Christopher Hitchens – In Memoriam

Christopher Hitchens

It has been a while since I posted anything on here which has been down to a mixture of a hectic work schedule and a need to crystallise part of my world view. I am currently putting the finishing touches to another longer post which I hope to post by the end of 2017.

For now though, I happened to notice that today is the sixth anniversary of the death of Christopher Hitchens, who passed away on 15th December 2011 from esophageal cancer. For those unfamiliar with his work, Christopher Hitchens was a journalist, author and public intellectual, arguably most famous for his criticism of religion. Rather than  describing himself as a mere atheist, Hitch coined the term antitheist, stating that:

You could be an atheist and wish that the belief was true. You could; I know some people who do… An antitheist, a term I’m trying to get into circulation, is someone who’s very relieved that there’s no evidence for this proposition.

(https://web.archive.org/web/20070516100646/http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/nothing_sacred.html)

I am somewhat ashamed to say that I became aware of Hitchens’ work rather late, having in fact never seen any of his debates or read any of his work until about a year ago, which is when I made the decision to seriously examine my own worldview.

My first ‘encounter’ with Hitch was via a debate on YouTube, in which he and Stephen Fry duked it out with former Conservative MP Anne Widdecombe and Cardinal John Onaiyekan. The topic of the debate was The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. As with many YouTube videos, the entire two-hour debate was available to watch in one go and was also split up into smaller videos. I initially watched both Fry and Hitchens argue against the motion i.e. that the Catholic Church is not a force for good. I guess I should have seen the other side’s arguments as well just in case they espoused a particularly compelling reason why I should convert to Catholicism ASAP.

A conversion was unlikely even before I viewed the debate. Following Hitchens’ and Fry’s turns at the lectern, it became impossible. To say the least.

I urge everybody to view both men’s arguments against the Catholic Church, for it is a masterclass in oration. Christopher Hitchens eviscerates the Church for their policy towards homosexuality, powerfully stating that his debating partner Stephen Fry (who is both gay and an atheist) would be condemned by the Church “not because of what he does, but because of what he is“. Had I been in the audience, that one sentence would probably have been enough for me to vote against the motion, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Hitchens goes on to slam the Church for condemning the use of condoms in Africa while AIDS remains such a huge problem and also for the deplorable cover up of child abuse within the Church.  I suspect at that point, the final result was only ever going to go one way. I will post the video here and I heartily recommend spending an hour or so watching two literary heavyweights doing what they do best.

From that point on, I lost count of the number of times I typed “Christopher Hitchens debate” into the YouTube search engine. How fortunate we are to live in a world where such intellect is available to us all so easily.

I am currently working my way through Hitch’s 2007 book God Is Not Great and even two-thirds in, it is clear that his skills with printed words were just as enviable as his skills with spoken ones. His autobiography Hitch 22 is next on the list and is sure to be an embarrassment of riches.

Hitch encouraged all of us to think for ourselves; he implored us not to allow blind faith and irrationality to rule the roost. Whilst he was often accused of going on the attack against religion far too aggressively, he was in fact only giving as good as he and his fellow atheists were getting. He makes his position very clear in God is Not Great: the world is a big enough place for more than one worldview to co-exist, however much we may disagree with others. We have the right to believe what we like, but we should have the common courtesy to leave others out of it, something which the Abrahamic religions in particular are often loathe to do.

Even if you are not an enthusiastic reader or simply do not have the time, just do what I did. Simply type “Christopher Hitchens debate” into YouTube and follow the white rabbit.

I am so thankful to Hitch for inspiring me to reassess my own worldviews and for inspiring me to take leap of faith of my own in starting this blog.

I regret being so late to the party, but better late than never…

Christopher Hitchens: 13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011

 

PS: Here is the actual video of the debate that I wrote about above. It is a great starting point for anyone who may wish to seek out the work of Christopher Hitchens:

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