RIP Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

I’m forgoing today’s “Masterpiece Monday,” so I can express my thoughts on the late great Christopher Hitchens. Sure, I’m a bit late considering that most media are more concerned with Kim Jong Il’s death right now, but how do you figure out what to say about a man who changed your life?

For those of us who knew of Christopher Hitchens, his death on Thursday was not surprising. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t heart-breaking. Hitchens was a famous atheist from England whose reputation as a debater could not be matched. And the only thing that could match his excessive smoking and drinking was his esophageal cancer, which killed him at only 62 years old.

I became familiar with Hitchens in high school, as I educated myself on atheism and read the works of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I read excerpts of Hitchens’ God is not Great and loved watching his debates on YouTube. His curmudgeonly attitude and harsh words against religion obviously upset a lot of people, but I was amazed at how many commenters online respected his refusal to be sorry for his beliefs, as well as admired his quick wit and riveting words.

Hitchens gave me the courage to live as a loud and proud atheist. One smart reader noticed that I prefer to call myself “secular” on my blog, but I only do that for your guys’ benefit, not mine. This is a book blog, and my atheism–although vital to my life–does not need to be mentioned in all my posts. But make no mistake: ever since de-converting as a teenager, I have never had doubts or felt apologetic for my views.

Which is why I love Hitchens so much. Many journalists made offensive comments to him as he struggled with cancer, such as whether he wished to recant in his final days, but he took all the ignorance with grace. And if Hitchens could read when The Huffington Post asked “What happens when an atheist dies?”, he would probably laugh and reply, “The same that happens to everybody else.”

Hitchens didn’t need saving, no prayers and miracles. He chose to smoke so heavily, and he never regretted his lifestyle. We shouldn’t hope that God will let him into Heaven anyway, and we shouldn’t wish him a torturous existence in Hell. He didn’t fret about his afterlife, so we shouldn’t either. Instead we should respect his beliefs and focus on all the good he achieved while he lived.

So how exactly did Hitchens change my life? By showing me that if atheists want to be accepted by society, we need to lead by example. We shouldn’t be afraid to share our thoughts and educate others, to fight for our civil rights and remind people that the majority shouldn’t rule by default. Show everybody that you don’t need faith to be a kind, considerate, generous, and moral person.

Whether you’re a staunch atheist, a devout Christian, or someone in between, you can benefit by reading Hitchens. He’ll broaden your mind as he blows it with all his exquisite arguments. You may not agree with a word he says, but at least you will be encouraged to ask questions and not take everything for granted.

Because that’s what it means to be an atheist. We believe that this life is all we get, so we better make the most of it.

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10 thoughts on “RIP Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

  1. That was a very candid and enjoyable post. I’m not sure that Hitchens never regretted anything about his lifestyle (since he so adamantly said he regretted smoking), nor am I convinced that his arguments were worth very much philosophically or analytically, but he was still my favorite atheist by far. He also helped along the cultural conversation about religion and secular values, which is such an important conversation to have; people need to wake up to the issues that atheists are often so adamant about, which are too often just ignored in the name of polite conversation and dinner table politics.

    • Thanks for responding! I agree that society should listen to atheists, because many of the issues we fight for, such as separation between church and state, revolve around protecting rights granted by most constitutions. However, I politely disagree that his arguments weren’t worth much: I take issue with his opinions regarding abortion and female comedians, but he elevated the standard for religious debates. And for that preservation of debate, he will be sorely missed.

  2. Pingback: Christopher Hitchens 1949 – 2011 e.v. « Gideon Jagged

  3. Perhaps you would care to indulge me, especially in light of our exchange on my blog. Could you please provide me with any argument presented by Hitchens which you would recommend as being philosophically powerful? Thank you.

    • Now I should explain that when I mean philosophically powerful, I don’t mean original, because I really don’t think atheists or Christians have many more new things to say on the matter. However, the questions that atheists like Hitchens bring up have not, in my opinion, been effectively refuted by evangelicals, questions such as, “Why does God allow suffering?” “Why would God condemn someone to Hell for the mere offense of not believing in Him, when He refuses to show Himself in tangible form?” “How do you explain the inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the Bible?” etc. etc. Now I know you’re a philosopher well-versed on theological arguments, and while I’m not looking for answers, I enjoy Hitchens’ eloquence. Hitchens by no means is the first and only person to ask these questions, but the way he expresses his opinions, often without needing to interrupt or talk over his opponents, is worthy of admiration.

      Here’s a compilation of Hitchslaps for your own amusement:

      • I too appreciate listening to Hitchens – when he starts talking, even if you disagree with him, you can’t help but want him to keep going. I would say, as I said briefly on my blog, that Christians and Atheists have loads of original arguments to discuss which haven’t existed (or else haven’t advanced to this degree) until today. I think that conversation is ‘active’ – though perhaps you might say that’s simply my philosophical optimism with a mix of naivety – but seriously, I think the conversation is heading into new and interesting places philosophically and theologically.

        Instead of answering your questions directly (which I would be happy to do, and which isn’t even very difficult to do, but I take the implication of your post that you don’t want me to do it) I thought perhaps I’d respond more to the point: Hitchens has met with good philosophical/theological answers to every one of those points. He has also accepted correction, though he seems to have conveniently forgotten that every time he wished to use those same arguments again. Perhaps one of the best examples of this was in his debate with William Lane Craig, where Craig had told him a week in advance how he was planning to dismantle some of HItchens’ arguments, Hitchens agreed that Craigs points were fantastic, and then Hitchens walked into the debate, brought out the same points again, and when he had a chance to add to his arguments (which hadn’t been changed at all to meet the challenge of Craig’s responses) actually waved his closing speech – that’s right, Hitchens waved the chance to talk for 10 minutes (first time I had ever seen that, but he did it because he was anxious to get to the question and answer period). So, not only can I answer those objections adequately, and not only have those been answered to death by serious theologians and philosophers, but Hitchens himself met those answers and instead of speaking to them simply ignored them.

        Here, check out the debate for yourself and decide what you think about the arguments. I’d like to hear what you have to say.

        • I’ve written more on your own blog, but I can’t wait to listen to this debate. How a 2+ hour video makes it onto YouTube is beyond me, but hopefully I’ll find the time to devote to it before my winter break ends!

  4. Sure… I actually just got sucked into watching it instead of working on my philosophy papers due Thursday. 😛

    In watching it, I think I can better negotiate what objections or thoughts somebody like yourself who may defend one many or any of Hitchens’ points might proceed. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the debate and I hope you will carefully consider the points on either side, keeping in mind that I may not be partisan to every particular point, as well as that the topic of the debate is that in which I am most interested.

  5. Pingback: Let’s put the Chris back into Christmas « Skepacabra

  6. Pingback: Christopher Hitchens : Death of An Atheist « Vidur's Blog

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