A look back at the late Christopher Hitchens. A brief overview of some of his books and writings on atheism, and how he was a member of the New Atheism movement. What Christopher Hitchens meant to Eagle in his faith crisis and how he consumed and processed a lot of information on atheism during this period of his life. This also addresses how Eagle looked at someone like Christopher Hitchens as being an answer to the fundamentalism of John Piper and how Eagle found Hitch to be intellectually stimulating, engaging, and witty.
“Indeed ‘God is not Great’ Thank you Christopher Hitchens for reminding us how toxic and harmful Christianity is to the United States and the world. RIP…you will be missed.”
Eagle’s tribute to Hitch on Facebook upon learning of his passing on December 16, 2011.
“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.”
Hitch “Letters to a Young Contrarian”
“The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.”
Hitch “God is Not Great”
“To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.”
Hitch “God is Not Great”
When the spiritual bottom fell through for me in 2009 opening my life to a faith crisis I dealt with many emotions which led me to push back from Christianity and as I began to realize that I was more of an agnostic. When it came to influences the first person I read and got into was William Lobdell who wrote for the Los Angeles Times. Lobdell wrote a book, which I would highly recommend called “Losing My Religion” If there is anyone who wants to know how an atheist can be created that book is a great place to start. I read good chunks of it in a Borders and it hit a nerve in me that resonated. Lobdell however is not an evangelical atheist, he’s much tamer, composed, and not as brash. In the course of time I graduated from reading William Lobdell and moved onto consuming Christopher Hitchens. I should state that I watched Hitch as compared to reading him, and today I would love to devour his books. Before I dive into the main part of this post I want to say that I know what Hitchens views are on select political issues. I am not going to address politics on this journal (minus a reference to water boarding), and in this area I am not going to go there. I am going to focus on Hitchens view of faith and religion.
There are a number of works that Christopher Hitchens wrote and I would like to do a brief survey of them here. In 2001 he wrote “Letters to a Young Contrarian” which he advocates dissent or advocating unpopular opinions. In this book he looks at the dissenters such as George Orwell, Vaclav Havel, Rosa Parks, and Emile Zola. It is this book where Hitchens calls for people to challenge religion, seek out confrontation and laid the foundation of some of his beliefs that would be expanded upon on the book, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything“. In 2007 Hitchens published “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” which is a criticism of Abrahamic religion, or in others words Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In this book there are several themes Hitch addresses including the following:
- Hitch touches on why humans gravitate toward faith, and why humans need religion, and why humans can’t overcome their own fear of their mortality. He would let religion be if religious people would not advocate their faith, but as they will not cease doing that he says that religion and faith needs to be eradicated.
- He looks at why religion kills and uses the example of Salman Rushdie and the September 11 attacks to make his claim.
- In another chapter Hitch talks about how religion is hazardous to one’s health and explains how the teachings of the Catholic church on condoms have allowed HIV to spread. He also raises the issue of faith healers and how they are hostile to modern medicine because it undermines their power.
- Another chapter addresses the metaphysical claims of religion and how they are false.
- How religion makes people feel like lowly sinners and damages people’s self esteem is also studied.
- Hitch talks about the inconsistencies of the Old Testament in pointing out how the 10 commandments teach that one is not to commit murder, but then Moses orders parents to stone their children to death.
- The problem of miracles and how religion has corrupt beginnings.
- How religion doesn’t make people behave better and how you can have atheists, agnostics, and others of no faith which have more morality than Christians.
- How religion can be child abuse especially with orders on circumcision, or how parents use religion to terrify children.
- How we need a New Enlightenment and how de-emphasizing religion will help improve quality of individuals and civilization in the process.
Hitchens book cemented him as being part of the “New Atheist” movement and his book became widely acclaimed and used. In 2007 Hitchens published “The Portable Atheist” which is a collection of essays articulating or explaining atheism through the ages and history. “The Portable Atheist” is quite intellectually stimulating from what I have heard.
Who was Hitch to me?
The question remains…why was I influenced by individuals like Christopher Hitchens during my faith crisis? Eagle, during the 2009 until 2013 time frame my faith crisis became dark. What made it so dark? I was reeling in pain from the doubts and questions that overwhelmed me. I was reeling in pain and anger from the frustrations of many Christians and places I showed up at who couldn’t tackle or answer the questions I was asking. I was angry over the fact that I once liked and looked up to people like John Piper. I was angry over how “shock tracts” like his post “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” brought great harm to my mother who miraculously survived pancreatic cancer. I became even further enraged when it became known that John Piper once taught that women should submit to their domestic abuser. Who the hell teaches something like that? What is the weather like on John Piper’s planet? All of this ate at me deeply, it consumed me…especially after my prior experience with Mormonism in life. Then you add the other problems…child sex abuse cover up, churches obsessed with growth, and people getting hurt by fundamentalism. It was during this time that I was being invited to Sovereign Grace and I read about all the attempts to cover up child sex abuse. All of that enraged me.
So against all that comes someone like Christopher Hitchens. He’s bold, brash and argumentative. He calls it as he sees it and I began to look at him as the answer in many ways. Hitch was inspiring to me in many ways and in my case he articulated the feelings I had about Christianity. During this time I looked at Christianity as a cancer, and contemplated how much healthier American society would be had it disappeared off the face of the map. To the fundamentalism of John Piper, Christopher Hitchens was the answer as he tore down (in my mind at least) all that John Piper stood for. Hitch was not going to be silent on churches or organizations that cover up child sex abuse. He crucified the Catholic church and in my mind he would do the same thing to organizations like Sovereign Grace, which also engaged in cover up of child sex abuse. Another take away of Hitchens that I liked is his “Hitch Slap.” What is a “Hitch Slap” you ask? Well…it was Hitchens at his finest when he would use logic to dismantle, obliterate, and take down his opponent. Here’s one example of a Hitch Slap, and here is another series of Hitch Slaps to watch. When it came to Hitch Slaps there are two that I longed to see. First I wanted to see John Piper “Hitch Slapped” and put in his place, and I thought it would have been fantastic if Mark Driscoll could have been Hitch Slapped as well. Oh well….one could always dream. I liked Hitch because he was passionate and articulated himself well. He was deeply intellectual and when I listened to Hitch I could feel his mind processing the information as he chewed on it. I enjoyed watching his critical thinking skills. Hitch was very intellectual, and much of evangelical Christianity lacked intellectual stimulation. Watching him dismantle his opponents actually brought me great joy during this time. However this also had a dark side as well. In many ways I drank the Kool-Aid and reacted or imitated him at times. I clashed and south out argument for the sake of argument. In “Letters to a Young Contrarian” Hitch wrote “seek out argument and disputation for their own sake…” and in many ways that is what I did. In my mindset I viewed evangelical Christianity to be a cancer, and as I surveyed the evangelical landscape I felt sick by what I saw. It was that mindset that contributed greatly to me clashing so deeply with Andrew White from Redeemer Arlington. In many cases I needlessly sought out argument when I should not have sought out argument. Today as I reflect back on this it fills me with great despair and pain. As I look back and contemplate on what I said I ask myself privately…”why?” and “who was I?” The other day I talked about people who imitated CJ Mahaney in a post about a personality cult. I have to ask this question of myself…was I any different in regards to someone like Christopher Hitchens? No I didn’t shave my head…but I argued because the person I admired and consumed taught that argument is to be sought out. So to be fair and honest was I any different? I would say…no it is not. This pains me a lot.
There are other ways to look at Christopher Hitchens as well, especially with his unique sense of humor and his laid back attitude. After all from my understanding he’s tried to avoid wearing a tie and has explained why. Plus he also loved alcohol and married it to his writing. While he was a heavy drinker his use of alcohol never seemed to hold him back. He also loved attention, and volunteered to be water boarded.
So how do I look at Christopher Hitchens in light of others? Let me write a few words from my heart…and let me just write this publically. When Hitchens died I think a great void was created that has not been filled. Hitchens was an intellectual giant, someone who comes around once every two generations or so. I’ve thought of him as the “Winston Churchill of Atheism” especially when you think of his influence. I also thought that Hitchens was a true seeker after the truth and his life bears evidence of this pursuit in that he wrestled and spoke to topics and issues that many people cannot discuss out of fear. He spoke about things that are un-popular and questioned things that many people are taught not to question but to accept. In briefly comparing him to others I really know nothing about Sam Harris as I never dived into his material. While I looked at Richard Dawkins I preferred Hitch more as I found Dawkins to be caustic and brash. Dawkins seemed to like to be the center of attention as I reflect back on him now. However there are other issues with Dawkins that are coming to light. For example there is the information that came out about Richard Dawkins blackballing Rebecca Watson. Plus with Dawkins being known more for bullying he’s now viewed more as a liability in the atheist camp. I like Seth Andrews and think he’s in a class by himself. A couple of weeks ago I was driving to church while listening to this podcast. I am always curious and I want to know what is being said and discussed though I no longer personally associate with that camp. I can understand the mindset, and the passion and emotion so with that I keep listening from time to time. I do like to read and watch Hement Mehta who writes as “The Friendly Atheist”
Christopher Hitchens was dedicated to the cause of atheism going to his death. Even on his deathbed Hitchens never brought up the topic of God. Going into his death what was amazing is the friendship that Francis Collins had with Christopher Hitchens. After his death Collins wrote a moving and stirring tribute to his friend. Many came forward and offered their opinion on Hitchens death. Russell Moore thought that Hitchens might be in heaven. John Piper I don’t think offered anything significant to the conversation with his post at Desiring God. Here is what Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition said about Hitchens passing. Then there is this article which sums up many differing points of view dealing with Hitchens death. However, that is what many other people thought…in winding this to a close I would like to ask…who was Christopher Hitchens to Eagle? He was a part of “Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse” alongside Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. In my faith crisis he was someone I looked up to as an answer to the fundamentalism that I had once embraced in the likes of those such as John Piper. He was the best of his game and there is an incredible void that is absent that cannot be filled. How can you replace someone like Christopher Hitchens? I found the man brilliant, outspoken and bold. The downside is that he influenced me a little too much as Andrew White saw. I hope Andrew will be willing to realize that what was past is past, and that’s not how I would interact with him in the future. Even today I still listen to some of Hitchens debates and talks. I included three below that I believe will give you a taste of an intellectual genius who graces this earth once every couple of generations. So Hitch let me just say that this follower of the Lord respected you deeply. Even today I have to reflect back on the influence you had and I have to say cheers! Johnnie Walker Black it is!
Christopher Hitchens and Alister McGrath at Georgetown
Christopher Hitchens and Peter Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig at BIOLA