Friday, 16 December 2011

A Contentious Voice Silenced Forever

Today I heard the news that Christopher Hitchens had died. I have to say it surprised me; I knew his cancer was progressing but weirdly I hadn't thought about how ill he was, likely due to how busy he's been this last year. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the man, and even more about his opinions, but it saddened me nonetheless. His writing style has always impressed me, and I can't help but admire someone who can infuriate me so much and yet force me to reconsider my own point of view in light of their arguments. But the biggest reason it hit me is he is one of only a handful of writers I found in my teen years who were expressing an atheist perspective without fear.

A quick background; I am an atheist and know now that I always was. But there was a stage in my teens when the notion scared the shit out of me. I couldn't accept that there was "nothing" out there, or any purpose to life/the universe/everything, but I also couldn't accept that there was a sentient being in charge or some mystical energy binding us together. I was a bit spiritually lost, to put it simply. My parents are atheists too but I wanted to work out  my position on my own, lest I be accused of just copying them. I read a lot about magic, vampirism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Paganism, Gnosticism, Druidism - anything I could get my hands on. But none of it helped, as I never thought any of them were coming close to "reality" (as I perceived it). None of them felt right. Then I came across atheist writings and among them was Christopher Hitchens. It was a revelation. I realised I wasn't alone, nor the first to question the reality of religion and the nature of faith. They were asking the same questions I was asking. They (and all the science related stuff I read and watched) led me to have an epiphany that there didn't have to be a point to the universe, there didn't have to be a reason for my existence, per se. I could instead create my own purpose, my own reason for living. For me, that was an incredibly freeing moment and I've never looked back.

I was already an atheist, but those writers allowed me to articulate why. Hitchens was one of a small group willing to be unpopular, prepared to say things no one wanted to hear. I turned away from him and Dawkins over the years, as I have no bug bear with those who have faith, and I found their constant attacks on those with faith tiresome and their attitudes were far too morally superior for my tastes. However I appreciate and admire them for showing me that there was another way, as well as showing me that it is possible to agree and disagree (vehemently!) with someone's opinions at the same time.

I know Mr. Hitchens isn't aware of this, or looking down from on high (unless he got a VERY big surprise) but nonetheless: RIP.


  1. He was a brave man and a gifted writer, but I found him confrontational in his views - indeed he admitted enjoying that kind of debate. I also admire him for being able to change his mind, which is unusual for a polemicist.

  2. Thanks Gorilla (love that username btw!)

    Confrontational was definitely his style, and was one of the things that used to aggravate me about him. And yes, his ability to change his mind, and admit he got it wrong was something I admired about him too. I find it a rare trait in anyone (including myself!)

  3. I've never heard of Hitchens, but I seem to be having the same problem that you had. Perhaps I'll give him a try and see what I find. As I am finding myself entirely against religion period. Much to the dismay of my parents.

  4. Hi Scarecrow, thanks for your comment. Hitchen's atheist writings are well worth reading if you're looking for another point of view. Take what he says with a pinch of salt though, as his style is very confrontational! Dawkins is also very good, though I prefer his science books over his atheist ones - The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene are worth a go, especially the latter if you're interested in understanding more about evolution (it blew my mind).

    It was a scary and dark place for me when I was working out my place in the Universe (that sounds so pretentious but it's the only way I can think to describe it!). Science and history helped me massively, but it's a long road. Just know you're not alone, and wherever you end up you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you worked it out yourself.