Hitchhiking reason

Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens died two days back fighting oesophageal cancer for over a year now. How many people wished that he would in the last days of his life renounce the acerbity with which he attacked religion of any sort. With the three other horsemen – Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (cf the four horsemen of the apocalypse), the public debates they had with several religious leaders, evangelists and others as well as the discussions they had together were deeply illuminating. His debates were lessons in logic and reason. Never shying away from using demagoguery as an art of public speaking, Hitchens for me was one of the most amazing public speaker, polemic, thinker and writer I knew.

Not because I agreed with everything he said (his unforgivable mistake as John Cook characterises it), neither for the condescension with which he characterised

Christopher Hitchens in 2010

believers (often entertaining!). He was a courageous man, never afraid of his vices, never hiding his talents and unhindered by ignorance of the topics he spoke on. His debates kept me company on cold Belgian winters and set off month-long reflections on fundamental fixed convictions that we can get off our backs in a jiffy…if only we knew we carry them. His books, talks and articles pushed boundaries – never taking the missionary position on topics of religion, nor sparing poor arguments when he came across one, he will be remembered not for the entire content of his views but the way he put them across.

One person who (tried to) overcome the slavery of reason to emotion, which perhaps explains his hitchhiking along the long-winding road from the political left to the political right and somewhere in between. Who could have faced the inimitable George Galloway on US turf when the war on Iraq felt like egg on the faces of those who advocated it? If there was reason, he never feared the consequences of standing in for it. If there was anybody who could expose the farce of portraying the divine origins of morals and ethics, it was he – see this debate with the Rev. Al Sharpton for example, where Sharpton was introduced (to a smattering of applause) as being ordained a minister when you are 9; much to Hitchens’ glee for he remarked “What does it say about the seriousness of religion if you can be ordained a minister when you are 9?” – an exchange used for the “religious slap” by Bill Maher in Religiulous to much amusement and some theatrics.

For those who are not yet introduced to him, I would much recommend “God is not great” or for shorter introduction to his literary style, his review “Newtopia”, expectedly a scathing critique of a book by Newt Gingrich. Or the God debate with Dinesh D’Souza, one of his more peaceful ones or perhaps for his debate with the mathematician Alister McGrath, or his more animated one with Rabi Boteach. And among the numerous well-written remembrances on his life, the unmissable ones are the ones by Graydon Carter in Vanity Fair and by Ian McEwan on ‘the consummate writer, the brilliant friend’. And not to miss Dawkins’ interview of Hitchens quite recently and here’s the preview.

And here is an entertaining debate he had with Turek (would encourage scrolling directly to 70 minutes for to avoid permanent damage to your sense of sensibility). Definitely not one of the best adversaries that Hitchens has met in a debate, but clearly one of the more entertaining ones. 🙂

Turek vs. Hitchens Debate: Does God Exist? from Andrew Ketchum on Vimeo.

Frank Turek, co-author of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist,” and Christopher Hitchens, author of “god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” met at VCU in Richmond, VA to debate the subject, “Does God Exist?”


2 responses to “Hitchhiking reason”

  1. […] eastern stoicism and spirituality. I was already quite familiar with the “other side”, having read and heard Hitchens on numerous occasions launch scathing attacks on the Dalai Lama for his “holier-than-all […]

  2. […] if you want a quick introduction to his life and times, I would much recommend my own short obit, Hitchhiking reason. For a fuller one, this New York Times obit starting off with often seen comparisons of Hitchens […]