Bronze-level articleChristopher Hitchens

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
One of the


Icon pundit.svg
And a dirty dozen more

Christopher Eric Hitchens (April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011) was a drunken, chain-smoking, atheistic, foul-mouthed, British[1] smartarse—what every self-respecting gentleman aspires to be! He was the brother of Peter Hitchens and, until recently, the two had been estranged for many years.

Hitchens was known for his criticism of the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, W. Bush, and Obama administrations. He was also known for his opposition to God. In fact, looking back on his forty year career, there wasn't anyone Hitchens liked.

He was about 62 years old at the time of his death from pneumonia.[2] However, this age has been called into question due to missing transitional forms.


On religion

Hitchens in 2007.

He was known for his views on atheism and other social issues on which he would hold forth eruditely and at length. He was also known for taking unusually provocative positions on various topics. He was initially a supporter of the Iraq War (something that hurt his standing with the left-wing), and had notoriously attacked Mother Teresa and Hanukkah for representing a triumph of religious orthodoxy over scientific and humanitarian advancement.[3][4] He also condemned former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a war criminal. Hitchens was unusual among pundits for simultaneously being pro-life (albeit not rabidly so),[5] while also being rabidly atheist and a strong supporter of civil rights.[6]

Formerly a Trotskyist, Hitchens was the last Trotskyist convert to neo-conservatism. Like many other Trotskyists-turned-neocons, his opposition to Islam was one of the primary reasons for the switch in ideology.

As a result of his grievances with Islam, Hitchens has had a long standing feud with former British MP George Galloway. He participated in a debate with George Galloway on the subject of Islam. The consensus on the debate is that Hitchens won. Galloway ended the debate with an ad hominem, calling Hitchens a "drink-soaked former Trotskyist popnjay". It is likely Galloway realized Hitchens won the debate, as Galloway refused to debate Hitchens again. This beef continued shortly after the debate took place, when Hitchens and Galloway both appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher. Hitchens comments were met with constant boos and disapproval from the audience, the host, and the other guests. Galloway's views, in contrast, received wild applause and support from the audience.

His 2007 best-selling book god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything [7], proved to be a major work of what would become known as "New Atheism," seen as a more militant approach to dealing with religious matters. In it, he argued that religion, being the root of much tribalist and isolationist thinking, is irrational and dangerous to societies that aspire to freedom.

Criticism of Mother Theresa

One of Hitchens' earliest forays into the criticism of religion was his book The Missionary Position which argued that Mother Theresa of Calcutta gave substandard clinical treatment to many at her hospices and that her spirituality entailed a masochistic cult of suffering for Jesus often to the point where patients in her care were denied pain-relieving treatment. Hitchens further argued that much money donated to her charities was funneled to right-wing Catholic regimes around the world. He also held that her charities acted as a front for proselytizing and for promoting Catholic proscriptions against birth control. Hitchens found her views against birth control particularly odious given that she worked in India, a country wracked by poverty. A film documentary based on the book entitled Hell's Angel aired in England to a large television audience, but got virtually no exposure in the United States.

Mother Theresa was first promoted heavily in the Western world by Christian pundit, Malcolm Muggeridge, concerning whom Hitchens has found multiple occasions to quarrel with.

Criticism by liberal religious commentators

Liberal religious commentators on Hitchens have often noted that Hitchens attributes the positive elements of some Christian individuals and organizations to humanism rather than to Christianity. In particular, in God is not Great, Hitchens argues that Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King are not really Christians, noting that King never advocated divine punishment for his opponents and derived much of his thinking on non-violence from Gandhi, a non-Christian source. In a televised debate with his brother, Peter Hitchens, the latter argued this was essentially a no-win scenario for Christianity. Other religious liberals have similarly concluded that Hitchens has too narrow a definition of religion which then enables him to condemn it as universally toxic.[8] So far, none of these critics have accused Hitchens of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, but this exact phrase circulates more frequently among rationalists.

Chris Hedges has made similar criticisms, as well as denouncing his support for the Iraq War. Hedges criticisms are heavily focused on the notion that evil does not originate per se mainly in religion, rather religion provides a secondary post hoc rationalization for evil. Hedges and Hitchens debated these issues in Berkeley, CA in 2007.[9] At this debate, when the two quarreled over the motivations of suicide bombers, Hitchens angrily accused Hedges of making excuses for suicide bombers, suggesting that Hedges condoned their actions. While this position may be marginally attributed to an old sparring partner of Hitchens, George Galloway, it is much less clear that Hedges actually held such views. Hedges has also accused Hitchens and Sam Harris of the same divisive rhetoric as right-wing religionists.

Fighting Islamofascism

Hitchens evolved from being a largely Trotskyist pacificist to being a believer in confronting what he considered evil and fascistic governments. This transformation was completed after 9/11 when he became a cheerleader for war in the Middle East. This has reduced interest in his writings among some who might otherwise be interested in his books on atheism.

He believed that "Islamofascism" must be fought in every possible way including restricting the right to wear what one wants by banning the burqa. He argued that this is for security and the desire to protect women from overbearing men, and was not any way an attempt to take away peoples' freedom.[10]

He was once a supporter of waterboarding, considering it just "a little water splashed on the face" and not torture. However, he actually put his belief on the line and agreed to be waterboarded, although not in circumstances even remotely close to what American detainees who are waterboarded would have experienced.. He lasted only 11 seconds, and five years of torture apology was ended. and quickly concluded that waterboarding is definitely torture.[11]


In 1988 Hitchens contributed to a collection of published essays entitled Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship And The Palestinian Question. His essay, "Broadcasts," explored the assertion of the Israeli establishment that 750,000 Palestinian Arabs evacuated Palestine in compliance with orders issued by their own religious and administrative leaders. Hitchens argued that this assertion lacks evidence of any such broadcast and that the Palestinian Arabs were, in fact, forced to flee from a number of their major population centers by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Hitchens concluded his essay in a pessimistic tone by speculating that "Even though nobody has ever testified to having heard them, and even though no record of their transmission has ever been found, we shall hear of these orders and broadcasts again and again."


Unfortunately, smoking frequently does not come for free, and Hitchens had to undergo treatment for cancer of the esophagus. If you prayed for him, he'd kick your ass.[12] He died in December 2011 due to complications related to the cancer.[2]

See also


  1. Though he did become a US citizen in 2007, while retaining his British nationality.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Julie Weiner, "In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011," VF Daily, 2011 December 15, [1].
  3. In his book The Missionary Position, he painted a picture of Mother Teresa as less a devoted worker for the poor than a monomaniacal, penny-pinching missionary with a perverse love of suffering and public attention.
  4. Christopher Hitchens, "Bah, Hanukkah," Slate, 2007 December 3, [2].
  5. Christopher Hitchens, "Fetal Distraction," Vanity Fair, 2003 February, [3].
  6. Mindy Belz, "The World According to Hitch," World, 2006 June 3, [4].
  7. god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
  8. Christopher Hitchens, Religious in Spite of Himself?
  9. Hitchens vs. Hedges; Atheist vs. Believer Clash Ignites Audience, AlterNet
  10. Christopher Hitchens, "Learn from France—and Consider Banning the Burka," New York Daily News, 2009 June 30. [5].
  11. Christopher Hitchens, "Believe Me, It’s Torture," Vanity Fair, 2008 August, [6].
  12. Not really. He was happy for people to pray for him if they wanted, and accepted it as a sincere expression of good wishes.
Personal tools