Christopher Hitchens Has Died: How to think about the death of the outspoken atheist.
by Douglas Wilson
Editor’s Note: Christopher Hitchens has died at the age of 62. A statement from Vanity Fair said that he died Thursday night at cancer center in Houston of pneumonia, a complication of his esophageal cancer. CT asked Douglas Wilson to weigh in on the life and death of the prominent atheist.
Christopher Hitchens was a celebrity intellectual, and, as such, the basic outlines of his life are generally well known. But for those just joining us, Christopher Hitchens was the older of two sons, born to Eric and Yvonne in April 1949. He discovered as a schoolboy that probing questions about the veracity of the Christian faith were part of a discussion that he “liked having.” His younger brother, Peter, followed him in unbelief. But unlike Christopher, Peter publicly returned to the Church of England, the communion where they had both been baptized.
Christopher spent some time in the 1960s as a radical leftist, but of course that was what everybody was doing back then. Somehow Christopher managed to do this and march to a different drummer, doing his radical stint as part of a post–Trotskyite Luxemburgist sect. He graduated from Balliol at Oxford, and soon became established as a writer, the vocation of his life, one in which he excelled. As a writer and thinker, he was greatly influenced by (and wrote about) men like George Orwell and Thomas Jefferson, while as the same time reserving the right to attack any sacred cow of his choosing—and the more sacred, the better. He is widely known for his scathing attack on Mother Teresa, and when Jerry Falwell passed away, he spent a good deal of time on television chortling about it.
But this was all part of Christopher’s very public rhetorical strategy, not a function of an inability to domesticate a surly temperament. He was actually an affable and pleasant dinner companion, and fully capable of being the perfect gentleman. He was fully aware of the authority an enfant terrible could have, provided he played his cards right, and this was a strategy that Hitchens employed very well indeed. One man who delivers a terrible insult is banned from television for life, and another man, who does the same thing, has people lining up with invitations and microphones. In case anyone is wondering, Christopher was that second man…
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