“What do you most value in your friends? Their continued existence.” ~ Hitch-22
This is, according to WordPress, my 450th post. I was going to save it for an auspicious topic, but Christopher Hitchens seems to have pre-empted that, or should I say, he made it superfluous and irrelevant. Of course this post will be about him.
Hitchens was a writer’s writer. He had the unique ability, shared by few, to be able to say in a sentence or two what most writers need entire books for. This made him a great essayist, because the essay, by its very size, limits the ability to elucidate and convince to someone who can take proper advantage of the form. Hitchens was a master at it.
Of course, for me he articulated so well the lack of religious beliefs I share with him, not just in his book, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, but also in his essays, and most prominently, in his debates with theists. Unlike other atheists who felt that sharing a podium with a theist simply empowered them, giving religion legitimacy it couldn’t otherwise lay claim to, he did not shy away from debating the pros and cons of religion with people like Dinesh DeSouza, William Lane Craig and even Tony Blair, in the process demolishing their arguments piece by piece. I think that was his true calling and he seemed to always rise to the occasion with aplomb and good wit. Even after his diagnosis with esophageal cancer, he continued to debate.
His ability to turn a phrase was his stock in trade. Consider:
“She [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.”
“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”
“Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.”
“What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”
and of course
If you gave [Jerry] Falwell an enema he could be buried in a matchbox.
Finally, this, possibly his epitaph:
“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.” .”
He’ll be sorely missed.