R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

Here we are mid way through December, and the Christmas preparations are going well.  This year will be a little different for my family; instead of getting together at my sister’s home, each part of the family will celebrate Christmas day separately, with the option of getting together to exchange gifts in the evening.  It’ll be the first time my partner (the “Miss Smith” referred to in previous posts) and I will be celebrating together without any other family members, and I can’t wait.

As is often the case in the run up to the winter festivities, there is some sad news to report: the author, journalist, debater, and all round formidable human being that was Christopher Hitchens has died.  I found this particularly poignant for me as I am currently reading his memoirs, the book ‘Hitch 22’.

I have been aware of Hitchens for several years, and recently read (probably) his best known book ‘God is not great: how religion poisons everything’, but reading his life story in his own word has given me a far better understanding of the fierce person’s early days, and while I don’t agree with many of his positions, I feel I am developing a better understanding of the man the more I read.

Know as one of the “four horsemen”, he was often referred to along with other out spoken atheists, the other three being philosopher Dan Dennet, neurosurgeon Sam Harris, and of course evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, Hitchens was never afraid to stand apart from them, most notably when Dawkins et al began referring to themselves as “The Brights”, Hitchens was very clear that he did not support this.

A simple YouTube search will show how passionate Hitchens was about what he believed in and also what he didn’t.  He regularly debated religious figures and other arguing in favour of theism, and it came as a surprise to very few when the term ‘Hitch Slapped’ was seen on many internet discussion forums and YouTube comments.

And this brings me to how I heard the news, I saw the video linked above on YouTube, and immediately felt very sad that the world had lost Hitch, but also relieved that his personal suffering had come to an end, he wrote in Vanity fair:

“Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic…”
“…My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends,”

However the death of a man so outspoken is his opposition to organised religion has had the side effect of allowing the worst of those who do hold theistic beliefs speak out, knowing that he will never be able to answer, but some of us will speak up for him (but never quite as well) when we feel the need.  Watching the video linked above, I started reading through some of the comments, and many were of a heartwarming nature, thanking the late Hitch for inspiring them in some way, and many were simply variations on the R.I.P. theme, all very respectful, but there were also a few of the kind mentioned above, cursing his name, celebrating that he was now in hell, being punished for speaking out against belief in God, Yahweh, Allah etc. I can’t say I was surprised, for every decent religious person (and there are many I count as friends) there is one to whom the word ‘decent’ cannot be applied. I read the following comment from the YouTube user zaqwsx123xswqaz

What’s the big fuss?? This person died, so?? As far as I’m concerned, this news means nothing. People live and later die. Whatever they said or did during their lives, only God will be their judge, whether they believe in Him or not. They will meet Him sooner or later. Life goes on. Turn the page.

and had to reply:

“…only God will be their judge…”
Please offer some evidence for this statement, remember the bible doesn’t count.
Or if that’s too tricky for you, why not just accept that a very intelligent and passionate person, who had an effect on millions of lives has passed away, and allow those he affected to remember him without you proselytising for your invisible sky wizard?

Now I appreciate that referring to the deity this person appears to believe in as an ‘sky wizard’ could be seen as provocative, but I stand by the sentiment that Hitch influenced many people in many ways, and at the very least he got them to think about the beliefs they hold most dear, and that allowing those who respected him to grieve without forcing religion in to the equation was simply good manners. Sadly ‘zaq’ (as I will now refer to him/her) didn’t agree and felt the need to tell me why:

You just proved that you believe in a god: this dead person!! …”who had an effect on millions..” really?? Well, maybe that’s why I see his name everywhere in the news including here and that’s why I’m commenting, It’s curious to see how people put their belief in humans rather than in God WHO created them!! Personality-cult is everywhere, from politics to sports.

To which I replied:

I see you’ve still offered no evidence for the god character you mentioned in your 1st post.
No, I do not believe Hitchens was (a) god, he was known as an author, journalist and debater, and while he is gone now, we actually have evidence that he existed, such as his books, his work for Vanity Fair, and countless hours of video on YouTube. But better than any of that, there are people who have actually met him, more than can be said for the biblical “god”.

I have not yet received any further reply from ‘zaq’, and I doubt I will, I often find that even the more aggressive theists tend to back away when asked for evidence.  While  this short exchange was taking place another user garytcw replied to ‘zaq’ and myself with the following comment:

Steviemgallacher said “this dead person” affect millions people, and you make it out as a prove that “this dead person” is god?

You will go to hell for this. How dare you. Inspiring merely 1 million cannot possibly compare to God. I hope and pray you will rot in hell, in the most painful way, my God will judge you for it. Can’t wait to hear your scream from heaven.

So clearly not from the same sect as my new friend ‘zaq’, but equally fervent in his beliefs in some kind of creator, my reply was:

so this is an example of christian behaviour?
As I asked zaqwsx123xswqaz: can you provide any evidence for what you claim?
To paraphrase Hitchens; I’m just sorry there isn’t a hell for such hateful people to go to.

I’m usually very tolerant of others supernatural beliefs, and while I don’t hold any, I only assert my views when asked, or when some on tries to shove their views in my face.  There were a few other replies which spoke out agint this pair of believers, and assured me a wasn’t alone in my disgust:

@garytcw Another religious whack job. Spoken like a true religious bigot.

RELIGION POISONS EVERYTHING AND IN PARTICULAR THE MOST TOXIC OF THE LOT ARE THE DESERT RELIGIONS – JUDAISM – CHRISTIANITY – ISLAM.

leland61

and

@zaqwsx123xswqaz Take your sky daddy delusions somewhere else.

oliverlaw02

My own favourite recollection of Hitchens doing what he did best was when he was a guest speaker on the BBC’s ‘Intelligence Squared” debate show, debating whether or not the Catholic Church is a force for good in society,  Hitchens, together with amazingly intelligent Stephen Fry argued against the proposition, the case for was argued by Conservative MP Ann Widicombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan.

My own memory of this debate is of Hitchens and Fry demolishing the arguments in favour, Ann Widicombe managing to be pompous and noisy without actually saying anything worth listening to, and the Archbishop, in a display of arrogance reserved only for those who think they know the mind of “God”, during the audience’s Q&A section of the event, actually had the balls (not that he would know what they were for) to accuse an audience member of “asking the wrong question”.  This debate was the most polite ‘Hitch slapping’ I have ever seen. A YouTube playlist of the debate can be seen by clicking here

In summary: The world has lost one of its finest intellects, Hitchens was many things, and perfect certainly wasn’t one of them, he was a heavy drinker, and a smoker, and perhaps those excesses contributed to his light being extinguished from this universe a little earlier than we would have liked, however he has left a wonderful legacy for us to enjoy and be inspired by in his writing, the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of video on YouTube where he is sharing himself passionately with everyone who watches, and the inspiration he was to so many people.  You didn’t need to agree with him, many didn’t, but those who challenged him were met with a barrage of logic and reason that wasn’t easily toppled, and usually resulted in the challenger’s very own Hitch Slap.

I’ll try not to shed too many tears at the passing of this great man, I didn’t know him personally, and I’m sure he’d be the first to tell me stop wasting my time and enjoy this precious life that I have as it’s the only one I know I’ll get.  Others have commented that Christopher has left a gaping hole in the rationalist/atheist community (if there is such a thing), and like those others I don’t think we’ll see anyone in our lifetimes who can fill that gap. I’ll continue my reading of his memoirs, and try to learn from the experiences that made him who he was, and perhaps I’ll take something from the reading that will make me a better person.

Christopher Hitchens

Thankyou, Christopher, for all that you were and all that you have left behind, the world is truly a better place for having had you in it, and a slightly sadder place now that you’ve left.

Rest In Peace.

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