Christopher Hitchens passed away on Thursday, December 15. He was 62.
Of all the Gnu atheists I perhaps feel closest to Hitchens. I found his radicalism, his advocacy, and his contrarian outlook reminiscent of my own. Admittedly, however, his intellect far surpassed mine and his words were far more eloquent than anything I could ever possibly muster at a whims notice. His oration skills were second to none, in fact, I would go as far as to say he was the Ingersoll of our day. His whit was sharp, and his commentary always had a touch of that wry Anglo-American humor. Hitchens contained a sophisticated blend of cultural insights and bravado lending to a keen mind perfectly suited for his chosen profession as a journalist tackling the headline issues of his day.
Even with all this going for him, most people found Christopher Hitchens polarizing. You either loved him or hated him–strangely enough, usually for the same reasons. I for one admired the guy greatly. Perhaps what I respected most of all was the fact that he was honest–brutally honest–and never ducked a question. Even as many felt he was a tad arrogant, I felt Hitchens was confident in what he knew, but more importantly he wasn’t above correcting himself, constantly taking great pains to reminds his captive audience of how little qualified he was to talk on specific matters far out of the reach of his expertise.
Hitchens’s writing could be found regularly in Vanity Fair, Slate, and elsewhere. I could only dream of writing half as well as he did. But it is no secret, his books were usually poorly researched and many of his historical claims were shrouded behind the veil of his overpowering rhetorical voice. Even so, he usually knew a thing or two about what he was talking about–especially when it came to politics and history. So regardless of his erudition, or whether or not his facts all lined up, his resonant voice and slightly British accent made anything he said completely captivating. Truly, his finesse with words and lightening quick mind truly made him impressive.
Hitchens verbal skills were bar to none. Coupled with a laser-like intellect he was fully equipped to carry the dialectic better than anyone. He was truly a force to be reckoned with. Hitch could stand his ground equally against pompus talking heads on various news networks, he could face down ignorant politicians, and he never retreated from a chance to interrupt a blathering theologian or holy man and correct them on an important historical fact.
In fact, Hitchens would often keep on talking until he would be cut off by the host. Not because he loved to hear himself speak, mind you, but because he so despised allowing people who clearly knew nothing of what they were talking about the chance to pollute the world with their ignorance. If you wanted to go up against Hitchens–you had to be prepared. Something many of his debate rivals found out the hard way as they faced the onslaught of his verbal admonitions, among the most eloquent you’ll ever have the pleasure of hearing, and sharp Ockham-razor like reasoning.
Hitchens was more than an just an atheist though. He was a self proclaimed anti-theist. He detested the idea of an all knowing, all watching, supreme being who would punish you for thought crimes. It should come to no surprise to us that Hitchens so despised this form of theocratic dominion, for he was a student of Orwell, and much of Orwell’s voice could often be heard echoed in the words–and concerns–of his own.
The very notion of policing people’s thoughts was the ultimate offense to individual freedom–and Hitch realized this as an inherent danger woven throughout the religious schema, which he so vehemently opposed.
Hitchens felt faith was the most overrated of all the virtues, and even then, he hesitated to even call it a virtue. Religion to him was a poison which slowly saturated everything and made people’s lives worse off in the process. Religion was so distasteful in his eyes, that his life’s preoccupation was to build up Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state.
His detractors considered him petulant, but his supporters felt they had a champion in their corner. A man who would never back down from a fight–which he proved in 2009 when he got the living shit kicked out of him by SNPN skinheads in Lebanon. Of course, true to Hitch fashion, he bounced back, with a vengeance, determined to vanquish his enemies by showing them once and for all that the pen was truly mightier than the sword.
Soon enough, Christopher Hitchens’s short rhetorical jabs and sarcastic quips became known as the infamous “Hitch-slap.” If you got on his bad side he would be sure to inform you that only his friends were allowed to call him “Christopher.”
Like his favorite brand of scotch whiskey, Johnnie Walker Black, Christopher Hitchens had a bite to him yet was smooth and sophisticated at the same time. Whether or not you could stomach him depended on how strong of a constitution you had. Whatever you feelings were with regard to Christopher Hitchens, hearing him lecture meant you were guaranteed an unforgettable time of it, and he certainly made a lasting impression wherever he went. There is no doubt about it–Hitchens will be missed.