Biographical noteChristopher 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
- Death of the King 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.
- Courage 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.
- Rhetoric 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.
- Hatred “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.
- Socrates 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.
- Non omnis moriar 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.
- Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 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.
- Catholicism Catholicism claims that:
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.