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.)
“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 goodness that we can still have that conversation with Hitchens.