Monday, August 23, 2010

Watching a Hero Die

I happened upon him quite by accident. I was Googling some info on athiest debates and arguments a year ago. Happened upon a bloke called Christopher Hitchens. Come to find out I had seen him before: on his no-holds-barred report on Mother Teresa and his stint on Bullshit! with Penn and Teller on Showtime.
The man has a gift for oratory. Not loud and brash and solipsistic, but intelligent, erudite and well -- solipsistic.
A Marxist who believes America should be fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, a person who discovered his Jewish heritage only recently and denounces religion in all its forms. Prone to acerbic wit and vertiginous controversy, this man's honesty alone made him a favorite hero of mine. I won't say 'role-model'. I wouldn't want to make The Hitch cross.
I have his book, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" on audiobook format and have practically memorized every chapter. I figured out his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, at least as they bloom on the page. They also have a nasty habit of appearing suddenly in his many locutions on his speech and debate circuits.
He has a habit of losing friends. Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky and Saul Bellow come to mind, but he is good friends with Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie.
He is a devoted follower of Voltaire and Spinoza, while disdaining Nietzsche and Kant.
So we don't always agree on things, as I am more the reverse. It is obvious, however, that Christopher Hitchens has a great love of the English language and this more than any other attribute, I think, is what binds us in a remote sort of way (as I have never met the man).
I am reading "Hitch 22: A Memoir" his latest book, and find it fascinating as well as poignant and thought-provoking. It was during his tour promoting this book that he discovered that he had esophageal cancer.
His latest interview with Anderson Cooper, as well as one with Atlantic Monthly, showed him as his same old self, sans hair. His eyes at times seemed as if he were fighting tears, but this could have been the chemo acting up on him. He is stalwart in his position despite his condition, as all heroes are, and I am sad to see him in this way. I will not despoil his cause by praying for him as I find all prayers to be ultimately futile, and he, obviously, shares my opinion.
But I will hope he gets better soon.

Perhaps that is a kind of prayer. But rather than asking a dictatorial god for permission to heal or regenerate one who did not deserve such a fate (and few humans do), I rather hope that there is a trend in the statistics of his case -- and in his favor.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oddly enough I had a similar conversation about religion earlier this week. Although I'm not a hard core practicing Catholic, I find these arguments for the abolishment of religion or at least it's subjugation to "rational thought" amusing and insulting at the same time. I haven't read anything from the fellow you cite, nor have I even heard of him but apparently he is one of the "religion is evil" ilk. Perhaps not, I don't really know. In any event, he like many others seemingly misses the point of what religion is supposed to be, how it can help and how it DOES help us.

And so, Prayer (much like decanting a fine wine), even if one doesn't believe it helps, it certainly doesn't hurt. Why would one discount an act that brings some comfort to so many?

Does prayer invoke the powers of an all powerful being for your personal benefit? Perhaps not, who really knows? But, for those with faith, at the point where "rational thought" fails us we can find great reserves of strength and dignity to see our way through to the end. That is a miracle.


9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am a Hitchens fan. I've watched, listened and read him for many years with his biting critique of both religion, politics and societal norms. Unfortunately, his time will not be long here.

Many call atheism a religion, just another belief. I always ask those people, "Do you consider NOT collecting stamps a hobby?" Always stops them in their tracks.

Peace Brian,
From Eugene

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your statement may catch people off guard but does not prove your point. You mistake confusion on the part of the listener for support of your premise.

Atheism, if truly embraced is a belief just as any other. The person has made a choice not to believe. This is just as valid as choosing to believe.

To equate this with a strategy of "NOT" doing a hobby is hardly equal. If not stamp collecting then there is another hobby. You are equating a physical action, i.e. "collecting", with a choice of belief. Not driving means you don't believe in cars? Equally ridiculous.

You could as easily use sex and abstinence as an example. Both choices have consequences. If you choose abstinence it does not mean you don't believe in sex. You have made a choice for yourself based on you belief and values. Same as for Atheism.

I'm not a practitioner of Apologetics. Nor am I familiar with Mr. Hitchen's work but I would still allow anyone a right to choose Atheism as a valid option while at the same time accepting the validity of religion. Atheism holds no moral high ground for me.


9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post makes me sad in so many ways.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't have to 'believe' anything. I wasn't born a theist...I was born an atheist. Tangibility and math is how I figure out the physical world. No ghostly omnipotent beings necessary.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Brian Perez said...

Athiesm doesn't pretend to hold a moral high ground. Morals are human and need no religion to inculcate them. A child eventually learns that if he does something to hurt someone that same someone can hurt him back. The child then realizes that I=you and hence the Golden Rule is discovered. All peoples across the globe know this.
Why religion?
Religion is power. The old wise man knows when an eclipse is going to occur and says that he knows God's will and will prove it. The people obey him because they have no such knowledge and do not inquire or cannot understand how such knowledge can be gained. In this present age of science, religion has had to shift gears as the God of the Gaps holds onto less ground.
It is not about morality. It is about Truth.
Better I believe an unhappy truth than a happy lie.
And as for Religion 'helping' us. I beg you to reconsider our history. Religion has contributed to exclusivism, racism, low self esteem, lack of social mobility, a humility that stagnates, and a hubris that seeks no other excuse than 'Kill them all, God will know his own.'
The universe works perfectly well without an Ulitmate Being. It doesn't require one.
And neither do we!

4:17 PM  
Blogger John said...

I suppose I should have checked back with this blog earlier.

To the person who stated "Tangibility and math is how I figure out the physical world." they should be careful of this view. He/She is saying they only believe what is material, i.e. that which can be touched. This argument implies they do not believe in the intangible. Take Love for instance. Do we deny it exists? Is it tangible? Can it be measured and quantified? How do prove it exists? We except that it is true because we cannot deny the examples of its existence.

2:01 PM  
Blogger John said...

Mr. Perez, you have stated in your comments certain view points in relation to morality and the learning of the "Golden Rule". Seemingly, the children of which you speak learn this rule on their own. This is an indefensible position as numerous examples of child rearing demonstrate. They learn this from their parents, who in turn learned from their parents, etc, etc. You are correct in that, if I may jump to what I believe you imply, that there is an accepted world view of morality. There is general agreement on what is right and what is wrong. I take the position that this devolves from a higher power involved with our creation. How did this world morality come into being, as opposed to some other? I do take exception with your charges against religion and it's alleged detriments to society. It is difficult to examine the instances you derive your list from, but you make the mistake of projecting of man's failings onto religion. Perhaps could clarify? Also, you seem to refute your own argument by leveling charges of Humility and Humbris. Again, confusing.

2:12 PM  

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