I woke up this morning to the terrible, but not unexpected news, that Christopher Hitchens had passed away.
Hitch (always Christopher, never Chris) was a man of outstanding intellect and his mastery of the English language was, in my experience, unsurpassed by anyone. Reading his words and hearing his voice was like having a intravenous drip of knowledge delivered straight to your very core. Hitch's greatest weapon, for me, was his ability to make you think about a subject, even if you vehemently disagreed with his stance on something you had to admire his ability to make a compelling argument on just about anything.
Christopher was diagnosed with stage 4 oesophageal cancer in June 2010 ("there is no stage 5", he remarked), who knows if it was a result of his lifestyle, it was rare up to that point to see a picture of the man without a cigarette or a drink, but his father also died of the same disease so perhaps his genes are to blame.
His tour-de-force, in my opinion, was 2007's God Is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything. But his attacks on people like Mother Theresa should also not be forgotten and showed just how much damage she did as opposed to good.
Many people are wary of Hitch's political yo-yo performance over the years, but the left-right sides of politics should be much more blurred than what they are and he showed this over the years, I think. It seems almost ridiculous that you can often take a subject and predict someone's political leanings based on their answer (abortion, education, etc, etc) but each subject should be tackled on its own merits and people tend to stick to political ideologies through stubbornness.
One of the four horsemen of New Atheism (self-proclaimed by Hitch as he knew they would only be given a name by someone else at some stage) along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Dan Dennett, Hitch's performance in religious debates leaves a trail of defeated opponents that would make even a vengeful deity proud.
So often were his opponents left realing after a verbal knockout, the term Hitchslap was born.
This particular performance is a snippet from a debate he had alongside Stephen Fry, against Ann Widdecombe and Archbishop Onaiyekan (you can find the whole debate on youtube, search for Christopher Hitchens Stephen Fry Intelligence Squared or something similar).
While his support of the Iraq war surprised some and lost him some friends and allies, it is easy to understand why he supported it. Throughout his life the one thing you can say he was absolutely consistent with regards to a subject was his disgust of anything totalitarian in nature. This was his biggest gripe towards religion, the unjustified worship, the need to be subservient to a dictator that was not elected, he compared heaven to a celestial North Korea.
The world has lost a great intellectual and possibly our most devastatingly intellectually honest writer. He passed away with an unrivaled dignity. He never wavered during his illness, honest until the end. His last article on Vanity Fair titled Trial of the Will in particular is a brutal exercise in realising one's own mortality. But while some argue there are no atheists in foxholes, Christopher continued to prove many people wrong about such notions.
It is our office christmas party tonight, and I shall be having a contemplative toast in his honour, and if the bar has any Johnnie Walker Black Label then all the better. Christopher, thank you.