Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011


I never met the man. And today, I am intensely sad that he’s dead.

A fair amount of what Christopher Hitchens said and wrote irritated the fuck out of me. Some of it even seriously angered me. But the man was brilliant. He did difficult, at times even dangerous work that few others were willing to do. He was fearless about saying what nobody else was willing to say. He debated with an army of facts ready at his tongue and a wit like a stiletto dipped in venom. He was often totally fucking hilarious. He was beyond eloquent.

And he faced his illness, and what he clearly knew was his impending death, with a courage and grace and brutal honesty that was nothing short of astonishing. He had made it a major part of his life’s work to convince people that there was no God and no afterlife, that these were self-delusions and not even particularly worthwhile self-delusions… and he fervently declined to take shallow comfort in these delusions, even with a horribly painful illness gripping him and death staring him in the face. His writing about illness and mortality was among the most insightful and inspiring that I have ever read. I hope to have even half as much courage and grace when it’s my turn. I think his example will make that a little bit easier.

A fair amount of what he wrote irritated and angered me. And that’s one of the things I like best about the atheist movement. We don’t have to idolize our leaders and our heroes. We can disagree with them. We can recognize that they’re human. We can say to them one day, “Damn, that was brilliant”… and the next day say, “You’re being a fucking asshole, this is beneath you”… and the next day say yet again, “Okay, that was brilliant.”

Sometimes, Christopher Hitchens was a fucking asshole, and said and wrote things that were beneath him. Most of the time, he was brilliant. I’m deeply sorry that I never met him.

I’m not going to say R.I.P. I don’t think Christopher Hitchens is at rest. I don’t think there is anything left of him to rest. I think he is dead. But tonight, I’ll be raising a glass of Scotch in his honor. The world is a better place because he was in it, and it is a sadder, less interesting place now that he’s not.

I never met the man. And I’m crying now. Fuck.

Comments

  1. says

    This. Really well said, Greta. I don’t think we’ve realized yet just how badly we’re going to miss him. We’ll be rediscovering Chris’s strength and contributions for a long time to come.

  2. TrineBM says

    He’s worth a few tears. I have no problem being misty-eyed over his passing. He was a great man. Fucking cancer.

  3. Agent Smith says

    He was sometimes a fucking asshole, but whenever he unfurled his burrs, your mind was velcro.

  4. Justin Caruthers says

    We’ve all been expecting it, but it’s hit me hard– harder than I thought it would. Losing such a brilliant man and vital, powerful voice in this movement just tears me in two.

    If naught else, his passing has inspired me to attempt to emulate him more so than usual, and I hope that’s true for others as well. He’s irreplaceable, but I hope that his life, and his passing, gives pissed of atheists, and atheists who don’t even know how pissed they need to be yet, the chutzpah to do what he did without apology.

  5. HP says

    “Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.

  6. maureen.brian says

    I’m sure that if I had known Christopher Hitchens then at some stage I would have punched him. It is part of his legacy that he would have wanted things no other way.

    You got it just right, Greta.

  7. davesmith says

    Tonight, I’ll toast Hitch with my best Scotch.

    I was watching CNN coverage of the Gulf War (the 1st war against Saddam Hussein) in college, and there was this debate between Charlton Heston and Hitch. (At the time, I didn’t know who Hitchens was, and I knew virtually nothing about Heston’s politics.)

    Heston gave a bloviating introduction, and then the moderator introduced Hitchens. Hitch opened with, “Well, I’m very honored to be able to debate the war with Moses himself.”

    Then it got interesting. I swear I saw Heston’s entrails at one point.

    (I’ve looked in vain for the a link to the footage, help?)

    I never met Hitch, but his essays and books and youtube debates have now been part of my life for more than 20 years.

  8. Craig Carley says

    I agree that Hitch could be an asshole, but you are right… he had a sort of brilliance both in his content and in his presentation. He was an artist with scientific mind and he was great author.

    If you haven’t read or listened to Christopher Hitchens, you should!

  9. sunnydale75 says

    I knew nothing of Christopher Hitchens prior to the summer of this year. As I explored atheist and humanist sites across the internet, Richard Dawkins is the only name I came across with the same frequency as I did Christopher Hitchens. Reading some of his quotes, hearing how others spoke of him spurred me to purchase his book “God is not great”. I’m only halfway through but I have immensely enjoyed what I have read. I’ve found his humanity and morality on display throughout the book. Through his actions, he aspired to help make the world a better place. He will be missed.

    Tony

  10. hoverfrog says

    Given the number of atheists who will be raising a glass to Hitch tonight I predict record sales of scotch throughout the world.

    Cheers.

  11. Ed says

    It seems vain to try and add something more about Christopher Hitchens’ brilliance and pugnacity that hasn’t already been said with greater eloquence, but I feel compelled to do so just the same.

    As a former fundamentalist Christian, it took me a very long, long time to part with my former faith. In large part, Christopher Hitchens books (and God Is Not Great being a major one) helped bring to a close for me a struggle I had been going through for quite a few years. I might have arrived at that point all on my own without his books, but, they helped get me there much sooner. Thank you, Christopher.

    Yes, there were things I did not always agree with him about, and Greta is absolutely right when she says that we should not idolize any atheist (or any human being for that matter). Yet I think it’s safe to say that Christopher Hitchens will never be “replaced” by anyone who happens to come along. He was truely unique. He will be sorely missed; but now it’s up to the rest of us to pick up the banner and carry on where he had to leave-off!

    We have to remember that it will be his family who will suffer the most from our loss, and so let us pay our respects to them, as well. We will all be grieving this loss.

  12. dorcheat says

    Even with his rather annoying views on the Iraq War, the positives much outweighed the negatives.

    At the risk of being fanboyish and even perhaps ghoulish but I must ask: What was Christopher Hitchens favorite brand of Scotch Whiskey? Maybe I can stop downtown tonight at a place in Shreveport, Louisiana (the Noble Savage Tavern) that sells pretty much every blend and single malt of Scotch and drink a Scotch with seltzer and only one rock (ice) in his honor.

    Thank you Christopher Hitchens. You will most certainly be missed.

  13. Jim Randolph says

    I’ve read a bunch of these today and this is the only one that made me cry. PArt of it is Hitch and part of it is a friend I lost this year who was also being treated in Dallas. She was as well read and brilliant as he, but much younger when she left us. It’s just so hard.

    Thanks.

  14. Bean says

    I’ve read about 6 articles/posts on the subject this morning and felt nothing. This one worked. Thank you Greta.

    I can’t drink but I raised a cup of tea to a good life lived this morning.

  15. Sean says

    …of which I’ve imbibed too much, if that erroneous apostrophe is any indication.

    As for Hitchens, I met him briefly at Hay in 2008. We spoke about Carl Sagan and I really did wonder if his intellect extended from his brain like the magnetic field from the poles. He was at once charming and utterly terrifying. The English academic Monica Jones (and lover of the poet Philip Larkin, of whom Hitch admired) told her students that words were “gold in your pocket for life.” We may not feel it right now but our pockets are stuffed with the riches Hitchens left behind.

  16. Jeremy S says

    Greta,

    Thanks for putting it in words.

    All I know right now is that I am immensely sad. And I think the responses here illustrate just how talented Hitch was as a writer and a speaker. You feel like you know him just by reading and listening to him. He didn’t pull punches and he never left you in doubt as to where he stood. And I think that’s worth emulating. So thanks again for writing as you do, because I think a lot of us feel like we know you too. And I, for one, am happy I do.

    – Jeremy

  17. michaelcrowley says

    Christopher has planted the seed of atheism for us. It is in fertile soil, and it has strong roots. It is up to us now to take care of it, nurture it, and help it continue to grow.

  18. says

    Even though I knew that Hitchens was dying of cancer and that the end would come sooner rather than later, I was taken by surprise when I logged on to the New York Times this morning and read the news of his passing. I guess I expected that he would somehow make it into 2012.

    Good post.

  19. puckmalamud says

    What you said. I’ve been doing nothing but reading articles and watching videos about Christopher Hitchens all day. What a loss. And what an inspiration.

  20. says

    Greta,

    I don’t know if you’ve seen these tributes in the “Cyanide and Happiness” and “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal” webcomics today:

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2463

    http://www.explosm.net/comics/2645/

    The Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic has a hidden punchline behind the red button below the comic. The Cyanide and Happiness webcomic seems a bit more subtle and indirect commentary.

    And The Onion did its commentary with just a headline:

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/fumbling-inarticulate-obituary-writer-somehow-losi,26890/

    The world is a poorer place now that he is gone.

  21. keansimmons says

    I appreciate your blog Greta but today you’re a fucking asshole, you could have said exactly what you did without the epithets!

    How would you like it? Consider it now. You will die someday, shall I eulogize you by saying that sometimes she was brilliant but she had her days where she was a fucking asshole?

    And to the coward above who wants to spit on his grave, I spit in your face, punk!

  22. NDDave says

    Well said, Greta. I count myself as very fortunate to have met Christopher Hitchens and listened to him speak in person at the AAI convention in DC. I am still catching up on reading his work (his biography of Jefferson is next on my list) and will at least be able to enjoy his wit via his legacy, but it just won’t be the same.

  23. Rith says

    I just found out about his passing as well. Kind of surprised I am almost in tears about a man I never even met.

    I like your idea, so I’ll be buying a bottle of good scotch (I don’t even drink scotch) just to toast him tonight.

    And keep up the great work, I love your blog!

  24. says

    @keansimmons @ 34 Um, have you ever read Hitchens? He had no problem pointing out people’s flaws when they died. He loved being the center of controversy. I suspect he would have greatly appreciated it being done to him. And, having read Greta for quite a while now, I suspect she would too. No one’s perfect and the fact that we can point out what an asshole someone was in a specific situation while still respecting them and holding in high regard says a great deal about the integrity of the eulogizer.

  25. Placibo Domingo says

    What I will miss most about Hitch is that I respected him enought to listen careful when he said things I disagreed with. He sure as hell knew more about the middle east than I did, so if said that we really did need to fight a war in Iraq, then I would at least give his argument the full consideration. I knew he wasn’t the same as those neo-com idiots whose side he may have appeared to be sharing, and we must always be willing to question our assumptions, and whatever the prevailing orthodoxy of our side may be.

    The world is a poorer place with our rock star Hitch.

    It’ll be Johnny Walker Black tonight.

  26. John the Drunkard says

    Like Bean, I too have long ago finished my share of scotch. I would still raise anyone else’s glass in Hitchens’ honor.

    In my teens I found Orwell’s collected letters and essays. His morally anchored contemporary view of 20th century history and politics changed me for the better. Hitchens’ essays and journalism did the same for me for the last two decades.

    No author was harder to read when I disagreed with him. Even when I knew he was wrong or wrongheaded, he stated himself with a clarity that forced me to think further than I had in forming my conclusions.

    It is a terrible, terrible loss. I dread the coming wave of lying conversion stories and gruesome chortling from the Right, and the small-minded sniping from the Left.

  27. says

    keansimmons @ #34: One of the things I most admired about Hitch was that he spoke the truth, as best he saw it, exactly as he saw it, in the most expressive and vivid language he was capable of (which was usually pretty damned expressive and vivid), without concern for who might be offended. I honor his memory by doing the same for him.

    And if, when I die, people say that sometimes I was a fucking asshole, but most of the time I was totally awesome, and the world is a better place because I was in it and is a poorer place now that I’m not anymore, and they’re crying because I’m dead? That would be incredible. I am more than okay with that.

    (Oh — and please don’t aim personal insults at other commenters in the thread. Please remember my comment policy. Thanks.)

  28. Paddy says

    To Hitch, the world is a lesser place without him.

    I am immensely sad at his passing. But I cherish the fact that he lived (and truly LIVED) among us, and left us his brilliant legacy.

    He has changed my life for the better, like he has so many others.

  29. AlanMac says

    Many people, who might otherwise have died of boredom and irritation, or taken a running jump at themselves, have been kept going by a steady intake of toxins and by the low company this naturally forces them to keep. – Chris Hitchens

    …aye, been there, done that, have the t-shirt.

    Condolences to the family.

  30. sisu says

    I directly credit Hitch-22 with taking me from accommodationist agnostic to outspoken atheist. In his honor I am steeling my resolve to speak my mind, engage in debate with those with whom I disagree, and raise my children to question authority (including mine). I can think of no better tribute.

  31. says

    I was twice privileged to meet and spend far to few hours in conversation with Christopher Hitchens. His death, while expected, came too soon and has been a great blow.

    Tonight, a group of atheist activists will gather in Alabama to hoist a few, or perhaps many, glasses of Johnny Walker Black in his honor. It is fitting that we drink his favorite which he referred to as “the best blended whiskey in the history of the world”.

    I among others who will attend that virtual wake tonight were asked to prepare favorite quotes to toast and eulogize him. My personal favorite is a personal inscription in my son’s copy of God is Not Great. Hitchens showed his softer side, referring to himself and me as a “loving father.” I am teary eyed just thinking of it. But I will finish this with a quote from the acknowledgments in God is Not Great: “The voice of reason is soft. But it is very persistent. In this, and in the lives and minds of combatants, known and unknown, we repose our chief hope.”

    May we all honor Christopher Hitchens tonight and in the days to come.

  32. says

    I think Hitchens is a perfect example of how someone can be brilliant, intelligent, and talented but not really examine their own privilege and support bad ideas. Not being religious does not make you immune to bad ideas. That being said, I have no problem with his shittick of drinking a lot and writing. I just felt he was the type of atheist that kept me from embracing the movement sooner.

  33. Sarah says

    This was my introduction to Hitch, in the Orlando International Airport, waiting to fly to Rhode Island to see my grandma for her 90th birthday. Jerry Falwell had just died, and this was playing on the TV in the terminal. His humor, brilliance, integrity, and fearlessness absolutely floored me, and I became a passionate fan. Enjoy!!! http://www.youtube.com/​watch?v=UIviufQ4APo

  34. Larry says

    Greta,

    I like what you said about Christopher Hitchens.

    I knew nothing about him until I saw his piss taking with Charlton Heston on CNN during the first Gulf War. My first impression of him was extremely negative. He seemed arrogant, immature, mean. For many years after that CNN interview, I always ignored anything that had his name. I just assumed I would waste time reading the words of a pedantic, self-consumed British asshole. I didn’t take him seriously until about 2 years ago when I was YouTubing and accidently watched one of his debates and saw the brilliance of his intellect, his fearlessness. For the last two years I have read and listened to every written or spoken word by Hitchens.

  35. Frederick says

    Hitchens was a war monger who supported the Bush Wars to the hilt.

    After all, at least believers, Muslims, Christians and whoever was caught in the cross fire.

    But he was opposed to the Vietam war…of course. He didn’t want to see the Atheistic Commies stopped from kiling off the large Roman Catholic population.

    Too bad there is no hell for him. Actions with eternal consequences deserve eternal retribution.

  36. I amafreeman says

    Unfortunately, I never saw enough of Christoper’s verbal essays to realize he was an A-theist. All I ever knew of the man was that he was very concerned with TRUTH. And that is how I thought of him. His beliefs other than telling the truth is the best thing were and are of no concern to me. That makes me feel especially good that I could hear and be educated by his logic about all things and never knew a thing about his personal life – not that knowing anything personal about him would have diluted or distilled what he said. It was what it was. I shall miss him a lot.

  37. says

    Nicely said, Greta. I didn’t always agree with him; he could make me feel inspired and infuriated. Mostly, though, I enjoyed his writing.

    His recent pieces about his experience with cancer, as well as his comparison of Heaven with a celestial dictatorship, helped me deal with my fear of death.

  38. lefthook says

    Christopher Hitchens was a scumbag who supported two illegal wars of aggression, the mass killing of innocent human beings, and torture. I piss on his pathetic grave, and I piss on all of you losers who have put this sophistic fool on a pedestal.

  39. VT Granny says

    Though I had some strong disagreements with Hitch, on balance his attacks on religion covered a multitude of offenses.

    However, my connection was far more than appreciation for his writings. In September I was diagnosed with Stage 4 gallbladder cancer and I felt Hitch was my cancer buddy, even though I never met him and never would. He was a role model of how to deal with this disease without losing one’s integrity by begging a nonexistent god for a cure.

  40. David in NYC says

    Next time you feel like crying over Hitchens, read this:

    http://gawker.com/5868761/christopher-hitchens-unforgivable-mistake

    And then cry, instead, for the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis killed because of the “superior” intellect of assholes like Hitchens who thought invading Iraq was a good idea — especially those assholes, like Hitchens, who continued to defend their genocidal impulses to their dying days.

    Hitchens would have you belive this was “A War to be Proud Of”. And for this you weep?

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/995phqjw.asp?page=3

  41. sunnydale75 says

    David @61
    -No one has said that Christopher Hitchens was a saint. Many people have spoken about the qualities they admire in him and those they despise. It is entirely possible to miss the man because of his positive qualities and *still* dislike his other views.

    Tony

  42. says

    He will definitely be missed. He was a man who questioned and wasn’t afraid to make mistakes. No one agrees with everyone 100% of the time. I appreciated his vigor and passion. I admired him on his accomplishments and his ability to think beyond the scope of a theology and within the realm of reason. The world will be a little less interesting without his spirited dialogues.

  43. Jay from Philly says

    If Hitchens was as right about God as he was about Iraq, all of you Hitchens-worshipping pretentious arrogant snide too-cool-for-everything hipster assholes out to be on your knees praying for the salvation of your soul. Fuck you Christopher Hitchens. I’m glad you’re dead.

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