So Long and Thanks for all the Hitch
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), the spice and sting of the Four Horsemen, will be sorely missed. Hitchens did not have a deathbed conversion and his statements during the months before his death guaranteed that nobody is to take advantage of his death and sickness to further their personal agenda.
But why expect a deathbed conversion from a bon vivant who uttered the following words?
“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.”
Taunting a Dead Man
While Hitchens will be sorely missed, Rick Warren will be sorely with us still. In the wake of Hitch’s death, this “friend” of Christopher’s mustered up the gall to tweet the following words:
I believe it is one thing to be a Christian and to assert the superiority of your beliefs, and it is completely another thing to rub your beliefs on a dead man’s face. True, it is Warren’s right as a Christian to believe that Hitchens must be somewhat surprised right now to find himself in the afterlife. (Although we who know Hitch are sure that he can wit his way into heaven or hell, depending on whether he wants great climate or great company.) True, it is also his right to voice out this belief. True still, it is his right to place a thin veneer of taste over this belief by simply calling it “the Truth” with a capital T. But doing it to someone who cannot answer back is simply going below the belt. Six feet below, to be precise.
“So how’s the weather down there, Hitchens m’boy?”
Madalyn Murray O’Hair once said, “It is everybody’s right to be insane.” To that I would like to append the clause, “… as long as their insanity causes no harm to others.” Warren’s insanity in this particular instance is well within the bounds of allowable insanity. There is nothing immoral about Warren’s tweet. My argument against Warren does not come from ethics but from aesthetics. After all, the dead person he taunted in his tweet was a debate connoisseur for his entire career. One must not forget that to Hitchens, the content of a good argument will go to waste if it is not delivered with style and a few tastefully added cuss words.
Imagine one player losing a one-on-one basketball game to a good opponent. When the winner left the court, the loser kept on shooting the ball and counting his scores and declaring himself the winner of the match; Warren’s taunting a dead Hitchens is like this but worse. To me it looks like Warren was not able to get a good shot when Hitchens was around, so now that Hitch is gone, Warren thinks that it’s time to take all those missed free throws. Unethical? No. Pathetic? Yes. With a capital Y.
Truth with the capital T
Another sorry aspect of Warren’s tweet is his confidence on waving the banner of Truth with a capital T. This confidence of course he shares with millions of other fundamentalists, Christian or otherwise. There is nothing new in Warren’s religious hubris, but let me grab this opportunity to compare this religious hubris and the confidence of reason.
Hitchens was confident, as am I, that there is no afterlife. Both he and I share the conviction that this life is better lived without the “false consolation of religion” and its attendant hopes of heaven and threats of hell. Meanwhile, Rick Warren is confident, as are millions of believers, that we are dangerously wrong. And so they try their best to save us from fire and brimstone and to bring us to everlasting life. I sincerely appreciate the sentiment, but no thanks, I’m fine with my rational worldview.
So this is the situation: People disagree and everyone thinks they are in the right. Well, okay. That’s how the world is, messy and beautiful. What makes it ugly is that few if any fundamentalists appreciate the nuances between being confident of one’s belief and being absolutely certain of them. The appreciation for such nuances is what makes us freethinkers, believers or unbelievers, act rationally toward people who disagree with us. This appreciation gives us the ability to be considerate and to come up with reasonable compromises without compromising our intellectual conscience and values. On the other hand, the lack of appreciation for these nuances is not only behind Warren’s hubris. It is also behind the hubris of the terrorists who flew the planes into the Twin Towers. It is the hubris behind Hitler’s genocide. It is the hubris behind many people’s apathy toward environmental degradation and climate change. Now I am not saying that Warren’s nearly innocent tweet is comparable to the 7/11 attacks. What I am saying is that these actions, although very different, stem from the same root sentiment – the feeling of absolute certainty about one’s beliefs. In god is not great, Hitchens wrote, “The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.” Might I add that in this day and age, such immaturity is dangerous to us as a species.
I guess half of being a freethinker is being able to appreciate the aforesaid nuances. In light of its many profound effects, therefore, I think it is very important that we freethinkers share such appreciation with as many people as we can. And that goes for you too, mister Rick Warren. If nobody can convince you to become an atheist, I hope at least someone can convince you to lower down your hubris level. After all, isn’t humility a supposedly Christian virtue?
We’re All Gonna Die…Someday
Yup, we’re all gonna die someday. For Christopher Hitchens, that day has already come. But contrary to what Warren said, that day is not the day to know the Truth. Truth is something we strive for constantly throughout our lives, it is not a single destination but a series of stops along the journey of reason.
This is the same journey Christopher has been taking his entire life. We should consider ourselves lucky Christopher went up that road ahead of us, because now we can be assured there will be lots of open bars and dancing clubs along the way.
Good bye and thanks for all the laughter, Christopher Hitchens. It’s been great hitchin’ with ya, Hitch!