Christopher Hitchens was my first of the "new atheist" authors, whom I had checked out on a whim after hearing about him from a lot of friends (mostly Christians) who had dismissed him as "an asshole" or "hateful." In a similar vein to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (which I later read under similar pressures), I read the book and was fascinated by how visceral and coherent it was: Hitchens eviscerates all religions with equal scrutiny, expressing an unsubtle but (as I felt after reading it through) entirely justified scorn for unreasonable ideas about the supernatural and about the fate of humans before life or after death --- from pedophile priests to killer monks in the east to religious zealots running for political office here in the west, Hitchens took no prisoners and could not be bought. He even famously made enemies of Mother Theresa for glorifying suffering as being "closer to Jesus," and for her public dishonesty about her doubts and views.
Clearly, the man was not ashamed to speak his mind. And for this, I consider him a brave inspiration --- it was actually during the reading of his book that I was subject to a "religious backlash" at work, the first time where I began to realize exactly what awaited me in my future life as an atheist in the deep south "Bible Belt" of America. The book was defaced (and I still have that copy right here, as a sort of prize of efforts), and both my general manager, as well as several of my co-workers at the time, tried to convert me on the spot and would not take no for an answer for a good while. Prior to that incident I had already adopted the moniker "atheist" (thanks in part to Hemant Mehta of friendlyatheist.com), but I had remained decidedly low-key about it in public for fear of rousing such reactions from overly-sensitive religious people. Once that happened, though, I realized that if people wanted to take the fight to me, then there wasn't much I could do to stop it. So I started being more open with my beliefs, and resisting people's efforts to assume that I was Christian or otherwise religious --- if someone made a comment assuming I was a Christian, such as, "what church do you go to?" I would now respond, "oh, I don't go to church, I'm an atheist." Whereas before I might have said, "I don't go to church that much anymore," or something to loosely give the impression that I might be Christian but not enough to spark a real debate.
All of that may or may not have happened if I had not brought "God Is Not Great" to work out of curiosity; the intolerance of others made me realize that I, myself, had been too tolerant of their intolerance. So you could say that it was thanks to Christopher Hitchens and his book that I had my first real "run-in" as an atheist, the one that would inform my future attitudes about how I approach my atheism publicly. It's an amazing thing for me to notice now, but looking back, I seemed to have this unspoken, unarticulated belief that these religious people were somehow "right" for being offended at my atheism, that I was really doing something to "make them uncomfortable" simply for disagreeing with them about the nature of the universe. Once I saw the way Hitchens honestly and unapologetically presented his views, without the slightest consideration for how the overly religious fanatic might receive them, I realized that I could very well assert myself without worrying about what my Christian "friends" would think of me. I realized that I needed to stop making important social decisions based on how well I will still be able to get along with sectarian Christians. I realized that if these people were really going to wholly discount me as a human being just because I say I am an atheist, then I need to find some new friends. I've done nothing wrong.
....as you may have noticed thus far, I have only had the fortune to read one of Hitchens' books, the aforementioned "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." And I am very sad that I was never able to speak to the man personally, however briefly I may have ever had the opportunity to do so; and upon reading of his death, I was struck with the certainty that I have not been appreciating his works as much as perhaps I should. So I immediately added "Letters To A Young Contrarian" and "Hitch-22" to my Holiday List~
I'm sure I'm not the only one who found Hitchens' forthcoming attitude to be a refreshing inspiration amongst the din of religious platitudes and bigoted nonsense in today's mainstream media and social interaction. So if you want to leave a comment (short or long, I don't care) offering your thoughts on him, or how he or his work has influenced you or someone you know, feel free. As for me, I'm closing with some of my favorite clips of Mr. Hitchens at his best, as well as a song I wrote that was heavily inspired by his moral argument against Christianity.
"Best of the Hitchslap:"
"...and I'll tell you something, if I was told to sacrifice [my children] 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." --Christopher Hitchens
"Now, let’s take a case of someone who’s been dealt a bad hand. What about Fraulein Friesel, in Austria, whose father kept her in a dungeon, where she didn’t see daylight for twenty-four years, and came down most nights to rape and to sodomize her, often in front of the children who were the victims of the previous attacks and offenses. I want you just to take a moment to --- since you’re so interested in the downtrodden and the helpless --- imagine how she must have begged him. Imagine how she must have pleaded. Imagine for how long. Imagine how she must have prayed everyday, how she must have beseeched Heaven. Imagine, for twenty-four years. And no. No answer at all. No-thing! Nothing! Now, you say, ‘That’s all right, that she went through that, because she’ll get a better deal in another life?’ Are you --- I have to ask you if you can be morally or ethically serious and postulate such a question? No, that had to happen, and Heaven did watch it with indifference, because it knows that that score will later on be settled. So it was well worth the going through it, she’ll have a better time next time. I don’t see how you can look anyone, anyone, in the face, or live with yourself, and say anything so hideously, wickedly immoral as that, or even imply it. There. That’s my answer." --Christopher Hitchens
"I know what's coming, I know no one beats these odds. And it's a matter of getting used to that, and growing up and realizing that you're expelled from your mother's uterus as if shot from a cannon towards a barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks. It's a matter of how you use up the intervening time in an intelligent and ironic way, and try to avoid doing anything ghastly to your fellow creatures." --Christopher Hitchens
"A Life of Love and Happiness" (Hitchslap #69):
"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature; the heart of the heartless world; the spirit of the spiritless situation; it is an opiate for the people. The demand to give up its illusion is to give up the condition that requires illusion...criticism has plucked the flowers from the chain, not so that men and women may wear the chain without consolation, but so that they may break the chain and cull the living flower." --Christopher Hitchens, correctly quoting Karl Marx on religion"Man Made God In His Image" (Hitchslap #66):
"God did not make man. A single creator did not make us. Our species, mankind, instead made, and continues to make, many hundreds of thousands of gods, gaining the hope --- the vain hope --- of certainty and, in some cases, of the hope of being able to establish a secular tyranny of rule by men over men, but to say that these men have divine warrant for what they do. Which has led, as you know, to the stifling and near-destruction of civilization. Now, if you don't believe that there is a Creator...I don't see in what sense at all you are religious. And so I again resent the idea or the implication of extremism. It is the essence of religion to say that there is a creator, and that though we may not know his mind entirely...we may interpret his wishes. And that these can be conveyed by a priesthood to humans. If you don't believe it --- and I don't --- then in a very non-extreme way, you have ceased to be a religious person. And I say, man made gods, and not the other way around." --Christopher Hitchens
"[you say] that the examples of religiosity that I adduce are extremist beliefs. Now, they're not. All the ones I've offered you are the mainstream, essential, A-B-C of religion. The first of which is that in the beginning, god created the cosmos. To the contrary, I say, the gods that we've made are exactly the gods you'd expect to be made by a species that's about half a chromosome away from being a chimpanzee." --Christopher Hitchens
And last but not least, my personal tribute to Christopher Hitchens....a very personal song that I wrote for my band T3, in July of this year, that was directly inspired by the Fraulein Friesel quote from above, so much so that I included it as a clip at the end of the track.
I suspect that millions of Christians, Muslims, and others are probably celebrating Hitchens' death. Some are probably calling it a "judgment from god," or a "punishment for speaking out." Well, if Mr. Hitchens were still alive, I'm sure he would wear their contempt as a badge of honor --- that they had ever considered him such a threat would probably be more of a compliment than he could ever ask for.
RIP Christopher Hitchens,