Thank you, Mr. Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens changed my life. I suggest in his passing, he'll change many, many more
In using the term ‘enemies’, I do a great disservice to the man’s abilities. Hitchens had few enemies, but rather, assailed many criminals. To be thrust in front of a man whose distinction would not be diminished amidst Democritus, Dostoyevsky or Darwin was a fate worse than the hell so many of his detractors imagined.
I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Methodist Hall in Westminster, London, when Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens saw off challenges from former Conservative Member of Parliament Ann Widdecombe and Archbishop Onaiyekan on the motion, “The Catholic Church is a force for good”. Hitch slayed them.
He debated Tony Blair, Douglas Wilson, George Galloway, Al Sharpton and many more. His style was effortlessly confrontational. One favourite ‘Hitch moment’ of mine was during a television interview on CNN, discussing the Mohammed cartoons, Hitchens incredulously and hilariously throws at his opponent a question on the very basis of his argument. “What is this babble?” he asks.
This description of Hitchens’ bravura may make little sense unless you share at least some of the man’s outlook. For those of us that do, we can only hope to be so biting and yet eminently entertaining. While most trade off on these two seemingly polar techniques, Hitchens made an art form out of amalgamating the two.
His magnum opus, many would argue, is ‘God is not Great’, though no doubt Hitch would have noted that his tome still cannot reach the corners of the Earth that most desperately need it.
The bon vivant’s dissection and dispatch of religion, Abrahamic especially, created an aura around the man of both vitriolic hatred and some might argue, ironic godliness, the kind of which those inept at interpreting sardonic protestation would use against him, claiming ‘atheism is a religion’.
Hitchens noted: “Organised religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”
When discussing the Binding of Isaac, Hitchens offers at the same time the most veracious, convincing and gruff repudiation of the matter – speaking with authority as a father, a rationalist and a mischief-maker.
“Not scorning the three delightful children who result, who are everything to me and who are my only chance of even a glimpse of a second life let alone an immortal one, I’ll tell you something. If I was told to sacrifice something to prove my devotion to God, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do and admire the man who said ‘Yes I’ll gut my kid to show my love of God’ I’d say ‘No. Fuck you.’”
This morning I was awoken by the same voice from across the Atlantic that called when the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death broke – a man who Hitchens aptly described as ‘scrofulous, quasi-noble and of bogus spirituality’. This morning, in contrast to May 2nd, the news was not welcome.
“Christopher Hitchens died,” I heard.
I lurched, sought confirmation, in case I was in the midst of an awful nightmare. Digesting the information over the course of the morning, I relaxed.
It dawned on me. A great man, though no longer Earth-bound and able to regale and inspire us, suffers no more – and will be infinitely more influential in his death, as is often the case, than in his incalculably influential life.
Thank you, Mr. Hitchens, for all you’ve done – and for all you are about to do.
Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. He tweets as @RaheemJKassam
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