I am not fit to write an obituary or an epitaph for anyone, particularly someone as influential and widely known and admired (or disliked) as Christopher Hitchens. So I will write only a few words about what he meant to me, and will continue to mean as he has left behind a remarkable legacy—a body of work in print and thanks to the wonders of the Internet, in video—that will continue to speak for him posthumously.
I first learned of Mr. Hitchens during his appearances on Chris Matthews’ show “Hardball” where he struck me as a bit of an arrogant and condescending prick. Obviously smart and clearly well-informed, but I was still a bit put off by his style. I didn’t realize at the time the power of irony, of satire and a biting wit, but I would learn.
It wasn’t until many years later, during my final battle against my religious upbringing, which I had managed to basically ignore for decades, fighting merely around the edges, that I would come to know and to love Hitch. I remember the moment quite well, as it is fairly recent and came to be significant. My oldest daughter, a freshman in college, asked me via text message what a New Atheist was. My initial reaction was to tell her that there was nothing new about atheism, but I realized she was taking a Comparative Religion class and that this was most likely a serious inquiry on her part. So I did what anyone seeking knowledge would do in that situation and typed New Atheist into the Googles.
As I scanned the search results I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Here was a group of men, distinguished, educated men, speaking out openly and rather forcefully against religion. I felt a stirring of what can be described as hopefulness that I might finally find something to help me combat the darkness that remained from years of Catholic indoctrination, the frustration and disgust I felt watching the religious continue their relentless assault on our freedom and educational system, but having no tools with which to do battle.
After “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, I read, “God is not Great” by Christopher Hitchens. To say that I was moved would be a dramatic understatement. It wasn’t just the subject matter, which he covered thoroughly and brilliantly, but the writing, my goodness the writing! I’d encountered no one before who could turn a phrase so eloquently and make a point so powerfully. I’ve continued to read his work ever since and every time I sit down to do so I prepare for a history and vocabulary lesson.
Watching him debate brought another element to his written word, and I often found myself shaking my head and wondering how anyone could possibly dispute what he had just said as he said it so convincingly, with humor and just the right intonations. He is masterful to watch.
I will close by saying that I wept openly as I read the news of his passing, even though I had been preparing myself for over a year since his diagnosis. Having not had a drink in over 3 years I had decided I would toast him with a glass of Johnnie Walker Black—accept no substitute—when he left this Earth, but chose instead to raise a glass to him while he lived and did so just a few nights ago. I am delighted to have made that decision.
Christopher, I thank you for educating me, inspiring me, motivating me, making me laugh and now cry, but most importantly, I thank you for liberating me. RIP comrade.
“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”
Christopher Hitchens ~ Letters to a Young Contrarian