Christopher Hitchens, renowned author and intellectual, died on December 12, 2011 of esophageal cancer in the presence of his loved ones at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. He was first diagnosed in 2010 shortly after the release of his autobiography “Hitch-22,” at which time he began chemotherapy treatments. During his sickness, he displayed the same detached candor and nonsense-free approach to discussing his own illness as he did all of the world’s ills as he perceived them.
According to Hitchens in Vanity Fair, “Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic.” Thankfully, Hitchens displayed not an ounce of that victimhood, choosing instead to focus squarely on his continued work. His demeanor was softer and more personable in recent months, one of the best examples being his willingness to meet a young fan after an event to personally suggest reading materials for the girl.
This softness didn’t extend an ounce to his impassioned rhetorical style against what he viewed as the problems faced by humanity, chiefly religion. In a very recent interview with Richard Dawkins, Hitchens took the Catholic Church to task for their implicitness in the Holocaust:
“The way I put it is this: if you’re writing about the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism, you can take out the word ‘fascist’, if you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslovakia and Austria and replace it with ‘extreme-right Catholic party’.”
Hitchens believed the theocrat to be the origin of totalitarianism, and his arguably best-known book “God Is Not Great” (2007) highlighted his strong anti-religious views. But it wasn’t all seriousness all the time. His sharp criticisms were expressed through a smart, and often incendiary, wit. Upon Jerry Falwell’s death, he quipped to Fox News, “If you gave Falwell an enema, he’d be buried in a matchbox.” Many are probably thinking the same thing about the dear departed Christopher Hitchens.
Never loyal to a particular party, Hitchens answered solely to reason as best as he could derive it. Over his lengthy career, he dedicated himself to preserving truthful observation and intellectual curiosity at the expense of niceties. “Impassioned” is the term frequently used by his friends to describe his take on life.
It’s sad to let such a spirited fellow traveler go. But Christopher Hitchens makes it a bit easier by leaving a legacy of fulfilled potential. No need to pray for his family, or imply he’ll be seen on some “other side.” He’d roll his eyes at such gestures. On the contrary, respecting Hitchens’ life requires only one thing: Remembering to think.
Goodbye, beloved Christopher.