I never met the man. And today, I am intensely sad that he’s dead.
A fair amount of what Christopher Hitchens said and wrote irritated the fuck out of me. Some of it even seriously angered me. But the man was brilliant. He did difficult, at times even dangerous work that few others were willing to do. He was fearless about saying what nobody else was willing to say. He debated with an army of facts ready at his tongue and a wit like a stiletto dipped in venom. He was often totally fucking hilarious. He was beyond eloquent.
And he faced his illness, and what he clearly knew was his impending death, with a courage and grace and brutal honesty that was nothing short of astonishing. He had made it a major part of his life’s work to convince people that there was no God and no afterlife, that these were self-delusions and not even particularly worthwhile self-delusions… and he fervently declined to take shallow comfort in these delusions, even with a horribly painful illness gripping him and death staring him in the face. His writing about illness and mortality was among the most insightful and inspiring that I have ever read. I hope to have even half as much courage and grace when it’s my turn. I think his example will make that a little bit easier.
A fair amount of what he wrote irritated and angered me. And that’s one of the things I like best about the atheist movement. We don’t have to idolize our leaders and our heroes. We can disagree with them. We can recognize that they’re human. We can say to them one day, “Damn, that was brilliant”… and the next day say, “You’re being a fucking asshole, this is beneath you”… and the next day say yet again, “Okay, that was brilliant.”
Sometimes, Christopher Hitchens was a fucking asshole, and said and wrote things that were beneath him. Most of the time, he was brilliant. I’m deeply sorry that I never met him.
I’m not going to say R.I.P. I don’t think Christopher Hitchens is at rest. I don’t think there is anything left of him to rest. I think he is dead. But tonight, I’ll be raising a glass of Scotch in his honor. The world is a better place because he was in it, and it is a sadder, less interesting place now that he’s not.
I never met the man. And I’m crying now. Fuck.