Ramble On

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hitch is Dead

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
- Philippians 4:8 NKJV

When we had news that Christopher Hitchens had died earlier this month, I was reminded by the articles that his 2007 book, god is not Great, had long been on my reading list. So I quickly went out on iTunes and picked up the audiobook so that I could listen to it on my new Metro commute.

The book opens with the quote above, from Philippians in the New Testament of the Bible. As I heard the words – Hitchens read the book himself for this audio version – I immediately realized the treat that I was in for, as the many descriptions of the man’s work in the obituaries I read shared a common praise of his wit, his intellect, his turn of a phrase, and the irony he could command.

I’ve come to share some points of view with him, although this realization was a long time in the making. I’ve been a fan of Eric Alterman, having read several books, followed his blog, and even had a letter to him posted on MSNBC back in 2003 (my dad also had a letter posted on the Altercation blog in that timeframe).

At that time, Alterman and Hitchens, who had apparently worked together at The Nation, had fallen out with each other…while I am not refreshing my memory with an internet search on this, I seem to recall that it had something to do with a disagreement about whether the Iraq war was justified, with Hitchens coming down in favor and attracting a lot of media attention for, what was for him, a Vanity Fair writer, a surprising position.

At the time, it seemed to me that the emergent Fox News cable channel was exploiting the fear of the post 9-11 era as a way to divide all of us in a time when we should be united in choosing a way forward to confront the new geopolitical situation. Seeing Hitchens on that network from time to time, seemingly arguing for the Fox News point of view (which was essentially a marketing ploy to segment and capture conservative viewers) left a foul taste in my mouth.

So I have to admit that as I picked up god is not Great, I expected that I would find some challenging positions that I did not agree with. But I resolved to read with an open mind.

So, once I made it into chapter four, I came across a summary, a list of three points in the argument that religion poisons everything, more or less transcribed here:

  • “Religion and the churches are manufactured…
  • “Ethics and morality are quite independent of faith and cannot be derived from it…
  • “Religion, because is claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs, is not just amoral, but immoral.”
The book is polemical and, as such, makes a strong argument against not just any single religion, but all religions. True to Hitchens’ style, they are well reasoned arguments and backed up with examples from his research and experience. The force of his argument has the effect of encouraging the reader to look within, to see where these thoughts resonate in one’s own soul – for lack of a better expression.

Most of all, god is not Great is a good read. Hitchens is not at all overbearing as he appeared on those Fox News interviews in the early part of this decade, when he was arguing in favor of the war in Iraq. In fact, he is every bit as well reasoned and well spoken as his reputation makes him out to be. It’s a sad thought that this is a voice and intellect that we have lost, but let’s celebrate his life and legacy as if it were a beautiful daisy emerging from the dust of his grave.

I’m still making my way through the book. But so far, I feel as though I am enjoying a long delayed gourmet meal – and we’ve just sat down, with the palate cleanser arriving to the table.

Here’s an Amazon link to the book:

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