Most of us have heard by now that Christopher Hitchens has died. If there is a heaven, he’s up there kicking god’s ass, so at least that hasn’t changed. If there is a hell, he is undoubtedly giving Lucifer lessons on how to sin with class.
But neither of those places exist, and Hitch died knowing it. There was no deathbed conversion. When the theists ask, as they always do, how we atheists deal with the inevitability of our own demise, we can now give them greatest retort ever, courtesy of Mr. Hitchens. However we may presently stare our loss of consciousness in the face, we can always point to the last year in the life of Christopher Hitchens and say, “That. That is how I wish to grapple with death.” Most of us won’t manage it. Then again, if exceptional displays of courage were easy, everybody would make them.
And, like believers, we cry. Hell, most of us will cry more than Hitch probably did.
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.
Sean Hannity, who said waterboarding was not torture, declined a sizable charitable donation to be waterboarded. Hitchens, to answer the question to his satisfaction (and presumably for ours), allowed himself to be tortured for free.
I could go on forever about all the great things Christopher did and of all the ways he was a badass. Other writers will undoubtedly do just that.
Just…fuck. He was great. And we’re all going to miss him. The man never stopped going, he never stopped fighting, and he never stopped living to the fullest extent he could conceive. Frankly, he was due for a break. I’m glad he’s finally getting it.
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” ~ Christopher Hitchens