Christopher Hitchens’ Last Words

They weren’t “I’ve found Jesus!”

In anticipation of his final book Mortality, to be released on September 4th, his widow Carol Blue penned an afterword which was released online this weekend:

I can’t seem to access the full piece at The Daily Telegraph, but you can catch glimpses of it at Google Books. Here’s Carol Blue:

His last words of the unfinished fragmentary jottings at the end of this little book may seem to trail off, but in fact they were written on his computer in bursts of energy and enthusiasm as he sat in the hospital using his food tray for a desk.

When he was admitted to the hospital for the last time, we thought it would be for a brief stay. He thought — we all thought — he’d have the chance to write the longer book that was forming in his mind. His intellectual curiosity was sparked by genomics and the cutting-edge proton radiation treatments he underwent, and he was encouraged by the prospect that his case could contribute to future medical breakthroughs. He told an editor friend waiting for an article, “Sorry for the delay, I’ll be back home soon.” He told me he couldn’t wait to catch up on all the movies he had missed and to see the King Tut exhibition in Houston, our temporary residence.

The end was unexpected.

At home in Washington, I pulled books off the shelves, out of the book towers on the floor, off the stacks of volumes on tables. Inside the back cover her notes written in his hand that he took for reviews and for himself. Piles of his papers and notes lie on services all around the apartment, some of which were taken from his suitcase that I brought back from Houston. And anytime I can peruse our library or his notes and rediscover and recover him.

When I do, I hear him, and he has the last word. Time after time, Christopher has the last word.

Beautiful.

The Daily Mail also summarizes some of what we’ll see in his final book:

In his fragmentary jottings, published in the Daily Telegraph, he wrote: ‘I am not fighting or battling cancer, it is fighting me. My two assets were my pen and my voice.’

Hitchens knew he was dying but saw the funny side of all the glowing praise for his literary work. ‘Now so many tributes that it also seems that rumours of my LIFE have also been greatly exaggerated.

‘Lived to see most of what’s going to be written about me: this too is exhilarating, but hits diminishing returns when I realise how soon it, too will be “background.”‘

He wrote: ‘Those who say I am being punished are saying that god can’t think of anything more vengeful than cancer for a heavy smoker.’

He maintained his devout atheism after being diagnosed with cancer, telling one interviewer: ‘No evidence or argument has yet been presented which would change my mind. But I like surprises.’

There were no surprises, though. Hitchens never heard any evidence to the contrary.

Among his final thoughts, left unfinished in his book:

Amazing how heart and lungs and liver have held up: would have been healthier if I’d been more sickly.

If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than an atheist does.

You would think Hitchens would’ve found a way to get cancer to change its mind and back off… Alas. He died last December. This book will be the last time we get to hear anything original from him. I’ll be reading it as slowly as possible, just to make it last.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/ylaenna M. Elaine

    I wish I had found Reason sooner and seen Hitch speak live before his death.

  • Donna Lafferty

    I still get all weepy about Hitch. I doubt that will ever change.

  • Kevin

    Played a clip today in our worship service of Hitchens putting a Universalist “pastor” in her place. I’m an evangelical pastor, and here’s my blog from 12/11 describing what I liked about him.  
    http://kevinchilds.com/?p=4507

  • http://onefuriousllama.com/ onefuriousllama

    It is perhaps my greatest regret, not meeting Hitch or seeing him live.

  • asonge

    I saw him speak to a group of Baptist school-children in a “debate” between him and Dembski. It was an awful slaughter more than a debate on rhetorical skills alone. Dembski just wasn’t prepared. Watching him tell a church sanctuary half-full of school children to turn away the “poison chalice” of false certainty was great. What was even more hilarious was the framing around the debate, including the awkwardness of all the atheists in the audience sitting down during praise and worship and not bowing their heads during the 3 prayers uttered (prayer, praise-and-worship, prayer, debate, and prayer). People don’t often realize how seeds of doubt work, and I doubt those prayers did anything but delay onset.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    The one that ends this tribute, at 9:30? 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR0GyYaeI-k

    He had a lot of fine moments, but that one was spectacular.  And although I know it was a mixed audience, I can’t help but think that that level of applause must have included some of the students.

    The full debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7wU9QJ5mOQ

    I’m now reading Hitch-22.  I hadn’t gotten around to it yet, but saw it in the bargain bin at B&N the other day.

  • Guest

    “If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than an atheist does.”

    How sad.  To bring a hatred like that to your dying moments.  Religious or atheist, I think that alone would be a sad commentary on a person’s life.

  • LesterBallard

    Sounds like a joke to me.

  • kraken17

    It’s called dry humour. All the rage among kids these days.

  • sec

    clearly, you don’t know hitchens.

  • Atheisticallyyours

    It sucks that Hitchens died in the same month as my sister-in-law, and of the exact same goddamned thing-CANCER! It sucks to no end when a disease like this wins! It robs this planet of all the wrong people! 

  • Atheisticallyyours

    So right. Its NEVER good when an atheist dies! NEVER! 

  • Edmond

    It’s a sad commentary on Humanity.  Better that blind, absolutist superstition come to and end in a person who has only one inevitablility, than that we lose one more person who has learned how to question, how to recognize the limits of knowledge, or how to be free of controlling tyranny of dogmatic mythology.

  • http://profiles.google.com/celtlen Gareth Lennox

    There speaks the genuine voice of religion, humourless, thoughtless, and always without that which Hitchens valued most, an appreciation of irony.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003647978349 Tat Wadjet

    Me Too Donna… me too.

  • DaveDodo007

    Yay, the Hitch talks to us ‘beyond the grave’ can’t say I always agreed with him but I will always be better informed after reading him. I miss him.:-(

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  • Michael B

    So his ‘atheistic bullying’ (quote from your blog) is fine with you when it’s directed against a different religious branch? Right.
    Another quote ‘”And our universe, even down to the DNA in every one of our own cells, is obviously designed.”Keep pushing those utterly ridiculous remark – it’s just the kind of comment that pushes ‘fence sitters’ towards non-belief.

  • Margaret Whitestone

     Religious believers persistently tell us that we’ll convert on our death beds, so apparently they agree with Hitchens. 

  • Guest

    So folks, I noticed in response to my assessment of Hitchens’ hatred of religion and its adherents, there were two general responses: one, it was just his dry humor.  And two, as a matter of fact there’s nothing wrong with what he said.  Which was it?  Humor or a valid point? 

    For me, I see this sort of thing as ‘humor used to cover up a serious perspective.’  Had Hitchens at some point in his life said something that appeared to refute all those ‘better religious believers die’ statements, then one could say it was a meaningless joke.  But my guess is, like so much agenda humor today, it was a meaningful joke.  That is, it may have been humor, but he also meant it.  Which is why both responses to my observation are probably true: it was humor, but no doubt he meant what he said (with, apparently, some thinking ‘and a damn good thought it was’).  

    FWIW, I didn’t hate Hitchens.  I simply felt sorry that a man could define his existence being against something so much that he never seemed to have a pleasant day in his life. I’m sure he did, he just never looked it.

  • http://daniel.bottle-imp.com/ Daniel

    I lost someone dear to me, and it was like that. She wanted to go to the hospital to deal with something related to the cancer but not the cancer itself, she ended up not leaving. Cancer is pretty scary.

  • allein

    My grandmother went like that. She even reversed her DNR because it was “just pneumonia”…ended up on a ventilator she never wanted and never came home.

  • Chris Kilroy

    I wish I had gotten the opportunity to see him in person. I began reading his books after he was already ill with cancer. He was an amazing person, who touched so many lives. It sounds like he was able to see that. May we all have a chance to understand some of the impact we’ve made on others before we go. That is truly our only chance at so-called immortality – how those we affect will remember us. Hitch will live on in the minds of millions of freethinkers, especially when many of us raise a glass. 

  • Kevin

    Actually it is the kind of comment that might be made someone like by Francis Collins – the guy who mapped the human genome. Don’t be more narrow-minded than those you accuse of that same flaw. His, and Dawkins’, bullying has been lamented by other atheists. Thanks for dropping by the blog.

  • http://twitter.com/phfresno Paul Herman

    Got to see him in person one time and it was after he was diagnosed with cancer. It was one of his last debates ever in Los Angeles with Sam Harris. He was a great man, one of the most influential writers and thinkers in my life. He shaped many of my views on religion and morality. He will be dearly missed, his debates will be watched for hundreds of years, his books will be read for as long as people inhabit this world.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Hitchens hated religion, and the “shepherds”.  He didn’t hate “the flock”.

  • Katwise

    Every person will die; we are all potential cancer victims, or heart attack victims, or lightning-strike victims.  The manner in which we die is not important;  but that we live intentionally is what gives our lives meaning.  Christopher Hitchens lived with full consiousness and intention.

  • Ryan

    Just like 2Pac.  He’ll have even more releases after his death!  ;)

  • sunburned
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Kovach/1270634973 Matt Kovach

    I feel lucky that I was able to meet him

  • Marco Conti

    I just ordered the book for my Kindle. Hitch is possibly the only public figure whom I still miss on a daily basis. I find myself saying “I wish Hitch was still around” at least once a day.

    The only other person that inspire that kind of sentiment in me is Carl Sagan. Another genius that passed before his time. He also passed with the same enviable dignity Hitch showed us.

    Aside from the obvious reasons I look up to these two giants, I too suffer from an illness that will soon kill me. I may have another 10 years if I am lucky, more if I am really lucky, less if I believe the statistics. Their example, but especially Hitchin’s example have touched me very deeply. I can only hope to show a fraction of his dignity and courage when facing my own demise.

    There is one thing I would like to ask here. How would get in touch with Carol Blue? 
    I have been wanting to tell her how much Hitchens has meant to me ever since he died.  I have not been actively searching for her contact info because I did not want to impose on her, but I really have a strong need to let her know how much he has meant to me. Especially how much his courage inspired me and hopefully will inspire me to face my own destiny in a similar manner.
    Should I write the publisher? I don’t want to send an email or post on facebook. This is one of those occasions where snail mail means so much more.

  • http://www.helensotiriadis.com/ helen sotiriadis

    if francis collins said such a thing, it would be silly, too.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    You might contact the author of 
    http://www.dailyhitchens.com/

    Hitchens himself didn’t get involved in online stuff, but from what I understand he did endorse the author of that blog to maintain the official Christopher Hitchens FB page https://www.facebook.com/christopherhitchens

    Perhaps he could pass on your contact info to Carol.

  • http://www.helensotiriadis.com/ helen sotiriadis

    i suggest you check out his work again. he said a lot about what is good and decent and even awe inspiring.

    tiny examples:
    - his referring to how he liked to blood.
    - his awe at what hubble has shown us.

    you’re the one defining hitchens exclusively by his atheism, leading me to wonder what your days are like.

  • Marco Conti

    Thanks Rich. I appreciate the lead.

  • Marco Conti

    Guest, it sounds like you have a sound bite knowledge of Hitchins. Especially when you say “I simply felt sorry that a man could define his existence being against something so much that he never seemed to have a pleasant day in his life. ” 
    You do add “I am sure he did”, but if you actually knew more of the Man Christopher Hitchens rather than what others said about him or the odd edited interview here and there, there wouldn’t be a doubt in your mind that the Hitch enjoyed life more than anything. He adored his kids and his wife even more than he adored writing and making his sharp mind work. He had many friends for whom he would do anything. Almost above all he loved to sharpen his mind against the arguments of those that  value irrationality more than truth. 
    Hitch was one of those people for whom a single life is not enough, but one thing I assure you: he was a happy man. 

    As far as the quote you found so reprehensible,  it seems typical of classic, dry, British Humor. I didn’t find it funny because it’s one of those jokes that are not supposed to be funny. But from there to go on a pity him it’s a real big jump.

    Hitchens “hated” religion because he was convinced (as am I) that religion has stunted our civilizations’ development. Because he rightly believed that if it wasn’t for religion we would have been able to create a better, more equitable society. But he didn’t hate the religious, aside from those that made hate their own stock in trade.  

  • Ashley Will

    I belatedly discovered this post and so want to read this and journey through Hitchens’ experience with cancer.  I may have to go to the local bookstore and purchase it for sure. 

  • David

     Absolutely – a classic Hitch joke that you have to think about.


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