A Word About Christopher Hitchens on his Birthday
On this day in 1949, Christopher Eric Hitchens was born.
Hitch was an English author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career spanned more than four decades. He was a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008. He was a staple of talk shows and lecture circuits and in 2005 was voted the world's fifth top public intellectual in a Prospect/Foreign Policy poll. He was a champion for atheism, skepticism, science, history and common sense.
His words and work helped me to escape superstition and carve a path of my own. His debate with Rabbi Schmuley Boteach at New York’s 92 nd Street Y was one of the first pro-atheism clips I ever found on YouTube, and Hitchens’ confident, ballsy and well-informed showdown with the good rabbi was a game-changer for me. Hitchens would never know it, but he led me to the works of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Sagan, DeGrasse Tyson, Barker and so many others. It was a mention by Hitchens of Charles Templeton’s book “Farewell to God” that set me down my own path and gave me the courage to examine my religious beliefs with a critical eye.
Certainly, Hitch had his enemies and opponents, many of which continue to lambast the man and his legacy at every turn. They disagree with Hitch’s stance on the Iraq war, or radical Islam, or Mother Theresa, or whatever, and they celebrate his too-soon demise with a petty glee that betrays a shallow heart and mind. Personally, I think the frothing vitriol from his critics says more about the critics than it does about Hitch.
Those who spit upon his grave because he did or didn't support their favorite pet cause only diminish their own voices, as they obviously cannot see the larger footprint left by this prolific author, gifted orator and fearless general in the field. Christopher Hitchens was on the front lines (often literally) while the majority of his detractors remained in the safety of the shadows.
And unlike so many of the armchair quarterbacks that balk and deride and wail, Hitch walked the often blood-soaked ground where injustice had been done and observed for himself the deeds of dictators, oppressors and tyrants. He left his home country to become a part of America's story, realizing that, despite its many challenges, the United States was a place worth calling home, worth taking personally and worth fighting for.
Certainly, none of us are perfect, and personal/political views vary wildly across this planet. But Christopher Hitchens refused to line up with any one group, perspective, political stance or philosophy simply because he was expected to. He developed his opinions and stances through his own (significant) experiences, perspectives and information, and he stood by them with conviction. He doled out sharp criticisms toward the left, right and center, feeling no person or action was above examination or reproach.
It's true that we're often guilty of deifying the dead. But Hitch can be honored, remembered and celebrated without the need for hyperbole, because his life cast such a broad stroke of influence upon so many of us, and because he faced death with such honesty, such transparency and such good humor. Even as this author saw for himself the writing on the wall, he never wavered, never equivocated, never stopped, often making public appearances mere hours after chemotherapy and debating his antagonists with a teetering, raspy voice that often seemed on the knife-edge of falling outright. He would not be silenced.
Christopher Hitchens was something special, and I count myself tremendously fortunate to have been introduced to this amazing icon while he was still among us.
As I said in my video tribute after his death, “Thank you, Christopher. We’ll take it from here.”