Remembering Christopher Hitchens: Hitchens On The New Commandments
Sam Harris On Christopher Hitchens
Via Harris’ Blog:
The moment it was announced that Christopher Hitchens was sick with cancer, eulogies began spilling into print and from the podium. No one wanted to deny the possibility that he would recover, of course, but neither could we let the admiration we felt for him go unexpressed. It is a cliché to say that he was one of a kind and none can fill his shoes—but Hitch was and none can. In his case not even the most effusive tributes ring hollow. There was simply no one like him.
One of the joys of living in a world filled with stupidity and hypocrisy was to see Hitch respond. That pleasure is now denied us. The problems that drew his attention remain—and so does the record of his brilliance, courage, erudition, and good humor in the face of outrage. But his absence will leave an enormous void in the years to come. Hitch lived an extraordinarily large life. (Read his memoir, Hitch-22, and marvel.) It was too short, to be sure—and one can only imagine what another two decades might have brought out of him—but Hitch produced more fine work, read more books, met more interesting people, and won more arguments than most of us could in several centuries.
I first met Hitch at a dinner at the end of April 2007, just before the release of his remarkable book god is not Great. After a long evening, my wife and I left him standing on the sidewalk in front of his hotel. His book tour was just beginning, and he was scheduled to debate on a panel the next morning. It was well after midnight, but it was evident from his demeanor that his clock had a few hours left to run. I had heard the stories about his ability to burn the candle at both ends, but staggering there alongside him in the glare of a street lamp, I made a mental note of what struck me as a fact of nature—tomorrow’s panel would be a disaster.
I rolled out of bed the following morning, feeling quite wrecked, to see Hitch holding forth on C-SPAN’s Book TV, dressed in the same suit he had been wearing the night before. Needless to say, he was effortlessly lucid and witty—and taking no prisoners. There should be a name for the peculiar cocktail of emotion I then enjoyed: one part astonishment, one part relief, two parts envy; stir. It would not be the last time I drank it in his honor.
Since that first dinner, I have felt immensely lucky to count Hitch as a friend and colleague—and very unlucky indeed not to have met him sooner. Before he became ill, I had expected to have many more years in which to take his company for granted. But our last meeting was in February of this year, in Los Angeles, where we shared the stage with two rabbis. His illness was grave enough at that point to make the subject of our debate—Is there an afterlife?—seem a touch morbid. It also made traveling difficult for him. I was amazed that he had made the trip at all.
The evening before the event, we met for dinner, and I was aware that it might be our last meal together. I was also startled to realize that it was our first meal alone. I remember thinking what a shame it was—for me—that our lives had not better coincided. I had much to learn from him.
I have been privileged to witness the gratitude that so many people feel for Hitch’s life and work—for, wherever I speak, I meet his fans. On my last book tour, those who attended my lectures could not contain their delight at the mere mention of his name—and many of them came up to get their books signed primarily to request that I pass along their best wishes to him. It was wonderful to see how much Hitch was loved and admired—and to be able to share this with him before the end.
I will miss you, brother.
Richard Dawkins: Illness Made Christopher Hitchens A Symbol Of The Honesty & Dignity Of Atheism
Via The Belfast Telegraph:
On 7 October, I recorded a long conversation with Christopher Hitchens in Houston, Texas, for the Christmas edition of New Statesman which I was guest-editing.
He looked frail, and his voice was no longer the familiar Richard Burton boom; but, though his body had clearly been diminished by the brutality of cancer, his mind and spirit had not. Just two months before his death, he was still shining his relentless light on uncomfortable truths, still speaking the unspeakable (“The way I put it is this: if you’re writing about the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism, you can take out the word ‘fascist’, if you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslovakia and Austria and replace it with ‘extreme-right Catholic party’”), still leading the charge for human freedom and dignity (“The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy – the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously.
The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do”) and still encouraging others to stand up fearlessly for truth and reason (“Stridency is the least you should muster … It’s the shame of your colleagues that they don’t form ranks and say, ‘Listen, we’re going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements’.”).
The following day, I presented him with an award in my name at the Atheist Alliance International convention, and I can today derive a little comfort from having been able to tell him during the presentation that day how much he meant to those of us who shared his goals.
I told him that he was a man whose name would be joined, in the history of the atheist/secular movement, with those of Bertrand Russell, Robert Ingersoll, Thomas Paine, David Hume. What follows is based on my speech, now sadly turned into the past tense.
Christopher Hitchens was a writer and an orator with a matchless style, commanding a vocabulary and a range of literary and historical allusion far wider than anybody I know. He was a reader whose breadth of reading was simultaneously so deep and comprehensive as to deserve the slightly stuffy word “learned” – except that Christopher was the least stuffy learned person you could ever meet.
He was a debater who would kick the stuffing out of a hapless victim, yet did it with a grace that disarmed his opponent while simultaneously eviscerating him. He was emphatically not of the school that thinks the winner of a debate is he who shouts loudest. His opponents might have shouted and shrieked. Indeed they did. But Hitch didn’t need to shout, for he could rely instead on his words, his polymathic store of facts and allusions, his commanding generalship of the field of discourse, and the forked lightning of his wit.
Christopher Hitchens was known as a man of the left. But he was too complex a thinker to be placed on a single left-right dimension. He was a one-off: unclassifiable. He might be described as a contrarian except that he specifically and correctly disavowed the title. He was uniquely placed in his own multidimensional space. You never knew what he would say about anything until you heard him say it, and when he did, he would say it so well, and back it up so fully, that if you wanted to argue against him you had better be on your guard.
He was recognised throughout the world as a leading public intellectual of our time. He wrote many books and countless articles. He was an intrepid traveller and a war reporter of signal valour. But he had a special place in the affections of atheists and secularists as the leading intellect and scholar of our movement. A formidable adversary to the pretentious, the woolly-minded or the intellectually dishonest, he was a gently encouraging friend to the young, the diffident, and those tentatively feeling their way into the life of the freethinker and not certain where it would take them.
He inspired, energised and encouraged us. He had us cheering him on almost daily. He even begat a new word – the hitchslap. It wasn’t just his intellect we admired: it was also his pugnacity, his spirit, his refusal to countenance ignoble compromise, his forthrightness, his indomitable spirit, his brutal honesty.
And in the very way he looked his illness in the eye, he embodied one part of the case against religion. Leave it to the religious to mewl and whimper at the feet of an imaginary deity in their fear of death; leave it to them to spend their lives in denial of its reality. Hitch looked it squarely in the eye: not denying it, not giving in to it, but facing up to it squarely and honestly and with a courage that inspires us all.
Before his illness, it was as an erudite author, essayist and sparkling, devastating speaker that this valiant horseman led the charge against the follies and lies of religion. During his illness he added another weapon to his armoury and ours – perhaps the most formidable and powerful weapon of all: his very character became an outstanding and unmistakable symbol of the honesty and dignity of atheism, as well as of the worth and dignity of the human being when not debased by the infantile babblings of religion.
Every day of his declining life he demonstrated the falsehood of that most squalid of Christian lies: that there are no atheists in foxholes. Hitch was in a foxhole, and he dealt with it with a courage, an honesty and a dignity that any of us would be, and should be, proud to be able to muster. And in the process, he showed himself to be even more deserving of our admiration, respect, and love.
Farewell, great voice. Great voice of reason, of humanity, of humour. Great voice against cant, against hypocrisy, against obscurantism and pretension, against all tyrants including God.
In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011
Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner writes:
Christopher Hitchens—the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant—died today at the age of 62. Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the spring of 2010, just after the publication of his memoir, Hitch-22, and began chemotherapy soon after. His matchless prose has appeared in Vanity Fair since 1992, when he was named contributing editor.
“Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic,” Hitchens wrote nearly a year ago in Vanity Fair, but his own final labors were anything but: in the last 12 months, he produced for this magazine a piece on U.S.-Pakistani relations in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, a portrait of Joan Didion, an essay on the Private Eye retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a prediction about the future of democracy in Egypt, a meditation on the legacy of progressivism in Wisconsin, and a series of frank, graceful, and exquisitely written essays in which he chronicled the physical and spiritual effects of his disease. At the end, Hitchens was more engaged, relentless, hilarious, observant, and intelligent than just about everyone else—just as he had been for the last four decades.
“My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends,” he wrote in the June 2011 issue. He died in their presence, too, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. May his 62 years of living, well, so livingly console the many of us who will miss him dearly.
When the push notification with this terrible news came on on my device, I just felt breathless. I’m taking this as a personal loss. I can count with just one hand the names of the people who have made a significant influence in my life. Christopher Hitchens is one of them. As a Mexican Atheist, who grew up in a very Catholic-Conservative environment I surely had no idea I could ever detached myself from all of that nor that there would me others like me until I came across with Hitchens’ work, same that will continue to enlighten future generations, cause after all, if he was something to many that would be a mind emancipator.
British by right, American by choice, his ideals were never corrupted.His graceful take on his disease, written down on different outlets (from Vanity Fair to Slate) was simply always brave & brutally honest. I just hope for myself to have the same strength and coherence to go through whatever I come across in my life.
His take on religion, politics, economics and societal issues would never disappoint. He was for sure the greatest thinker & journalist of his time.
His passing is being gracefully mentioned by notorious sites & people (apart from the piece by Vanity Fair), from Slate, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, the BBC, amongst others.
He died on December 15th, of complications of pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer. He was 62.
Christopher Hitchens & Richard Dawkins At The Texas Forethought Convention 2011
Atheist superstar and public intellectual Christopher Hitchens appeared in public for the first time in months tonight at the Texas Freethought Convention in Houston. Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and most recently of Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens, was presented with the Richard Dawkins Freethinker of the Year Award by Dawkins himself. Dawkins is the bestselling author of The God Delusion and The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True.
Though Hitchens suffers from esophageal cancer, he and Dawkins spoke and took questions for about an hour in front of a crowd of what appeared to be well over a thousand people.
Christopher Hitchens: Simply Evil - A Decade After 9/11, It Remains The Best Description And Most Essential Fact About Al-Qaida
Christopher Hitchens, for Slate, comments:
- The proper task of the “public intellectual” might be conceived as the responsibility to introduce complexity into the argument: the reminder that things are very infrequently as simple as they can be made to seem. But what I learned in a highly indelible manner from the events and arguments of September 2001 was this: Never, ever ignore the obvious either. To the government and most of the people of the United States, it seemed that the country on 9/11 had been attacked in a particularly odious way (air piracy used to maximize civilian casualties) by a particularly odious group (a secretive and homicidal gang: part multinational corporation, part crime family) that was sworn to a medieval cult of death, a racist hatred of Jews, a religious frenzy against Hindus, Christians, Shia Muslims, and “unbelievers,” and the restoration of a long-vanished and despotic empire.
- To me, this remains the main point about al-Qaida and its surrogates. I do not believe, by stipulating it as the main point, that I try to oversimplify matters. I feel no need to show off or to think of something novel to say. Moreover, many of the attempts to introduce “complexity” into the picture strike me as half-baked obfuscations or distractions. These range from the irredeemably paranoid and contemptible efforts to pin responsibility for the attacks onto the Bush administration or the Jews, to the sometimes wearisome but not necessarily untrue insistence that Islamic peoples have suffered oppression. (Even when formally true, the latter must simply not be used as nonsequitur special pleading for the use of random violence by self-appointed Muslims.)
- Underlying these and other attempts to change the subject there was, and still is, a perverse desire to say that the 9/11 atrocities were in some way deserved, or made historically more explicable, by the many crimes of past American foreign policy. Either that, or—to recall the contemporary comments of the “Reverends” Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson—a punishment from heaven for American sinfulness. (The two ways of thinking, one of them ostensibly “left” and the other “right,” are in fact more or less identical.) That this was an assault upon oursociety, whatever its ostensible capitalist and militarist “targets,” was again thought too obvious a point for a clever person to make. It became increasingly obvious, though, with every successive nihilistic attack on London, Madrid, Istanbul, Baghdad, and Bali. There was always some “intellectual,” however, to argue in each case that the policy of Tony Blair, or George Bush, or the Spanish government, was the “root cause” of the broad-daylight slaughter of civilians. Responsibility, somehow, never lay squarely with the perpetrators.
- So, although the official tone of this month’s pious commemorations will stress the victims and their families (to the pathetically masochistic extent of continuing to forbid much of the graphic footage of the actual atrocities, lest “feelings” and susceptibilities be wounded), it is quite probable that those who accept the conventional “narrative” are, at least globally, in a minority. It is not only in the Muslim world that it is commonplace to hear that the events of 9/11 were part of a Jewish or U.S. government plot. And it is not only on the demented fringe that such fantasies circulate in “the West.” A book alleging that the Pentagon rocketed the Pentagon with a cruise missile—somehow managing to dispose of the craft and crew and passengers of the still-missing Flight 77, including my slight friend Barbara Olson—was a best-seller in France, while another book about another 9/11 conspiracy theory was published in the United States by the publishing arm of the Nation magazine. Westminster John Knox Press, a respected house long associated with American Presbyterianism, published Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, which asserted that the events of that day were planned in order to furnish a pretext for intervention in the Middle East. More explicitly on the Left, my old publishing house Verso—offshoot of theNew Left Review—published an anthology of Osama Bin Laden’s sermonizing rants in which the editors compared the leader of al-Qaida explicitly, and in the context not unfavorably, to Che Guevara.
- [..] Problems did turn out to be more complicated than any “simple” solution the theocratic fanatics could propose. But, and against the tendencies of euphemism and evasion, some stout simplicities deservedly remain. Among them: Holocaust denial is in fact a surreptitious form of Holocaust affirmation. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie was a direct and lethal challenge to free expression, not a clash between traditional faith and “free speech fundamentalism.” The mass murder in Bosnia-Herzegovina was not the random product of “ancient hatreds” but a deliberate plan to erase the Muslim population. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fully deserve to be called “evil.” And, 10 years ago in Manhattan and Washington and Shanksville, Pa., there was a direct confrontation with the totalitarian idea, expressed in its most vicious and unvarnished form. Let this and other struggles temper and strengthen us for future battles where it will be necessary to repudiate the big lie.
For the complete article, click here.
Christopher Hitchens: The Three New Commandments
Here Christopher Hitchens, a hero of mine and mind emancipator, gives a lecture at Royal Ontario Museum entitled “The Three New Commandments” in conjunction with the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Intelligence² Debate - Christopher Hitchens On The Catholic Church
One of Hitchens’ best rants, here he is talking about the Church’s positions on women’s rights, homosexuality, the AIDS epidemic and about what the Church should apologized for. And he does it in front of Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Catholic MP Ann Widdecombe.
Christopher Hitchens: Michele Bachman, A Small-Town, Small-Minded Isolationist
That was actually three dripping custard pies, rather than just the one, with which Rep. Michele Bachmann assailed her own face by bragging to Fox News about her small-town Iowa roots. Having hymned the incomparable Dairy Queen and Wonder Bread facilities boasted by the sturdy small town of her girlhood, she went on to claim that “John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa,” adding, “That’s the kind of spirit that I have, too.”John Wayne was from Winterset, Iowa, which can be found about 150 miles to the southwest of Waterloo. It was his namesake John Wayne Gacy, serial rapist and killer of 33 teenage boys and young men, whospent time in Waterloo. (I long ago pointed out that having “John Wayne” in your lineup of given names is a bad predictor: John Wayne Bobbitt was reduced by an infuriated partner to hunting in the weeds for his abruptly severed penis.)Traditionally, the phrase “to meet your Waterloo” means to encounter a final and unarguable defeat. Perhaps it’s too early to say that, but really. In one stroke, Bachmann shows that she can’t tell one folksy Iowa town from another. Then she compounds the error by confusing a folk hero with a villain and psycho. Finally, and having never done or said anything that would stand a second’s comparison to the spirit of The Duke (whatever you may think of him), she tries to borrow the mantle of a husky gunfighter in the very week that she is pathetically advocating that we leave Col. Qaddafi alone. The old parochialism meets the not-so-new isolationism. A very shaky start…
… Meanwhile, Qaddafi’s sick intransigence in Libya threatens the local population, the evolving neighboring countries of Tunisia and Egypt, and—by a potential crisis of emigration and refugees—the stability of Europe’s southern frontiers. This is why we have had such frank appeals, from Europe as well as from the Arab League, to contribute more to what is in any case ineluctable—a post-Qaddafi future. For Bachmann to choose this moment to say that the loony of Libya poses no threat is to disqualify herself from any consideration for high office. She evidently knows nothing about the four decades of dictatorship and depredation that have led up to this. But then, when you come to notice it, she doesn’t seem to know her Iowan derrière from an artesian well, either.
Eloquent as always. Hitchens points out something I’ve been asking myself for a while now: Why do people consider that being from a small town is a qualifier to govern, specially at the federal level in any western country.