The fifth anniversary of Christopher Hitchens’s death

I don’t know how I missed it this morning, but it was five years ago today that Christopher Hitchens (born only a few months before me) died of throat cancer.  After he died, the readers and I offered several tributes, including a musical number. There were seven posts, and some lovely and moving sentiments; see them here, herehere, here, here, here, and here. This was my own inadequate tribute:

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-8-26-36-am

Hitchens copy

I met Hitch only once—at the Ciudad de Las Ideas meeting in Puebla, Mexico in 2011. He was smoking a cigarette outside the entrance to the auditorium, and I was surprised, for I thought he announced in Vanity Fair that he’d given up the ciggies. He hadn’t. They and the booze would, of course, kill him.

I was on the bus waiting to go back to the Mexico City airport, but got off it to go chat with Hitch for a minute. I introduced myself, and we talked about this and that, including our mutual dislike of Robert Wright’s goddycoddling (Wright was at the meeting). I then snapped Hitch’s photo. He was wearing a Kurdish flag and a poppy in his lapel. I never saw him again.

hitch

I learned of the anniversary  this morning from a general email sent to Sam Harris’s subscribers. Here’s what Sam put up today, a short piece called “Missing Hitch.”

It has been five years, my friend.

Five short years since you taught us how to die with wisdom and wit. And five long ones, wherein the world taught us how deeply we would miss you.

Syria. Safe spaces. President Trump.

What would you have made of these horrors?

More times than I can count, strangers have come forward to say, “I miss Hitch.” Their words are always uttered in protest over some new crime against reason or good taste. They are spoken after a bully passes by, smirking and unchallenged, whether on the Left or the Right. They have become a mantra of sorts, intoned without any hope of effect, in the face of dangerous banalities or lies.  Often, I hear in them a note of personal reproach. Sometimes it’s intended.

You are not doing your part.

You don’t speak or write clearly enough.

You are wrong and do not know it—and it matters.

There has been so much to say, and no one to say it in your place.

I, too, miss Hitch.

I also think often of “What would Hitch have to say about this?” when there’s some political or social event. What would he make of Social Justice Warriors? Trump? Who knows? All we know is that there’s a huge void in the ether where his essays would have been.

There was no other humanist or atheist who so excelled in all the skills of oratory, writing, and thinking—and the man was ferociously eloquent and literate. There’s nothing else to say except I wish he were here.

54 Comments

  1. Posted December 15, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    At the same moment I was email forwarding Sam’s words to PCC this post was made, must have been divine intervention. 🙂

    • GBJames
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      sub

    • rickflick
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      I thought about sending it too. But, then it occurred to me, it’s probably been in Jerry’s in box for an hour just waiting for the natural selection.

  2. Damien McLeod
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I miss him to, he was awesome.

  3. Merilee
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Sub

  4. Gary Seth
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    When Christopher Hicthens died it was conclusive proof to me that: ” God Was Not Great “

  5. Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Ahh, there is no joy in the morning like a cigarette, coffee, Johnny Walker and P G Wodehouse.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      The man relished his vices, the common and uncommon alike.

  6. jardino
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I think I’ve digested everything I’ve been able to get my hands on by and about Hitch, except his interview with Tony Bliar. I can no longer listen to that odious little man.

    To cheer things up a bit, I remember a quote from Lawrence Krauss, who was visiting Hitch when someone was trying to deliver a parcel. Chris asked Lawrence to go to the door, where the deliverer asked, “are you Mr. Christopher Hitchens?”. “No, I’m his personal physicist!”, replied Krauss.

    alan.

    • Newish Gnu
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      Love it.

  7. Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I began to follow his discourse a little over two years ago. Instantly captured by his elegant, eloquence and polemic against the Clintons, Mother Teresa and Religious beliefs,I mourn his loss.MK

  8. Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    The ‘inadequate’ tribute to Hitchens has me on the floor laughing despite the sad occasion. More Hitch than Hitch I would say. Such attitude. 🙂

  9. mfdempsey1946
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Dismaying thoughts dog me on this sad anniversary.

    Christopher Hitchens, like all the myriad dead, no longer knows that he ever existed.

    No longer knows that he was so passionately engaged with so many of the world’s issues great and small.

    Is not “resting in peace” because to experience peace one must be alive.

    Was for so many a brief but brightly burning interruption of eternal nothingness.

    Was…

    I should have been able to shake off such dismaying thoughts a long time ago, ever since the day in June 1970 when I finally abandoned Catholicism, the concept of religion, and God under all names.

    But these thoughts remain. Was this abandonment of illusion merely intellectual? Can’t seem to come to terms with these thoughts as Hitchens apparently did.

    Which, I guess, exemplifies the deep grip that a religious upbringing can exert even decades after one has, like me, walked away from all that and feels not a wisp of a desire to return.

    Time to read and re-read Hitchens again.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      The feelings evoked by the recognition of death’s inevitability and finality are probably not too different whether one is raised in religion. I think it a deeply emotional part of human existence whether you relate to it through religion, poetry, music, film, or any window you have open to you. While it is tragic in the main, death also enriches life in subtle ways.

    • Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      You’ve no doubt chosen the right path to age. It saddens me as I watch my parents approach the late stages of their lives only to continously become more heavily immersed in Catholicism. It dominates their lives, utterly and completely. Delusions about a blissful afterlife while frittering away the precious time we actually have is no way to live.

    • Posted December 16, 2016 at 12:53 am | Permalink

      To read and reread and to learn from him is the worthiest tribute. I’ll be pulling his books out too.

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Anything I could say would feel so inadequate. I wish he was still with us. We need him more than ever.

  11. thompjs
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I was at the conference in Houston, which was his last public appearance. I stood in long book signing line to have him sign my copy of his biography of Thomas Jefferson. He was of course there promoting his latest book. I thought he might think it was rude for me to ask for an older book to be signed. Actually he was very gracious and spoke with me for a couple of minutes about the book and of course his love for Jefferson’s good deeds.

  12. Kevin
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    You are not doing your part.

    You don’t speak or write clearly enough.

    You are wrong and do not know it—and it matters.

    There has been so much to say, and no one to say it in your place.

    Inspiration to use all. The fight isn’t over for us. It’s in each of us to continue to improve this world.

    You are dearly missed and most certainly not forgotten.

  13. darrelle
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I too miss Christopher Hitchens. Here is a clip, a favorite of mine, of him doing a great service for the advancement of our society.

    Christopher Hitchens on The Death Of Jerry Falwell

    • rickflick
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Thanks for reprising this. It puts a lump in my throat to hear Hitch speak so eloquently and cuttingly about the toads of the world.

      • darrelle
        Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        “Every morning he (Falwell) wakes up, pinches his chubby little flanks and chuckles, “I’ve gotten away with it again!”

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      My only quarrel with this:
      I agree with Matt Dillahunty that one should be very reserved as to mind-reading as to whether these folk really believe in this. (Matt thinks atheists are often over-confident that preachers don’t believe their schtick when often they do.) CH seems over-confident that JF and Billy Graham don’t believe a word of what they are saying. I’m not so sure, as I suspect Dillahunty would agree with me.

      Hitchen’s delightful “matchbox” quote is actually from his appearance on Sean Hannity, and is not in this clip.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 15, 2016 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        “and I suspect” not “as I suspect”

      • Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        I agree with you. As someone who has been a sincere believer, I can attest that it wasn’t being faked. I’m sure many others here can say the same.

        I don’t see how you can get into someone’s subjective mindset. I can conceive of evidence that would make me suspect a preacher doesn’t believe his shtick, but we certainly don’t have any such evidence for the majority of them. Surely, there are those who think it’s all nonsense, but just as surely, many do not. Trying to guess which camp any specific person falls into is largely a fool’s errand.

  14. Alpha Neil
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Hitchens is one of my heroes. It took me a very long time to get through Hitch-22. Not because of the writing (incredible), but because I spent most of the time on Wikipedia learning about the myriad historical figures or events he discusses. How one person could be so knowledgeable is beyond me. I am grateful that we still have access to so many of his ideas. I regularly watch him present his arguments for freedom of speech to inoculate myself against regressivism.

  15. Posted December 15, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Me too. I don’t know what else to say. You and Sam have said it well.

  16. Posted December 15, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Jerry: Did you ever smoke (tobacco; in a serious way)?

    (I’ve smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes and fewer than 10 cigars in my life — excluding ones filled with cannabis. 🙂 )

  17. Jenny Haniver
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Christopher Hitchens is NOT listed in the Wikipedia roster of the deaths of notable people for December 15th, though his birth date is duly noted in the roster for April 13th. Someone with knowledge of how to do Wiki entries should correct this.

  18. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I suspect any sane individual who followed Hitch at all cannot help missing him. Thankfully we have his books and good old You tube to keep remembering. Even his enemies should be missing him.

  19. chrism
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I sometimes wonder whether the small minds of the SJW movement would ever have dared to stick their sniffy little noses out of their burrows if Hitch was still around to ridicule them. Imagine the entertainment of his responses to the concept of safe spaces or ‘sex is a social construct’. Sad that he is now openly reviled by the likes of Myers(!) – I think I’ll keep the brackets and exclamation mark, thank you PCC.
    Of course he wasn’t perfect, and his take on the Middle East wasn’t successful (but there again, who has come up with the right answer to that one?)
    “He was a man, take him for all in all,
    I shall not look upon his like again.”

  20. revelator60
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I briefly encountered Hitchens during a book signing during his God Is Not Great tour. He courteously answered my off-topic questions (about his articles on Ian Fleming) and after the event stayed around outside the building, discussing anything he was asked by fans. He would not been enthused about the election–it’s impossible that he would have regarded Trump as anything but a thuggish vulgarian, and his antipathies to the Clintons were well known.

    On an off-topic note, if PCC would like to do some Hitchens-style debunking of religious twaddle in the press, he might wish to look at this week’s TLS, which has an execrable article claiming that Christianity helped the Western world progress. As if that was not dubious enough, the author then launches into a full-blown defense of God’s existence, followed by a lot of drool about the glories of religion:
    http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/at-the-prow-of-history/?CMP=Spklr-_-Editorial-_-FBPAGE-_-TimesLiterarySupplement-_-20161215-_-729281451

    • Posted December 15, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      “…that Christianity helped the Western world progress.”

      This is discussed at length in Faith vs Fact.

  21. Posted December 15, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Hitch is the only person I never met who I genuinely miss.

    A couple of favorites which I haven’t come across in any compilations–

    * Hitchens being told to get out of Kensington Gardens where people are mourning the death of Diana Spencer. His reaction is priceless. (1 minute)

    * The poor Reverend Tim from Blanford calls in and, not without consequences, gives Hitchens a piece of his mind. Tim: “If religion is so wrong, why do billions of people still believe in it? If I am deluded, and I am deluding other people, what is the energy, the power that causes that? Because I personally don’t think I’m a bright enough person to delude that number of people.” I guess the reader can already tell where this is heading…. (Link should start 22 mins in, but the whole thing is brilliant.)

  22. Carl
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I first encountered Hitchens in his interviews with William F. Buckley and Brian Lamb (search here for come rare treats). Even as the dedicated Marxist he was back then, he was utterly fascinating.

  23. Jedgardee
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I love this ‘tribute’. http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/science-technology/hitchens-cancer-not-intelligently-designed-201112164685

  24. Claudia Baker
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Several years ago, when I was still in the teaching biz, a colleague of mine read Hitch’s God is Not Great over the summer. It consolidated his inclination that he really was an atheist at heart. In September, he put the book in my mailbox in the staffroom, wrapped in brown paper, like it was porn. We taught in a catholic school, so it kinda was.

    After that, we had our secret atheist talks in his music room or my classroom. We revelled in our atheist-ness, and ridiculed everything about our school and the catholic system in general. It was great fun. He is still teaching there, and I am retired. From time to time we get together over coffee and continue our talks.

    We both loved Hitch. And miss him. I would give anything to hear what he has to say about the debacle that is the Orange Overlord.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure Hitch would’ve gotten a great kick out of his book being passed from parochial-school teacher to parochial-school teacher under cover of brown-paper wrapper — like samizdat being circulated behind the iron curtain.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted December 16, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        Yes, I’m sure you’re right. He would have liked that. “undercover atheist”

  25. Posted December 15, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    There is no one other than my father, who died 9 years ago this month, that I’ve held in higher esteem intellectually than Hitchens. When I agreed with him he expressed my position more lucidly, and rationally than I ever could, and when I disagreed I always feel compelled to reconsider my views.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t always agree with Hitchens, but always wanted to know his take on any world or national event, or on any piece of literature.

      There’s a hole in the intellectual spectrum where he used to be.

  26. Timothy Bagley
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    One of my Hitch quotes: “Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.” Though he is physically gone, we have his abiding legacy in his writings, his speeches (thanks Youtube!) and in all of us who can remember him fondly today.

  27. Mark R.
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I personally think his introduction in The Portable Atheist is one of the finest critiques of religion I’ve ever read. I especially loved his analysis of Camus’ The Plague.

    Echoing many readers here, I’m thankful his writings and talks can still be enjoyed even though he is gone forever.

  28. ToddP
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    The intellect, the charisma, the devilish wit, the sheer hunger for deeper knowledge and understanding; Hitch ruled. What an absolute human gem, and a huge hero to me. I miss him dearly. He was just on a completely higher level of braining. Thankfully, his books and video clips will live on to inspire future thinkers. Raising a glass in memory!

  29. Martin Levin
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I greatly miss his commanding voice and high intelligence. He was also a fine reader and interpreter of literature. The day before I was supposed to interview him for The Globe and Mail, he cancelled, citing health concerns. And that was the beginning of the end. By the way, I see prof Coyne with a bottle of Springbank 15, a truly wondrous potation.

  30. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I felt compelled to blow up the Hitchens photo to find out what the book was on his desk. It is one of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books.

  31. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Hitc, as he did life bigger than everyone, did dying better than anyone. I read his book, Mortality when my dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer (My dad was lucky as he had the more survivable kind in the lower esophagus*). It was insight I really needed. And wow. What a book! When I got my own fun cancer, I realized how comparatively inadequately I would’ve died compared to Hitch, forgotten without legacy and for a large part unmourned (to those wishing me dead – tough beans bitches). Hitch was so profound. He was larger than life.

    *my dad got his because of chronic acid reflux. If you have heartburn, get it looked at. It’s a public service announcement I often repeat. My friend’s younger brother had the same thing and died within months, leaving my friend heartbroken.

    • Larry
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Yes, chronic acid reflux is not to be taken lightly.

  32. Posted December 15, 2016 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Missed my chance to see Hitch in Birmingham, AL in 2010. I thought to myself, “There will be another time.” I’m always in denial of increasing entropy.

  33. Alan
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    You mean you met him on 2009, he died on 2011

  34. Larry
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Hitchens and Stephen Fry’s partnership was brilliant in the Intelligence Squared debate against Catholic representatives,over the motion “The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World.”

    That 2009 debate paired two forceful minds against Church apologists that were unprepared for the onslaught of truth.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 15, 2016 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      Yeah that was a great debate!

    • rickflick
      Posted December 16, 2016 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      I remember it well. I could imagine the priests heading home that night thinking maybe they should ditch the clergy and open a fish and chips shop.

  35. Mike
    Posted December 16, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Awesome doesn’t even come close.


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