To the day, it has been 2 years since the death of the famed atheist, Christopher Hitchens. For those of you who don’t know him, or never read anything of his, you may be doing yourself a terrible disservice.
Among the ‘4 horsemen’ of ‘New’ atheism, Christopher Hitchens is my personal favorite. Known for his biting criticism of religion, and his no-holds barred style of debate, Christopher Hitchens left an impression for anyone who saw him in action or read his words. While Christopher is not the reason I became an atheist, he definitely redefined for me what atheism meant in my life.
Before Hitchens, I lacked something. Religion no longer meant anything to me, but according to the world around me, that was supposed to be a hole. After I read ‘God Is Not Great’, I realized not only that religious institutions had a long history of poisoning the world and then conveniently forgetting their past when called out on it (this doesn’t take many atheists long to realize) but that the religious claim to morality was flawed and harmful to all of society.
For those without the time to watch a minute long video: “They (religions) all make the same mistake. They all take the only real faculty we have that distinguishes us from other primates and from other animals — the faculty of reason, and the willingness to take any risk that reason demands of us — and they replace that with the idea that faith is a virtue. If I could change just one thing, it would be to dissociate the idea of faith from virtue, now and for good, and to expose it for what it is: a servile weakness, a refuge in cowardice, and a willingness to follow with credulity, people who are in the highest degree, unscrupulous.”
Now I will give a lot of credit to other great atheist speakers. Dawkins is at the forefront of speaking on the behalf of atheism, as is Sam Harris, and Lawrence Krauss. There are others, like Dan Dennett. They are all from different schools of thought, and all of them scientists of one sort or another.
I have nothing against scientists, but personally I don’t think that scientists are the clearest debaters. When I note what I like about Hitchens over other atheist speakers, I will always note his clarity. Christopher Hitchens constructed arguments that other laymen could digest. When you create a contest of words between the priest (who often use apologetics to argue in the name of religion) and the scientist, the common wo/man will understand the priest better. It is their goal in life to speak to the heart of everyday people. Hitchens had that skill, to speak to our core, could cut to the center of a talking point and strip away the lies that were shrouded around it.
He told us that we were human, and that the great crime of religious institutions was hiding behind ancient rituals to disguise the crimes they committed against fellow men and women. He was human, likely a drunk, he argued in the name of war in the middle east, and may have been slightly misogynistic. Part of knowing Christopher Hitchens, is knowing his faults, but it only helps us to realize he wasn’t a saint, a god, or a prophet. He was something we could all be, a skeptical human being who wouldn’t let basic aspects of human nature, like kindness and charity, be monopolized by men in gilded towers.
We are talking about the man who played devil’s advocate against the beatification (confirmation as a saint) of Mother Theresa. Hitchens was never afraid to say what needed to be said for the sake of human decency.
Because he knew, “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”
Thank you, Christopher Hitchens, and everyone like you. I hope to help even a fraction of the people you did, using words as harsh or comforting as necessary. I’ll leave this article with one more Hitchens quote:
“Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.”