Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass. — Christopher Hitchens

Critic, essayist and compulsive contrarian Christopher Hitchens has died. I didn’t agree with Hitchens often before 9/11, and agreed with him even less after that, but the man was very rarely dull. He made the world a more interesting place.

“Rest in peace,” we usually say. And that’s what I’m thinking now. But I’ll refrain from saying it because I think it would tick him off. And because resting in peace was never something Hitchens seemed comfortable doing.

For a lot of people, their first love is what they’ll always remember. For me it’s always been the first hate, and I think that hatred, though it provides often rather junky energy, is a terrific way of getting you out of bed in the morning and keeping you going. If you don’t let it get out of hand, it can be canalized into writing. In this country where people love to be nonjudgmental when they can be, which translates as, on the whole, lenient, there are an awful lot of bubble reputations floating around that one wouldn’t be doing one’s job if one didn’t itch to prick. — Christopher Hitchens

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  • Anonymous

    Huh, sounds like a miserable, insufferable person. Seems like I missed my soulmate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    How about that?  A professional asshole! Sounds like he was an Internet troll before his time!

  • muteKi

    In some regards, yes. I think his commentary regarding religion is probably the most agreeable of his work. He’s said many things I consider abhorrent; I think it’s fair to call him openly misogynist.

    The thing is, though, at least from what I can tell, this seems to be an issue with the sort of movement atheism that Hitchens is associated with; it’s quite depressing, really.

  • Anonymous

    Makes one wonder…

  • muteKi

    Also I should note most of my knowledge about, say, God Is Not Great comes from secondhand sources; as far as I can tell it seems to be based around the same points of contention around, say, TurboJesus — that even if such a god existed, tolerating or worshipping it would be unethical.

    Although using this as a main argument to promote atheism does have some subtle issues — for example, what about people who might consider themselves in some sense “religious” but do not have such a conception of a single omnipotent and wrathful god? (I mean, yes, these religions lack the representation that is true of that certain brand of American Christianity Fred often speaks out against…but this sort of implication turns into “all religion is Christianity” as I’ve seen a few times on Twitter tonight, which is more-or-less the sort of problem I have with that all.)

  • friendly reader

    You mean like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.? He argues that he wasn’t a Real Christian, because Real Christians believe in a wrathful God who only cares about whether you go to heaven. His argument defined religious people and God in such a way that it proved his theory. It relied a lot on tautology.

    I can’t tell you what I thought of Christopher Hitchens, because I never met the man. I can tell you what I thought of his writing persona, but I think that’s a different thing. And while I may not feel bad about the loss of his smug Islamophobic writing, I do feel bad about any person dying of cancer. It’s not a pleasant way to go. But I think it speaks to his character that he never despaired in the face of it. Perhaps I would have liked the man more than the writing.

  • Anonymous

    “The thing is, though, at least from what I can tell, this seems to be an
    issue with the sort of movement atheism that Hitchens is associated
    with; it’s quite depressing, really.”

    We’re working on it. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    If anything, Hitchens proved that even atheists can be fundamentalists.

  • Demonhype

    I don’t even know what to say.  It sucks, it’s sad, but like Carlin I imagine he wouldn’t want people to be mournful.  Love him or hate him, he had one hell of a life, had a lot of courage, and made an amazing impact, which is possibly one of the best things one can say about a person, and he will definitely be missed.  We should all aspire to make an impact.

    It seems strange to read about it on a Christian’s website, but it is good to be reminded that there are Christians who don’t agree but will give credit where credit is due and aren’t racing to lie about his memory with a Lady Hope stunt.

  • Anonymous

    The body isn’t even cold yet. Just wait.

  • Demonhype

    Well, it didn’t seem like it would take even that long–some ghouls have been salivating for the last year.

  • Anonymous

    “I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my
    direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal
    that it bores even me.”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I had expected him to die soon, but not this soon. It’s always too soon when you hear someone has died. :

  • Matthias

    His comment about how hate drives him always shocked me. Hate is like nuclear power: it gives great strenght at the risc of a meltdown destroying everything. But even if this does not happen you still end up with tons of radioactive waste that will stay for a thousand years.

    If you do not see this but embarace hate the toxic waste will make you a miserable asshole … which is what happend to Hitchens.

    Therefore just say no to hate. It’s shortlived empowerment is not worth the longlived waste.

  • Aaron Murray

    “If you do not see this but embarace hate the toxic waste will make you a miserable asshole … which is what happend to Hitchens.”

    He may have been an asshole, but any honest look at his life and writing cannot lead to the idea that he was at all miserable.  He took great joy in writing, and did it daily until the very end.

  • vsm

    I’m not sure if y’all know it, but Christopher Hitchens originally emerged from the British socialist left and was something of a darling to them. Thus, when he switched sides, people from that tendency started to absolutely despise him, and their blogs were very eager to document all of his successes in the fields of warmongering and anti-Muslim prejudice. That’s how I became familiar with him, rather than through anything he said about Christianity or religion in general. Thus, I can’t say I’m particularly sad to see him go. Not that I’m happy either, of course. I do enjoy this highly critical 2003 piece about Mother Teresa, though. I have no idea if it’s really a good evaluation of her work, but I do enjoy his style: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2003/10/mommie_dearest.html

  • Chunky Style

    There are legitimate criticisms to be made of Mother Teresa, and most of them are in the arena of, India needs condoms and Mother Teresa was religiously opposed to such things.  But I think her intention to alleviate suffering was genuine, and even if her faith gave her huge blind spots, that doesn’t make her a monster.

    Now Hitchens with his support of the Iraq War … the guy was too smart to be taken in by Bush’s media blitz.  He was fully in favor of the suffering and death his side would cause, which makes him a ghoul in ways a certain nun in India never was.  You can’t even argue that Iraq was a hotspot of Muslim fundamentalism; predictably enough, fundamentalism was able to flourish only after Saddam was deposed.

    I am aware that Hitchens eventually let himself be waterboarded, but before you see him as a simple and devoted seeker of truth, consider a possibility.  Hitchens beat the drum for a war that proved to be a complete disaster on every level, and if he didn’t want his reputation to be completely ruined, Hitchens needed to do something dramatic to distance himself from the war.  So he took the route of a few seconds of physical panic, declared that torture is bad (Hitch’s great moral awakening!), and washed his hands of the mess.  Even then, Hitchens didn’t take the waterboarding all the way; he got waterboarded under conditions he controlled, where he could stop the procedure at any time.  He didn’t have to worry that his torturers were sadists or that they really wanted to drown him.  Nope, it was cheap showmanship for the specific purpose of recasting his image.

    (By the way, Jesse “The Body” Ventura had been waterboarded too, as part of his SEAL training.  Hitchens didn’t really teach us anything that Jesse couldn’t.)

  • vsm

    Hitchens beat the drum for a war that proved to be a complete disaster
    on every level, and if he didn’t want his reputation to be completely
    ruined, Hitchens needed to do something dramatic to distance himself
    from the war.

    This is a good point. Besides, Hitchens never did say he regretted supporting the war, unlike several other public intellectuals. I’d actually count Hitchens’s little media stunt against him; did he really need to experience torture a bit before he could say it was wrong?

  • Chunky Style

    I’d say Hitchens was trying to play to the crowd that could believe he wasn’t sure whether waterboarding was torture.  That could be anyone of any political stripe; all that was required was underestimating Hitchens.

  • fraser

    The first thing I read by Hitchens was on Mother Teresa. It was so obviously bent by his atheism (i.e., arguing that since Mother Teresa believes God has a mission for her, she is de facto insane) that I’ve never had inclination to be impressed by the guy (not much I’ve read later has changed that). though it did steer me to some intelligent criticism of Mother Teresa, so I’m glad I read the book.
    The hate thing … this does not make him any more appealing.

  • Anonymous

    I first encountered Hitchens through his writing for the Nation, before 9-11. He’s a very similar figure to Dennis Miller in that respect. He was always honest with his opinions, and though I disagreed with him on the wars in the middle east I agreed with so much more. He’ll be missed.

  • walden

    Guy could definitely write well.  But he often used this talent to tear down people, and to demonize opponents – and switched from the left to the right. The cheerleading for the Iraq war and denouncing of its opponents was all of a piece with tearing down of Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger, believers in God, etc.  And I seem to recall his betrayal of a friend (Sidney Blumenthal?) in print.  He went not softly into that good night….
    It seemed he wanted to be George Orwell, but ended up as an ironical echo of his hero.

  • Chunky Style
  • Theo

    Did someone say Hitchens and Orwell?

    http://exiledonline.com/big-br
    Whoa. That’s certainly one of the more bizarre takes on Orwell I’ve read so far. :) The whole socialism thing was just a big pose, and he only fought in the Spanish Civil War in order to kill Catholics?

  • Mrsgrimble

    Mother Teresa WAS a monster.  She called for abortion to be made illegal under all circumstances, including when the mother’s life was in danger; she called for both doctors who performed abortions and the women who underwent abortions to be jailed for murder; she praised the vicious, murdering Duvalier despot family after they gave her lots of money; no accounts whatsoever were kept of the millions,  little of which appears to have been spent on actual charity work, that was donated to her charity; her nuns and the patients they cared for were kept in total poverty with little in the way of proper medical care while she was flown several times to Switzerland for private medical treatment; she did not work with any of the hundreds of non-religious charity hospitals that already existed in India before she arrived there and was content to let Western media go away with the impression that hers was the only medical charity in the country.  And so on.
    I agree that Hitchens was a monster himself. But as my mother used to say, it takes one to know one.

  • Chunky Style

    I’ll entertain the possibility that Mother Teresa was a monster, but do you have a non-Hitchens source?  I just did a quick spin on the Internet, and it’s difficult to find criticisms of Mother Teresa that don’t involve Hitchens’ work one way or another.

    I really wouldn’t put it past Hitchens to slander Mother Teresa just because he was a rotten person.  But I am also amenable to learning he was right about her.  The monster of my monster is … um … I don’t know.

  • Wednesday

    Actually, yes, there are other sources that Mother Theresa’s organization was lethally poorly run and organized, and that mother Theresa herself did not try to fix this. Plenty of them. Just off the top of my head, I can cite Hope Endures, an autobiography by a former nun of Mother Theresa’s order, and Hemley Gonzalez, who volunteered for the Missionaries of Charity back in 2007 or so. There’s an interview with him here:
    http://bigthink.com/ideas/41486?page=all

  • Dan Allison

    There’s nothing at all wrong about hate when it’s the hate of evil and hypocrisy. Because of Hitchens, we now know a lot more of the truth about Mother Teresa and Henry Kissinger. Yes, I disagreed with him about God. But it seemed to me his heart and passion were in the right place. 

  • Anonymous

    I know we are socially constrained from speaking ill of the (recently) dead, but nonetheless: our discourse will be better without him.  He was, to put it bluntly, a bullshitter. 

    I first became consciously aware of him from a Slate piece years ago discussing ballistic missiles.  He threw in a completely gratuitous aside suggesting that all missiles are ballistic.  Um…, no.  Not all missiles are ballistic.  I posted on a usenet forum complaining about this in general terms of journalists talking out of their butts.  I was assured that Hichens is utterly brilliant, that he knows more than me about everything, and in his brilliance if he wrote something that seems dumb it is because I am too dumb to understand his brilliant brilliance.  Or something. 

    After this I started noticing his name popping up all over the place, and the phenomenon of the irrelevant aside which superficially appears smart unless you actually know something on the subject turned out to be a pattern.  The one I remember was from a book review in the Atlantic.  I think the book was about the Napoleonic Wars, but it might have been about the First World War.  The irrelevant aside was that the Napoleonic Wars were really the first world war.  This observation is traditionally, and more plausibly, made about the Seven Years War (aka the French and Indian War to Americans).  There is no sound basis for declaring the Napoleonic to be a world war without also counting the Seven Years War as one.  Hichens was throwing out what he thought was a learned aside, but he got it wrong.

    This seems to me to be his entirely intellectual persona, as if the whole point is to get laid by impressing impressionable undergraduate coeds at parties.  I knew guys like that in college.  They bored me quickly, and I avoided them.

    This was long before his prominence as a militant atheist, and apart from his loathsome stances promoting piles of dead bodies.  One of the reasons I dropped my subscription to the Atlantic was their bad habit of regularly giving him space.  Even apart from the wasted page count, this was indicative of more general poor critical judgment skills.

  • Anonymous

    I know we are socially constrained from speaking ill of the (recently) dead

    All evidence from these comments to the contrary…

    And it’s not enough to limit our attacks to the recently deceased … we also have to condemn Mother Teresa as a Monster.

    Wow!  Just WOW!

  • Lori

    And it’s not enough to limit our attacks to the recently deceased … we also
    have to condemn Mother Teresa as a Monster.

    Wow! Just WOW!

    So
    in your opinion how long do we have to wait to discuss the issues with Mother
    Teresa’s work? Are you laboring under the assumption that we’re all obligated
    to participate forever in the fiction that she was a unreservedly wonderful
    person?

    Because
    she wasn’t. I had a lot of issues with Hitchen. In fact that was almost nothing
    about which I agreed with him without major caveats and in general I thought I
    was a total ass, but he was pretty much on the nose about Mother Teresa.
    She did a great deal of damage along with the ‘help” that she provided to people to desperately poor to turn her away. She was a raging hyocrite when it came to the rich & famous. She was also quite hypocritical when it came to her own medical care.
    The effort to paint her as a saint who we should all admire and who should forever be off limits to criticism is mostly a PR effort, first by Mother Teresa herself (good for fund raising) and then by the Catholic Church (good for distracting people from less pleasant issues). I have no interst in participating in that.

  • vsm

    Re: Hitchens and Orwell
    Dolan makes several good points about Orwell, like his undeniable nostalgia for the British Empire and outright racism in Shooting an Elephant. Reading it really lowered my opinion of him, and I’m surprised academics have tried to defend its depiction of the Burmese. However, he really loses it towards the end when he tries to paint Orwell as an insincere socialist only motivated by anti-Catholicism. Normally you’d imagine any writer not completely in love with Iosif Dzhugashvili to praise Orwell for opposing Stalinism before it was cool, but Dolan doesn’t go for such fine details here. His treatment of Orwell’s supposed anti-Catholicism is even worse in that regard. The quotes are not very damning, no matter how much he pretends otherwise, and there were very valid reasons to oppose the church of Rome in the thirties, even if you happened to be English.

    Re: Mother Teresa, Wikipedia gives some non-Hitchens sources, like the Lancet and Guardian: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Teresa#Criticism

  • Nanananana

    Ooh I can comment from my iPod now o.o

    Inappropriate wonderment aside, I thought hitchens was always pretty hateful and unenjoyable. But I won’t doubt that he was interesting. And it sucks when interesting people die because then the world becomes more dull :/

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    The waterboarding stunt did have some important effects. After Hitchens’ “waterboarding” and subsequent reversal of his stance on torture, other torture-apologists pounced on his reputation as hated jerkwad, and piled on. (I recall one remark along the lines of “he woudln’t call it torture if they’d used gin instead”) They were so eager to make him look bad that they too volunteered to be “waterboarded” (scare quotes because it was controlled and safe, not “field accurate” conditions) and every single one wound up also reversing their position.

    It was a very public willingness to test his hypothesis, to put a claim under review based on evidence, the kind of thing we wish more of our public speakers, politicians, and policy-makers would do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Maybe the Mother Theresa thing is controversial, but bashing Henry Kissinger really shouldn’t be. Does anyone remember who that guy was? He probably should be in exile, not venerated as some kind of elder statesman. I don’t really agree with much of what Hitchens wrote but going after Kissinger was righteous.

    I only wish someone could do the same to Newt Gingrich. I don’t know why no one in the media seems to remember what he did as Speaker, but they shouldn’t just let him slink back into mainstream politics as if nothing ever happened. I mean, damn, they can’t let go Obama and his “57 states” but all those ethics violations, his hyper-emotional blow-ups with his colleagues, and resigning in disgrace after being censured and fined (!) just gets forgotten about, like it was some foolish college prank?

  • Emcee, cubed

    I know we are socially constrained from speaking ill of the (recently) dead

    Have no personal opinion on Hitchens, since I’ve only ever heard others’ opinions on him, and have no real familiarity with him or his writing. Ditto for Mother Teresa (more familiar with her as a character in Jeffery than real life.)

    But I never got this idea of not speaking ill about someone after they die. I mean, certainly you don’t want to go up to a person’s kids at the funeral and say, “your parent was a jerk.” But this idea that somehow people should be deified after death, and no one should ever say anything bad about them because they died, just seems silly. He died. Gonna happen to everyone. If you would say it while he was alive, why can’t you say it when they are dead? Just makes no sense to me…

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    He was a public figure, and public figures leave themselves open to such scrutiny by definition.  That said, somehow I doubt Hitchens himself would object.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I, for one, think that Nero was a bit of a jerk.

    Was that too soon?  Should I wait a bit longer before saying things like that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    That’s a little unreasonable. Hitchens died today — Nero died several hundred decades ago.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    That’s a little unreasonable. Hitchens died today — Nero died several hundred decades ago.

    I wasn’t specifically referring to Hitchens, by the time I said the ideas of not speaking ill of someone 14 years dead, and not speaking ill of the dead in general had both been brought up.

    Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus has been dead for 1943 years and a few months, but he’s still just as dead as any other dead person we might want to discuss.  If we’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, Nero is off limits too.  If there is some time period, what is it?  More than 14 years it would appear.  How about 20?  200?  2000?

    I would have preferred if I hadn’t encountered the example of Hitchens’ misogyny I saw today until somewhat after I had a chance to process that he’s dead because I’d prefer not to be thinking, “What an asshole,” on the day he died.*

    At the same time, that’s who he was.  He wrote it out for all the world to see getting it published and leaving that mark on our world.  To deny the bad is to deny the human being that he was.  So even today, on the day that he died, I’m not sure that holding back does him any service.

    If we are to consider that what is no longer with us was an actual human being, a person worthy of the same respect as any other, then I don’t see what is gained by trying to erase who he was and what he did from the conversation.

    He died today, unless discussion is to be about what a pretty corpse he makes, doesn’t it have to be about who he was?  And if it is about who he was, then that’s going to involve some speaking ill of him.

    * If the person who linked to it is reading this, not your fault.  I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into before I clicked the link.  I did it anyway.  The fault is all on me.

  • rizzo

    When I saw it on my AP feed this morning, my first thought was “He was an asshole, but I’m sorry he’s dead.”  If a guy was an asshole, it’s not wrong to call him out on it, living or dead.  He was a guy who could definitely be an asshole, but also had some amazingly good qualities…a lot like most of us, I’d imagine, except he had a public forum in which to express his goodness and badness. 

  • fraser

    I must admit that while I disliked the man’s writing his death doesn’t prompt any feeling in me.
    The biography of Mother Teresa I read certainly didn’t hide her flaws (sucking up to the rich, financial mismanagement, generally poor standards of care) but it did put in the context of her view of faith–not being transparent about money, it suggested, reflects that she goes back to the days when the head of a Catholic order could be autocratic as hell and no-one objected much. I’m not suggesting this to excuse her, but it made more sense than Hitchens ranting.

  • Lori

    it did put in the context of her view of faith–not being transparent about money, it suggested, reflects that she goes back to the days when the head of a Catholic order could be autocratic as hell and no-one objected much. I’m not suggesting this to excuse her, but it made more sense than Hitchens ranting.

    There were 2 seperate but related problems with the way motehr Teresa handled the money for her order. The first was lack of transpency and the other was the way the money was actually spent, or not spent. The first might be a cultural issue within Catholic orders, the other was not. She collected a hell of a lot of money and mishandled a great deal of it in ways that aren’t really excusable.

    Hitchens’ ranting was not the best way to get that across. His worked tended to end up being as much or more about the messanger as about the messge beacuse Hitch had a giant ego and a lot of rage.

  • rizzo

    Eh, I always feel vaguely sorry when anyone(or anything for that matter) dies, so it’s just a natural mental response for me.

  • Anonymous

    Good summation, Pizzo.

  • Hellboy

    Chris the Cynic:
    If we are to consider that what is no
    longer with us was an actual human being, a person worthy of the same
    respect as any other, then I don’t see what is gained by trying to erase
    who he was and what he did from the conversation.

    He died today,
    unless discussion is to be about what a pretty corpse he makes, doesn’t
    it have to be about who he was?  And if it is about who he was, then
    that’s going to involve some speaking ill of him.

    I don’t think Hitchens would want to be pictured as anything other than “a mammal” (to borrow a term from the departed himself). To lionize as we do so many other popular figures in culture and history the man would be a betrayal of what he stood for in life as an iconoclast.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Lions are mammals too, you know!

  • Aaron Murray

    Everyone should drop the posturing about bad mouthing people who have just passed.  Hitchens himself never shied from it, and so no one should shy from criticizing him simply because he is dead.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Oppen/594893122 Eric Oppen

    I became aware of Hitchens via his book No One Left to Lie To.  It’s a demolition of the Clintons from a left-wing perspective.  I don’t agree with all his criticisms…Rickey Ray Rector’s execution had nothing to do with his mental state, and I could argue easily that leaving him alive and a vegetable in the Arkansas prison system would be infinitely more inhumane—but I’ve never seen his points refuted.  He said in print many times that he knew several women who could charge Bill Clinton with rape, and never once did he get a cease-and-desist letter…something that any innocent man would have done instantly, with a lawsuit to follow if he didn’t stop.  That, to me, screams guilt. 

  • Anonymous

    To me, it screams contempt.

  • Anonymous

    Trigger Warning:  Rape and rape accusations.

    He said in print many times that he knew several women who could charge
    Bill Clinton with rape, and never once did he get a cease-and-desist
    letter…something that any innocent man would have done instantly, with a lawsuit to follow if he didn’t stop.  That, to me, screams guilt.

    Holding in mind that reporting rape is a difficult and nerve-wracking thing for women in this culture, if it were so that Hitchens knew these women, why have the Republicans been limited to Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky, a bad land deal, and Christmas cards for all these years?

    EDIT: Not to mention, if Clinton did not kill two people who ripped off his cocaine deal and put their bodies on the railroad tracks to hide the murders, why hasn’t he bothered to deny it?

  • rizzo

    I wasn’t a big fan of most of Hitch’s beliefs, though his willingness to admit his wrongness when proven wrong, like the waterboarding thing, was highly admirable.

  • Emcee, cubed

    He said in print many times that he knew several women who could charge
    Bill Clinton with rape, and never once did he get a cease-and-desist
    letter…something that any innocent man would have done instantly, with a lawsuit to follow if he didn’t stop.  That, to me, screams guilt.

    Since you didn’t quote Hitchens exactly, not sure if this applies. But cease-and-desist orders and lawsuits against people saying things, are…touchy. Things can be easily phrased in a way that would be considered by the courts as Freedom of Speech. For instance, if Hitchens actually stated, “I know several women who were raped by Bill Clinton”, that could conceivable engender a lawsuit, and Hitchens would be required to prove it. (Assuming Clinton cared enough to spend the time and effort on it.)

    On the other hand, if Hitchens said, “I know several women who could charge Bill Clinton with rape”, that’s trickier. ANY woman could charge ANY man with rape…whether it is true or not. (Please, no one read this as “lots of women make false rape accusations”. That is not what I am saying here.) So Hitchens isn’t making a false statement, just a provocative one, which isn’t really actionable.

    So, no, lack of any action isn’t really proof of guilt.

  • fraser

    Particularly with public figures–libel is hard to prove. And Clinton was undoubtedly aware that trying to quash anything would just send the right-wing into more fits (“if it isn’t true, what is he trying to hide by suppressing this outspoken truth-teller?”), whether it was true or false.

  • Anonymous

    Mencken was better at the same things — and a bigger jerk.

    Remakes, feh? Why do people bother.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    “How about that?  A professional asshole! Sounds like he was an Internet troll before his time”
    That he was, and he was The Artist.  We have lost the greatest there shall ever be. 

    And as a pro-tip to, whoever might want to accuse a US Democrat of being a European-style socialist; you should first consider if that person is in anyway similar to Chris Hitchens. If not, then no, he was the real deal.  Hitch was a leftist who shared with the modern US right a Romantic ideal of belief.  The notion that to sincerely believe a thing at all must necessarily inspire a lust to fight for and impose that belief on others.  Those who are unable to comprehend the man must understand this. It is why an atheistic radical was able to support the imperialism of Gulf War II, how a man who was a forceful supporter of Palestinian statehood and  close friend to several Mid-Eastern intellectuals was able to take the side of paternalism and forced assimilation in the French burqa controversy. 

    Most self-described American liberals are basically utilitarians.  Our beliefs exist as polite and modest proposals for making life better, not as vehicles for grasping the infinite through holy struggle.  We therefore see no problem with believing that secularism and rationalism are good things on the one hand while on the other hand believing that it is wrong to force these things upon others.  Christopher Hitchens was very, very, straightforward in his belief that such a position was horseshit; that anyone who claimed to hold it must be both a liar and a coward. 

  • vsm

    Most self-described American liberals are basically utilitarians.  Our
    beliefs exist as polite and modest proposals for making life better, not
    as vehicles for grasping the infinite through holy struggle.

    If that politeness leads to absurdities like trying to play bipartisan ball with a party whose former leading lights should have been tried for war crimes, I wouldn’t mind seeing some more Romanticism in American liberals.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Agreed, though depending on how much you consider the Vietnam War to be based on post-New Deal thought, the hands of the modern American Left are, by political movement standards; remarkably unbloodied.   That counts for a lot. 

  • Anonymous

    And I think that his stance is horseshit and that he was an asshole.  I know he viewed religion as something as clearly harmful as, say, beating a child, but my response to that is “citation fucking needed.”  By saying he has the right to force his ideology on people, he’s saying that everyone has the right to do so.  (I know he thought his ideology was right, but, guess what, so does everyone.)  I find the “Romantic ideal of belief” to be creepy and vile and I believe it leads to nasty, evil things.

    Though it is rather darkly funny that you refer to his – an atheist’s – beliefs as a holy struggle.

    Sure, it’s sad that a fellow human being died, but it’s just as sad that every other person who died yesterday died.

    That’s this lying coward’s take anyway.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    “By saying he has the right to force his ideology on people, he’s saying that everyone has the right to do so”

    Yes, exactly.  Conflicting passions and contradicting wills colliding against each other forever.  Life and civilization forever finding meaning, renewal, and justification  in the looming threat of sudden desire.  Surely that’s what every real man wants, isn’t it? 

    “I should perhaps confess that on September 11 last, once I had experienced all the usual mammalian gamut of emotions, from rage to nausea, I also discovered that another sensation was contending for mastery. On examination, and to my own surprise and pleasure, it turned out be exhilaration. Here was the most frightful enemy–theocratic barbarism–in plain view….I realized that if the battle went on until the last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the utmost.”–C.H.

  • Anonymous

    Spare me real men, then. The world is better off without them.

    And that quote… since my spewing every expletive I can think of isn’t terribly useful or mature, I’ll just say that that may be the most assholish, vile, disgusting, possibly even evil response to 9/11. At least the religious asshole(s?) who blamed it on gays and feminists still saw it as a bad thing. (Unless I’ve misremembered that, in which case he/they and Hitchens sit in infamy together.)

  • Aaron Murray

    “I’ll just say that that may be the most assholish, vile, disgusting, possibly even evil response to 9/11. At least the religious asshole(s?) who blamed it on gays and feminists still saw it as a bad thing.”

    You are misreading it. Hitchens thought the attacks of 9/11 were the most barbaric and evil of actions. The exhilaration he speaks of is not because America was attacked on that day, but because his anger at the attackers was so acute.

  • Anonymous

    No, I’m just not doing a very good job of putting my anger at his reaction into words.  He is getting off on the fact that he gets to fight his enemy.  (In the nice safe sort of way he does his fighting.)  It is utterly despicable. 

    “I should perhaps confess that on September 11 last, once I had
    experienced all the usual mammalian gamut of emotions, from rage to
    nausea, I also discovered that another sensation was contending for
    mastery. On examination, and to my own surprise and pleasure, it turned
    out be exhilaration. Here was the most frightful enemy–theocratic
    barbarism–in plain view….I realized that if the battle went on until the
    last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the
    utmost.”–C.H.

    The bolded words tell a nasty, nasty story about the kind of person he was.  He’s not feeling exhilaration because his anger is acute, he’s feeling exhilaration in addition to his anger.  And his exhilaration – at getting to fight (only not really – he didn’t grab a gun and go to Afghanistan) – makes him happy.  He’s like a little boy cheering people on as they go fight [insert hated group here].  I’m sorry if it’s hard for me to put my thoughts into words, but, unlike Hitchens, anger doesn’t necessarily make me a clear writer.  Mostly it makes me want to type out angry murloceese, only with more swear words.

  • Aaron Murray

    I think I understand you clearly.  However, excitement at getting to fight his enemy (a real, tangible enemy that has been murdering people across the globe) is far from despicable.  Why would you not want to engage with something so terrible, that you felt stood so fundamentally against everything civilisation has built?

    From where I stand the bolding of those words only tells a story about you.

  • Anonymous

    I might cut him more slack if he’d gone out and physically fought his enemy, maybe.  At least he’d come off less like a warmongering little boy and have put his life where his mouth is.

    But – and you clearly feel differently – I don’t like the idea of people getting pleasure and excitement out of war and death.  War and death are horrible things, even if you’re fighting a terrible enemy.  Getting pleasure out of it strikes me as pretty damn sick.  It’s the point at which you have become indistinguishable from your enemy.  (Who, after all, also gets pleasure and excitement out of fighting against something that they see as fundamentally against how they think civilization should be.)

    It is one thing to view war as necessary – that to allow those people to continue to have power is a worse crime, but when you’re pleased and exhilarated about the prospect of war – a war other people (not you) are going to fight in and die in – I don’t have any trouble saying “damn, you’re a sick, disgusting person.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    He kind of reminds me of TR in that respect, but TR never supported a war that he wasn’t actually fighting in. That doesn’t justify his being a warmonger, but to his credit as President he fought for peace — after all, as he put it, he wouldn’t want the US to get into a war while he was “cooped up [here] in the White House”.

    Why would you not want to engage with something so terrible, that you
    felt stood so fundamentally against everything civilisation has built?

    I see what you’re saying but depizan raises a great point — it’s hard to view that enthusiasm as being pure and noble when you never even have to live near the front, much less actually fight in it.

  • Anonymous

    Hitch was a leftist who shared with the modern US right a Romantic ideal of belief.  The notion that to sincerely believe a thing at all must necessarily inspire a lust to fight for and impose that belief on others.

    Fair enough.
    I sincerely believe that the Iraq War was a monstrosity based on the false confessions of tortured men, began by oligarchs and plutocrats in order to enrich themselves and create a climate of fear in America that makes the populace pliable.
    I believe those responsible for the Iraq War should be executed for war crimes and treason.

    And seeing as how Hitchens was a vocal supporter of the war, I’m happy to see that motherfucker go.

  • DS

    Mother Teresa is really Hans Sprungfeld

  • Anonymous

    An intellectual firebrand’s torch has burned out, leaving smoking embers and the memory of it’s heat. Rest in peace, Mr. Hitchens. I’ll miss your brilliant personality.

  • Tonio

    So odd that so many took his criticisms of religion personally, as if reading his book would cause them to lose their faith. Rick Warren’s petty comment “he knows the Truth now” reduces religion to a competition with winners and losers. True, Hitchens was one of those who wrongly derided believers as deluded, but I would think a Christian would react much more strongly to a Muslim imam damning all Christians to hell for believing in the divinity so Jesus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I don’t know about all that. It seems to be that telling someone that they’re delusional is about as insulting as telling them that they’re going to Hell. Even if you think that one is worse than the other, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take both personally. You don’t have to feel as if the book is a threat to your faith in order to find it hurtful and offensive.

    (It kind of reminds me of the whole “Merry Christmas” thing from a couple of posts ago — no one thinks that hearing the phrase “Merry Christmas” will destroy all minority religions or anything like that, but that doesn’t mean that the phrase doesn’t have baggage about Christian hegemony and lack of acknowledgment of atheists, agnostics, and members of other faiths. Things can be bad without being apocalyptic.)

  • Tonio

    The reason that the hell comment is much worse is that it’s saying that the unbeliever deserves to suffer for eternity or doesn’t deserve to live. At the very least, it translates to hell being justified, and the idea of eternal suffering as a punishment is inherently incompatible with any rational idea of justice.

    Compared to this, calling someone delusional just seems like an immature act of name-calling.

  • friendly reader

    In the interest of following Luther’s interpretation of the 8th commandment* (“We should fear
    and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander,
    or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak
    well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”), I decided to think of something that I liked that Hitchens wrote. Back in April, during the hubbub about the Royal Wedding, he wrote an article pointing out that the British royal family is a giant mess, that we shouldn’t be celebrating it, and that if Kate Middleton is smart, she should want to get her husband out of it. As an anti-royalist, I heartily agree. I think the tone of the article tends to get sidetracked into personal attacks, but his overall point is on the nose.

    * which Luther rarely followed himself, and which I think has been used in the past to keep Lutherans shut up about social injustice, but on a personal level, I think it’s not bad advice.

  • Launcifer

    @ friendly reader: She can’t do that. Poor woman will have to find a purpose in life if young William leaves the family business with only his commission to support them both.

    Thinking of Hitchens, I want not to care. To me he always came across as an insufferable prick, much the way his brother Peter (who started out on what I guess you’d call the centre-left before drifting to the right) can in his writing. That said, I once saw them debate together and it was one of the more interesting evenings I’ve spent sitting down. I couldn’t quite get out of my mind the image of two boys holding contrary positions purely for the sake of pissing one another off. Now, that was probably untrue, but it stuck with me for years. I can’t honestly agree with those in the news who’ve spent the last twenty-four hours or so attempting to paint him as some intellectual titan, but I think I might miss the bugger anyway, if only for inadvertanly leaving me with that bizarrely amusing image.

  • Worthless Beast

    In a way, I actually see the “delusional” accusation as worse than the Hell one.  Here’s why. 
     
    Hell is a mythical place.  Even people who believe in it ultimately have no control over who goes there – that, according to even them, is God’s decision in the end, or, for certain theologies, a self-inflicted state.  It is a place/state that happens after death that know one really *knows.* Again, a mythical place even for those who think it’s real.  This goes double for those who think it’s bunk.  For those who don’t subscribe to Hell, isn’t being threatened with it like being told “You’re going to Mordor?”  
    I know people are insulted as it’s an insinuation about their morals, but honestly, we know that there’s plenty of Hell theology out there that has nothing to do with personal morality.
    Calling people “delusional” on the other hand, is judging them in THIS life, the one that we KNOW exists.  It is judging a person’s worth in the HERE AND NOW.   It may seem like a petty insult, but it is a cruel judgment, especially in our ableist society for which “crazy” is a synonym for “worthless.” 
    I, for one, would rather be told I’m going to a place I’m not sure exists than to have my worth in the now tromped on.

  • Tonio

    we know that there’s plenty of Hell theology out there that has nothing to do with personal morality.

    I’m not familiar with any of that mythology. Can you offer examples? For my point, whether hell actually exists is irrelevant, because the issue is the belief that certain individuals deserve to end up there. Which is to say, the belief that the individuals deserve to suffer for eternity after death. For RTCs, hell for people like Hitchens is a revenge fantasy just like Left Behind. On many boards, there were numerous comments from RTCs that amounted to Nelsonian cackles of glee.

  • Worthless Beast

    What I mean is the idea that if you say a particular prayer (I believe I’ve seen it referred to as the “magic prayer” on here, it’s an instant pass to Heaven and a get-out-of-Hell-free card.  When I was in a country Southern Baptist church, the people there believed there were good people bound for Hell and some completely undeserving people bound for Heaven.  From my recollection of reading half the Left Behind series – that was the theology of it (even if the writers wound up dehumanizing unbelievers anyway).

    Whether one insult is “worse” than another really boils down to subjective opinion rather than objective fact.  You think being told you’re going to Hell is worse than being told you’re delusional and you have good reasons for that.  I’m the other way around. I don’t have a “traditional” view of Hell anymore and I don’t think I’m going, so such words are meaningless to me. Accusations of delusion, on the other hand, cut me deep in the here and now for reasons I don’t even want to get into.

  • Tonio

    I may not have stated my point clearly. It’s not about telling others that they will suffer after death, but instead telling them that they deserve to do so. Hell need not exist for that to be immoral and repulsive.

    And it doesn’t make sense that someone would believe that some good people would end up in hell and some undeserving people would end up in heaven. Everyone I know who believes in those locales also believes them to be just, and what you describe would, in their view, amount to their god having a flawed sense of justice. What did your fellow churchgoers believe was the purpose of heaven and hell if not as reward or punishment?

  • Worthless Beast

    I seem to remember the teaching being along the lines of “God is incompatable with sin, Hell is seperation from God, all people sin, people need to believe in Jesus to have said sin washed away. This life is the only chance to do that, so if you don’t, you’re stuck with your sin and seperated from God.”  I’d actually rather have someone more eloquent in theology than I am explain that school of thought.

    I am NOT defending the position, I want to make that much clear. I am only recalling memories of what people used to tell me in my younger days.
     
    My bottom line is that the “Hell” insult doesn’t bother me as much as the “delusion” insult because I feel like I might actually have to *consider* the position of the person condemming me in this life whereas the person who thinks I *deserve* Hell just sucks and isn’t worth my time. 

    Since this is supposed to be about Christopher Hitchens, I seem to recall something about him saying that he “regretted there was now Hell for Jerry Falwell,” when he died.  Is that true? I can’t remember where I read that so I cannot source it.  If true, this brings up a question in me: What is worse – Believing that some people go to Hell (and thinking they deserve it), or not believing in Hell  but *wishing there was one* for people one doesn’t like? Or is the suckitude of both sentiments just about equal?

  • Tonio

    I am NOT defending the position

    I understood that, but I still appreciate the clarification.

    whereas the person who thinks I *deserve* Hell just sucks and isn’t worth my time.

    I think one might have to consider the position of that person as well, for two reasons. First, anyone who believes that a specific individual deserves to suffer might be motivated to actually cause that suffering. Second, there might be something wrong with one that might cause others to think that one deserves to suffer.

    If Hitchens did indeed say that about Falwell, I would still object in principle. But I would also acknowledge that someone like Hitchens would have reason to consider himself provoked, since Falwell regularly damned people who didn’t share his beliefs.

  • Tonio

    Another way to put is that someone who claims you deserve to suffer for eternity is denying your worth as a human being on an elemental level.

  • Worthless Beast

    In thinking about it, both “You’re going to Hell!” and “You’re delusional” can be, from the perspective of the insulted, a denial of human worth, and from the perspective of the one giving the insult “a simple statement of fact.”

    The thing I really hate is when people throw around phrases like “full human being” or “fully human.”  I’ve seen both/all sides do it, too. Drives me crazy. I have to refrain from expletives when I see people do that.

  • Tonio

    Again, please understand that my argument is not against “You’re going to hell” but “You deserve to go to hell.” That’s because the RTC mentality is that hell sentences are justified.

    One can obviously interpret “You’re delusional” as saying that delusional people deserve to suffer, but it’s not inherent in the concept. There’s no body of theology that deems the judgment of someone as delusional to be a just and righteous thing.

  • Worthless Beast

    Again, please understand that I’m talking about SUBJECTIVES. 

    I never said that you didn’t have the right to be offended, only that I’m PERSONALLY a little more offended by something else because the class of people you’re rightly offended by are people I PERSONALLY can’t take seriously enough to have the same feelings over. 

  • Tonio

    the class of people you’re rightly offended by are people I PERSONALLY
    can’t take seriously enough to have the same feelings over.

    I think we should take anyone seriously who claims that the idea of someone else suffering is a good thing. Not just in a potential afterlife, but also during life. The people we’re talking about are the same ones who, during the GOP debates, cheered the suffering of others.

    Let’s shift gears from “which insult do you think is personally worse”
    to “which insult or attitude has proven to be worse for society as a
    whole?”  Present things that way and I may actually agree with you – and
    probably already do.

    While I agree with the latter, I wasn’t actually advocating the former. My original point was neither of those. Instead, it was about which attitude represents a corrupted version of morality, and that’s more objective than personal offense. The reason I compared the two in the first place was that numerous RTCs claim that they’re being persecuted by critics like Hitchens while showing no shame in condoning or excusing the suffering of people who aren’t like them.

    Obviously there are many, many other believers such as yourself who were personally offended by Hitchens’ words and also offended what RTCs represent. My larger point is that what they represent is a danger to freedom of religion and ultimately to representative democracy, and their ideas about hell are part of a larger pernicious worldview that has no room for other religions or for people who follow them.

  • Worthless Beast

    Furthermore, I get the feeling like you’re trying to tell me that I’m wrong for having a subjective, personal opinion that I know is subjective. It’s like arguing which flavor of ice cream is better, chocolate and vanilla and I’m being told I’m wrong because I prefer chocolate.

    I’m still thinking in the subjective, what offends *me, personally* more. (And it’s hard for me to be offended by people I don’t take seriously).

    If you want to make this into an objective argument, please be clear about it. Let’s shift gears from “which insult do you think is personally worse” to “which insult or attitude has proven to be worse for society as a whole?”  Present things that way and I may actually agree with you – and probably already do.

    Let’s just be clear on what level we are arguing. I think we’ve been talking at each other while our minds have been in different places.

  • ako

    See, I’m more bothered by the Hell thing.  I tend to take it as “I think you will be tortured forever in unimaginably horrific ways, and I think this is a good thing”, which is a really creepy sentiment to express.  It’s like someone trying to curse me with a lingering and agonizing death from cancer – I don’t believe that the curse would work, but I’m bothered by the sentiment that they’re actively hoping to see me suffer.

    With “delusional”, it’d depend on the tenor of the discussion, but I tend to be fairly open to the idea that a person’s perceptions can be untrustworthy and I don’t regard mental illness as something worthy of contempt (and I’ve been in social situations with people suffering from actual clinical delusions connected to their religious beliefs), so I don’t tend to think “You’re delusional” means “You’re worthless” unless the person makes it clear that it’s the intent.  I still think it’s a bad idea to sling around as a general insult for religious people, as it’s both rude and trivializing real mental illness, but I don’t read the connotation the same way you do.

    (I also agree with Charity Brighton that it’s possible to see one as worse than the other and still be bothered by both.)

  • Worthless Beast

    Honestly, I really do think both suck. 

    As I said, what sucks more for a given person is a subjective matter.  Maybe it’s my perspective as a former “Hell believer” – but I think there is a distinction among those who believe that there’s a Hell between those who are “sad it exists” and those who are “gleeful it exists.” I like to think that most believers in it see anyone going there as a tragedy.  As for the “gleeful,” – I just don’t think they’re even worth consideration.  It’s like being called “evil” by Hitler.  At least that’s how I see it in a way that bothers *me* less than making assumptions about my intelligence and sanity.

    I can definitely see how the Hell thing bothers other people (if not most people) more, though.  Being happy about eternal torture is a beyond-vile sentiment.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for such a respectful eulogy, from a Christian, to a prominent atheist.  I read so much hate on some Christian blogs, that he’s getting his just reward, eternal punishment.  It just makes me sad that some people would wish that on anyone, that allegiance to a religion trumps decency, and that is what they consider morality.  I came over here knowing I’d be able to calm down with your writing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Thank you for this post, Fred. Your words about Hitchens are much kinder than mine would have been. His contempt for anyone who disagreed with him, his open misogyny, and his warmongering are not things that I will miss.

  • vsm

    I might cut him more slack if he’d gone out and physically fought his enemy, maybe.

    In Hitchens’ defense (ugh), I doubt the military would’ve taken him. When the US invaded Afganistan, he was already in his fifties. Other than that, I agree.

    As for not speaking ill of the dead, Hitchens went on TV a day after Jerry Falwell’s death and said he was sorry there wasn’t a hell for him to go. Compared to that, people have been very nice to him here.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I’m sorry?

    Since when is it written that atheists must be nicey-nice to religious figures?

    Especially religious figures who’ve caused pain and hurt to thousands of people through their words and actions?

    I’m normally not a person who experiences much schadenfreude when someone dies, but when Pope John Paul II died?

    You bet I fucking cheered when that sanctimonious old bastard finally kicked the bucket. And I knew several other QUILTBAG people who did the exact same damn thing.

    Your post feels like you’re hectoring atheists, of which I am one.

  • vsm

    atheists, of which I am one.

    Yeah, me too. I never said it was wrong to speak ill of the dead. I do it myself all the time, including in this thread. My point was simply that there’s no reason to feel guilty about doing so to Hitchens, since he obviously held no such taboo himself.

    But yeah, I probably wouldn’t go on national TV to wish someone would be tortured for an eternity. That kind of makes you sound like an asshole, even if you’re speaking of someone as reprehensible as Falwell or Hitchens. Mind you, I haven’t quite decided which was worse. Falwell was the nastier person overall, but Hitchens was probably more influential when it came to arguing for aggressive warfare. He also started on the left and was much smarter, so it might be prudent to hold him to higher standards.