Hitch a wagon to the stars

We miss ya, Christopher.

Never without a stiff drink or a cigarette or acerbic wit, Christopher Hitchens was proof that the pen could, indeed, be mightier than the sword, and that sometimes pictures were worth a thousand words. It might be a bit presumptuous to say that Hitchens painted with words, but there is something undeniable about our fallen friend: he was one of the greatest polemicists of our time.

Born April 13th, 1949, Hitchens spent the rest of his conscious life in a seeming crusade to piss off everyone imaginable. Hitchens exemplified the fact that labels were superfluous. He spent his natural life searching out truths, and sorting out realities from ignorance. A stalwart defender of free speech and free thought, he lashed out with his pen at everyone from Mother Teresa (whom he believed was far less than saintly) to Henry Kissinger to Bill Clinton to, most famously, god.

I first “discovered” Christopher Hitchens a number of years back, when I found myself in the midst of a personal religious struggle. I came across a little book called god is Not Great, with god callously small-typed, showing that the devil was, indeed, in the details. Once I began reading it, it was not Hitchens’ staunch antitheist and antireligious views that got to me. It was the way in which he voiced those views.

Hitchens, then, was not one who convinced me to become an atheist (that was nobody’s decision but my own mind’s), but one who showed me that I ought never to think of something so singularly, and that I should open my mind and be conscious of all information. He, along with many other famous polemicists and writers, convinced me that one should never be silent and that one should always be free to think critically, especially of those things which seemed taboo or safe from criticism. He taught me that the most important voice in the room was that of the lonely dissenter.

When I began watching his debates and reading more of his writings, it was his outgoing, highly-argumentative, and aggressive demeanor (which could, I suppose, be misconstrued as hatred) that continued to win me over. He forced a great many number to think, rather than simply sit in their cushy lairs of ignorance. When the detestable Jerry Falwell passed, Christopher Hitchens made an appearance on Hannity & Colmes. He refused to back down from a position he took: that Falwell was not deserving of the pious reception to his death in the mainstream media. And while Hannity was content in attempting to rob Hitchens of any “human decency”, Christopher proved that the only “human decency” was to speak the truths, and not to remain spellbound by ignorance, no matter how uncomfortable it made one feel.

Hitchens also had a wit and a wicked sense of humor. When British politician George Galloway accused him of being nothing more than “a drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay”, Hitchens replied that only some of it was true, and later clarified that he protested Galloway’s assertion that he could not hold a drink. He “feuded” with the likes of Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky. But he could always earn the respect of his “enemies” as much as he did his friends.

Hitchens may not have taken political and social positions that I always found agreeable, but he always had a reason for taking them. He was no “troll”, and to label him so callously is an affront to the amount of time he spent defending his own beliefs, defending the rights of others, and defending the most sacred freedoms: speech and thought. For if he knew in his heart that religion was essentially authoritarian and robbed its followers of free thought, he would be there to lambast it. For if he knew that Mother Teresa was not the saint she was portrayed to be, he would be there to crush that belief. For if he believed that the Iraq War was a good idea, he would be there to defend the decision. He never toed any party-lines. He was as content defending America’s war in Iraq as he was bashing George Bush.

In every debate, argument and conversation (which involves any such “serious” subjects as politics and religion), Hitchens has, essentially, emboldened me to act as he did. To debate spiritedly, with a touch of controversy, and a bit of humor and wit here and there, so that whomever I am talking to is forced to think. I’ve never been one for mindless tributes. It seems that a person or an event, if important enough, will speak for themselves. I am sure there are better writers whom you can afford the time of day to prattle on about such things. I am not sure, however, whether or not Hitchens would have rebuked me severely for my seeming idolatry. Although my gut feeling says he would have, and with an acid tongue.

The world lost its toughest and its greatest voice a year ago, and it has yet to recover.

(Once again, I show up just a little too late. Better late than never.)

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