It’s bad taste to say unpleasant things about people when they’re dead. Well, no it’s not actually. Kim Jon Il just died and just today they were mocking him on the radio. Wartime songs were sung about Hitler after his demise, and so on. But in polite society, it’s not done. Christopher Hitchens lost his battle with Cancer recently, and Christians are coming out of the woodwork to say nice things about him.
He may have been a good journalist and writer, but in the arena he became notorious in – attacking religion, he was a prat, and deliberately so. And not just a prat, a pretending, smug, arrogant (certainly more arrogant than was warranted by his ignorance), belligerent prat. He – along with his equally vapid adoring fan base – was quite taken by the idea that you’ve offered a sensible critique of Christianity if you just describe it in scornful terms with a serious look on your face, or that a deep Oxford educated voice and some dirty innuendos made a point all that more logically compelling.
Christopher Hitchens, aside from having a presenter’s (and a writer’s) flair, contributed nothing of value to public discussions around religion. His circus antics only served to egg on the very worst intellectual element of atheism (frankly giving more respectable non-believers a bad name), and to undermine the academic virtues of his Alma Mater (the University of Oxford). In spite of – as far as actual arguments go – hands down losing his debate with Alister McGrath on the value of religion, the fact that he made his comments in a sassy tone and threw in a questionable joke or two warmed people to him, turning them away from analysing the intellectual merits of what was said and towards an analysis of “who gave the best burn.” In this he certainly resembles his company among the so-called “four horsemen” of the new atheism, especially Richard Dawkins, whose ostensible tribute to Hitchens is essentially a slightly less well written version of a Hitchens tirade against theism. Dawkins would have us think that Hitchens’ death shows us the dignity of atheism. No it doesn’t. It shows us what’s wrong with smoking and drinking to excess. Hitchens took the advice of Job’s wife, “curse your God and die.”
Hitchens left a lasting message for his adorers: Screw reason, just go for the shock value of a thumped podium, fake outrage, showmanship and some naughty words. It’s not much of a legacy. That said, he was a man who certainly spoke what he believed and had integrity that would allow him to do nothing else. This being the case, the last thing he would want, I am sure, is a pretentious tribute about what a sad loss of a great fellow this is. It’s sad for him, his friends and family of course, and they have my condolences for the personal loss. But as for this “here lies a worthy opponent” nonsense, forget it. He lived as a fool, played to the lowest common denominator, encouraged a generation of sloppy, angry argument makers and committed his career and a good chunk of his life to hostility towards his maker. His life was one of genuine tragedy.