Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011)

 

Christopher Hitchens would have had no trouble whatsoever to write eloquently about the death of someone both greatly admired and despised, as he himself was. While I count myself in the former category, on the contrary, am finding it not so easy to express with the same degree of articulacy, what a great loss to humanity his death is.

The measure of integrity of the man shone brightly as he maintained his steadfast stance on anti-theism, right through a harrowing fight with cancer, and despite predictions from hate-filled religionists that he would eventually turn to their gods.

Hitchens had the sort of life that most people can only dream off; hard and fast religionists off course denying themselves that simple pleasure. He may be no more but his memory will live as long as man still cherishes true freedom.

The fight to eradicate cancer and ignorance

I came across two reports of cancer this weekend and how the separate victims deal with it; one filled with inspiration and hope, the other an indictment on religious ignorance.

I know it’s not nice to criticize cancer victims, because the probability of being stricken myself, by this nasty malady is pretty high, but I believe it’s important to expose the ignorance emanating from religion which surrounds this, and other ailments. It’s also important that sufferers learn to deal with the reality of their situation, and not succumb to false hope, usually imparted by supernatural or superstitious belief systems.

Tammie Cohrs a cancer patient, of South Carolina in the USA believes that prayer helped her through a recent MRI scan, and that she received proof of this when the figure of Jesus showed up on her image results. Tammie is going to be mighty disappointed when she eventually finds out that Jesus’s power is limited to showing up on scanned images, and does not extend to eradicating any ailments the scanned image points to. While Cohrs commented that she does not care about what anybody else thinks, she is clearly trying to influence people to believe in the supernatural, through the very act of announcing her peculiar find.

Christopher Hitchens, author of the bestselling book, God Is Not Great contracted a cancer of the esophagus a little while ago, which by his own accounts is spreading to other parts of his body. While the news generally brought good wishes from friends, and offers of prayers from good-hearted theists, it was not surprising that others in the religious fraternity took this opportunity to gloat, as described by Hitchens himself in this Vanity Fair article:

Who else feels Christopher Hitchens getting terminal throat cancer [sic] was God’s revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him? Atheists like to ignore FACTS. They like to act like everything is a “coincidence”. Really? It’s just a “coincidence” [that] out of any part of his body, Christopher Hitchens got cancer in the one part of his body he used for blasphemy? Yea, keep believing that Atheists. He’s going to writhe in agony and pain and wither away to nothing and then die a horrible agonizing death, and THEN comes the real fun, when he’s sent to HELLFIRE forever to be tortured and set afire.

However, Hitchens has stood up well to his detractors and continues being inspirational in the face of the spreading disease. In the most recent article about his condition in Vanity Fair, he describes how he has tried various scientific remedies, and goes on to relate his utter disgust at a legal block being enforced by religious supporters of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, who prohibit any federal spending in promising stem cell research.

Once again, religious ignorance rears its ugly head; this time to frustrate scientific endeavours to find cures for the dreaded cancer and possibly other diseases too. Hitchens, in his usually erudite style does not mince his words when commenting about the use of non-sentient human embryos:

But now religious maniacs strive to forbid even their use, which would help what the same maniacs regard as the unformed embryo’s fellow humans! The politicized sponsors of this pseudo-scientific nonsense should be ashamed to live, let alone die. If you want to take part in the “war” against cancer, and other terrible maladies too, then join the battle against their lethal stupidity.

Hitchens acknowledges that he may die before any cure can be found, but he is willing to contribute personally (even financially) in any research that will contribute to “enlarging the knowledge that will help future generations.” And so, encouraged by these words from Horace Mann, Hitchens endeavours to trudge on with the chemo routine, augmented if it proves worthwhile by radiation and perhaps the much-discussed CyberKnife for a surgical intervention…

Until you have done something for humanity, you should be ashamed to die.

God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Although God Is Not Great was first published in 2007, I was put off reading it by my atheist acquaintances who advised that it constituted nothing more than a rabid fundamentalist rant; a characteristic more commonly associated with the conservative religious fraternity.

Having taken their advice based on demonstrable wisdom in these matters, I did not bother to purchase a copy, until recently while browsing through a bookstore and coming across it again. For some reason I decided to just see what all the fuss was about and bought a copy. I was pleasantly surprised after finally completing it, because unlike most of my other reading material, I was captivated into reading it, in its entirety, before moving onto something else in between. And, I haven’t been enticed into going out on a murderous rampage, targeting clergymen.

Needless to say, in future when advised not to read something, or when forbidden to read something (or view for that matter), just go ahead and do it anyway. Knowledge, whether good or bad is disseminated so that people can make informed decisions. By restricting yourself, or prohibiting others to only one point of view, defeats the objective of learning. Off course the opposite is also true, but one has to be a little more circumspect when advised or pushed to read (or view) any material.

Anyway, back to the book. Christopher Hitchens has many detractors, most of whom find his anti-theistic stance (some say he’s a god-hater) more infuriating than that of ordinary atheists. As I mentioned earlier, his detractors are not confined to the religious, but even atheists find his approach disquieting. Although the book presents a no-holds-barred attack on religion, his literary style and witty approach (believers would say mocking) makes the book highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable.

The title might not make any sense to believers because it seems to be a contradiction in (atheist) terms: how can something that is not supposed to exist, be great? I have it on good authority that it is actually a witty reversal of the Islamic proclamation Allahuh Akhbar, which translates roughly as God is great. The title has also been called arrogant, but it confirms Hitchens’ anti-theistic stance; it’s as if he’s throwing down a challenge to the object of his revulsion to account for the crass behaviour so vividly described in the book.

The historical approach not only lends weight to his arguments against religious belief, but are extremely informative, especially to the layman who does not have the time or craving for the monumental amounts of research involved. How many believers have sat down to read through the religious texts of competing religions, or even bothered with cursory examinations of these texts? Not too many, I would advance. Yet, many believers hold dogmatic opinions, not only about their own religion, but others as well.

The book is littered with memorable one-liners. A favorite of mine is: in reference to religion (or more specifically Christianity, I think) he calls it ‘a plagiarism of a plagiarism, of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion.’ There are far too many to mention, but I don’t want you reading any of them.

Notable quote:

Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important. Where once it used to be able, by its total command of a world-view, to prevent the emergence of rivals, it can now only impede and retard – or try to turn back – the measurable advances that we have made. Sometimes, true, it will artfully concede them. But this is to offer itself the choice between irrelevance and obstruction, impotence or outright reaction, and , given this choice, it is programmed to select the worse of the two. Meanwhile, confronted with undreamed-of vistas inside our own evolving cortex, in the farthest reaches of the known universe, and in the proteins and acids which constitute our nature, religion offers either annihilation in the name of god, or else the false promise that if we take a knife to our foreskins, or pray in the right direction, or ingest pieces of wafer, we shall be “saved.” It is as if someone, offered a delicious and fragrant out-of-season fruit, matured in a painstakingly and lovingly designed hothouse, should throw away the flesh and the pulp and gnaw moodily on the pit.