RIP Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, well-known polemicist, commentator and journalist has died of pneumonia at the age of 62. Having announced he had terminal cancer of the oesophagus in the summer of 2010 he knew his days were numbered.

Of British birth he became an American citizen just a few years ago having flitted between the US and UK for quite a few years. The typical firebrand that he was meant that once he’d taken citizenship he immediately set about the religious right and tearing down their interpretation of the Constitution.

No, he was not known for restraint in his words having clashed publicly with his brother Peter, attacked both the Clinton administration and despite generally being a supporter of the Bush administration he was highly critical of the evangelical support that Bush relied on to get him into office. Hitchens’ obituary of Jerry Falwell is brutal and a great antidote to the platitudes that followed his death. Hitchens declared later that “if we gave him [Falwell] an enema we could bury him in a matchbox”. Ouch!

Hitchens was the man who wrote the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ against the beatification of Mother Teresa (he was commissioned by the Vatican to wrote the negative commentary – this is standard practice when application for beatification is made). Describing her as a religious extremist who was obsessed with her own cult of personality. He proclaims she was “no friend to the poor” who ignored the wishes of her patrons (a summary of the book is here).

His most mainstream work (and the only one I have read) is God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Released the same year as Dawkins’ The God Delusion, in many ways it is its opposite. Where Dawkins book focuses largely on the absurdity of faith, Hitchens’ book demonstrates why religion’s impact does more harm than good to humanity. It is more caustic, more brutal and more sarcastic and it always surprises me why Dawkins and his book received a greater backlash from the pious-and-perpetually-outraged and the I’m-not-religious-but-I-like-to-take-offence-on-their-behalf brigade.

I also have on my shelf The Portable Atheist (of which he is editor). The one thing this massive tome is not is portable. It contains essays by atheists and agnostics of the modern era as well as the past. I’ve dipped in and out of it but not given it a thorough reading yet (target for 2012 perhaps).

Click here for a selection of his quotes on The Guardian website (mobile link).

He will be sorely missed. As a tribute I’m posting this 68 minute video of him discussing his book God is Not Great.

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