Friday, December 16, 2011

God is Dead, and Now Christopher Hitchens is Too

God, Christopher Hitchens. A more erudite and cantankerous SOB the world will probably never again see. I was extraordinarily saddened to hear of his death today, though hardly surprised. His final missive on his cancer treatment, which put to lie the idea that "what doesn't kill me only makes me stronger," in painful detail. Deathly musings from those who knew him best suggested too that the end was near.

I came to Hitch during his late-career reblooming as one of the "Four Horsemen" of the "New Atheism," circa 2007. It was a critical time in my own, ahem, spiritual development, as I was taking my first college biology classes and coming to understand the true mendacity of the creationist movement. The matter of God was not yet settled in my mind. To that point I had been raised a believer, rebelled in middle school, and flirted with a vaguely Christian agnosticism in high school. That mushy sentiment remained up until Hitchens and company made clear that theism was unnecessary for a working model of the universe and should be, like any superfluity, consigned to the flames.

This was at the same time the worst flames were burning in the occupation of Iraq, which coincidentally (and nothing more) expired the same day as Hitch himself, and which Hitchens continued, as he would the rest of his life, to defend. It was a constant bafflement to see someone with such a steadfast commitment to reason letting his own worst instincts get the better of him, that he should share certain ideological affinities with such a demagogue as Pamella Gellar. It was 9/11 that did it, of course, traumatizing him as it did the nation itself. America's own confused impulses can be read in his own contradictory support for Bush's re-election, which validated the torture and executive overreach Hitchens decried in print. Hitchens' flaw was in some sense a tragic one, in that his greatest trait--his unqualified defense of western civilization and free inquiry--should also be the source of his most vicious vice.

And when I speak of vice, I don't mean his propensity for alcohol consumption, which was legendary. That he could drink enough "to stun a mule," while maintaining a prodigious output of writing with an outstanding pearls to piss ratio, was his greatest virtue. Even when he was dead wrong, he was spectacularly, and entertainingly so.

Indeed, even though he is now neither damn right nor dead wrong but simply dead (and damned, to those who take comfort in believing in such things), it is spectacularly and entertainingly so, for he lives on in his writing and speeches and debates. While I felt a sadness that I don't often feel for public figures when I heard of his death, I've found that every time I think of him, I smile. The man's death was untimely, but everything about him--his reading, drinking, personality, his journalism most especially--was excessively lively and ever of the moment. His ebulliance lives after him.

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