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

  • 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. 

  • DS

    Mother Teresa is really Hans Sprungfeld

  • Anonymous

    Good summation, Pizzo.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.)

  • Anonymous

    To me, it screams contempt.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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?

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.