Tuesday, December 20, 2011

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS – Both the Good and the Bad

Most recent commentary in the United States – be it political, economic or scientific – is predictable.  There is doctrine on the left and doctrine on the right that liberals and conservatives abide by without second thoughts.  The notable exception to this predictability (in practically all areas of thought except one area where he became all too predictable) has been Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens was all over the board concerning whatever else he believed in.  He criticized people from all sides.  Against the war in Vietnam in 1960s, he became a supporter of America’s efforts in Iraq following the 2004 invasion.   He was an avowed socialist in his youth but later flirted with libertarianism.    During his later years he spoke glowingly of capitalist innovation.  Yet even after this reversal he still somehow managed to assert that Lenin and Trotsky were great men.  Hitchens was against George W. Bush in 2000, briefly for Bush in 2004 and later became a Bush’ neutral.  God only knows where he stood on relations with Israel because his viewpoint on the matter always seemed to be in flux.  It was I guess his prerogative to later think something else, but it was also a fault.  His varied views may in part be due to his temperament, his need for attention, and his lack of intellectual discipline.

I’m not going to defend the man and suggest that he had a great mind or had his hand upon the pulse of our times.  What Christopher Hitchens did have was a certain degree of courage.  No matter how many times he changed his mind on any particular subject, I don’t doubt that he was always speaking his mind concerning what he felt at the time he spoke it. 

Religion was the one area where his views always remained consistent – and strident.  He once said that he wanted none of the promises of religion and instead seemed to prefer oblivion at the end of his life.  When Christopher Hitchens spoke regretfully how Christians are passing up the wonders of today for some obscure hope during the afterlife, I believe that he was being sincere.  Yet when he referred to religion poisoning everything around him, he was pandering to nihilists that like to loudly boast about their intellectual superiority. 

The followers of Hitchens religious theories were also the followers of Richard Dawkins.  Their admirers are non-believers that disparage religion and describe theists as a grouping of weak-minded individuals subsumed by fairy tales.  Such non-believers are usually college educated and often overstate their own IQ scores.  For the most part they’re as narrow-minded, dogmatic, humorless, disingenuous, unhappy and deluded as a member of any religion or cult.  These were the very people that Hitchens should have sought to avoid.  One can admire an honest atheist.  One can admire another person that wonders about the magic of our world and still does not see a divinity behind it.  One can’t admire a person that refuses to pause and wonder yet still belittles those that come to different conclusions than they do.

We all make mistakes.  Even Christopher Hitchens made mistakes as many of his obituaries will attest.  Hitchens claimed to be fairly well read, though he probably was guilty of a few misreadings in his lifetime.  For example, he admired the works of Dostoyevsky – a writer whose primary theme was religion and who was a defender of the Russian Orthodox Church (the church Hitchens was so happy to see Lenin overthrow).  Also, as a student of history, Hitchens seemed to miss that history lesson beginning in 1917 (or maybe even 1789) where attempts to remove religion from our lives, under whatever guise, have been no less injurious than inquisitions performed by any sect. 

We know quite a bit about Hitchens’ personal life.  We know that he admired George Orwell above all other writers.  We know that he smoked and drank too much.  We know that his mother committed suicide with her lover in Greece.  We know that he was married twice, and that for a number of years he didn’t speak to his brother (a born again Christian).  He was said to possess an extraordinary memory.  And, probably, Hitchens was not a particularly happy man. 

Hitchens publicly pronounced that he didn’t want to contemplate God or prayer from his deathbed.  This was somewhat due to his stubbornness, but it was also his own personal business.  Cancer of the esophagus is not the way any of us want to go and Hitchens had the right to deal with his impending death in any manner that he pleased.  Still, I hope the suffering was somewhat bearable for him - with or without religious faith.  

December 20, 2011

© Robert S. Miller 2011