On Thursday, Dec. 15, journalism in the West died. On that day, Christopher Hitchens passed from our world into the next. He would hate that I wrote that previous sentence, as he was a proud founding father of the New Atheism movement, a proselytizing group of anti-deists who wrote and spoke about the evils of religion and the mental illness of believing in God. Nothing was off the table. Hitchens saw “radical Islam” and “fundamentalist Christianity” as two evils that needed to be eliminated, despite the fact that when Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer, numerous Christians began prayer groups in support of his recovery. I didn’t hear a lot about other religious groups doing the same. While Hitchens became famous for his attacks on religion and God, his influence on Western culture will forever be missed, as his fingerprints can be located across political spectrums, religious groups, and the world in general.
The English-born wrote for Vanity Fair, Slate, The Nation and The Atlantic. He debated liberals, conservatives, scientists, Christians, Jews and Muslims. He wrote about Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell. He drank too much and smoked too much. He was the Left’s greatest enemy and dearest friend. He became beloved for a short time by the Right, when he supported the Iraq War and even suggested in 2004 that he’d support George W. Bush in that year’s upcoming election. Slate misprinted his vote for John Kerry, obviously not wanting to believe the one-time Marxist and full-time socialist’s change of heart.
What Hitchens offered the West was intellectual writing and criticism of the way we live. Politically. Spiritually. Economically. Globally. He was the last great honest journalist. He wrote about North Korea from the trenches of Kim Jong Il’s nightmare state. Hitchens was famous for actually walking the places he’d written about, tackling issues he’d seen with his own two eyes.
But it was his own words that summed up his cult-like following. There wasn’t a topic he didn’t comment on with his own brand of wit.
On life: “The four most overrated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics.” – The New Yorker, 2006
On the war in Afghanistan: “ ‘Bombing Afghanistan back into the Stone Age’ was quite a favourite headline for some wobbly liberals. The slogan does all the work. But an instant’s thought shows that Afghanistan is being, if anything, bombed OUT of the Stone Age.” – Daily Mirror, November 2001
On Europeans: “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 – [Michael Moore].”
On being a contrarian: “Do bear in mind that the cynics have a point, of a sort, when they speak of the ‘professional naysayer.’ … To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.” – Letters to a Young Contrarian, 2001
The saddest aspect of Hitchens’ death is that he will be defined by his atheism, which didn’t really come to the forefront of his life until around 2007 with his best seller God is Not Great. While he may have spent the last four years debating prominent theists, it was his humanitarian philosophy that drove him. He hated injustice and wrote about human evil ranging from American tragedies to political tyrants. His dying wish was to donate his body for scientific research. He loved America so much, he became a citizen in 2007 and believed in American values. This was not your mother’s liberal or father’s conservative. He was his own man.
As for his soul’s destiny, his doctor, Francis Collins, who guided him through his treatment until his death, wrote this: “No doubt he now knows the answer to the question of whether there is more to the spirit than just atoms and molecules. I hope he was surprised by the answer. I hope to hear him tell about it someday. He will tell it really well.” I pray he will.