Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Christopher Hitchens. I knew about it, and had meant to write something, but I instead wrote about another instance of religion twisting the moral compass of millions of people (the ones who think prayer reduces a child’s allergy to bullets).
Yesterday was also the day our family was reunited. I’ve been chilling down here in Arkansas with mom and dad, but my brother was still wrapping up finals. Well, yesterday he arrived, as did my lovely fiancee. We spent the latter half of the day going out to dinner in our Razorback finery and watching the hogs play basketball (which, I think, is a dandy holiday tradition). Given how Hitchens often spoke of the love he had for his family, particularly his children, I suspect he’d be ok that I chose to spend the day being merry with my loved ones.
Last year, on December 16, I wrote…
As for how we cope with the death of a loved one, we continue to live – and every day we nurture the way that our loved one changed us so they can remain, in some semblance, present in the way conduct ourselves. In the unique case of Christopher Hitchens, as we continue to fight irrationality and its religions, we go to battle armed with many of the tools Hitch gave us: his words, his arguments, his interminable strength.
The world is a better place and our movement several orders of magnitude stronger because of this man. We are his legacy. Every student who read his works and said, “Yes, religion is dangerous and we need to push back;” every activist out busting their ass for a different, saner world – these are what is left in the wake of his life. Even as his muscles evaporated over the last year, and even as the last of his opulence of fortitude finally vanished, Christopher Hitchens made the rest of us strong.
I was asked recently who my writing influences were. I answered that they were PZ Myers, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Chicago columnist Mike Royko. Following the death of John Belushi, Royko wrote that life was unfair, but it should never cheat this bad. Thirteen years later, and life still plays dishonorably. We can spite her by living like Hitch.
Hitchens created controversy following the death of Jerry Falwell for delighting in Falwell’s death. Similarly, there will be religious people who say, “good riddance” at Hitchens’ exit. That’s fine, and who could honestly blame them after watching Hitchens romp their best and brightest for so many years? But consider the differences for a moment. Hitchens was unflinching in pointing out that Falwell had risen to prominence through preaching inequality and telling us that we godless are at fault for 9/11 and other disasters (and a long list of other gripes). For anybody celebrating Hitchens’ death, they cannot say that anybody was ever less equal on account of his life (in fact, atheists and gays are unarguably more equal for it) or that anybody was ever harmed or oppressed on account of Hitchens in any way. The worst they can say of him is that he was incredibly eloquent in dismantling their cherished beliefs, often in defense of those marginalized by the religious. That’s a great life. It’s an admirable life.
And a year later, it’s still true. Every bit of it. Hitchens’ influence still lives, more dominant than ever. In fact, watching Mike Huckabee and his acolytes circle the massacre of children like vultures starved for a political opportunity, we can hearken back to the words of Hitch: “Human decency is not derived from religion, it precedes it.”