A great thinker is gone; Christopher Hitchens–quite possible the greatest thinker of our modern era–left us this past week. It saddens me that I only now learn how great a thinker he was, for I met Christopher Hitchens–twice, in fact–but I did not really know him or his writings at the time, and I’m afraid I misjudged the man, sold him short.
What made me prejudge Hitchens was his professed aetheism (I have a cynical view of the pronounced few among us who choose to deny Deity), his homosexuality (which I view as a form of hedonism, nothing more; i.e. a choice versus a predisposition), and his left-of-center politics.
It turns out the shortcomings were mine, in fact.
“I come to praise Hitch, not to bury him …”
Upon hearing the news of his passing a strange myriad of thoughts crossed my mind. I say strange, because it is strange for me not to have clarity of thought. Focus, planning and the gathering of facts and data for analysis and processing of data into intelligence; these are the various breads and butters of my existence. Of course there are moments of confusion, but these moments can be related to immediate time and place circumstance; situations where suddenly there is more that I don’t know than what I do know. Likewise there are emotional events, but these too generally have a cause that can be pinpointed.
My reaction to the death of Christopher Hitchens was a kind of confusion; a criticism that was not constructive. I considered long and hard what I should write, if indeed I should write anything at all. I did not know the man – the two occasions referred to above took place in the DC party scene. Hitchens held court, whiskey glass & cigarette in hand. Not knowing the man personally (and because of an instinctive need to keep my back to a wall and my eyes on doors and windows) I kept back from the crowd.
My initial confusion was followed by a sort of enlightenment as I learned more and more of the thoughts and opinions of this great British ironist:
Now that I actually read this piece of brilliance I kick myself for my prudish, kneejerk reaction. Not that I’m a prude; quite the opposite if anything – as a soldier I’ve spent countless long afternoons of groin-grinding R&R in pleasure pits on every continent except Antarctica. First glance at Hitch’s prologue: As American as Apple Pie . . . . . . From the Wild West to the Wild White House, the author explores the blowjob’s emergence as the nation’s signature sex act. I rolled my eyes. It’s bad enough that these days even schoolgirls know what a Lewinsky is; do we really have to wax poetic about something that was known and practiced for millenia before Columbus? But the man knew how to craft a phrase, and his opening lines drew me in.
“The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics.” – Christopher Hitchens
Sodomy; did we really have to go there? I mean, Champagne isn’t that bad – I’d take it over a Sandusky any day – lobster’s great, and what’s wrong with picnics, anyway? I had a great picnic with a playful California girl in the back of a ’63 Impala, one early fall afternoon up on Mount Diablo. There wasn’t any sodomy involved and we didn’t miss it, either.
This is the Godzilla Meets Mothra of blasphemy; I’m not a Catholic but come on – this is Mother Teresa we’re talking about here. How on God’s Green Earth can even an atheist blast Mother Teresa? Then you read on and the initial shock and awe is overtaken by Hitch’s unique insight; he twists and turns your mind to view the saint of the sewers of Calcutta from a completely unique and legitimate perspective:
[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?
I respect you, Hitch, and yes, I honor you. A lefty Euro-socialist who supported the Global War on Terrorism, denounced the 9/11 conspiracy crowd ANDsupported the Iraq Invasion, you’re all right by me. We need more like you, Hitch; philosophers, thinkers. Yours was a quick wit, a keen sense of irony; to me you were in the same league with Cicero.
It is not by lack of literary discipline that I switch to the second person narrative, because unlike you Hitch I know there is an afterlife and my vision of it includes a sort of Elysian Plains–a place not all that unpleasant–where virtuous pagans and souls like your own dwell, the great thinkers and philosophers of history.
Truth be told I would jump at an opportunity to visit this outskirts of Hades, to meet and converse with Aristotle, Cato, and perhaps yourself. If for no other reason to point out that Nietzche didn’t mean it the way you tore apart my adopted motto. Of course, given the dreadful circumstance, who could possibly disagree with the Great Hitch?
I wish I had the time to do half the thinking and philosophizing you accomplished in too short a time on this Earth, Hitch. May the Diety that exists in whatever Valhalla you are now bless you, and all of us. As another famous atheist used to say, “May your God go with you…”