A memorial, by Joel Kelly
Today will be filled with memorials of Hitch, and likely more than a few cheers that the strongest opponent of religious tyranny has finally quit the fight.
My memorial offers little to this conversation, I know, but if Hitch inspires us to do anything, it is to write.
I was young, and had been convinced since childhood that I knew the “truth”. That I was a part of it. I questioned this, and had begun to see less and less truth and more and more control and insecure intellectual bullying, but I was still stuck, somewhat.
I was still stuck going through the motions of life, anchored by teachings that I didn’t truly believe anymore, but could not see a path away from.
And then, Hitch.
Christopher Eric Hitchens, the Oxford-educated journalist, debater, and most of all fierce intellectual, passed away yesterday from the pneumonia caused by his stage-4 esophageal cancer (he would remind us, “there is no stage 5”) and treatment.
But not before changing the lives of people like me, all around the world.
Hitch’s debates (and then his books and articles in Slate and Vanity Fair) showed me the alternatives to the wicked preachments of religion, and the tyranny they enforce and stem from. He was a champion of, as he said, “taking the risk all the time” that one doesn’t know enough yet, that one can always be learning, reading, and struggling for truth.
What a thing to say, and shouldn’t it be obvious? But clearly, in a world where people can still be beheaded for “witchcraft” or politicians can be openly bigoted, or, frankly, that there can still be arguments over which human beings deserve more rights than others, this fight must still go on.
Christopher always insisted, to anyone who would credit him for motivating them to make their break from religion, that they would have gotten there on their own eventually. In my case, certainly that’s true. But I don’t know how long it would have taken, how many more years I would have wasted.
Christopher (never “Chris”) leaves this world better than the one he’d been born into. From his books exposing the bubble reputations of Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, and Bill Clinton, to his debates against the religious, to being an experimental case for cutting edge cancer treatment, he has contributed more to the world than most could ever dream of.
In his Vanity Fair article Tumortown, he notes: “‘Until you have done something for humanity,’ wrote the great American educator Horace Mann, ‘you should be ashamed to die.'”
Christopher Eric Hitchens, my hero, my constant inspiration, and one of the best human beings to live on this planet, had no reason to be ashamed to die.
And thank you.
Here is my favorite video of Christopher: his closing debate remarks, to what had started as a hostile student crowd, while he was suffering from cancer: