Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist, master debater and razor-sharp intellectual has died. His passing was accompanied by an almost audible sigh of collective relief from the many hapless individuals that encountered him in debate while he lived.
You could search long and hard for a sharper tongue driven by a more insightful, enormous brain for all the years of the rest of your natural life, however long they may be, and fail completely. Hitchens was a giant. He leaves us with a legacy of courageous adherence to principle and a witty, somewhat crusty yet unswerving sense of justice always delivered with passion and his unique style of poetry.
I first encountered Hitchens when I picked up his cheekily titled book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practise in an airport book store many years ago. In it, he brutally deconstructed the myth surrounding the most famous Catholic of our time, exposing her as a conniving, money hungry control freak convinced that the poor were lucky to be suffering and ensuring that they did so in appalling numbers under her stern and watchful eye. He went on to catalogue the list of dictators, swindlers and outright criminals that used her fake but glowing public image to rescue their own — something she did for money, most of which was finally unaccounted for.
He gathered and presented the evidence that finally created the clear picture of a deluded but ruthlessly ambitious woman bent on beatification, the pinnacle of her chosen career so to speak, willing to live in squalor and to factory farm her flock and sacrifice her very humanity to get there.
In doing so she mercilessly ensured the suffering, pain and utter agony of countless terminal patients from Calcutta’s slums without offering so much as a simple pain killer and is personally responsible for using her fame to propagate the deadly Catholic doctrine of unprotected sex wherever they would have her in her sensible shoes.
Hitchens was unapologetic to the very end about his aggressive stance towards organised religion. He believed that religion was the first primitive attempt, version 1.0 if you will, of stone-age man to explain the frightening natural phenomena surrounding these ancient people in their daily lives. Religions, in his opinion, were therefore hundreds, if not thousands of years out of date and his central message was that mankind has moved on splendidly, unfortunately waiting for the majority of its members to catch up, something he spent a large portion of his energy trying to accelerate.
He likened living within the confines of a religion to living within the madness that is modern day North Korea except, as he pointed out, in the case of North Korea, at least you can escape the oppression and control after you die.
A seminal part of Hitchen’s philosophy, hammered home in his book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, is that religion has spent many centuries dictating and in many cases destroying the lives of countless human beings and therefore deserves no respect.
He took this to heart and delivered some of the most scathing attacks on religion ever recorded. Along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others, he was responsible for bringing Atheism into the mainstream debate and confronted pseudo-science and organised religion in all of its forms head on. Nobody on the circuit, however, was as brilliantly blunt and unmoving as Hitchens. He left broken and bewildered purveyors of superstition and blind faith in his wake.
Hitchens publicly supported the US invasion of Iraq earning him a shunning from the liberal establishment at the time. His reasons for doing so were rather simple when you view the world as he did through a lens focused on things theocratic. He identified the oppression of the free human spirit by religion as a great evil. In his world, the US military was a blunt object used to weaken the rising power of Islamofacism, a term he popularised.
To Hitchens, the increasing power of theocratic and oppressive regimes such as Hussein in Iraq or the Taliban in Afghanistan presented a great threat to the progress of mankind, greater even than a belligerent United States; a gravely necessary condition to impose the horror of war. Forced to choose between fundamental Islam and the currently more benign but no less deluded Christianity, he chose the latter and he saw the clash as inevitable, acceptable and necessary.
There are countless pages out there recounting the facts of his life and I will not reproduce them here. I think the important point here is that the world has lost one of the great intellectuals of our time; a man whose true worth will probably only be realised far into the future.
Hitchens was a man that spoke his mind and did not tolerate fools lightly. This did not endear him to all he sparred with but in a world still largely under the jackboot of mass indoctrination and superstition, I suspect that when he was faced with the dual obstacles of blind faith and the absence of reason, he found the tough love approach to be the only workable solution. I also suspect that in the decades to come, we will look back and realise what a courageous and critical interjection he made to the narrative of our age.
I will leave you with a few quotes from the inimitable Christopher Hitchens in full flight. Love him or hate him, it can’t be denied that he delivered a point wrapped in heavy, rifling lead at supremely high velocity and it was best not to be his intended target:
“Everybody does have a book in them but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
“To terrify children with the image of hell, to consider women an inferior creation-is that good for the world?”
“Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.”
“[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
“When the late Pope John Paul II decided to place the woman so strangely known as ‘Mother’ Teresa on the fast track for beatification, and thus to qualify her for eventual sainthood, the Vatican felt obliged to solicit my testimony and I thus spent several hours in a closed hearing room with a priest, a deacon, and a monsignor, no doubt making their day as I told off, as from a rosary, the frightful faults and crimes of the departed fanatic. In the course of this, I discovered that the pope during his tenure had surreptitiously abolished the famous office of ‘Devil’s Advocate,’ in order to fast-track still more of his many candidates for canonization. I can thus claim to be the only living person to have represented the Devil pro bono.”
“To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.”
“Nothing optional — from homosexuality to adultery — is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting [and exact the fierce punishments] have a repressed desire to participate. As Shakespeare put it in ‘King Lear’, the policeman who lashes the whore has a hot need to use her for the very offence for which he plies the lash.”
“If you gave [Jerry] Falwell an enema he could be buried in a matchbox.”
“We owe a huge debt to Galileo for emancipating us all from the stupid belief in an Earth-centred or man-centered [let alone God-centred] system. He quite literally taught us our place and allowed us to go on to make extraordinary advances in knowledge.”
“Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of ‘the flock’.”
“When the Washington Post telephoned me at home on Valentine’s Day 1989 to ask my opinion about the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwah, I felt at once that here was something that completely committed me. It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual, and the defence of free expression. Plus, of course, friendship — though I like to think that my reaction would have been the same if I hadn’t known Salman at all. To re-state the premise of the argument again: the theocratic head of a foreign despotism offers money in his own name in order to suborn the murder of a civilian citizen of another country, for the offense of writing a work of fiction. No more root-and-branch challenge to the values of the Enlightenment [on the bicentennial of the fall of the Bastille] or to the First Amendment to the Constitution, could be imagined. President George W Bush, when asked to comment, could only say grudgingly that, as far as he could see, no American interests were involved…”
“He’s a man [George W Bush] who is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is a man who is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated and apparently quite proud of all these things.”
“As the cleansing ocean closes over bin Laden’s carcass, may the earth lie lightly on the countless graves of those he sentenced without compunction to be burned alive or dismembered in the street.”
“How dismal it is to see present day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape.”
“I am not even an atheist so much as an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. Reviewing the false claims of religion I do not wish, as some sentimental materialists affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true…. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque.”
“There can be no progress without head-on confrontation.”
“Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.”
“I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.”
“Jesus is Santa Claus for Adults”