Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens.

Hitch died a few hours ago. He was 62 years old and it took cancer, almost assuredly caused by the cigarettes and liquor of which he so frequently partook, to silence the most illustriously worded, fiery-witted, and ultimately compassionate voice of humanity and decency that maybe we've ever seen.

It's impossible for me to speak too highly of Hitch, or to exaggerate the effect that the man and his work had on my life. It's always been tragic to me that his writing has been pigeonholed into a representation of his most "controversial" subject, his own defiant atheism. Hitch often distanced himself from "atheism," preferring to call himself an "anti-theist," frequently comparing the God he was so often told about to Kim Jong-Il, an all-powerful authoritarian subjecting His creation to eternal submission.

This is primarily why I was never bothered by Hitchens' belief; in fact, the only consistent disagreement I had with him was that the God in whom he chose to disbelief is indeed not a God that would be God, but our mutual dissatisfaction with half-baked apologetics and crackpot theologies perpetuated so blithely by the Rick Warrens and the Tim LaHayes and the Jerry Falwells is too readily misinterpreted. Although he did not subscribe to it, theism was never Hitchens' issue, but the cruel manifestation of it in reactionary evangelical circles and its almost pathological self-victimization, self-aggrandization, and literal demonizing of anything that stood outside the barriers of its own solipsistically drawn circles.

And it was that cruelty--regardless of its origin--that Hitchens rallied against. Despite his pendulum of political swings, it was the injustice that never left his crosshairs, and even his infamous support of the bungled Iraq war was well-defended and reasonable when he explained it. When an avowed stance was proven wrong--his original claim that waterboarding wasn't torture was dismantled the second he willingly submitted himself to a session of it from ex-CIA "interrogators"--he had no problem acknowledging his own error and absorbing his new knowledge into his mindest.

That dedication to truth at all costs is what I admired so much about Hitch. His unsurpassed skills as a writer, his voracious appetite for and knowledge of literature, and his keen insight into matters secular and otherwise were merely servicing his greatest strength: his courage. By refusing to back down from any fight, be it against a fundamentalist Christian preacher telling vicious lies to children, a roving gang of AK-47-wielding Islamic radicals on the hunt to kill a heathen, or the fascist police state in 1970s Greece looking for a head to bust, he stared danger in the eye, took a sip of his scotch and puff of his cigarettes, and told it to shove it up its arse.

I want to end this with my two favorite quotes from Christopher Hitchens, a man who has had more impact on who I want to be (and, hopefully, am) than another non-Sherwin soul:

From his indispensable Letters to a Young Contrarian:
"Beware the irrational, no matter how seductive. Shun the transcendent and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will provide plenty of time for silence."

As recounted by his friend David Frum (and for obvious reasons to those of you who know me):
"When he heard that another friend, a professor, had a habit of seducing female students in his writing seminars, he shook his head pityingly. 'It’s not worth it. Afterward, you have to read their short stories.'"

My friend and co-Hitchens admirer Scott were discussing the tragedy of his loss, I said the following:

"Hitchens was like South Park: on the rare occasion that I disagreed, it was usually because I was wrong. The man was a lion and we were lucky to have him for as long as we did."

I'll stand by that and continue to be grateful to have had the presence of such a hero in my mind and heart, and he'll live on through the massive legacy of work that he so generously gave us.

Here's to you, Hitch. I hope to one day have your courage.