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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: A Man of Himself

When I heard that Christopher Hitchens, the short, pudgy, British athiest, had died, I immediately wondered, What happened to his soul?

The self-described “anti-theist” wallowed in obscurity for much of his career but gained international renown for his 2007 best-seller God is Not Great. I'll refrain from making specific comments on the book because I have not read it and probably never will, but I want to call attention to something Hitchens said while promoting his magnum opus back then.

After the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, Hitchens appeared on CNN. When Anderson Cooper asked him if he thought Falwell had gone to heaven (qualifying it by acknowledging that he didn't know whether his guest believed in an afterlife), Hitchens responded, "No, and I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go to."

There's so much wrong with that statement that I don't quite know where to begin. Hitchens went on to make numerous incedniary remarks about Falwell throughout the interview, calling him "evil", "a little toad" and an "ugly little charlatan", among other things, but that first remark really stood out to me and other Christians who saw/heard it. It encapsulated Hitchens's view of Judeo-Christian beliefs in general and specific religious leaders. Granted, Hitchens had a special disdain for Falwell and those like him, the so-called "televangelists" who appeared to serve mammon over God, but his contempt for organized religion and people of faith went far beyond feelings that many of us share about the more reprehensible among us who, in addition to using Christianity as a profit-making tool, poison society with irrational, bigoted messages of intolerance.

Hitchens believed it was possible to lead a moral, ethical life without God (who he always referred to as "god"). He discounted the myriad ways in which people's faith had motivated them to do good, even great, things for mankind. To his credit, he was an equal-opportunity offender, writing frankly about the atrocities perpetrated by radical Islamists in the name of "Allah", which many so-called journalists who shared his beliefs (or lack thereof) refused to do. He also didn't shy away from intellectual discussions or fervent arguments with those who challenged him. I can recall watching him spar with the likes of Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham on FOX News. This is not to say he couldn't be condescending; he was so confident in what he believed that, even when he was facing off against someone he respected, he exuded arrogance and hauteur. His ovoid visage, sallow skin and English accent made him almost like a caricature of the stereotypical obnoxious, left-wing faux-intellectual, but I return to my original question: what became of his spirit after his body expired? Is he burning in Hell? For that matter, I wonder, since he so adamantly believed there was no God, no heaven or Hell, no afterlife, whence did he think his soul came from? I suppose I might find the answer to that last question in some of his writings, but being a full-time law student, I haven't much time to read for pleasure. (Then again, I have no guarantee that reading Hitch's polemic prose would be pleasurable.)

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