Christopher Hitchens

I don’t know what other OPers think of Hitchen’s work, if they think of it at all, but I recently picked up his memoir, Hitch-22.   The prologue alone makes it clear that he’s a brilliant writer, very funny, and has led a very interesting life, qualities which, if you’re lucky enough to possess all three, pretty much obligate you to write a memoir.  I’ll keep you posted and let you know what I think.

Hitchens has also been in the news lately.  He was diagnosed with aggressive esophageal cancer and given his atheist polemics (v. God is Not Great, which I have no plans to read) hack writers across the world are raising questions about whether there will be a deathbed conversion.  I find this phenomenon, which I’ve witnessed before when admitted atheists face death, very perplexing.  It seems clear that many people–and I don’t mean to single out Believers here–would be tickled if Hitchens recanted and found God in his hour of fear and trembling.  I’m trying to understand this.  It would make sense to me if Hitchens had published a book, and engaged in public debates, arguing for the position that he is immortal.  Then people might be gratified to think that his position is finally going to be decisively refuted.  But the positions on which he’s published a book and argued in public debates (to my knowledge) are that God does not exist, religious belief does vastly more harm than good, and that it is ultimately rooted in humanity’s understandable fear and insecurity concerning their own mortality and the potential meaninglessness of their existences.  It seems to me like the whole phenomena of ‘deathbed conversions’ does more to support Hitchen’s skepticism about the grounds of religious belief than it does to undermine it.  This point seems to be missed by both the religious folk Hitchens has offended and by his supporters who vehemently and somewhat ridiculously deny that he’ll recant on his deathbed.

Anyway, if an OPer has insight into this phenomenon or has recognized it and been puzzled as well, I’d love to hear from you.  I’ll leave you with the following bit from the prologue of Hitch-22.  There are lot’s of bits like this (Hitchens is talking about past occasions on which the media has prematurely announced the deaths of famous people):

Bob Hope was twice pronounced deceased by the news media: on the second occasion I was called by some network to confirm or deny the report and now wish I had not so jauntily said, having just glimpsed him at the British embassy in Washington, that the last time I saw him he had certainly seemed dead enough.

That’s a great line.  So far the book’s full of them.

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3 Responses to Christopher Hitchens

  1. Nates says:

    I used to enjoy his literary reviews in the Atlantic, back when reviews were a more prominent part of the magazine. (It really took an unfortunate turn in the past year or so.) He’s quite a writer, but he also seems absurdly overconfident in his own judgment. How this is possible after the events of the last decade I don’t know.

  2. Nates says:

    Just to be clear, I agree that he’s a great writer and an interesting person. I suspect it’ll be a pretty good memoir.

  3. Josh says:

    Several years ago now he was a regular columnist in The Nation. He then underwent a fairly high profile conversion to conservatism, I think over the Iraq War… It always seemed vaguely like a PR stunt – such a strange issue to decide you can’t take liberal orthodoxy anymore. He thought it was intellectually irresponsible of liberals not to demand the ouster of Saddam Hussein, and to defend him as the “sovereign ruler of Iraq.” This was somehow supposed to justify setting aside all the other arguments against invasion, and also supposed to condemn an entire ideology, or reputed ideology.

    The guy always seemed a little self-involved when he wrote in The Nation, too. The columns were usually long on bluster and short on substance. I remember that one week, he published a remarkably coherent column about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – after that it was back to broad allegations of hypocrisy, etc.

    So I’m vaguely skeptical – but I don’t doubt that, being self-involved, he could write a good memoir.

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