Christopher Hitchens: A Light That Continues To Burn
Jan 2011 26

Christopher Hitchens: A Light That Continues To Burn

Posted In Activism,Blog,Politics,Society

by Damon Martin

“I burned the candle at both ends and it gave a lovely light”
- Christopher Hitchens

It was a chilly November night when former British Prime Minister Tony Blair took to the stage of Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall to participate in his first public debate since leaving office. His opponent that night was Vanity Fair contributor and award-winning writer Christopher Hitchens, who originally hails from Blair’s home island as well.

Stepping onto the stage looking somewhat more frail than usual, Hitchens sat down opposite Blair, ready to face him in a battle of words focused on the simple question of whether or not religion was a force of good in the world.

Hitchens went back and forth with Blair and gave him everything he had. Outside of his hair, which is now mostly missing, and his body weight, from the vigor of his arguments you’d never know that the avowed Atheist was suffering at that very moment from a disease that will likely one day claim his life.

Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and is literally fighting for his life, and for every breath he takes these days. The famed author was stricken with the same affliction that took the life of his father, and of course it leaves him contemplative in some ways, but not meek or timid in how he speaks.

In the debate, Hitchens laid out an argument similar to that expressed in his 2007 best selling book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and was simply unrelenting as he asserted his point of view and prodded the former Prime Minister. Hitchens has spoken bluntly about his battle with cancer on CNN and in posts for Vanity Fair, and he’s not backing down from speaking out about what he believes or more accurately what he doesn’t believe.

“Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects in a cruel experiment where by we are created sick and commanded to be well,” Hitchens said in his opening comments during the debate. “Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs? To appeal to our fear and our guilt, is it good for the world?”

The debate went back and forth in front of the packed house of over 2,600 people. When it was over an exit poll revealed that 68% of the attending audience were of the opinion that religion was more of a destructive force than a force for good.

Does that mean Hitchens won the debate or won people over to his side of thinking? That’s never really been Hitchens’ way. He simply speaks his mind on the subjects that he feels are important and people tend to listen.

The battle with the debilitating disease dominates Hitchens current day to day life. The author describes chemotherapy as poison being pumped through his veins to kill another predator already lurking in his body. When contemplating his mortality, he admits that above anything else he wishes he would have more time for his children, but he won’t sit back and admit that he shouldn’t have smoked or drank for years because those things contributed to the rich and fulfilling life he’s led.

Many religious groups have taken up the cause to either pray for Hitchens to somehow find God in this his darkest hour, while others are praying for his ruination.

“There are people who are praying for me to suffer and die. They have lavish websites relishing (my death). Then there are people, much more numerous I must say and nicer, they’re either praying that I get better or that I redeem myself, that I make peace with the Almighty. That my soul gets saved, that my wretched carcass does not, and some pray for both,” Hitchens told Anderson Cooper in a CNN interview in late 2010.

There was even a “Pray for Christopher Hitchens Day” dedicated to the author, but he politely declined to participate, but didn’t advise others to avoid it if praying for him somehow made them feel better.

One thing is very clear, as death closes in, he’s not changing his opinion on religion or the destructive influence it has on earth. He routinely speaks out about Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI) and the role he played in covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests. He also accuses Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, of war crimes (and even published a book about it in 2002). Hitchens wants to see both Ratzinger and Kissinger prosecuted for their transgressions, though concedes that because of his illness it’s unlikey he’ll live long enough to witness that.

He also speaks very adamantly about the possibly of a death bed conversion – something that religious followers always gleefully hope will happen when an atheist is faced with their own mortality. Hitchens speaks clearly on the topic now to avoid any confusion later.

“If that comes it will be when I’m very ill. When I’m half demented, either by drugs or by pain where I won’t have control over what I say,” Hitchens said. “I mention this in case you ever hear a rumor later on. Because these things happen and the faithful love to spread these rumors. I can’t say the entity by the end wouldn’t be me wouldn’t do such a pathetic thing, but I can tell you not while I’m lucid, no, I can be quite sure of that.”

Hitchens calls himself an anti-theist, the definition of which is described as one opposed to belief in the existence of God. He’s using his last days to speak out about – and thus draw attention to – the atrocities still being committed in the name of God.

Even with his days counting down, Hitchens is truly a hero and an inspiration to many (this author included). He says that he burned the candle at both ends and it gave a lovely light. When Hitchens is gone, having led by example to show that speaking out against religion or even just saying that you don’t believe in god is okay, that light will continue to burn.

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