I’m Gonna Miss You Hitch. . .

Posted: December 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

This is what will be one eulogy among an innumerable many of author and journalist, Christopher Hitchens, who died yesterday in Houston, Texas from pneumonia, a complication of the esophageal cancer he had sought treatment for since his diagnosis in 2010. This will also likely to get me into a bit of trouble with some of my friends and comrades on the left for warmly eulogizing him, but this man was important to me for two particular reasons and as such, his death is a pretty big loss for me.

It was with the publication of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything that I’d finally begun to articulate why it was that religion was, and still is, so threatening, so uncomfortably strange and so. . . off to me since I even knew there was such a thing as religion. I can’t say that there was a time in my life that I ever truly was a believer mainly because I was never inculcated in my youth with any particular religious indoctrination. That my parents spared me this is something for which I will be eternally grateful, such as it were, as they left my mind unshackled and free to come to my own conclusions, even if it came at the cost of a lack of knowledge of religious texts that come with a religious upbringing. Because of this intellectual freedom that my parents afforded me, there was something about adults with imaginary friends that always unnerved me as a child, and not because I was afraid of Big Brother or burdened with a guilty conscience. For reasons I lacked the language to express at the time, I couldn’t help but be embarrassed for those I watched in the throes of religious ecstasy, or feel unnerved watching those in ritual, and I could never shake the feeling that I could be turned upon if they knew that I didn’t share their faith. That my hometown is in the former Confederate States makes this a fear that I rightfully carry to this very day in the presence of the faithful. Christopher Hitchens helped me arm and protect myself, rhetorically, against those who don’t have all the answers but pretend that they do, who demand that I bow the knee at the threat of death or damnation, or insist that I stand by, do nothing, and keep my mouth shut so that they can bathe the world in nuclear fire to sate some eschatological fetish. He helped me learn how to tell the faithful that I don’t have to put up with that, and that we humans can, without a divine North Korea, the command of a celestial dictatorship, be moral and good to one another and for that deeply liberating experience, the poverty of my vocabulary leaves me grateful beyond words.

My awakening to the works of Christopher Hitchens also introduced me to a style of writing to which I could only hope to aspire. I didn’t agree with everything he said (who ever did?), and his abandonment of the Socialist cause will always be regrettable to me, but the man had a way with words that I appreciated even if I disagreed with him. His command of the English language, unparalleled in contemporary times, that his more impotent critics invariably mistake for sophistry when bereft of an effective riposte, has me grabbing joyfully for the dictionary again and again when I read his works so that I might expand my vocabulary and greater appreciate the breadth, depth, and adaptability of my native tongue. Were it not for the delicate emotional constitutions of politically correct conservatives and unprincipled centrists, I often find myself wishing that, to teach how to write a paper, I could bring his works to the classroom and say “There. Right there. No matter where you stand on the issue, that’s how it’s done right”.

To say that he was polarizing or divisive is to put it mildly; there is scant middle ground, if any, between those who staunchly admired and savagely hated him. Those in the religious right offer tasteless condescensions of him “finally learning the truth” or, in at least one case, “getting what he deserves”. My comrades on the left excoriate him post-mortem for being an “evil war cheerleader” for his positions on military interventionism, particularly in the case of Iraq for which I myself had to part company with him on, or for perceived sexism or fabricated claims of racism connected with his support for the war in Iraq. Whatever unkind words his many detractors have for him in death offends me not in the least bit. He wasn’t nice to his foes and hadn’t the hypocrisy to expect kindness in return upon his own death, which I take in stride because his takedowns of Mother Teresa, (an anti-choice religious fanatic and warm friend to dictators and financial swindlers), and Jerry Falwell (enough said there) were brilliant. He had no reservations about slaughtering sacred cows and I appreciated the kind of courage required to publicly examine popular figures with a critical eye and a razor wit to bring them down to ground level for a proper inspection. For me to complain about all the unkind things said about him from anyone would be nothing short of hypocrisy myself. One of my biggest regrets, as I’m sure as it was his as well, was that he has been outlived by Henry Kissinger.

Love him or hate him, his pugnacious combat with totalitarianism, temporal or religious, made this world a better place, especially for those comrades who wish to fight it; for humanity’s need to fight that battle, I’ll have a drink for his contributions to it.

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