Far from being the most popular of journalists within his lifetime (he supported the Iraq wars, intelligently and with erudition, but such taboo thoughts are not popular with the emotional masses), Christopher Hitchens was the type of journalist for whom editors send fervent prayers to the heavens.
Heavens which Hitchens was noted for denying. His fierce, career-long raillery against church abuses (he didn't single out any particular church, although Pope Benedict was a recurring enemy) was not simply some classic schoolboy fudging of the differences between a supernatural deity and the organisations established to worship it, but a deeply held disgust at the self-imposed limitation of the human condition by an opt-in sheep mentality. Hitchens loved words, and was vociferous about the submissive connotations of the 'flock'.
Sadly, he is already being reduced to a few soundbytes. Twitter is currently trending the hashtag #godisgreat, filled with the hate-fuelled overreaction of Christians whose grip on their own faith is weak enough to feel threatened by the interest kicked up by Hitchens' death from cancer yesterday. His 2007 bestseller carried the title God is not Great, just one facet of a career which challenged lazy, received viewpoints wherever he found them.
Reducing the intellect of the man to a simplistic four-word beacon, at which blind, righteous hate can be hurled, is to parade one's own ignorance. The irony is that he might have liked that. One of his own features was never to revise a negative opinion of anyone simply because they had died. Read his obituary of Augusto Pinochet if you need an example. Read it anyway.
Despite criticising the tendency of the online world to reduce everything to conveniently minimal soundbytes, it would be churlish not to finish off with a Hitchens quote. There are many to choose from – the most popular at the moment being his list of the four most over-rated things on Earth (Champagne, Lobster, anal sex and picnics). Such is the internet. Pick one? Fair enough. On racism and language – this precise, logical and utterly disarming piece of pure perfection:
It is odd, when you think about it, that we accuse racists of "discrimination." This is the very thing of which they are by definition incapable: They think all members of certain groups are the same.
Quote from www.slate.com
Photograph by Christian Witkin