Friday, 16 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

Christopher Hitchens
April 13th, 1949 – December 16th, 2011

Those of you who have been reading my blog since the beginning of this year or before will know that, earlier on this year, I started to take a keen interest in the writings of certain thinkers, philosophers and polemicists. Christopher Hitchens, who today died of oesophageal cancer, was one such man.

He was the anti-theist attack dog of the 'Four Horseman of New Atheism', a group that also consisted of eminent scientists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. Hitchens pulled no punches with the 2007 polemic God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. His most controversial and sought-after book demonstrated that religion and faith-based beliefs are in no way a force for good and posited that we should instead turn to reason and science to better understand the world in which we live. Other notable works (amongst a wide range of books on various subjects) include The Portable Atheist, a book of quotations from free-thinkers; The Missionary Position, an excoriating attack on Mother Teresa and Letters to a Young Contrarian.  
Hitchens was also a prolific debater. In a high profile public event in 2009, he and Stephen Fry debated with politician Anne Widdecombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan on the motion, "Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?" Later remarking that he and Fry "left [their opponents] for dead", Hitchens went in, all guns blazing, to defend reason and scientific enquiry in the face of mass ignorance and the church's totalitarian oppression.

At a time when my reason and intellect were in a bitter struggle with my faith (since dispensed with), Hitchens' writing offered me hope; he was not peddling easy answers to unanswerable questions, but his words helped me to understand the nature of evidence and the value of scepticism, for which I will always be in his debt. In October of this year, to a crowd of unbelievers, Hitchens said:

"We have the same job we have always had: to say that there are no final solutions; there is no absolute truth; there is no supreme leader; there is no totalitarian solution that says if you would just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you would simply abandon your critical faculties, the world of idiotic bliss can be yours."

Christopher Hitchens was, and will remain, an inspiration to those of us who read and immensely enjoyed his works. He will be remembered and missed for years to come.