Paul Greenberg

There are those who are offended by the expression of any religious sentiment in the public sphere while others -- like the Rev. Jeffress in Dallas -- are offended by its omission. They may deserve each other, but why subject the rest of us to their fusillades? It's like being caught in a polemical crossfire, and to what end?

Christopher Hitchens, who is as relentless an atheist as he is a friend, a great debater who drinks with as much verve as he talks, and a fine fellow all around, noted that a lot of believers have been praying for his recovery from a life-threatening illness -- even if he's not inclined to join them. To quote his response to all the sincere prayers on his behalf: "I say it's fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself."

Indeed it is. For many pray to purify their own souls, not to shame or coerce others. Prayer is funny that way; you start out petitioning for some boon and end somewhere else, maybe spellbound in adoration or love or God knows where. For prayer is a listening as well as an asking.

All I know is that a nice gesture need not be only a nice gesture; it can be all. Or at least an opening to all.

The way style can be all in a writer. Choose the right word in the right place and it makes all the difference -- the difference between platitude and originality, empty pomp and simple humility, meaning and nonsense, good will or its opposite. And whether he raises the level of discourse or lowers it even further.

When it comes to faith, hope and charity, the comment from atheist Christopher Hitchens about those praying for him -- include me in the crowd -- shows a degree of charity, which is said to be the greatest of these. Believers who think going around taking names is the Christian thing to do would do well to emulate him.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.