Christopher Hitchens is dead at the age of 62. The world has lost one of the most effective and compelling questioners of the 21st century.
Hitchens was a famous atheist. Not agnostic. Atheist. I am neither famous nor atheist, and yet every time I crossed paths with Hitchens’ provocative arguments, I felt closer to a positive spiritual energy in the universe and farther away from the failures of mankind.
This would probably make Hitchens disgusted, but so be it.
My experience with his thinking was that he was more a fighter for what I think “God” is than some of the biggest name faith leaders of our time. He wanted people to be intelligent, and self-aware. He was passionate about the idea of truth, that it could be known and that people have an ethical obligation to strive to know it. He had an absolute eagle-eye for self-deception and cowardice masquerading as devotion. While he and I did not see eye to eye about life, I always felt like underneath the language that could divide our positions, he was fighting for higher standards and a better world with a tenacity that rivaled some saints.
I liked his style.
He was intolerant of people who were waiting for a supernatural power to save the world. He expected action towards that end here and now, and spoke often about humanity’s accountability for making the world a better place.
I can’t defend it, I just feel it. Christopher Hitchens was a member of a covert group of agents from another dimension (don’t make me say “angels”), getting stuff done and pushing the envelope and fighting like a mad man to challenge common assumptions about life’s most important questions.
Here is an interesting passage I found that represents some areas of overlap I had with his frustrations:
(I’m sending up a prayer for his well-earned eternal rest. I hope he’s not pissed.)
“About once or twice every month I engage in public debates with those whose pressing need it is to woo and to win the approval of supernatural beings. Very often, when I give my view that there is no supernatural dimension, and certainly not one that is only or especially available to the faithful, and that the natural world is wonderful enough—and even miraculous enough if you insist—I attract pitying looks and anxious questions. How, in that case, I am asked, do I find meaning and purpose in life? How does a mere and gross materialist, with no expectation of a life to come, decide what, if anything, is worth caring about?
Depending on my mood, I sometimes but not always refrain from pointing out what a breathtakingly insulting and patronizing question this is. (It is on a par with the equally subtle inquiry: Since you don’t believe in our god, what stops you from stealing and lying and raping and killing to your heart’s content?) Just as the answer to the latter question is: self-respect and the desire for the respect of others—while in the meantime it is precisely those who think they have divine permission who are truly capable of any atrocity—so the answer to the first question falls into two parts. A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called ‘meaningless’ except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one’s everyday life as if this were so. Whereas if one sought to define meaninglessness and futility, the idea that a human life should be expended in the guilty, fearful, self-obsessed propitiation of supernatural nonentities… but there, there. Enough.”