Christopher Hitchens

By Kuba Kaliński (transl. Nena Argent, Kuba Kalinski)
Christopher Hitchens god is not great
Christopher Hitchens
Biographical note
Christopher Hitchens was born in 1949 in Portsmouth, England and died in 2011 in Houston. He was (though he lives on in the memory of many people) an icon of contemporary atheism. He studied philosophy, politics and economics at Balliol College, Oxford. In the 60s, as a teenager, he was associated with the left and opposed the Vietnam war. He was briefly a member of the Labour Party and the anti-Stalinist Trotskyist group. In the 70s, he began his journalistic career which lasted almost to the end of his life. He worked for New Statesman, Daily Express, The Nation, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Free Inquiry and The Wall Street Journal amongst others. Hitchens, as a war correspondent, visited more than 60 countries. He saw most of the armed conflicts of the last half century. He wrote more than 20 books. The most famous include: God Is Not Great, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Letters to a Young Contrarian. He was married twice, had two children from his first marriage and one from the second. He died of cancer of the larynx. The story of his mother, Yvonne, is tragic. She committed suicide with her lover in Greece. Hitchens was 24 years old.

Subjective Viewpoint: Death of the King

  1. Death of the King
  2. Christopher Hitchens took on his shoulders the weight of the burdens carried by thousands of people around the world. I feel heir to a fraction of this weight. Like him, I will carry it lightly: drinking whiskey, joking and throwing truth in the face of religious dignitaries: you are wrong, you lie, and you make people slaves. He was a man liberated from god, The King.
  3. Courage
  4. Hitchens didn’t pay tributes to anyone. His intellectual courage went hand in hand with personal courage – as a war correspondent he witnessed almost all major armed conflicts of the last century: Baghdad, Sarajevo, Beirut, Belfast, Prague, Tehran, Kabul, Korea ... For religious minds, offering his own bulletproof vest to an Iraqi woman, and exposing himself to the perils of death, could be the starting point for a discussion on “heroic virtue”. Christopher would nonchalantly reply: Any normal man would do the same.
  5. Rhetoric
  6. The strength of his arguments is present in his writings, but to appreciate it fully one must witness the debates in which he participated. Winning them gave him undisguised pleasure. His outstanding oratory skills may have been developed thanks to great teachers of rhetoric, or thanks to the old English tradition of debating. That I have not developed these skills myself, I count as one of my major weaknesses. On the one hand, my childhood in communist Poland was not conducive to the development of rhetoric, on the other hand, it could be considered a great school, and for the same reason. A thorn in my side for deserted my post? Writing a blog is a cinch. Hitchens was not interested in cinches.
  7. Hatred
  8. “Many people remember their first love. I remember my first hate.” Hitchens didn’t sugarcoat things: he considered religious people enemies. People who believe that we’re born sinners, and that without atoning for our sins we’re condemned to eternal damnation, are also my enemies. It doesn’t require a vote to settle the issue, and it’s not a question of the truth being somewhere in the middle. This is a fundamental issue of truth, freedom, justice, life and human wellbeing. No matter how many children’s feet Pope Francis has bathed, we won’t be friends – god, faith, hell, paradise and the bible are insurmountable obstacles.
  9. Socrates
  10. Hitchens has died at the age of 62 from cancer of the larynx. This cancer is relatively rare, usually fatal. Smoking and drinking alcohol conduce to its development. Hitchens admitted that the abuse of both was the cause of the disease. There is a certain element in his writing which I find unnecessary: hatred. A person who is unfamiliar with Hitchens’ work could accuse me of libel. However the word “hatred” is justified. Hitchens used it to describe himself. Alcohol subdues our sensitivity and empathy. It’s excellent during a night at carnaval, and can’t be replaced by anything better in battlefield trenches. But hatred leaves a layer of mucus on the thoughts that an author presents to others. Christians are probably wrong in most of their metaphysical ways of thinking. Yet, so long as they remain tolerant, it’s sometimes easier to accept religious nonsense, than the hatred of atheists when they take to throwing spears.

    I’m an atheist. However I reject hatred. We won’t win the war fighting this way. We’ll win through calmness and by reasoning. Let’s follow Socrates. Hatred isn’t necessary.

  11. Non omnis moriar
  12. I didn’t know him personally. But what does “personally” mean? Shaking his hand? However, I knew him, and what’s more, some of his thoughts continue to live in me. On the one hand there’s the ancient Horace adage: “Non omnis moriar”, on the other there’s a thought that I’m going to quote here, by a close friend of Hitchens, Ian McEwan. (The quote comes from a book published by John Brockman: “What We Believe but Cannot Prove?”) “No fragment of my consciousness will survive my death; skipping the fact that I’ll continue to exist – fading and disappearing gradually – in the minds of others.” However not all contemporary thinkers reject Horace so radically. In the same book, Stephen Kosslyn argues as follows: people use prosthetic devices. If you don’t have a leg, you use a wooden one. If you can’t count, you use a calculator. We use various different extensions. The most commonly used prosthetics are the brains of other people. All our knowledge, our way of life, imagination, and morality rely on other people’s brains. It shouldn’t be understood metaphorically. Brains are physically connected to each other by sound and electromagnetic waves, creating a network. They interact in a material way. Hitchens had a real impact on my mind, in the same way as he was effected by Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, and others. This is something much more than a mere handshake, greater than a simple acquaintance. When I read Horace or Ian McEwan, something material was imprinted on me, a mark was left, and not a metaphoric one. We are, as Dawkins says, vehicles of genes. We are also vehicles of thought – of memes. Some elements of Hitchens’ consciousness continue to live in my consciousness. He has become part of me. In that way, his consciousness remains alive.
  13. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
  14. On September 30th, 2007, in an apartment in Washington, four people met. Their discussion, which lasted several hours, was recorded, and is available on YouTube. In my opinion, that meeting was a symbolic turning point. It sets the standard for future discussions about religion, there’s no reason to descend below that lofty height. Congregated in Hitchens’ apartment were Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the host, Hitchens himself. No doubt, a meeting of two atheists results in three points of view, a meeting of four – the number of viewpoints grows exponentially. Atheists, like cats and liberals, don’t like singing in a choir.
  15. Catholicism
  16. Catholicism claims that:
    • every person is born sinful
    • after death one goes to heaven or hell
    • condemnation is eternal
    • god knows everything
    • god is good
    • the use of condoms is a sin
    • pre-marital sex is a sin
    • moral principles must be based on an absolute or are nothing
    • homosexuality is a choice or a disease
    • Goebbels was rightly excommunicated for marrying a Protestant

    Like Hitchens, I believe that a thinking man has to reject all these, and a thousand other, religious precepts. After such a rejection, nothing remains; religion is a shell. Religions based on the Old Testament (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and sects derived from these religions ) are immoral without exception. None of them have a “healthy core”. Not only are marginal sects putrid, but the very core is rotten.

  17. Religion as Poison
  18. It’s true that science provides numerous arguments against religion. But reflecting on religious ethics also proffers a basis for solid antireligious convictions. Absolute ethics professes to be based on revelation. It’s actually based on delusion. There’s no other ethic like the ethics created by the people, for the people, and amongst the people. Belief in the supernatural origins of ethics is false and seriously dangerous. If Catholics want to impose, by force, Catholic laws for Catholics and atheists, that constitutes a declaration of war. One of the most troubling legislations in contemporary Polish law is an article against offending religious sentiments. I can’t accept such a law because it prevents me from telling the truth. “There’s no God”, “God is a delusion” are phrases that could be considered offensive to religious feelings. One or the other: either truth or sentimentalism.
  19. Vacuum and Algae
  20. Man is a social animal, a multi-layered social animal. It’s not possible to remain in a vacuum for long. It’s sometimes funny to see how quasi-religious rituals get introduced through the back door even at atheist gatherings. Daniel Dennett proposed gospel music, Sam Harris – vipasana. It’s easy to be a maverick-atheist in your kitchen, even easier in the privacy of your own bathroom. If you want to be a leader, you’d better start by choosing a flag, an anthem and making up a set of unrealistic rules. Houellebecq, in “The Possibility of an Island”, turned out to be a superior expert on the social nature of man. Faith in the impossible forges stronger bonds than fascinating knowledge about algae.
  21. Religion as Evil
  22. Hitchens didn’t claim that “religion is the root of all evil”. Sources of evil are nonreligious. Communism and cannibalism existed without religion. It doesn’t change the fact that “religion poisons everything”. Nowadays, I don’t know a single area of social life in which religion plays a positive role. Show me one and I’ll change my mind.
  23. Trotskyism
  24. Hitchens was a Trotskyist in his youth. Not everyone is lucky enough to be born in Poland. This means that, for a lifetime, one stays away from Marxist sects.
  25. Ayn Rand
  26. Critiquing Ayn Rand didn’t take him long: Alisa Zinovyevna? That’s easy: “I don't think there’s any need to have essays advocating selfishness among human beings; I don't know what your impression has been, but some things require no further reinforcement.” He made the task easy. He chose the weakest point and passed over her wiser thoughts with silence.
  27. Iraq
  28. He supported the second Iraq war. I was radically opposed to this war. My radicalism faltered under the influence of conversations with a friend, Tomek Diatłowicki, reading Hitchens and learning about the magnitude of the genocide committed by Saddam Hussein. Despite all that, the moral foundation for the attack seems dubious to me.
  29. Lenin
  30. Wikipedia, in English, provides a link to a virulent criticism of Hitchens. The author of that libel is a young ultra-leftist. What value can have a book have if the author chooses Lenin for a pseudonym?
  31. Ideologues of the Left
  32. In the evening Robin climbs up the ladder. In the morning he climbs down the ladder. An observer, not particularly astute, could say that we’re dealing with a schizophrenic or an opportunist – a person without moral backbone. However, if you deduce that Robin was entering and leaving his lover’s bedroom, the inconsistencies disappear.

    After Hitchens’ death, on the Krytyka Polityczna website, as well as in Polityka magazine, Artur Domosławski published an article dedicated to the deceased. The article adhered to the idea that Christopher Hitchens was our leftist until the war in Iraq, and then did an about-face, becoming a traitor and going over to the enemy camp – to the right wing. In the middle of the article there’s a short paragraph: “Big Turnabout”. The perspective adopted by the author is ideological and false. It’s ideological because it describes the life of a man through a prism of current leftist policy. It’s false because it ignores the real motivation verbalized by Hitchens himself. His actions were consistent in the same manner as Robin climbing up and down the ladder. Hitchens verbally opposed, and even aggressively spoke out against: Slobodan Milosevic, Princess Diana, Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il, Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, Pope Benedict XVI, the Dalai Lama, Bill Clinton and many others who had political, religious or other types of authority, and used it, according to Hitchens, in a bad way. Saddam Hussein was just another, particularly disgusting, type in the series. The Labour Party expelled Hitchens from their ranks in the 60’s (Domosławski notes that honestly), but Hitchens was only a teenager. There was no mythical “big turnabout”. Such a misinterpretation is due to an ideology that distorts reality; like water in a glass can appear to deform a teaspoon. Remove your rose-colored glasses, and what tints the world disappears.
  33. Football Fans and Preachers
  34. The leftist inclination, which originated on football fields, and that divides people into groups of us versus them, has exactly the same value as the divisions proposed by their right wing opponents. Ideology and group identification are dominant on both sides. Some moralizing leftist preachers amusingly exhibit a tendency to judge people by the type of tissue they use to wipe their nose, by the brand of yogurt they have in their refrigerator, or by the cost of getting their socks darned in Pernambuco. Their faces turn rigid and solemn, their voices become higher pitched, and a slight stench of moral lessons hovers in the air. A fart seems an appropriate response in that type of situation. To paraphrase Salman Rushdie: idealism corrupts more than cynicism.
  35. A Quote from Comments
  36. Under the aforementioned article, published on krytykapolityczna.pl, I found someone’s comment, which I include here because it nicely, and briefly, sums up the matter: “Hitchens was controversial and an outsider because he always thought independently. He was a great, intellectual individualist, which no one could pigeonhole as a neo-conservative or leftist. He fought for what was important to him, not for a particular political camp. Various factions offer a set of quick answers to global problems; Hitchens answered all the questions alone, with unprecedented intellectual courage and a sense of mission and brilliant irony. I think that he cannot be understood through the prism of ideology. He raised so much controversy, and these days, few people are willing to sacrifice their reputations for their professed ideas. It’s a gigantic loss.”
  37. Nazism and Communism
  38. I think that Hitchens made one serious mistake. Lumping Nazism and communism with those professing religious or quasi-religious ideologies doesn’t make sense. Evil doesn’t have a colour – neither of the skin or of a religious faith. All ideas, even those of brotherly love and scientific humility based on material reality, can be deformed and harnessed for hideous projects. Primitive atheism became as nasty in the hands of Stalin as Christianity modernized by Torquemada.
  39. The Paradox of a Tribune and a Rebel
  40. He fought against the powerful of this world. The paradox of the people’s tribune: once he becomes Caesar, he brings to life his shadow – a new rebel, like he once was in his youth.
  41. The Paradox of Authority
  42. Hitchens had a huge impact on others. He could hypnotize a crowd. Jacek Sieradzan, in his books about Socrates and Jesus, presented evidence demonstrating the hypnotic abilities of both these personages. During hypnosis, we surrender our will to the will of another, someone of great influence and authority. If the hypnotist is calling for the rejection of authority, as did Jesus, Socrates, Hitchens, Krishnamurti, and Buddha, a paradox is inevitable. What do you do now? Stephen Fry demonstrated it wittily. One of the Christopher’s books was titled “To the Young Contrarian”. Fry offered it to his son, but he... refused it.
  43. Vanity Fair
  44. After Hitchens death, Vanity Fair, where many of his essays were published over the years, organized a meeting with the participation of numerous intellectuals. Hitch was eulogized by his friends, authors read excerpts of his writings. Ian McEwan, Lawrence Krauss, Stephen Fry, Tom Stoppard, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Sean Penn – to name just a few, were invited. Not many people in history have enjoyed such widespread respect.
  45. Planetoid
  46. An asteroid named after Hitchens revolves somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. The gods (Zeus, Mars, Jupiter, and Jehovah) become a shadow of our past, astronomy is growing; human thinking revolves along ever-increasing ellipses around the sun.
  47. Saviors
  48. I’m wary of people who want to save the world and me at the same time.
  49. Happiness
  50. Westerners from the right, left and center seem to share an odd idea: that an appropriate arrangement of social relations translates into your own happiness. Really?
  51. Fatigue
  52. My admiration for Hitchens reached a necessary boundary – fatigue. Reaching this limit of reflection regarding another’s thoughts, allows one to touch their uniqueness as well as their neighboring weakness. I asked myself if I could make Hitchens the patron of my Cioran exercises. I couldn’t. Hitchens dedicated his life to political struggles. As a journalist, intellectual, orator and one of the informal leaders of atheism, he had an enormous impact on the contemporary world. Few equal him. However, that stance isn’t mine. I value science and art more than politics. For me personally, fervent intellectual and ideological debates are only a background, not the forefront of life. The patron I seek is called Salvalstein Albertali.
  53. Political Incorrectness
  54. Note to the Polish translator and editor of “Missionary love”. The original title reads: “Missionary Position”, and of course, refers to the sexual double entendre. Deliberately removing this sexual innuendo (“love” in Polish, as in English, causes the play on words to be lost) was probably motivated by a desire to accommodate political correctness (after all we’re talking about “saint” Mother Teresa). It’s a betrayal of Hitchens’ spirit.
Christopher Hitchens - God Is Not Great
God Is Not Great
Christopher Hitchens - 
Letters to Contrarian
Letters to Contrarian
Christopher Hitchens - 
Mortality
Mortality
Christopher Hitchens - 
The Trial of H. Kissinger
The Trial of H. Kissinger
Christopher Hitchens - 
Why Orwell Matters
Why Orwell Matters

Christopher Hitchens - quotes & fragments



God Is Not Great

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species

Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.

Other books

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.

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.

Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.

Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.

We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid

Who are your favorite heroines in real life? The women of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran who risk their lives and their beauty to defy the foulness of theocracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi as their ideal feminine model.