With a heavy heart I report that Christopher Hitchens passed away early today at the age of 62 from esophageal cancer. In all brutal fairness – a fairness I’m sure Hitchens as empiricist would appreciate – he was a borderline alcoholic and heavy smoker; in this respect and in a universe devoid of a living and personal God, he ultimately reaped what he sowed. But I do not believe this is a Godless universe and my dendrites dance when I speculate how that final encounter between the Creator and the creature transpired.
As a journalist, war correspondent and literary critic, Hitchens carved out a reputation for barbed repartee, scathing critiques of public figures and a fierce intelligence.
In his 2007 book “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” Hitchens took on major religions with his trenchant atheism. He argued that religion was the source of all tyranny and that many of the world’s evils have been done in the name of religion.
The son of a British naval officer, Hitchens studied at Oxford University and worked as literary critic for the New Statesman magazine in London before moving to New York to work as a journalist in 1981. He settled in Washington the following year, initially as correspondent for the left-wing magazine The Nation. He retained his British citizenship when he became an American citizen in 2007.
Hitchens was not one to mince words. In his book on Bill Clinton “No one left to lie to”, he called the former U.S. president a “rapist” and a “con man.” He once referred to Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a “fanatical Albanian dwarf.”
The author of 25 books – including works on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and George Orwell – and countless articles and columns, Hitchens never lost his biting humor.
“I’m a member of a cancer elite. I rather look down on people with lesser cancers,” Hitchens said in an interview with CBS “60 Minutes” aired on March 6, 2011.
In a 2010 interview with Reuters, Hitchens dismissed criticism that he moved from left to right and helped former U.S. President George W. Bush sell the 2003 war with Iraq to the American public with what turned out to be bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.
“Saddam was an enemy of the civilized world and he should have been taken out a long time before,” Hitchens said of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. “I have no regrets about that at all.”
The 2001 attacks on the United States by Islamic fundamentalists in hijacked passenger planes made Hitchens ever more critical of the role of religion in the world, and led him to appreciate the merits of American democracy.
“I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion, and organized religion,” he wrote.
Hitchens said things that more often than not made me pitch a fit – but he said them with a style and an aplomb that rendered me a masochist begging for more. He was a writer’s writer and I read what he wrote with the same stunned, slack-jawed amazement that Salieri read Mozart’s first drafts in the motion picture “Amadeus.”
When it came to wordcraft, Hitchens was a genius – twisted and damaged in many respects, but a genius nevertheless. Words and sentences to him were like marble to Buonarotti, pigments to Rembrandt – or musical notes to Mozart.
He leaves behind a metaphorical pen that no one will ever be able to wield and a literary legacy I shall always envy. Farewell, Mr. Hitchens…you will be sorely missed.