Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

“My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends,”.

Christopher Hitchens wrote this in the June 2011 issue of Vanity Fair.  Hitchens was in the presence of those friends when he passed away from complications due to esophageal cancer onThursday at the age of 62.

Hitchens was fearlessly outspoken on every topic he cared to cast his sharp, insightful mind on, wether it be atheism, Mother Teresa, or the latest health fad.  Not only was he outspoken, but he spoke more eloquently and persuasively than anyone I’ve ever heard.  His command of the English language, and his powerful and precise use of it was second to none.  He is the only modern author that I’ve read where I would need to look up a word at least every four or five pages.  Yet his vocabulary was never archaic or pedantic, but rich, flowing, and precise.

He is probably best known for his championing of atheism.  Considered one of the founders of the New Atheists, as well as one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennet), he was unapologetic, even harsh, in his criticism of religion and faith.  As he persuasively and beautifully put it:

“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.”

He was reviled, yet often respected, by those of faith with whom he corresponded or debated.  Many of these, upon the announcement last year that he had terminal cancer, offered their prayers for him.  While he had no belief in prayer, rather than scoffing at them, he responded:

…that, if they want to pray for him, it’s fine by him. “I think of it as a nice gesture,” he said. “And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/sep/20/christopher-hitchens-prayers)

As always, he showed his great and deep understanding of humanity, both the good and the bad, and sought to expose it’s ills, while steadfastly supporting the inalienable human rights that we all share.

Others have eulogized him much better than I can.  Steven Novella beautifully states:

“His fellow materialists have to face this reality as well. Hitchens is gone. His brain – which was everything he thought, felt, remembered, and all the insight he had to offer the world – no longer functions, and never will function again. The same fate awaits us all. Without regret, Hitchens seemed to understand the flip side of this reality – we are the lucky few who get to live.  So make the most of it while you can.”

A sentiment Hitch would have totally agreed with.

PZ Myers plainly and persuasively wrote:

“Hitch is dead. We are a diminished people for the loss. There can be and should be no consolation, no soft words that encourage an illusion of heavenly rescue, no balm of lies. We should feel as we do with every death, that a part of us has been ripped from our hearts, and suffer pain and grief — and we are reminded that this is the fate we all face, that someday we too will die, and that we are all “living dyingly”, as Hitch put it so well.

As atheists, I think none of us can find solace in the cliches or numbness in the delusion of an afterlife. Instead, embrace the fierce strong emotions of anger and sorrow, feel the pain, rage against the darkness, fight back against our mortal enemy Death, and live exuberantly while we can. Confront mortality clear-eyed and pugnacious, uncompromising and aggressive.

It’s what Hitch would have wanted of us.

It’s how Hitch lived.”

The non-beleiving and humanist community has lost a great spokesperson, but more importantly, the world has lost a great human being.  I think the world would be a much better place if we could all follow Hitch’s example of living life to the fullest and fearlessly seeking justice for all of us.

 

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