17 December 2011

I owe Chris Hitchens

Those of you who live under a rock may not have heard: Christopher Hitchens died two days ago (15 Dec).  My writing is far too weak to comment on his life and work as it should be.  I will leave that to others.  Instead I would like to share a few of the moments of my life that were enriched by "Hitch."

It was some years ago that I first heard of Chris Hitchens.  I was driving to work and someone on CBC was interviewing him.  I have no idea when that was, but I do remember the profound effect that his words had on me.  The snapshot memory I have is of him explaining why he thought of himself as anti-theist.

At the time, I was already atheist, but I generally kept this from others, not because of fear of discrimination or of embarrassment but rather because I just didn't see why it mattered to others.

Listening to Hitchens, though, was a lightning bolt to my brain.  His words distilled thoughts that had been jumbled up in my mind for years.  He was so pure, so clear, and so utterly rational in his speech that I was immediately and completely changed.  I knew at that moment that I too was anti-theist and that I would not be able to keep it to myself any longer.

This is not just some kind of intellectual crush, however; it is a deep, intellectual agreement with his arguments on religion and god, which I learned to appreciate more and more over the years as I read more and more of his work.  It matters not one whit to me that it was Hitchens that made those arguments; it is rather that the arguments themselves were made.

In this sense, I owe Hitchens.  His lucidity and intellectual power gave me the means to improve my own thinking substantively.  I hope I can live up to the standards I've set for myself as a result of my exposure to him.

He was honest - brutally so sometimes - and unequivocal.  He had a clarity of speech that made listening to him a joy.  Some people think he was arrogant.  Wouldn't you be too, if you had his education, his knowledge, his skill?  He can easily be forgiven for having human failings because his successes were so much more important.

And I'd also dispute the charge of arrogance.  If one listens to him speak, one will note a fairly common tendency to sound rather humble.  He referred to himself as a jobbing hack; he often professed a single-minded and absolute devotion to his children; his fierce and emotional defence of Stephen Fry (not that Fry is incapable of defending himself very well, thank you very much) at the Intelligence Squared debate - all these things are symptomatic not of arrogance but rather of incredible self-awareness, of having understood exactly what he was, what he wanted to do, and that it was, in the long run, the right thing.

Was Hitchens perfect?  Of course not!  So What?  Neither was Einstein.  Neither was Martin Luther King.  Neither was Orwell, or Steinbeck, or Hemingway.  This in no way diminishes the good that they all did during their lives.  And it's the good we need to remember, to incorporate into our own lives, because that's how we progress.

I'm trying to figure out how to end this entry in a way that Hitchens would approve.  Given everything I know about him, I think I can only say this:

Thanks Hitch.  Bye.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written Filippo. You are spot on disputing the charge of arrogance. I found people who blamed Hitch for arrogance often did this in desperation as they had no intelligent argument left to say. Hitch was an honest man who taught me to stand by reason when credit is due.