Bronze-level articleChristopher Hitchens

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Christopher Eric Hitchens (April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011) was a chain-smoking, atheistic, foul-mouthed, British[1] drunken smartarse — what every self-respecting gentleman aspires to be! Hitchens was a self-identified antitheist and was known as one of the "Four Horsemen" in the New Atheist movement (along with Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris). He was the brother of Peter Hitchens and, until recently, the two had been estranged for many years.

Prior to his atheist activism, Hitchens was known for his criticism of the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Dubya (though for a while, he might have been his most noted atheist cheerleader), and Obama administrations. He was also known for his opposition to God. In fact, looking back on his 40-year career, there weren't many people Hitchens liked, except for George Orwell, Vaclav Havel and, once upon a time, Noam Chomsky and Che Guevara. And himself of course. Although Hitchens wasn't a socialist, he continued to call himself a Marxist[2] and he expressed sympathy for Karl Marx and felt his critiques of capitalism were fairly accurate.[3] Though applauded by many atheists for his vocal and uncensored criticism of religion, some of his views were controversial, for example his furious support for the War on Terror and interventionism in the Middle East, as well as his support of burqa bans.

He was 62 years old at the time of his death from pneumonia.[4] However, this age has been called into question due to missing transitional forms.


[edit] Views 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[5]), and had notoriously attacked Mother Teresa and Hanukkah for representing a triumph of religious orthodoxy over scientific and humanitarian advancement.[6][7] He also condemned former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a war criminal.

Formerly a Trotskyist of the Tony Cliff variety, Hitchens was the last Trotskyist convert to the right-wing- however, he denied the term neoconservative, stating that he wasn't a Conservative in any sense of the term. Like many other ex-Trotskyists, 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, and participated in a debate with him on the subject of Islam. Galloway ended the debate with an ad hominem, calling Hitchens a "drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay." to which Hitchens replied "Only some of which is true."

His 2007 best-selling book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything[8] 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.

[edit] Criticism of Mother Teresa

One of Hitchens' earliest forays into the criticism of religion was his book The Missionary Position which argued that Mother Teresa 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 and overpopulation. A film documentary based on the book entitled Hell's Angel aired in the UK to a large television audience, but got virtually no exposure in the United States.

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

[edit] Fighting Islamofascism!

Hitchens evolved from being largely a pacifist to being a believer in confronting what he considered evil and fascistic governments. This transformation was completed after 9/11 when he became a unrestrained advocate 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 in any way an attempt to take away peoples' freedom — even though it negates more than two different interpretations of the US Constitution's First Amendment: religious freedom, free speech as applied to dress, and freedom of association.[9]

In 2008, Hitchens volunteered to be waterboarded so as to write about it from experience. It was performed by experts in torture and torture resistance from SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape). He lasted only 17 seconds. He reaffirmed his position that waterboarding is torture, and is both immoral and ineffective, and furthermore opens the doors to American prisoners being tortured by others.[10]

[edit] Criticism by religious moderates

Non-fundie religious commentators 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. Others similarly concluded that Hitchens has too narrow a definition of religion which then enables him to condemn it as universally toxic.[11] So far, none of these critics have accused Hitchens of engaging in the No True Scotsman fallacy, but this exact phrase circulates more frequently among rationalists.

Chris Hedges, for whom Hitchens was occasionally mistaken, 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, California in 2007.[12] 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. Hedges has also accused Hitchens and Sam Harris of the same divisive rhetoric as religious extremists.

Hitchens has also been criticized for his inconsistency with ethical questions in debates. What standard does he appeal to when he says that Christians aren't good? Most of his arguments would just point out moral hypocrisy. He'd appeal to a type of theistic ethics to make moral criticism of theism, he'd want the moral high ground, so he'd use moral rhetoric to appeal to a larger audience.

[edit] "Views" on other topics

[edit] Abortion

Hitchens self-identified as "pro-life"[13] and made several statements expressing a personal opposition to abortion during his lifetime. For example, in a 1989 piece in The Nation, he wrote:

I have always been convinced that the term 'unborn child' is a genuine description of material reality. Obviously, the fetus is alive, so that disputation about whether or not it counts as 'a life' is casuistry. The same applies, from a materialist point of view, to the question of whether or not this 'life' is 'human.' What other kind could it be? As for 'dependent,' this has never struck me as a very radical criticism of any agglomeration of human cells in whatever state. Children are 'dependent' too. […] Anyone who has ever seen a sonogram or has spent even an hour with a textbook on embryology knows that the emotions are not a deciding factor. In order to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch off a developing brain, and, whatever the method, break some bones and rupture some organs.[14]

He reiterated these arguments in a 2006 World Magazine interview, stating "I've looked at sonograms," and "the concept 'unborn child' seems to me to be a factual statement."[15] In his 2007 book God Is Not Great, he argued, "As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely […] a growth on or in the female body."

In a 1990 article in the Washington Times, he stated, "I can't think of a single circumstance in which I'd favor emptying a woman's uterus."[14] He later acknowledged in God Is Not Great that "[t]here may be many circumstances in which it is not desirable to carry a fetus to full term," citing the occurrence of spontaneous abortions (i.e. miscarriages) and arguing that "sad though this is, it is probably less miserable an outcome" than an increased number of children born with severe birth defects.[14]

However, Hitchens was opposed to overturning of Roe v. Wade,[13] and voiced support for a legal right to choose despite his personal misgivings with abortion in a 1991 interview in Mother Jones:

There is, in my opinion, no choice but choice. There is no way of avoiding the choice position. What I said was that conditions could be created by politics, by actual state intervention, if you will, where people might wish to exercise that choice less, and that would be a good thing. That there should be, therefore, a presumption in favor of the unborn. But if that fails, obviously you can't push it to the point of saying, 'We will force you to carry a child to term.' Everything in one revolts against that.[16]

[edit] Women

Hitchens wrote a piece in 2007 in Vanity Fair in which he seriously advanced the view that women are generally less funny than men.[17] He argued that men have evolved better senses of humor than women because "the chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex," while "women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way," since "they already appeal to men, if you catch my drift."[17] He wrote that "male humor prefers the laugh to be at someone's expense, and understands that life is quite possibly a joke to begin with," in contrast to women, who, "bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is."[17] He claimed that "reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing" for women, and that this "imbues" women with "the kind of seriousness and solemnity at which men can only goggle" (or, in other words, makes them humorless sticks-in-the-mud, especially during pregnancy).[17] He also claimed that women are more likely to put stock in superstitious and/or sentimental beliefs and practices because they are "partly ruled ... by the moon and the tides."[17] While he offered zero evidence, he must have been talking about the same intervals seen in the woman's menstrual cycle and the Moon cycle. Unless he was joking of course.

In a 2010 interview with Australian television host Jennifer Byrne, Hitchens remarked that "most men are pretty hopeless when newborn bundles arrive," and are so impressed by how "women appear to know what to do [that] they think, 'Well, I'll go and do extra work and make some money.'"[18] When Byrne noted that women can also be breadwinners, Hitchens replied, "I'm not having any woman of mine go to work," then added, "No, they don't need to work. They can if they like but they don't have to."[18] He also stated that women are "called the gentle sex for a good reason" and expressed a wish not to see women "coarsened in the labour market."[18]

Many Islamic clerics agree.

But it would be not quite right to project quotes of this kind into naked misogyny; Hitchens did refer on numerous occasions and in various contexts to " the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."[19][20][21][22]

[edit] Broadcasts

In 1988 Hitchens contributed to a collection of published essays titled 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."

[edit] Cancer

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.[23] He died in December 2011 due to complications related to the cancer.[4]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Though he did become a US citizen in 2007, while retaining his British nationality.
  2. Paxman meets Hitchens full 30 minute interview with BBCs Jeremy Paxman RIP via YouTube
  3. The Revenge of Karl Marx, The Atlantic
  4. 4.0 4.1 Julie Weiner, "In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011," VF Daily, 2011 December 15, [1].
  5. And the sane.
  6. 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.
  7. Christopher Hitchens, "Bah, Hanukkah," Slate, 2007 December 3. [2]
  8. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
  9. Christopher Hitchens, "Learn from France, and Consider Banning the Burka." New York Daily News, 2009 June 30. [3]
  10. Christopher Hitchens. "Believe Me, It’s Torture," Vanity Fair. 2008 August. [4]
  11. Christopher Hitchens, Religious in Spite of Himself?
  12. Hitchens vs. Hedges; Atheist vs. Believer Clash Ignites Audience, AlterNet
  13. 13.0 13.1 Lisa Miller, "Beliefwatch: Pro-life Atheists", Newsweek
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Quoted in the The Quotable Hitchens
  15. Mindy Belz, "The World According to Hitch", World Magazine
  16. Dennis Perrin, "Hitchens Rehabilitated?", Mother Jones
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Christopher Hitchens, "Why Women Aren't Funny", Vanity Fair
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Jennifer Byrne Presents: Christopher Hitchens
  23. Not really. He was happy for people to pray for him if they wanted, and accepted it as a sincere expression of good wishes.
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