Christopher Hitchens was a complicated man. He was hard not to like, but he was also hard to like. Possessed of a keen intellect matched only by his keen wit, he was a passionate spokesman against the tyranny of religion. But he was also a bit of an insufferable blowhard who championed the Bush regime’s Iraq campaign. When he smashes theological arguments with logic and reason against which there is no logical argument, it is a wonder to behold. But watching him defend an administration that is in all likelihood guilty of war crimes is a real bummer. He had his reasons for doing so, but try as I might, I was never persuaded by them.
I first encountered the Mighty Hitch in the early 2000s, wen he was writing pro-atheism articles in magazines like Skeptic. This was long before it was fashionable to write about such things. But those articles were the first I had read that made sense of all the conflicting thoughts and feelings I experienced after leaving the Catholic church in the 10th grade and during my subsequent search for a religion that resonated with me. It disturbed me deeply that I found none. And here was someone telling me that was OK.
Letters To A Young Contrarian was the first Hitchens book I read and it changed my outlook on life. Up to that point, The Rebel by Albert Camus had been my secret pick-me-up manifesto. But by the time I read it, it was more than 30 years old. Good as it was (and still is) it can’t help but be a product of its time. Letters brought it all to the present, even though much of it springs from lessons of the past. Emile Zola and Vaclav Havel are here, but it’s Hitchens’ voice that makes it such a strangely comforting read. The last thing one thinks of when one thinks of Christopher Hitchens is the word “nurturing,” but there you have it. That’s what he is in this book. This is the book for those of us who found ourselves in the unfortunate position of being a contrarian, a rebel, or remotely counterculture, where a present-day elder statesmen was encouraging us not to give up the good fight, even when it felt bad.
Here is a great, hour long appearance on C-Span’s Washington Journal where he talks about the book.
Kurt Vonnegut began the eulogy of his friend and fellow writer, Isaac Asimov with the words, “Isaac’s in Heaven now,” providing a much-needed and essentially Vonnegut-esque moment of levity. And so it goes. It is with a heavy heart that I must report Christopher’s in Heaven now. And I’m sure he’s giving ’em hell.