“Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011) was a matchless writer, debater and humanist” begins the description on the cover of Arguably.
Over the course of his life Hitchens wrote fourteen books and an innumerable number of essays and articles. Armed with an arsenal of arguments, sharp wit and a feel for the situation, he defended the position of reason, science and atheism in countless debates.
I have read five of his books, three of them twice and watched tens of hours of his debates and talks on YouTube. Be it his charisma, writing style or the voice – or all of these combined, Hitchens stands out of the crowd of writers and speakers I have read and watched during my life. A strange thing happens as I begin to approach last chapters of his books. Sadness and sorrow settle in as if we were holding on a thin rope of slowly evaporating connection. As if I expected a good-bye note or a closing statement at the end of the book, being fully aware it will never be there.
...As if – a way to live under oppression he wrote about in Letters to a Young Contrarian. As if you were free.
It is easy to claim Hitchens chose to speak out against Islam because it would get the attention and drive sales. However, such a claim misses the context of Hitchens’s life. Hitchens would speak out strongly against any religion. He knew banning it was impossible and focused on fighting for secularism of key subjects of society, such as constitution, government, education, and, if possible, armed forces.
“The essential point – that a religiously neutral state is the chief guarantee of religious pluralism – is the one that some of today’s would-be theocrats are determined to miss.”(Arguably, Chapter 1)
Hitchens was not perfect, which of course made him more humane, and therefore, charming. He would often counterpunch religious arguments by scientific data – and would promote science to a great extent, even though science is “now at its least wrong” as Nassim Taleb points out. And we do not know how wrong it still is. In place of science, heuristics would often do – in non-linear fields such as human body, biology (genetic modification etc.), climate change, economics – any area prone to fat tails (as compared to physics & engineering).
From time to time, I felt he would take certain expression too literally – although I suspect many a time he did so for the sole purpose of amusement – I mean, who enjoys repeating himself word for word, as if they were addressing certain kind of flock?
Why Hitchens matters? It is hard to say it without coming across as a naïve Joe. He was a humanist to the core with strong hatred towards injustice. I appreciate the risks he took when he publicly defended Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali; when he organized rallies in support of Denmark during the Muhammad caricature havoc and generally spoke against militant Islam. And above all, he was a destroyer of bullshit and hypocrisy; an erudite journalist. These are a rare breed, and Hitch, well, he was one of them greats. And that is why I like him.