Hitch

Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it. – Christopher Hitchens

That’s the quote I was thinking about when I started this blog. I almost named it “Human Decency,” but thought that may have been needlessly optimistic. Not that I’m not an optimist, but rather that my blog would contribute in a way that anybody can’t simply do for themselves. While I admit that the final catalyst to impel me to write here, after already exhausting my friends with invective and ire, was JT Eberhard seeking me out on Twitter after enjoying a comment I made on one of his blog posts, but thoughts of Hitch animated many of my ideas and always impel me to try just to be a touch wittier.

While I could contribute to the growing and unsurprisingly mixed things being said about Chris Hitchens, there seems little point in adding to a pile that I am, despite enjoying his work, woefully unqualified to add to. This is not false modesty, as I believe myself to be quite allergic to the stuff, but rather a recognition that when I attempt to discuss who the man was from nothing but reading his books and watching lectures, I can do little more than summarize his work, which seems like a lousy way to commemorate anybody.

Rather, this being my blog and I being a remarkably self-indulgent individual, I will discuss why this caustic, angry, tactless man has left an impression on me.

To begin with, as much as I would cringe inwardly when he would say something insulting that could just as easily be said in a way I felt to be more constructive, I could never fault him his point. Even when I disagreed, I could at least say that I respected the process by which he reached his conclusions. One such insulting conversation comes to mind. I agree with his point, but damned if it doesn’t make me uncomfortable the way he put it.

“…I’m perfectly happy for people to have these toys and to play with them at home and hug them to themselves and share them with other people who come around to play with their toys. So that’s absolutely fine. They are not to make me play with these toys. I will not play with the toys. Don’t bring the toys to my house, don’t say my children must play with these toys, don’t say my toys…are not allowed by their toys.”

That’s my current opinion on religion, said in possibly one of the best and worst ways possible. Perhaps it’s that he was unafraid to put things that way that I wish I could do so, not because I would, but rather because I want the ability.

He also shares my opinion on deathbed proselytizing. I covered it in my first post, meaning that at this point a full two thirds of my blog is dedicated to Hitch. Need to change that…

I also cannot help but admire some of the things he said about life in general, my favorite being…

“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

Hitch was a fierce advocate for LGBT rights, often more on behalf of his friend, Stephen Fry, than on his own behalf. He didn’t talk often about his bisexuality, and I admit it surprised me and possibly engendered a disproportionate affection as I saw myself in him in that respect. This is not to say that his sexuality was a vital part of his life or that that’s a reason to like somebody’s work which was more than sufficient on its own. It’s rather like finding that a brand new friend has also read your favorite obscure book. The friendship doesn’t hinge on it, but isn’t it so cool that this novel that you thought nobody had even heard of had somehow made it to both of you? I thought of myself in a future old age considering his words, “My looks by then had in any case declined to the point where only women would go to bed with me.” A distinct possibility.

However, when he spoke on issues of sexuality, it never seemed to be about him, such as this quote from a dinner honoring Stephen Fry with at least one Cardinal in the audience.

“He’s not being condemned for what he does, he’s being condemned for what he is…This is disgraceful! It’s inhuman, it’s obscene. It comes from a clutch of hysterical, sinister virgins who have already betrayed their charge in the children of their own church.”

Let it never be said that he didn’t stand up for his friends.

Nor that he didn’t stand up to his enemies, the nature of whom he made quite clear.

“There’s another immoral injunction. Go love your own enemies, don’t go loving mine. My enemies are the theocratic fascists. I don’t love them, I want to destroy them.”

I can think of nobody I know who wouldn’t consider “theocratic fascists” to be bad people, but Hitchens took it one step further. He was open about his disdain, free and pointed in his ridicule, and made no compromises regarding what he considered to be abject evil. Again, I am unable to disagree. I do hate theocratic fascists. I hate people who arbitrarily choose what makes them comfortable out of their holy books and then tell me I have to live by their capricious whims. I hate those who use God as a universal excuse for the most retched, abhorrent, vile behavior and the masses of uneducated vipers that lick the scent from the trail of those leaders, hissing at and biting everybody they pass. I have no room or time to love those people who love no others, and my tolerance isn’t inexhaustible either. I have no need to ever be in a room with the Liar Tony Perkins, Maggie Gallagher, Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck, Tom Coburn, or any number of despicable human beings who try to enslave people to their idiot philosophies and very specific yet entirely self-configured ideas of what their religion says. I have no reason to love these people, or forgive them while they continue to lie to people for the sake of their own comfort, or to ignore their often inhuman behavior, so I choose not to. It was by reading Hitchens that I learned how to do that and not feel guilty about it.

There are plenty of other reasons to respect Hitchens. I stress again, he was not a perfect man. He was deeply flawed, unwilling to engage in social politeness, and refused to soften his rhetoric regardless of circumstance. We can debate whether these are positive or negative qualities all, but I can’t say that I could engage in the indiscriminate way in which he applied them. That being said, it takes courage to live in such a manner, and I am sure beyond doubt that that is a positive quality.

As many others have noted, saying “rest in peace” is not quite appropriate. He is not resting and peace is a meaningless thing to the inert molecules that compose what was once an active and brilliant brain. Rather, I should leave this off with words that will remain with me now that he is no longer able to utter or write them.

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

 

“You’re expelled from your mother’s uterus as if shot from a canon toward a barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks. It’s a matter of how you use up the intervening time in an intelligent and ironic way. And try not to do anything as ghastly as your fellow creatures.”

 

“We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and — since there is no other metaphor — also the soul.”

 

“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.”

And finally, since I can think of no songs that discuss death without also talking about an afterlife that Hitchens didn’t believe in, and “rest in peace” is so inappropriate, I will instead leave it with the words of another critic of religion, done in song form.

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Condescending Jackass

What a way to open a new blog! I get to respond to a condescending asshole.

So, let’s begin by saying that I try very, very hard to assume people have the best of intentions. I don’t believe most people get up in the morning looking to punk their intellectual rivals (thankfully in the case we’re about to examine as I suspect it’s a Sisyphean task for him). Generally people want others to be happy, content, and kind in equal measure. Ignorance plays a huge role in this, but that’s an entirely different post.

And that is why I don’t believe that Mark Judge was looking to poke a stick at a dying man when he wrote his article for the Daily Caller of all places about how Christopher Hitchens might use this opportunity to abandon years of principal and reason and follow Christ.

Now, I will concede that there’s a chance that Judge had his heart in the right place even if he was attempting to get a good look at it by sticking his head up his ass. However, I think this very well may be the problem.

When confronted with a dying man, an intellectual who has spent a lifetime arguing rationally against some of the worst excesses of faith, who has time and again demonstrated that he has no need for supernatural intervention to demonstrate goodness, thought, and genuine concern for humanity, Mark Judge thinks that it’s a compassionate thing to do to suggest that he abandon all of it, throw reason and accumulated knowledge out the door, because he happens to be in pain? What sort of faith does Mark Judge believe in that it’s best acquired when somebody is least able to stave it off (at least in his estimation: Hitch’s mental faculties still seem top-notch)? Judge would reduce what he seems to think is belief in the creator and lord ruler of all the universe to “that thing you do when you don’t want to hurt any more.” Belief to Judge is nothing but a thief, attacking the infirm and beating them into submission. And he seems to think that this is ok.

Unsurprisingly, it is this hollow faith that Judge embraced when he was suffering from cancer. I say this is unsurprising because it is only from a close-minded perspective in which one sees faith as the only escape from death that a person assumes that embracing that same ethos remains the only way for others to react to similar situations. The moment Judge accepted Catholicism, all other approaches were dismissed, and the very notion that somebody could be suffering and *not* follow the same path that he did is both astounding and befuddling to him. It is a lack of empathy bordering on projection wherein he not only refuses to put himself genuinely in Hitchens’s place, basically reducing Hitch to a caricature of humanity (the same one that wrongly asserts that “there are no atheists in foxholes”), but he also engages in some incredibly insulting assumption while trying to praise the man.

I would only ask him to entertain the notion that love — the love he has for his life, his wife and his children, the love his readers have for him and the love that the doctors and nurses are showing him — is a real thing whose origins are worth exploring without glibness (sorry, saying “love for your fellow mammals” doesn’t require religion, as Hitchens did once, doesn’t cut it).

 

Excuse me? Are you really so endlessly deluded that you think that without a God to tell him what it is that Christopher Hitchens doesn’t know love? Or the even more ludicrous idea that love can stem only and exclusively from God and those who deny its existence are somehow devoid of it? What remarkable arrogance! Mark Judge knows love and he just hopes that Christopher Hitchens might be able to learn about it before he dies! Well, thank you, Mark, on behalf of all of us who only thought we knew what love was. Also on behalf of thousands of years of philosophers who tried to suss out that particular question and failed. You’ve got it! You win! Your prize is in the mail.

Now, there will be those who argue that he didn’t say *he* knew what love was, only that he encouraged Hitchens to explore it and its “origins.” However, this is one point on which I’m not willing to give the benefit of the doubt. The article specifically suggests that Hitchens might somehow find religion, it hopes for it fervently. If Judge is not suggesting that he already knows the “origin” and is wishing that Hitchens would come to the same conclusion, then this is nothing but a ghoulish non sequitur. Judge seems to think he knows what love is, that is stems from God, and now that Hitchens is weak that he might come to the same conclusion for no other reason than that he is suffering.

Have you ever been in discussion with a Christianist you don’t know well and it ends with “I’ll pray for you”? It’s not usually in response to “my dog died” or “I’m scared I’m failing my family.” While the prayers in this case are convoluted at best, they at least make sense if you believe that prayer changes the mind of an omniscient being who already knows what will happen (a contradiction I can’t get past and have stopped trying). However, these genuine if misguided actions aren’t often why strangers tell you they’ll pray for you. Rather, it’s usually in response to “I’m homosexual,” “I don’t believe in what you do,” “I’m polyamorous,” or something else that the Christianist in question finds distasteful. They’re not praying because they hope God will do anything good for you, they’re praying because they’re hoping God will change you to better suit their liking.

Judge spend a lot of this article speaking of his admiration for Hitchens. I believe that it’s heartfelt in one way or another. However, he ends up making himself into a condescending jackass by suggesting that he hopes that the qualities he supposedly admires in Hitchens be unceremoniously defenestrated now that an appropriate opening has been made.

Mark Judge is a moron, more concerned about his idea of what is right and true than about a man he claims to respect. It’s like looking at the star player of an opposing team and claiming to admire his skill when all you really wish is that he was playing for your side. It is cheap, it is unmoving, and Mark Judge needs to consider whether he is more concerned for the suffering of another person or that he may not be spreading his faith far enough.