ABC News’ Peter Madden reports:
British American essayist and avowed atheist Christopher Hitchens died on Thursday, Dec. 15, at age 62, and he saw it coming.
“Death is certain,” he wrote in The Portable Atheist, “replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. 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.”
It would be remarkable if he felt this way, that the pinnacle of existence was the experience of sensation, even pain, however intense, as he battled esophageal cancer in the months before he died with no hope or expectation to walk through the Pearly Gates. His writings—witty, fierce, wildly controversial—promoted, even demanded a rational brand of atheism that left little room for compromise.
“I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves,” he wrote in his memoir, Hitch-22.
His abhorrence of organized religion…
“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” God Is Not Great
…and dismissive distrust of faith…
“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me.”
…did not deprive him of a code of ethics…
“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”
…or a sharp sense of humor…
“Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realise that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.” The Portable Atheist.
To consider religion’s founders, flawed humans like himself, seemed to strip the institution of its divine mystery, and Hitchens would make a career of highlighting its contradictions and hypocrisies. If he had any faith, it was in himself, his intellect, and (sometimes) ours.
“Human decency is not derived from religion,” he wrote in God Is Not Great. “It precedes it.”
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“What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”
“By trying to adjust to the findings that it once tried so viciously to ban and repress, religion has only succeeded in restating the same questions that undermined it in earlier epochs. What kind of designer or creator is so wasteful and capricious and approximate? What kind of designer or creator is so cruel and indifferent? And—most of all—what kind of designer or creator only chooses to “reveal” himself to semi-stupefied peasants in desert regions?” The Portable Atheist
“The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.” God Is Not Great
“What happens to the faith healer and the shaman when any poor citizen can see the full effect of drugs or surgeries, administered without ceremonies or mystifications? Roughly the same thing as happens to the rainmaker when the climatologist turns up, or to the diviner from the heavens when schoolteachers get hold of elementary telescopes.” God Is Not Great
“Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did.” God Is Not Great
“My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilization, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can’t prove it, but you can’t disprove it either.” God Is Not Great
“Every day, the New York Times carries a motto in a box on its front page. “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” it says. It’s been saying it for decades, day in and day out. I imagine most readers of the canonical sheet have long ceased to notice this bannered and flaunted symbol of its mental furniture. I myself check every day to make sure that the bright, smug, pompous, idiotic claim is still there. Then I check to make sure that it still irritates me. If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it’s as obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be, then at least I know I still have a pulse. You may wish to choose a more rigorous mental workout but I credit this daily infusion of annoyance with extending my lifespan.” Letters to a Young Contrarian
“I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.” Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays