Some Thoughts on the Death of Christopher Hitchens
Posted by Ethan Clow on December 19, 2011
It really didn’t come as a surprise. The man had a fatal case of cancer, and let’s face it, lived a lifestyle where cigarettes and booze was mixed with late nights and writing when a normal person should be sleeping off a hangover.
Hitchens, well beloved by the free-thought community; atheists, skeptics and humanists alike, was an outspoken critic of religion, religious privilege, and all the other nonsense that went along with it.
In the last few days, more has been said regarding his accomplishments and books and memorable quotes than I would have thought possible for one man to actually do, write and say. So I won’t repeat all that here.
I never met Hitchens or saw him speak in person. I never read any of his books either (although I have for a while now keep my eye open for the audio book of his memoir Hitch-22) Like the other so called “Four Horsemen” and their books, I’ve never really felt a need to read God is not Great. I became an atheist at a young age. It wasn’t a difficult decision for me and I wasn’t in a position where coming out as an atheist would cost me any of the social cohesion that I had. I was fortunate this way. Not everyone had this luxury.
Years later, when I became more interested in what other people thought rather than just what I thought, I started to read more books on science and philosophy and understood my atheism a bit better. I never made the jump from atheism to skepticism until I read Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. But that’s a story for another time.
I’ve been reading the posts and messages that have been flying around over the death of Hitchens. Some have left me sad, others have left me with a smile for what really must have been an aggravating man to deal with.
I’ve been bemused by the number of people using phrases like “Hitchens RIP” which means what? That he might not “rest” in peace? The man is dead, not resting. I find it all the more amusing given how prone Hitchens was to slap such sentiment away with a well time and biting remark.
As I mentioned, all this outpouring of emotion would no doubt earn the scorn of the cantankerous Hitchens, which perhaps can be the final revenge of those who loathed him.
Another odd thing I’ve noticed from my fellow skeptics is the suggest that our movement has lost one of its leaders or even dare it be suggested, hero’s! Hitchens was not a leader in the skeptical movement. He appeared at skeptical conferences, spoke for skeptical organizations and sometimes he agreed with us. But Hitchens never lead anyone. He never was the head of any free thought organization and he never had a board position with one, although we was an advisor to the Secular Coalition for America.
I would also hesitate to label Hitchens a hero to the skeptical movement, although I’m in no position to speak for the skeptical movement; I for one never counted him as a hero or terribly inspirational. He was a polarizing figure. Clearly the way he wanted to be seen. He was a defender of human rights, journalistic integrity, democracy, atheism, while at the same time supporting the Iraq war, a frequent misogynist commenter, and always politically incorrect.
Much ink has been spent on the biggest controversy of Hitchens, his support of the Iraq war. Personally I think this is far less of a controversy than it should be. As a friend pointed out, do people honestly believe that Hitchens support or condemnation of the war changed anything? Would the war have been unlikely to happen had he not supported it?
Personally, the far more pressing reason to experience cognitive dissonance about praising Hitchens was his remarkable tendency to make shocking misogynist comments about women; particularly female politicians like Hilary Clinton. He also wrote an article on why women weren’t funny, in his opinion of course. It was such a terrible article that I almost wondered if he had been strong armed into writing it by the editors to drum up some attention.
But Hitchens can’t even make it easy to hate him for being a misogynist because he also says things like this:
I think that Greta Christina said it best:
“A fair amount of what Christopher Hitchens said and wrote irritated the fuck out of me. Some of it even seriously angered me. But the man was brilliant. He did difficult, at times even dangerous work that few others were willing to do. He was fearless about saying what nobody else was willing to say. He debated with an army of facts ready at his tongue and a wit like a stiletto dipped in venom. He was often totally fucking hilarious. He was beyond eloquent.”
Hitchens left a written record of his life unlike no other. He was a prodigious debater and many of his talks are online for anyone to find. And find them they shall. He shall continue to provoke for many years to come.