academia, atheism, authors, Christopher Hitchens, conversion, crusaders, death, deathbed confessions, Don Quixote, evangelization, faith, faith and reason, fides et ratio, freelance writers, GK Chesterton, gladiators, God, Hitch, intellect, intellectual discourse, jove, mercenaries, myth, polemics, religion, scruples, sophistry
Hitch is dead. The perfect eulogy for the warrior who waged war against eternity. Draped across the latent battlefield of ideology vs philosophy these three words sufficiently express a plentitude of either hallowed or hollowed envisages. There’s a lot of punch packed in a mortal blow, so it’d be enough to say Hitch is dead and say no more. But if these three words were all that were to be said on the matter of Christopher Hitchens, the matter itself would not be put to rest. A sophistic struggle would follow; an intellectual firestorm ignited by the absolutism of these three words and the nihilism of the final chapter. Is Hitchens truly dead? If Hitchens is truly dead, did he never live? Did his death bring an end also to the hitchensian movement, or is this movement more alive in the mythical tale of Hitchens than it ever was in Hitchen’s tales of myths? Was he a martyr to the cause of nothingness, or did nothingness cause his martyrdom? How many angels could actually dance in Hitchens’s head? Leaving these strawmen to other strawmen, let’s instead ask the everydayman sort of question: Was Christopher Hitchens myth or man?
The shock-and-awe quips and writings of Christopher Hitchens have been delightful inspiration for many a grateful soul (and many a soulless scoundrel). At times the inspiration was in the message; more often, the delivery. He was inspirational not by design, but by the mesmerizing force of fiery conviction which thundered forth with gravitas; not unlike a fire-and-brimstone preacher raising Hades amidst his enraptured captive congregation. Hitch was clever in a way most are not. He possessed impeccable Chesterton wit – the sort of wit God has reserved exclusively for the British born. A timeless legend in his own time; brilliant with a brilliance radiating through every essay penned, every tug-of-wit outwitted, every enemy combatant defeated by the hitchensian sword of intellect. On the high seas of rhetoric Hitch was master and commander sailing his warship against piracy, dishonesty, and the gravest sin of all – unreasonableness.
Defender of scientific supremacy above all things, he calculated known things and banished to the realms of irrelevance those things unproven – or unknown to him. He forged alliances with an oft mutinous crew of lesser men, kindred spirits nonetheless. Crusaders dedicated to the eradication of fides et ratio wherever it was harbored, especially in the City of God. Thus did the crème de la crème of contemporary intellectuals, sailing under the banner ratio contra fides, take up the cause as mercenary extraordinaire and abandon the Chestertonian brotherhood of jovial charity in the face of opposition. Chesterton sparred by gentlemen’s rules. Ever mindful of good manners and light-hearted humor, he tickled his adversaries’ egos with charmingly sincere admiration whilst dicing up fallacies with the skill of a sushi chef. Foes weren’t mortally wounded but they were vanquished from the high road of reason. Not so with Hitchens. He viewed every opponent as a nascent nemesis that must be crushed under the weight of almighty reason and caustic reproach. He drew blood and gave no quarter. He’d have his victory, by Jove, and it’d be upon a sharpened skewer of roasted barbs and fiery wit. And we loved him for it. We delighted in the spectacle of the cerebral gladiator delivering thunderous blows against a hapless wit. In a world of bland mediocrity this was great theatre. A to the death fighting spirit we secretly envied but didn’t dare attempt at home.
So it is. Or was. As an admirer of Hitchens’s wit I offer a spirited defense. Not a defense of positions; Hitchens is in no need of rear guard polemics. My ‘hear! hear!’ is more elemental. There is evident in his writings a perception -my perception of his perception, at any rate- of honesty. His critique of the world’s ills, the politics of this or that, the cut-to-the-chase observations, his devilish style of outmaneuvering those sighted in his ideological crosshairs. It was straightforward and conviction driven. Absolute. I believe he believed whatever it was he was confessing to believe. Even a mercenary might believe in the cause for which he gains profit. And what was the profit for which Hitchens would devotedly lend his pen and his mind? Not monetary. That’s soup au jour le jour for a capable writer. His ‘gain the world but lose thy soul’ price was pride. Nothing extraordinary. Just everyday pride. He wanted to be right. He needed to be right. He desired to be perceived as right. Overwhelmed, perhaps, by a perilous strain of honesty which dangled dangerously close to excessive scruples, he’d gone off course. His virtue had turned against him. Having steadfastly stood his conviction against God, he could not stand to be convicted by God. For Christopher Hitchens this was the good fight. It was to be Hitch against God and only one could win. For godsake it had to be Hitchens! He staked his word, his very life upon it. ‘Tis a grave conundrum for an intellectually honest atheist. No room for middle ground, he left himself no room at all.
A dying Hitchens sensed peril in dying. He feared not death, but conversion toward life – the eternal sort of life he’d sworn off throughout. With suspicious eyes cast upon his own potential apostasy, he penned a mortal retraction of deathbed declarations that might be uttered by a “half-imbecile” witless Hitch “humiliating” himself before the final curtain. They were, he declared, de facto unfactual. Prophetically, the man of no prophesy prophesied against himself; a preemptive dagger against scurrilous future claims regarding his having any future at all. Should he fail to keep his sensible wits about him in the pending Hitchens vs Hitchens dispute, he offered up a disclaimer before his anointed time. Rumors of my conversion will be greatly exaggerated. Believe me now that you can not believe me later.
It is this subtle deficiency in an otherwise robustly honest character that at times caused Hitch to fall off his high horse while striking madly at windmills. More zealous a crusader against religion than zealous crusaders for it, he’d remain fervently opposed to the end and beyond. Thus did Hitchens nurture his fellowship with academia’s angels; rub shoulders with the wit and infamous crowd, collaborate with like-minded men whose minds were not at all like his. They were his disciples. They will never be his match. He didn’t need them in life, he needed them in death. They must take up their task, bearing torches as they spread the good hitchensian news; “Hitch is dead and so is God!”
And so, I am left with my own conundrum; to believe or not to believe in Christopher Hitchens. Myth or man? I’ve contemplated his tales. His divine command of the written word is universally recognized. He left behind a devoted cult dedicated to evangelizing the world, spreading his godforsaken message. Do I believe? What I know is this: To believe Christopher Hitchens I can not believe in God. To believe God I can believe in Christopher Hitchens. With Hitchens nothing is possible. With God everything is possible – even Hitchens. That is the good news. The extraordinary, supernatural brilliance of Christopher Hitchens is itself a matter of gravitas weighing heavily in favor of God’s existence. And to be honest, I’ve never seen Hitch.