers should continue as his health deteriorates.