Hitch died a year ago

Christopher Hitchens died a year ago today—it seems longer, doesn’t it?—and of course nobody has emerged to fill the vast lacuna he left. His rhetorical skills were unmatchable.

Several months ago, reader Dermot C sent me an email in which he transcribed one of the great pieces of oratory delivered by Hitchens. I’ve saved this until today, and will let Dermot tell the story:

I have transcribed, for my own purposes, Hitchens’ great closing argument against William Dembski, after Hitch had been diagnosed with the cancer. No-one seems to have done it online, so I assume I’m the first to have copied the words out.  It’s great, if you don’t know it: delivered to an audience of young believers whom he appears to win over hugely, judging by his reception on the link.

No doubt at some time, perhaps the first anniversary of his death, you could use it.  In any case, it’s thoroughly inspirational, and brings a lump to my throat, every time I listen to that lovely rich baritone.

I get that lump, too. Here’s the video, with Dermot’s transcription below.  We miss you, Christopher, and I say that knowing you can’t hear it. Grieving is for the living, not the dead.

(Actually, a reader called my attention to the fact that Anne Crumpacker, who was there at this conference, transcribed this statement some time ago in a comment on my post about her daughter Mason’s encounter with Hitchens. Anne’s comment is here.)

Transcription:

“Why don’t you accept this wonderful offer?  Why wouldn’t you like to meet Shakespeare, for example?  I mean…I don’t know if you really think that when you die you can be corporeally reassembled and have conversations with authors from previous epochs, it’s not necessary that you believe that in Christian theology and I have to say it sounds like a complete fairy-tale to me.

The only reason I want to meet Shakespeare, or might even want to, is because I can meet him anytime because he is immortal in the works he’s left behind. If you’ve read those, meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment. But when Socrates was sentenced to death, for his philosophical investigations, and for blasphemy, for challenging the gods of the city, and he accepted his death, he did say, well, if we are lucky, perhaps I’ll be able to hold conversation with other great thinkers and philosophers and doubters, too.

In other words, that the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure and what is true—could always go on. Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that’s the only conversation worth having.

And whether it goes on or not after I die, I don’t know, but I do know that it’s the conversation I want to have while I’m still alive.

Which means that to me the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith, that can’t give way, is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet, that I haven’t understood enough, that I can’t know enough, that I’m always hungrily operating on the…on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any otherway.

And I’d urge you to look at those of you who tell you, those people who tell you, at your age, that you’re dead, till you believe as they do. What a terrible thing to be telling to children!

And that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don’t think of that as a gift.  Think of it as a…think of it as a poisoned chalice. Push it aside, however tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself.

Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.

Thank you.”

Thank goodness that we can still have that conversation with Hitchens.

27 Comments

  1. Granny Sue
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Sigh.

  2. Posted December 15, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Hitch on free speech.

    http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIU96N7ciXM&feature=fvwrel

    (Link broken with space between the /’s)

    Make sure to watch part 2 (5 mins) as well!

    http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YKqWmnarzU&feature=

  3. Posted December 15, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Hitchens made me angry at times. I did not always agree with him and his arguments were generally difficult to challenge. He was a smart, brave, and principled writer and speaker. Thanks for posting this.

    • Posted December 15, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      A writer who never angers his readers is a failure. Of all the ways to describe Hitch, failure is not an option.

      b&

  4. darrelle
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Very nice. My kids and I will be reading the transcript together and discussing it. We watched the video clip, but it is a lot to unpack for an 8 year old in 2:43 minutes. Reading it will allow us the time to think, explain and discuss.

  5. Posted December 15, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Thankfully, his holiday “spirit” and refined riposte endures:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204791104577110880355067656.html

  6. Scott Reilly
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    @Yakaru

    That clip of Hitchens on free speech is the best argument in favour of free speech to be found. I especially love the bit when, in discussing the imprisonment of David Irving in Austria for Holocaust denial, he asks the audience if there are any Austrians present in the hope that there will be someone present to be offended by what he says. Love it so much.

    You don’t have to watch it in two parts either. In youtube, type “Hitchens Free Speech” and you’ll get the full thing.

  7. Grania Spingies
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    If I try to think of my favorite moments from his debates and talks, The Free Speech debate was a great one, this is too.

    Most of all I would enjoy those moments when an opponent or audience member asked him a question and Hitch would start to smile.

  8. docbill1351
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    This was a great forum that exposed Dembski (again!) as a shallow, inarticulate clod, totally unable to engage Hitchens on any point, and Hitchens at is best; facts at hand, eloquent and engaged with the audience of school-aged children, parents and teachers.

    Following Hitchens’ moving and devastating summary, the principal of the Baptist school issued a hasty and hilarious prayer encouraging his flock to ignore what they just heard and put their faith in the lord.

    • Harry
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Docbill: Do you know where this debate took place? I haven’t found the location. Also, listening to the whole debate the other week I noticed that Dembski seems to be addressing an audience made up of retired theologians – he doesn’t adapt to a young audience as Hitch is trying to do. What was the age of the audience?

      • docbill1351
        Posted December 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        I’ll look up the original location, something like the Parkwood Baptist School in Dallas or Fort Worth. The name is wrong but the venue was a school auditorium and the kids were something like 4th to 6th graders, possibly older. There was a debate topic which Dembski totally ignored, rather he basically read from one of Hitch’s books. Meanwhile, Hitchens stuck to the topic and with devastating clarity. The one funny part was when Dembski appealed to Jesus Christ and got applause from the Baptist audience.

      • docbill1351
        Posted December 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        Prestonwood Christian Academy, November, 2010.

        Here’s a link. If nothing else skip Dembski’s drivel but don’t miss the pathetic prayer to stupidity at the end. So confused, I’m sure he is.

        • Harry
          Posted December 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

          Thanks! That’s a more complete version. The place and date were Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX, Nov. 18th 2010. If they indeed were 4-6 graders, I’m all the more impressed by the roar of approval and applause that Hitch gets during this speech. Listen at 2.10 above – I’m astonished that pupils at a Baptist Church even dared to applause, given the hellfire that the adults watching the aisles were promising them. While I have your attention, do you know of any “I was there”-stories from the audience, any conversions etc, on blogs or facebook?

      • Anne Crumpacker
        Posted December 16, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

        I was there. :-)
        The debate was part of a longer several day conference given by Prestonwood Baptist Church. The audience for this particular debate was mostly high school students from Prestonwood Christian Academy, their on location school, and neighboring Christian schools who had been invited to attend.

        The students were well-prepared for the debate by the church and had been given study packets and had class discussions leading up to the event. The debate was held in the sanctuary which holds thousands- I’m not sure how many- and was pretty full. It was during the school day so I took off work to attend.

        The event was, in my opinion, not very well promoted outside the Christian community. The church had reserved the front of the sanctuary for the students and asked the community (Hitchens supporters) to sit in the far back and not make any noise. We did that mostly, but sometimes it was just too hard not to cheer.I estimate there were only about 60 freethinkers in our Hitch section.

        The church had promised to publish the debate online, but when it finally became clear to them that Hitchens had won the pulled it from their site. Thankfully some smart person in cyberspace had copied it and uploaded it themselves.

        Later in October, when Hitchens was at the Texas Freethought Convention we were told that we could speak to him for 30 seconds as he signed our books. I had over an hour to think about what I wanted to say. So when my moment finally arrived I stammered that I thought his closing remarks were brilliant when encouraged the students to read. He smiled rather cheekily and replied, “Oh, so you liked that?” My daughter Mason was standing next to me. This brief exchange was what inspired her question to Hitchens, “What book should I read?” later that night.

        We were so lucky to have Hitchens in Texas during this time.

  9. Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I miss Hitch so much. He cancelled his book tour to SF after the diagnosis so I did not get the chance to thank him in person. His debates strengthened me as a person and gave me hope for the future. Although we can’t ever replace him, we need more like him in the world today.

  10. Heber
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    This closing statement is also one of my personal favorites; the fact that he it’s ad lib makes it all the more impressive. To use Sam Harris’ words:

    “It is a cliché to say that he was one of a kind and none can fill his shoes—but Hitch was and none can. In his case not even the most effusive tributes ring hollow. There was simply no one like him.”

  11. KP
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    This is the most inspiring Hitch monologue, and I’ve listened to a lot of the old YouTube vids.

  12. John Schneider
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I am a theist trying to remain faithful to theism, and I loved Hitchens, in part because I loved Nietzsche and Hume before he adapted them to new things…I’d like to think I will have that conversation with him in some version of the next life, but praised be his humility on that subject–and more especially his advice to people youn, too young to have their minds pumped with religious bilge, or any bilge.

  13. Posted December 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Great piece, thanks so much for sharing.

  14. Posted December 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on 100 Uses for Muesli and commented:
    This is a really good piece on an inspirational fellow.

  15. Posted December 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Thanks much for this..I teared up just reading it and knowing I’d never meet him in person.

  16. Rob Potter
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Normally when I read something that I don’t understand, I just think it’s a bad author who’s afraid of speaking clearly and directly.
    But with Hitchens, I always first feel dumb for not following what he’s saying, but I can tell he’s saying something that’s worth my further effort.
    So I re-read, and sometimes re-read again, and sometimes look up words or references he makes, and in the end he moves and inspires me, and makes me just a little smarter.

  17. Posted December 16, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Atheist .

  18. Dermot C
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    So pleased that others find this inspirational. Apologies to Anne Crumpacker for stealing your thunder;I didn’t know you’d already transcribed the speech. I’d write R.I.P., Hitch, but I can’t imagine the old contrarian resting in peace.

  19. Nathan
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Just came across this video and it is one of the best I have seen. The channel also has some incredible videos on Carl Sagan.

    Hitchens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnoH95tITic

    Sagan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_517900&feature=iv&src_vid=pxlPVSAnWOo&v=e8P1Y1a7-L4

  20. Dan Rau
    Posted December 21, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    I’ll miss
    Christopher Hitchens
    Paul Kurtz
    Carl Sagan
    We all miss … them :) for real!

    Take the risk of thinking for yourself.

    ;)

  21. Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    another very good eulogy that mentions the same speech by Hitch

    http://blinchiki.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/a-farewell-to-cicero/


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