Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Good night, Hitch

Young Hitch - in his prime he claimed his daily alcohol intake was enough, "to kill or stun the average mule."


Until you have done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die.   Horace Mann


Atheism crept up on me.  It was always lurking, but never fully made its move until I reached adulthood.  Several public intellectuals nudged me along.  Some like, Jared Diamond, are the type who don’t really care enough about religion even to call themselves atheists – quiet intellectuals who simply enjoy showcasing the joy of reason.  Then there are the other guys.  The bareknuckle boxing atheists – duty bound to lambast the illogical.  The folks who wade knee deep into the religious mire and enjoy it.  Among these characters there is the holy trinity of the modern atheist: Dawkins, Harris and Hitch.  Big Hitch.  Brother Hitch.  Christopher Hitchens died on December 15, 2011.   

Hitch was a fearless writer, a tough-guy liberal.  No one and nothing were sacred – the guy took on Mother Theresa and Ayatollah Khomeini.  I didn’t always agree with his views, but I respected his bravery in following his convictions.  His support for the Iraq War was wrong.  But support it he did, in ideological opposition to the majority of his fan base and with the same fervor with which he opposed the Vietnam War.  Whatever other faults may have clouded Hitch’s soul, a lack of courage was not one of them.

Hitch was an American by choice – he never pulled punches in expressing his affection for his adopted country or his criticisms of it.  For me this is the definition of patriotism.  He called faith and patience the most overrated of virtues.  And he grinned when he said it.  Hitch wasn’t the writer that gave me the final nudge from agnosticism to atheism (nod to Dawkins).  But, he helped.  My all time favorite Hitch quote on religion (and especially apt at present): 

Just consider for a moment what their heaven looks like.  Endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation and abjection of self; a celestial North Korea. 

Yeah, he helped.      

Last week a religious friend of mine wrote a couple lines on his Facebook page about Hitch’s passing.  My friend couldn’t resist sneaking in something about Hitch’s “eternal soul,” driving at a question that came up frequently in Hitch’s public debates: how do atheists find meaning in life?  How does a person with no expectation of a life to come, decide what, if anything, is worth caring about?  He took the high ground in his response to such questions:     

A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called, “meaningless.” 

As his friend Sam Harris said, “Hitch produced more fine work, read more books, met more interesting people and won more arguments than most of us could in several centuries.” 

He died without shame.   

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