By BJ Bjornson
I have by no means read all of them, and the ones in the papers and mainstream news sites are going to be either bland and unassuming or far too obsequious that I have no intention of doing so. Blog posts, on the other hand, tend to be far more varied and interesting, so I figured I�d share a few of the better ones I came across as we all continue to try and write an epilogue to the man�s life.
The only really unambiguously positive one I came across worth posting was from Rebecca Watson at Skepchick, I�m thinking since it was more personal anecdote than an attempt to sum up the man�s life and works.
Hitchens will be remembered as an eloquent and occasionally vicious polemicist. He�ll be remembered for his brilliant take-downs of politicians like Henry Kissinger and any religious fundamentalist who wandered into his line of sight. He may even be remembered for his early support of George W Bush, and speaking of grievous missteps, I hope he won�t be remembered for that terrible piece of evo-psych bullshit that was Why Women Aren�t Funny.
But I guess all that is why I want to put down for the record that in addition to all those things, Hitchens was incredibly kind and giving with his time. Every time I met him over the past seven years he greeted me like an old friend, and as far as I could see, every fan he met got his full attention. Even when he was dying, he had time to sit down with a little girl to figure out what books should be on her reading list.
That�s not to say there weren�t other positive obits or remembrances on the sites I visit, but they mostly didn�t get beyond a few lines about raising a glass for the man. Of the longer remembrances, this one from Greta Christina probably does the best job of capturing a large part of the atheist community�s often mixed thoughts about the man (or at the very least mine).
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.
. . .
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 also quite enjoyed this post from LGM, which praised Hitchen�s in a rather backhanded way.
I know I�ll take flack for this, but honestly, the reason the left reviled Hitchens as strongly as it did was because it realized that it had a formidable opponent. For the most part, the left argues with the likes of Grover Norquist, whose influence is undeniable but whose skills are very much comparable.
Hitchens was different. We can turn a phrase, but he could cant and pirouette it. As I wrote after learning he died:
He�s basically our generation�s G.K. Chesterton: wrong about it all, but beautifully so.
I stand by it. He attacked Mother Teresa, and justifiably so, when he felt it necessary. And he embraced an unjust war, unjustifiably so, when he felt it necessary. But he also waterboarded himself, to justify himself, because he felt it was necessary, and he backed down. He was the opposition we should hate, because he makes his case so strongly; but he was also the opposition we should love, because he challenged us to make our argument in its strongest form and changed his mind to fit the facts.
Would that we always had opponents so eloquent and wrong.
I was going to keep my mouth shut, but the hagiography is making me hurl. Yes, he was a good writer. Yes, when he was young he seemed to want atrocities to stop. After 9/11, however, he realized that people like him could die senselessly and became an apologist for an unprovoked war (the same war crime the US hung Germans for) and for torture. Atrocities were ok to protect lily-livered upper class white people like himself.
. . .
Also a quick note to my atheist friends. Because someone is an atheist does not mean they are in any way, shape or form a good person or someone who has made the world a better place. Richard Dawkins is a noxious human being and was before he defended an inappropriate pass. Hitchens was a war crimes apologist.
While I am a little confused as to why Ian thinks Dawkins is a noxious human being, I can�t argue with his criticism of Hitchens� views on the Iraq War in particular, which is one of those points where he was �a fucking asshole� at the very least. Frankly, had Hitchens died suddenly a year or so ago, my own remembrance of his passing would likely be entirely similar to the above.
He didn�t just up and die a year ago though, and it is what he did with his last year after getting the news of his approaching departure from mortality that has tended to soften my view of the man, or at least shift my focus from his noxious views of the last decade to the message his last year has provided. I will leave the description of that message to Dawkins.
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.
This is the area that has defined the last year of Hitchens life, and has flown directly against one of the most common myths about atheists and non-believers, that they will turn to faith when things get really bad. Starting from when he was first diagnosed, when a writer said that God was being kind by giving him a lingering and painful death so that he would have time to reconsider his atheism right to the comments about him �knowing the truth now� that popped up immediately upon news of his death and the almost inevitable cartoons of him reaching the pearly gates, death in our culture is seen as the sole property of the religious and religions.
Hitchens has been a very public example of the lie of that representation, and for that at least, those of us without faith can be thankful to him.