Remembering Christopher Hitchens

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By Joel Tennant on 14.12.2023

Remembering Christopher Hitchens

Mother Teresa is a fraud, Henry Kissinger is a war criminal and anal sex is overrated – Christopher Hitchens never minced his words. He branded Jesus “Santa Claus for Adults,” called the Mormon faith a “racket” and protected the author Salman Rushdie after a kill-on-sight order was given by a religious extremist, risking his own life in doing so. When it came to standing up for what he believed (and didn’t believe), Hitchens was unafraid to do so and now, a year since his death, his legacy lives on.

Last year in November, a planned satellite-link conversation with Stephen Fry at the Royal Festival Hall in London was cancelled when Christopher developed Pneumonia whilst receiving cancer treatment in hospital. The evening was rebranded, with an on-stage appearance from friend and fellow ‘New Atheist’ Professor Richard Dawkins, entitled “Fry & Friends on the Life, Loves & Hates of Christopher Hitchens” – but it was bittersweet. Something told me, and many others in attendance, that this was the curtain call for the Hitch, the final bow and cheeky wink from an Anglo-American gent and contrarian.

Hitch-22, his memoir, told his life in all its intricacies and ironies. “The one unforgivable sin,” he remarked, “is to be boring” and without question, ‘boring’ was and will always remain a word foreign to the essence of Christopher Hitchens. A former Socialist and Oxford student, he worked as a foreign correspondent, visited and reported in war-torn countries, protested at countless rallies and wrote damning critiques of politics, individuals, religions and of literature. When his mother committed suicide in Greece in 1973, Hitchens flew over alone to collect her body – whilst there he wrote what would become his first leading article for the New Statesman. Words in his mind outweighed the years allowed to him and those around, it would seem.

“If you gave [Jerry] Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox.” Hate is a dirty word, but one that was not unattached to Hitchens. His views were clear: the suppression of intellectualism, of freedom and of honesty was something to be hated. To a Christian radio host, he once remarked, “Your preachments are evil and they’re a direct threat to the survival of civilization. You are my enemy.” He viewed religion, the faith and of the organisations behind it, as counter to progress and it was this fight that he continued until his final days.

Despite his bitter revulsion at much of politics, religion and society, Christopher was filled with love and compassion. In his memoir, he recalled, “Everything I love: literature, irony, humour, the individual, and the defense of free expression.” His adoration for intellectualism, learning and education knew no bounds, and when such pursuits were challenged he was the first to speak out in protest. Open any of the many books, or magazines for which he wrote, and the literary references illuminate his work. The closing entry in the final chapter of his posthumously published book Mortality quotes from an Alan Lightman novel: “Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.”

Christopher Eric Hitchens died on 15 December 2023 at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, at the age of 62. He once commented that great writers like Shakespeare live on through their work and their words – this seems true in his own case. In the closing remarks of a debate, already undergoing cancer treatment for the disease that would finally silence him, Hitch implored his audience: “Take the risk of thinking for yourself – much more happiness , truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.”



Comments

  • Fantastic article Joel. I can’t actually believe it’s been a year. RIP Hitch.

    Amelia.

    By website-comment on 15.12.2023

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