Don't Pray for Christopher Hitchens

For some, Monday, September 20, was "Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day." But if you truly want to support Christopher Hitchens as he undergoes treatment for esophageal cancer, don't pray for him on any day.

One of the most well known biblical commandments is to love one's neighbor as one loves oneself. Rabbinic sages spanning the ages have offered a variety of ways to understand and observe it. Hillel, one of the greats, interpreted the verse this way: "What is hateful to you do not do to another. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it."

In the case of Christopher Hitchens, whom I just had the great pleasure of meeting and hearing debate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (who also stated that he would be offering prayers for Hitchens' healing), I'd like to offer a slightly different interpretation of this verse for those who take it seriously and for those for whom the verse may even be the catalyst for their well-intentioned efforts to create such a day.

As Mr. Hitchens' beliefs regarding God and religion are more than common knowledge, perhaps abstaining from doing that which is hateful to him is the best way for anyone who calls him- or herself a "person of faith" to uphold this biblical proscription.

Mr. Hitchens, who is the consummate gentleman, has been mostly tolerant of the array of religious groups who have organized this day of prayer despite his firm objections. Yet it seems quite intolerant, disrespectful, and contrary to religious practice to pray for a man who has stated firmly and clearly that he wants no such thing.

Sometimes being a person of faith -- being a person in general -- means putting the needs of another before one's own. Christopher Hitchens neither wants nor needs our prayers. This is hateful to him. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.