I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say about the passing of Christopher Hitchens.
He was someone who I admired, and of course still do. I am saddened by the fact that he is gone, but I am thankful for the volume of work he produced while he was still alive. Until the very end, Christopher continued to produce work of quality and integrity that showcased his amazing intellectual prowess. I did not agree with everything he said. There were times when I would think, “Now that’s taking things a wee bit too far.” His debates, though heavily grounded in logic and reason, were nevertheless not immune from an occasional ad hominem attack; but then I will not deny that I revelled in the display.
As someone who has struggled all his life to articulate thoughts, I many times found in Christopher’s words my own inner voice; a voice woefully quiet and undeveloped; a voice that longed to translate the thoughts swirling inside my brain. So many times I would catch a phrase, an argument, an idea and I would smile to myself upon discovering, “Yes! That’s what I wanted to say!”
As an atheist, I found in Christopher the courage to be myself. I found a guiding voice to help me realize that, after all these years, I never believed in virgin births or resurrections; talking snakes or zoological lifeboats; miraculous healings or other assorted party tricks as anything more than, well, tricks; and, at the base of it all, I never believed in gods. That I grew up pretending to be someone that I wasn’t has had an effect on me, and it has taken me some time to finally be true to myself. I do not consider myself to be outspoken, but I nevertheless feel much more at peace with myself. Just as important, I found myself not to be alone. Through the work of Christopher Hitchens I discovered a vast and diverse community of fellow rationalists and non-believers; a community where I am unafraid to disagree with others; a community that isn’t bound by dogma or blind devotion to assertions that shun examination; a community that promotes honest investigation and the full implications that come with it, not circular reasoning.
One of the ideas that Christopher Hitchens spoke of repeatedly and at length was that morality comes not from a book or divine revelation. Morality comes from humans living and interacting with other humans. How we relate to each other; how we treat each other; how we expect others to treat us; how we grow and develop as a species; this all comes from thousands and thousands of years of trial and error, through times of prosperity and devastation, through peace and conflict. Life is messy, that is the reality of being a human, a primate, a biological organism. To retrofit supposed wisdom after ages upon ages have already passed, is to cheat our legacy and deny all that has come before. To quote Mr. Hitchens, “We’re half a chromosome away from chimpanzees and it shows.” We have so much more to learn, to discover about ourselves and the world around us. To proclaim that through revelation we already have the answers, not only to our origins, but to our current position and, indeed, a sneak peek as to what is to come, again without solid evidence is not only dubious, but it promotes stagnation; for why bother to look any further when the answer has already been presented to us? Why bother to question, to explore, to reach beyond ourselves, if the boundaries of knowledge have already been marked by lines that were draw generations ago. I would rather push forward and risk the unknown then settle for the illusion of certainty. In my opinion, it’s the only way we can continue to grow.
Christopher Hitchens is gone, but he has left his mark and gained his own version of immortality through his work.
Thank you, Mr. Hitchens.