Friday, December 16, 2011

Cheers to Hitch

The towering polemicist who has meant so much to atheists, anti-theists and opponents of totalitarianism in all its forms has finally left us after being taken by oesophageal cancer. 

Like many, I first discovered Hitchens' work by coming across his 2007 best seller, God Is Not Great. This was shortly after I began reading Dawkins and hopping on the "new atheists" bandwagon. Although I had never appreciated what I saw to be a loaded and pretentious writing style, Hitchens quickly made me appreciate the finer art of writing with his beautiful prose. He may have forced me to frequently consult the dictionary, but I am all the better for it and now have a far better understanding and appreciation for fine writing.

Since that first read, I have become somewhat of a Hitchens addict, reading most of his major work and forever exhausting search engines and Youtube searching for new articles and video footage. His unmistakeable wit and charm have made him just as entertaining to watch and hear as he is to read. His answer on his favourite whiskey and what he cannot live without while travelling never fails to make me laugh. 

He was of course also a polarising figure, and I always found his admirers to not just disagree with him on some issues, but fervently so. His staunch support for the Iraq war alienated much of his leftist audience, with former friends such as Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal publicly distancing themselves from the rhetorician. 

But few could ever doubt his sincerity, or that he indeed gave them pause for thought even on positions on which they felt strongly. Although I still feel it was wrong to intervene in Iraq, Hitchens removed my support from the fringe anti-war left, convincing me of the childishness and arrogance in the notion of "we are to blame" that stretches across the minds of the bleeding-hearts. If anything is fitting about the death of Hitch, it is that the Iraq war officially ended on the same day. Two historic chapters have come to a close.

There are very few public figures with such multidimensional views and polarising positions who have gained such admiration. Even his harshest critics have acknowledged his sincerity and brilliant mind. He will be missed by many, and I surely hope his work will not pass into obscurity. So, cheers to Hitch and may his legacy and life's work live on forever.

As an additional tribute, here is the "To Hitch" video and a sample of my favourite Hitchens quotes.

On Jerry Falwell: "If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox."

Responding to critics of his Essay "Why Women Aren't Funny": "So, what has been the achievement of my Essay? It's been to make sexier women try harder to amuse me. Well, that was my whole plan to start off with."

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

"Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things... one of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority."

On Michael Moore: "Europeans think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they've taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities."

"A theory that seems to explain everything is just as good at explaining nothing."

After being asked what his favourite whiskey is and what he cannot travel without: "Well, I don't see what the difference between the two questions is."

On sexual abuse by the Catholic Church: "It is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than Nazis or Stalinists."

"All of this could be part of a plan, there is no way an atheist can prove it's not. But it's some plan, isn't it? With mass destruction, pitiless extermination, annihilation going on all the time; and all of this set in motion on a scale that's absolutely beyond our imagination, in order that the Pope can tell people not to jerk off."

"Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it."

"Not scorning the three delightful children who are everything to me and who are my only chance of even a glimpse of a second life let alone an immortal one - and I'll tell you something - if I was asked to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to God, if I were told to do what all monotheists are told to do, and admire the man who said 'yes I'll gut my kid to show my love of God,' I'd say 'no, fuck you.'"

"Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It's our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated."

"The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted."

"Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience."

"Atheists have always argued that this world is all that we have, and that our duty is to one another to make the very most and best of it."