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Hitchens

I don’t do obituaries. Mostly because I don’t really idolize people. I recognize that this is probably due to my cynicism. People are just people to me, they aren’t doing anything that anyone else couldn’t do, they just devoted their life to one particular thing (or things depending). I’m also not the type of person to mourn. I find funerals ridiculous and wakes to be pointless. Perhaps it’s my atheism, but then again my view on the deads’ rites actually outlasts my disbelief in god(s). I haven’t been to alot of funerals, but I’ve been to a greatly absurd amount of wakes. All I can say about them is that while this number is greatly supported by the fact that my family is of Irish heritage, I’m glad I’m not Italian. Italian wakes are the cruelest exercise in boredom, at least with the Irish you can get up and walk around. I always act appropriately at these “events” just as I do in a church and largely for the same reason: respect for those who find meaning in them.

Being dead, isn’t being. That’s why I don’t mourn. According to Herodotus the Gettai (a forgotten tribe in Africa) used to mourn birth and celebrate death. Their reasoning was the life was so full of suffering and trials that being born caused harm, while death freed the person from all of the travails of being alive. I don’t remember if they had an afterlife. I don’t like that kind of sentiment, sure life is full of troubles but that isn’t all. Death can be a benefit if a person is suffering, or struggling with a terminal disease. It puts closure on a trial that no one wants and no one asks for. Last night, when I learned that Christopher Hitchens had died, I was shocked but it wasn’t a shocking thing. He had been long battling esophagal cancer, which I learned about through a chain email entitled “pray for Christopher Hitchens.”

It was one of the few internet memes that were completely unironic. Hitchens was famously an unapologetic atheist and the email chain I thought was evidence of the very type of cruel condescension endemic to religious thinking that he spent his career fighting against. There was a certain smugness to the wording of the email and the implication that if for some reason that he had been a believer in Christianity that he would have been spared the cancer which eventually killed him. There was also the hope that he might profer a death bed recantation, the sort that would have negated most of his life’s work. The death bed confession which is often falsely attributed to Charles Darwin and Niccolo Machiavelli is supposed to somehow render null the truths they wrote, never occured thankfully. Now would it be possible that it could have happened. In an interview over the summer he definitively explained that if any death bed confession came from, it would not be him but either the disease or the medicine. That person wasn’t Christopher Hitchens, but an addled brain occupying his body. I liked that sentiment, it purposely linked the desires of the healthy mind with the possibility of what an impaired mind might think.

My first exposure to him was shortly after Jerry Falwell’s death in 2007. Falwell represented the very worst in religious zealotry, only mitigated by the fact that he, at least, held the law against murder as being supreme over his own extremism. Falwell and his ilk (Pat Robertson to name another) were good evidence for atheism. They were people we could point at and say, “see, see! This is where this type of thinking leads.” Upon Falwell’s death people eulogized him often talking about his devotion to god, or his founding of Liberty College, basically anything but what he really was. I was doing research for one of my classes when I stumbled upon an interview with Hitchens on Falwell’s death, and I was struck at how dead honest he was. To me Falwell represented the exact same type of close minded narrowness that caused the very terrorism (9/11) he blamed on the existence of homosexuals and atheists; and only Hitchens was on television calling him out on it after his death. The only difference between Falwell and Atta was that Atta put a bit more effort into his fanaticism. I’ve never subscribed the Shakespearean sentiment that the good a man does is interred in their bones while their evil lives on after them. Maybe it was true in his day but in ours it simply doesn’t pan out.The Falwell case is one piece of evidence.

Often times his views on religion were washed away by his opponents who just described him as being another leftist. Yet, he was a leftist who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This I felt was intellectually honest, his reasoning was that Saddam needed to be ousted he referred to him as a thug and criminal. Both of which were accurate. His opposition to actual leftists in matters of foreign policy was another endearing trait for me. In order to offer their polemics against intervention of the West they must offer support for dictators of totalitarian regimes who oppress their own people. In short, what they are saying is that if intervention is wrong then the status quo must be right. While opposing the war in Iraq wasn’t equivalent to supporting Hussein, his view I think, was the more consistent.

He offered what I consider an alternative between the right/left dynamic of this country. You don’t have to be one or the other forcing yourself to buy in to the absurdities represented on each side. If anything is to be his legacy for me, it would be that.

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