December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

He finally succumbed to throat cancer. You can read a remembrance here.

Unlike in the olden days when religious people could (and would) make up stories about nonbelievers having deathbed conversions, nowadays such a fraud is hard to pull off. It is clear that Hitchens had no use for such fairy stories right up the end.

Here he is talking about the Jesus myth.

(Via Machines Like Us.)


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Excuse me for the length of what follows:

The rabidly religious may not be claiming deathbed conversions, but they are up to their usual deathbed perversions. In the first few hours alone I lost count of the number of peurile insults and inferences, the number of wishes for Hitchens to be "burning in hell". Cowardly attacks and character assassination upon dead atheists are nothing new.

When Stephen J. Gould died in 2002, there were insults about his weight and wishes for eternal suffering.

When Katharine Hepburn died in 2003, William F. Buckley wrote a piece of tripe insulting her, saying things he wouldn't have dared say when she was alive. She would have torn him a new one, even at age 96.

When Kurt Vonnegut Jr. died in 2007, during the height of Bush nationalism, FAUX "news" did the most disgusting hit piece ever, calling Vonnegut's life "wasted" and his books "inferior".

When George Carlin died in 2008, the rightwing media went full court press on Carlin's substance abuse (drugs and alcohol), as if that was all his life amounted to. Very little mention was made to his changing of comedy or provoking of thought in the general consciousness.

When Howard Zinn died in 2010 (atheist or not, I don't know), NPR's "obituary" included an insult that Zinn's career was "worthless". There were many more insults besides that, as well as avoidance of any mention that he was 100% right about Iraq and the US invasion.

Would you ever hear that of a rightwinger died? No, not even when Tony Snow or Buckley died. Would you hear that about a supposedly "neutral" person like Tim Russert? No, you wouldn't and didn't, only fawning adulation. The only rightwing extremists who were ever spoken ill of after their deaths were Jerry Falwell and Mother Teresa, and those were both by Hitchens, referring to Falwell's "carcass" and speaking of Teresa's cult of personality.

Now that Hitchens has died, you can be sure that the rabidly religious will spew insults, innuendos, and wishes for suffering in large numbers. I've already seen more in one day than I can count.

It's clear that those of a religious bent (and I choose that word deliberately, in the British sense of it) feel no compunction about insulting the dead, yet will be up in arms if one of their own is criticized, even when criticism is justified (e.g. after Ronald Reagan's death). They're not blind to their hypocrisy and immorality, they shamelessly revel in it.

I can't imagine how cowardly and disgusting the remarks will be when Richard Dawkins dies in 20+ years. Who knows, maybe the culture and dialogue will have changed by then. But probably not.

Finally, my personal thoughts on Hitchens: He was a rude, crass and ill-mannered boor who supported two illegal wars for no good reason. He was a brilliant and persuasive writer, but as a speaker he was insufferable. Too bad he didn't end up like Roger Ebert - still alive and able to write, but unable to speak.


Posted by P Smith on December 17, 2011 07:09 AM

P. Smith,

I agree with you almost entirely. Hitchens's politics, especially in his later years, were truly awful. He seemed to have bought into the entire neo-conservative package, with all its anti-Muslim viciousness. He has been accused of being a social climber and careerist, and while I did not move in those circles and so cannot judge for myself, I have no difficulty believing it.

His main skill, other than an enviable facility with words, was as a polemicist who seemed to have read widely and had a prodigious memory, all very useful when it comes to writing and debating.

Posted by Mano on December 17, 2011 07:33 AM