My attention was elsewhere last night. I got the news from a friend:
Can’t talk about it online, but I’m pouring one out for Hitchens. His book was the one that made me an atheist. I owe him. Though after I became sad at some of his views. Still. God is not Great. I owe him for that one.
My first thought was that I didn’t know this friend wasn’t out as an atheist. I just thought there wasn’t much interest in talking about religion in public. I responded, “I started an atheist, so what he taught me was that we don’t have to give up flair to talk about it.”
My second reaction was to check with the news sites to see whether he was confirmed dead, rumored dead, or had just taken a drastic turn for the worse. The obituaries–and eulogies–had just started going up.
My third act was to turn to Twitter. Christopher Hitchens was not the sort of person people in my circle look at and say, “Meh.” There would be opinions, many of them inspired in their writing by the eloquence of their subject. They didn’t disappoint. My own thoughts didn’t really fit into 140 characters:
Hitchens brilliance lay in the clarity of his analysis and the weight of his communication. One was never in doubt that he thought hard, and his conclusions were inescapably presented to anyone who read him. That brilliant mind, however, faced forever outward. He never seemed to turn its full power on himself and his assumptions about the world. He did harm that was entirely unnecessary and good that was so thoroughly stamped with his own personality that it has a fair claim to being unique.
He was deeply, vitally, and tragically human. It was fascinating to see everyone’s takes on his life and legacy.
By the time I noticed the #GodIsNotGreat hashtag, it was trending and receiving the random attention that trending topics do. It was an odd mix of people calmly talking about what Hitchens had meant to them, quoting him, mourning his death–and a bunch of people who had never heard of him but were aghast that a topic like that could ever trend. It was funny and appalling in about equal measure.
This morning, the hashtag is no longer trending. People are mostly seeing retweets of friends and like-minded individuals talking about what it looked like last night. There is condemnation of some of the things that were said, and doubt that it could have been that bad. I would call it skepticism, but it’s all based on personal incredulity, leavened, of course, with a dose of disdain for anyone who would think it had been that bad.
These tweets are for those who are sheltered enough to still (still!) believe that people don’t say things like that. First, the simple name-calling:
Ah, yes. Love. Nothing says love like competition:
Except maybe damnation:
Or perhaps pain and injury:
Hey, how about death?
Anybody still have those doubts?
At least among all the nastiness, there were a few people who failed so perfectly with their “insults” that Hitchens himself would have been flattered.
Pity Hitch didn’t get to stick around to see that.