Friday, 16 December 2011

Not without a Hitch

He preferred to be called "Hitch", which brought back memories of his own Father's nickname, but you would be given a cold stare and a harsh rebuke were to you shorten his first name "Christopher".

What seems irrational frustration with the removal of letters from a surname being acceptable but not for a first name is part of what made Hitch an enigma of our time. A person with a resolute belief in propriety but not afraid to step away from convention when the need suited. And thus people were never always certain where they stood with him as demonstrated by his fervent argument in favour of the Iraq War. For a "wet liberal lefty" to have agreed with George Bush's crusade into the Middle East with all of the religious and right wing baggage that accompanied it, it left people like Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky incredulous.

But then Hitch wanted nothing more than for people to be continually surprised. He had been doing it all of his life. He was considered, by both friends and enemies, of being a supreme intellect; a person who was articulate, spoke with great force and wit and had a ready accessible library in his head which would send shivers down the spine of his opponents in debate. He could, quite literally, destroy a person with his rancour, concessions and rebuttals.

But he left university with a third class degree. This demonstrates the point perfectly that it's not always "who you know" in the world that gets you somewhere because clearly Hitch was only able to sustain his long career based upon "what he knew". It also demonstrates that a university degree classification demonstrates nothing about a person's potential or ability to apply knowledge and passion to a career.

There is not a lot unique that people can write about Hitch but I hope the above "eulogy" has been something different from the various endorsements that are permeating the blogosphere. All are worthy reads.

What has been interesting is that as soon as Hitch's book "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" started trending on Twitter (#godisnotgreat) there were a gluttony of posts from some religious fruitcakes clearly unable to recognise that the trend was not some random phenomena started by some godless heretics but was the vehicle by which people could communicate common sympathy for the death of a person of great significance.

What was surprising, or which should not have been really as the book in question documented the history of religious irrationality, was the violence espoused by the "Religious Twitterati" in response to the hashtag.

Here is a selection rounded up by others...

These comments speak for themselves of course. What was even more surprising, but again should be expected, is the people wishing to profit from the death of Hitch:

These "psychic readings", attached to the Hitch hashtag, contain a level of crassness that is difficult to fathom. But people need to make a living right?

Ok, well the ultimate challenge befalls any psychic who entertains the spirit of Hitch because the level of eloquence needed to prove to any skeptic that they are in Hitch's presence would be incredible. Hitch was one of the most incredible speakers with a breadth of knowledge and a witty repertoire that is not really found anywhere else.

If psychics can truly speak to the dead, and they claim they are speaking to Hitch, they will need to do more than say "I'm sensing the letter "C"" and warble on about how existence is so much better not being in pain blah, blah, blah...

What sort of information could Hitch bring back? Certainly more than telling his family that he loves them very much. I wonder if we will see any attempts to contact Hitch. And if a medium was able to channel his spirit what sort of information would they need to convey to make us believe that he was really in touch? Hitch was one of the most entertaining orators of his generation (and no doubt many others). Unless they were genuinely in touch with his spirit, a medium would need a level of intellect and readily accessible knowledge that I doubt they possess. I might be wrong and the option is there for a significant script to be learned. It's up to the skeptic community to critique this should it ever happen. I'm hoping that someone isn't crass enough to try but judging by the touting for business on the back of the #godisnotgreat hashtag, don't be surprised.

And what about that religious fruitcake Rick Warren who thinks homosexuality is a sin and not a viable lifestyle? He had this to say...

This is the Christian "I told you so". Rick Warren was the guy who invoked Pascal's Wager during a debate with Sam Harris in his closing comments:

"We're both betting. He's betting his life that he's right. I'm betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he's right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything. I'm not willing to make that gamble."

Rick Warren is basically a guy rolling dice with faith. He doesn't seem to get that he could well be wrong about the god he believes in and that any god who accepted his reasons for believing (which essentially rests on the turn of a card) would be a god of immense stupidity (or naivety). Any god who is omnipotent would know that Warren is taking such a bet and wasn't really into the faith. After all, it's just a bet. A win-win for the theist?

It wouldn't surprise me if the faith fruitcakes end up with some crazy theories about a deathbed conversion; they did it with Darwin, for example, and most recently with Anthony Flew (but in realtime)... if you hear or read about such stories, Hitch has left a memo:

I'm sure if anyone would have been sympathised with for turning to Pascal's Wager, it would have been a person in Hitch's position. Death is something we all face and we do not know how we will react when the time comes. I am with Hitch on this and there will be no recanting from me. Therefore the pious should stop using Pascal's Wager full stop as some sort of argument.

In fact it's intellectually repugnant for any faith head to use Pascal's Wager in anyone's presence but if they do just laugh because they are ascribing a level of stupidity to the deity they are placing on a galactic pedestal.

They commit the ultimate insult to their idea of god, their faith and their own intellect.

Seriously, just laugh.

There are many more comments which I could have included from the brainless to the disgusting. You will find them if you only scan twitter for a brief moment. Share the ones which make you laugh, rip apart the ones which are logically flawed and keep a cool, rational head with the ones which are offering a violent retort to the hashtag. Hitch would do no more, no less were he faced with this situation.

Hitch did not, to my knowledge, use Twitter. He never needed to. However, it is a medium which is immensely useful for spreading ideas. Millions of people use it, millions of people probably follow a god of sorts. These people can see what is being written. It is up to the Atheists and Agnostics to offer not so much an alternative to the violent remarks but a Zeitgeist; we need to show that responding with reason and skeptical rationality is the only way to approach such a situation. This in turn will help others realise we are not evil and cruel but fair and critical of bad ideas.

I'll leave you with this:

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”
Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-believer


This is one of the poignant blogs I was talking about above:

Please read it. It's extremely honest and heartfelt.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the post:)

Glad to see you are back posting again, although I am sure you would rather be writing about a different topic today?

His works live on and he has inspired so many of us armchair complainers to get off our backsides and get involved.:)

vjohn82 said...

Thanks for your kind words.

Yes I would rather be blogging about other things close to my heart (and wallet) but there will come a time for that ;)