Hitchens' Anglican Brother Shares Grief

The day after the death of famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, his conservative Anglican brother Peter Hitchens publicly mourned his brother’s death via a column written for the Daily Mail.

Peter Hitchens, who is a regular columnist and journalist for the U.K. digital publication, admitted in his article that he struggled with how to respond to condolences and inquiries for interviews in light of a sometimes strained but very public relationship between the two.

He wrote that he was compelled to share with readers soon after his closest living relative passed away late Thursday evening after a yearlong battle with esophageal cancer. Christopher, author of God is Not Great, was given advanced treatments for the cancer including radiation, but continued to downslide throughout the year.

Peter Hitchens, who is a confirmed member of the Church of England, begins, “How odd it is to hear of your own brother’s death on an early morning radio bulletin. How odd it is for a private loss to be a public event.

“I wouldn’t normally dream of writing about such a thing here, and I doubt if many people would expect me to. It is made even odder by the fact that I am a minor celebrity myself. And that the, ah, complex relationship between me and my brother has been public property.”

He said he spent most of Friday responding “with regrettable brevity, to the many kind and thoughtful expressions of sympathy that I have received, some from complete strangers.”

Last year, he debated his older brother (by two years) Christopher over whether a civilization can survive without God. Christopher argued that civilization can survive without God and noted that millions of people in modern societies today are living in a post-religious society.

Presenting an opposing view to his brother’s humanist view, Peter said he found it objectionable that people who attack Christianity in Britain and in the United States dismiss the good that has been done in the name of religion. In the event of a serious argument, atheists would have to answer how “the turning of the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just” could be obtained through anything other than religion, he said.

On Friday he wrote, “Much of civilisation rests on the proper response to death, simple unalloyed kindness, the desire to show sympathy for irrecoverable loss, the understanding that a unique and irreplaceable something has been lost to us. If we ceased to care, we wouldn’t be properly human.”

The column, headlined “In Memoriam, my courageous brother Christopher, 1949-2011,” is accompanied with photos of the two together as children and later in life.

The younger Hitchens wrote about being with his brother for the last time while he was in a hospital in Houston, Texas. Somehow, he said they knew it would be the last time they would see each other.

“Here’s a thing I will say now without hesitation, unqualified and important. The one word that comes to mind when I think of my brother is ‘courage’. By this I don’t mean the lack of fear which some people have, which enables them to do very dangerous or frightening things because they have no idea what it is to be afraid. I mean a courage which overcomes real fear, while actually experiencing it,” he stated in his column.

“Courage” is what he wants to remember most about his brother.

“My brother possessed this virtue to the very end, and if I often disagreed with the purposes for which he used it, I never doubted the quality or ceased to admire it.”

Despite their opposing views, the Hitchens brothers debated rather amicably last year, each respecting the view of the other. After “the longest quarrel of [Peter’s] life” in 2008, the younger Hitchens said at the time he no longer held hope to convert his brother, whom he described as having "bricked himself up high in his atheist tower, with slits instead of windows from which to shoot arrows at the faithful."

The relationship between the two “got on surprisingly well in the past few months, better than for about 50 years as it happens,” Hitchens wrote in his column.

“I am still baffled by how far we both came, in our different ways, from the small, quiet, shabby world of chilly, sombre rented houses and austere boarding schools, of battered and declining naval seaports, not specially cultured, not book-lined or literary or showy but plain, dutiful and unassuming, we took the courses we did,” he stated.

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