Don’t just pray for Christopher Hitchens. Do something good as well.

Christopher Hitchens: 1949 - 2011

The author and journalist Christopher Hitchens has died of cancer. He is known for his bestselling books ‘god is not great: How religion poisons everything’ and his memoir, ‘Hitch 22’ among many others.

Please give generously to cancer research UK, at this page set up in Christopher’s memory.

Over the coming weeks, you’re going to hear a lot of crazy talk about Christopher “being in a better place” and, I have no doubt, an attempt from rightwing talk-show pundits to suggest a deathbed recantation of his atheism.

Even as I write, the trending topic on Twitter, #godIsNotGreat, has seen a mix of outrage and praise for the words of condolences posted by Rick Warren, who had the effrontery to call Hitchens a friend, in the same breath as saying, “he knows the truth now“.

This to be followed, no doubt, by many similar such utterances of passive aggressive threat theology, in the hours ahead, from those who claim to be doing so in praise of a god who is “all loving” — so loving, in fact, that while a man of Hitchen’s calibre is stricken with cancer aged just sixty-two, 2012 will see Pope Ratzinger entering his 84th year as fit as ever.

The many religious who Christopher upset (don’t ever call him Chris), over the years, took umbrage with him not so much for his uncanny ability to make the truth about pedophile enablers in the Vatican, thieving liars like Mother Teresa, and the anti-semite Billy Graham sound almost amusing, but with that humour also came a sheer brilliance for finding the exact turn of phrase needed, to succinctly explain the real dangers of believing in things which aren’t true.

There’s a tendency among we atheist types, to think of Hitchens as “one of us” and, in so much as he furnished us with a new-found courage to confront the liars for Jesus in our midst, that much is true. But he also reminded us of the great responsibility which comes with it. It’s all very well to point and laugh at the low hanging fruit; the opportunists who use religion to grease the wheels of their political ambitions. But Hitchens also reminded us how lucky some of us are to live in countries where saying as much out loud doesn’t get you into anywhere near as much hot water as it does in Iran — or, indeed, those States of the American union with ambitions to model their legal and educational systems on similar such theocracies.

Previous to Hitchens, works of religious polemic were dusty great tomes of academic in-speak, wrapped in theology and philosophy for the learned; books within books, for people with the time and money to study its history. Those who took the view that religion alongside politics is a topic best avoided in polite conversation, for fear of causing offence, after Hitchens, suddenly had a voice; a new vocabulary with which to raise objection, whenever “that guy” said something demonstrably false, in the belief that religious faith is a virtue best served with a side order of received opinion.

Now, he is gone. And we are left with a body of work which will, rather ironically, live forever.

I can’t claim to have read every single one of these, no doubt, fine works. But if the ones I have yet to read are anything like the ones I have read already, I can thoroughly recommend the following:

1984 Cyprus. Quartet. Revised editions as Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger, 1989 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) and 1997 (Verso).
1987 Imperial Spoils: The Curious Case of the Elgin Marbles. Chatto and Windus (UK)/Hill and Wang (US, 1988) / 1997 UK Verso edition as The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned to Greece? (with essays by Robert Browning and Graham Binns). Reissued and updated 2008 as The Parthenon Marbles: The Case for Reunification, Verso.
1988 Prepared for the Worst: Selected Essays and Minority Reports. Hill and Wang (US)/Chatto and Windus (UK).
1990 The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain’s Favorite Fetish. Chatto & Windus, 1990.
1990 Blood, Class, and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Reissued 2004, with a new introduction, as Blood, Class and Empire: The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship, Nation Books, ISBN 1-56025-592-7)
1993 For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports. Verso, ISBN 0-86-091435-6
1995 The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Verso.
1999 No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton. Verso. Reissued as No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family in 2000.
2000 Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere. Verso
2001 The Trial of Henry Kissinger. Verso.
2001 Letters to a Young Contrarian. Basic Books.
2002 Why Orwell Matters, Basic Books (US)/UK edition as Orwell’s Victory, Allen Lane/The Penguin Press.
2003 A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq. Plume Books. Originally released as Regime Change (Penguin).
2004 Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays. Thunder’s Mouth, Nation Books, ISBN 1-56025-580-3
2005 Thomas Jefferson: Author of America. Eminent Lives/Atlas Books/HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-059896-4
2006 Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man”: A Biography. Books That Shook the World/Atlantic Books, ISBN 1-84354-513-6
2007 God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA/Warner Books, ISBN 0446579807 / Published in the UK as God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion. Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1-84354-586-6
2010 Hitch-22 Some Confessions and Contradictions: A Memoir . Hachette Book Group. ISBN 9780446540339 (published by Allen and Unwin in Australia in May 2010 with the shorter title: Hitch-22. A Memoir.) ISBN 978-1-74175-962-4
2011 Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens. Twelve. UK edition as Arguably: Selected Prose. Atlantic.


2 comments on “Don’t just pray for Christopher Hitchens. Do something good as well.

  1. Pingback: Don’t just pray for Christopher Hitchens. Do something good as well. | Fundamentally Flawed

  2. I sat next to Hitch on the metro one snowy afternoon in 2005. It just so happen that I had a copy of “Why Orwell Matters on my person and was nearly finished with the reading..” I asked him if he would autograph the book, it and he very kindly did. He asked me what I thought of this work. The only thing I could think to say was “it seems to me that 1984 was less a cautionary tale than a simple fact of life.” He smiled, and said that I had got it. Great guy and a gentleman.

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