The publication this month of the selected correspondence of Mother Teresa has revealed that, for many years, the Saint of Calcutta entertained significant doubts about the existence of God. This past week, the editors of the Phoenix were astonished to receive a copy of the following letter, apparently written by Christopher Hitchens, atheist champion and author of the bestselling God Is Not Great. The letter is addressed to Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. Its authenticity has yet to be verified.
25 August, 2007
My dear Dawkins,
Now that the crisis is over, and the twin turbines of my reason are churning once more at full dialectical strength, I feel able to communicate to you something of the strangeness of the past few weeks. You will wonder why I did not contact you — “reach out” to you, as the jargon has it — before. I shall put it as finely as I can: I was all fucked up. Have you read Waugh’s Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold lately?
To get to the point: about a month ago, on the heels of a nasty cold and with various antibiotics and medicinal syrups cycling through my system (generally a tolerant one, as you know), I began to experience what I can only describe as a series of minor neurological perturbations. The thing began innocently enough, on an otherwise very average Tuesday morning chez Hitchens. I was scraping at a piece of burned toast, removing the layers of carbon with the side of a knife, when something gave me pause. The action of my knife on the scorched surface of the bread had produced an image, impressionistic but easily identifiable. There, in hues of baked auburn and gold, was a perfect Madonna and Child! Well, I was amused, of course. “What do you think of that?”, I asked my daughter, who was sitting at the table reading (I believe) Spengler. She looked at me with a disdain that will be familiar to all fathers of teenage girls. “It’s a piece of toast,” she said. And there — for the moment — the matter rested.
Later that day I caught a plane to North Carolina for a debate — as you know, on my book tour I have been doing plenty of these, as you have, crushing my God-benighted opponents from sea to shining sea. Physically under par as I still was, a quick dust-up with a couple of nuns in the departure lounge had left me invigorated (they recognized me from my last appearance on Hannity & Colmes), and I sat waiting for takeoff fairly wreathed in feelings of righteousness and well-being.
I must have been humming to myself, because when the stewardess passed by, she stopped and looked at me meaningfully. “Brother,” she breathed. “That’s our tune.” And sotto voce she began to croon the song “One of Us” by (I have since discovered) Joan Osborne: “What if God was one of us? . . . Just a slob like one of us?” Responding to my evident bafflement, she then winked, leaned in close and, with one finger, pulled down her neckline to reveal a small silver cross, twinkling and turning against her tan-o-rama cleavage.