I notice Christopher Hitchens is dead. By that, I don’t mean he has “passed on” or “crossed the bar” or “gone to meet his maker.” I mean, where once he loved to yammer on, he is now a silent clump of rotting cells.
If that sounds mean, it’s not meant to be. Hitchens himself would likely make the same assessment, only in much more witty and dramatic fashion.
Fans and enemies alike have made hay out of the fact that Hitchens succumbed to cancer only a few days before Christmas. This is, after all, the man who not only declared war on Christmas, but on religion as a whole. In his book “God is Not Great,” Hitchens makes a powerful case that religion can be blamed for every manmade travesty in history. Not just most, he insists, but every.
It’s a bold argument, one that church leaders, in particular, have been compelled to dispute. They did so at their own peril, however, as Hitchens had a way of rendering his opponents mute with his withering putdowns — his fans called it being “Hitchslapped.”
Not up on the canon
I admit I haven’t read much of Hitchens’ writings. That includes his recent atheist manifesto. And anyone who is not, at the very least, a voracious reader would be helpless against Hitchens’ vast base of knowledge.
I did, however, read an occasional column of his in Vanity Fair magazine. In one such article, he lamented, as a young journalist in 1977, having shaken the hand of Argentine dictator Gen. Jorge Rafaél Videla.
“To this day,” he wrote in 2005, “I wish that I had stiffly sat down for that interview without the polite grip-and-grin that I gave to Videla.”
A hero of the left most of his life, Hitchens took a dramatic turn after 9/11 and became a staunch supporter of the war on terror. Despite his disdain for Western imperialism, he more greatly despised the terrorist culture fostered by Middle Eastern theocracies.
Hitchens was an intensely moral man. And he claimed no allegiance in his crusade against oppression and human misery.
Personally, I feel Hitchens — like Richard Dawkins and other modern-day atheists — was barking up the wrong tree when it came to religion. At the expense of parroting the National Rifle Association, religion doesn’t kill people; people kill people.
Hitchens could perhaps have better explained how religion, rather than being a cancer and a curse, has proven to be one of the few constants of the human condition. That cruel things are done in its name ignores a more basic truth: people are cruel, and they will find any rationale to practise that cruelty.
Meanwhile, in North Korea…
Speaking of cruelty and oppression, one of the world’s most reclusive dictators, North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il, also died last week. And that, in a neat way, brings everything back full circle.
Speaking at a “secular Christmas party” hosted by Reason.tv in 2007, Hitchens explained — as he did every year — why he hates Christmas so much. His take on the season, I think, makes up for much of the arrogant bullying he was guilty of on the pundit circuit.
“It may have struck you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s a big relationship between this marvellous time of year and living in a one-party state,” he said.
“You can’t go anywhere without listening to the same music; you can’t go anywhere without hearing the name of the Great Leader, and his son, the Dear Leader. … All broadcasts, all songs, all jokes, all references are, for that magic few weeks, just exactly like living in f---ing North Korea.”
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.