1949-04-13

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, English author and journalist, born (d: 2011); His books, and a prolific journalistic career that spanned more than four decades, made him a prominent public intellectual and a staple of talk shows, lectures and punditry. He was a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation and Free Inquiry and a variety of other media outlets.

Mr. Hitchens was a political observer, polemicist and self-defined radical with an astute historical knowledge, Hitchens rose to prominence as a fixture of the left-wing publications of both his native United Kingdom and the U.S. His departure from the established political left began in 1989 after what he called the “tepid reaction” of the European left following Ayatollah Khomeini’s issue of a fatwa, calling for the murder of author Salman Rushdie.

Mr. Hitchens was an outspoken atheist and identified as being a prominent exponent of the “new atheism” movement. He and fellow high profile contemporary atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett were often been referred to as “The Four Horsemen” and the “Unholy Trinity”.

Hitchens was a secular humanist and an anti-theist and described himself as a believer in the philosophical values of the Age of Enlightenment. His main argument was that the concept of God or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion, which inhibits it, as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization. He wrote at length on atheism, the nature of religion, and their corresponding effects on society, in the 2007 book God Is Not Great.

In 1994, Hitchens made a documentary for BBC called Hell’s Angel. It was a bold and highly controversial investigation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, vaunted by many devotees as a saint. Prior to Hitchens’ critique, almost every book or film about Teresa portrayed her as a holy icon, worthy of reverence, a hero of charity on behalf of the wretched of the earth. But the great iconoclast Hitchens, in his book The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and in Practise, dared to ask some inconvenient questions about Mother Teresa.

Hitchens discovers that Mother Teresa’s career was far from spotless and immaculately clean: by “keeping company with several frauds, crooks and exploiters” (HITCHENS, p. 8), she managed to amass millions of dollars in donations from some very wicked sources. In his book The Unbelievers – The Evolution of Modern Atheism, whose last chapter is dedicated to Hitchens, J. T. Joshi remembers some of the revelations about Teresa’s questionable funding process and suspiciously well-furnished bank accounts:

“Charles Keating for instance, donated more than $1 million bucks to her – much or all of it gained from his avowedly criminal activities in the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s. (…)  Perhaps some of this can be excused by her need to drum up charitable contribuitons from all possible sources for her Missionaries of Charity. But there seems to be much more to it. Why was she so keen on hanging around such lowlives as the visious dictator Hean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier of Haiti? (…) This behaviour might be forgiven if the charity work that Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta for decades were actually worth doing – but of even this there are strong doubts. Her devotion to the poor, the diseased, and the friendless would seem to be exemplary of the best that religion can do. Why is it that, even though one of her many bank accounts (this one in Utah) contained the sum of $50 million, her hospitals around the world were so poorly equipped?” 

Though married, on a 2009 edition of Morning Joe on MSNBC, Hitchens discussed his same-sex affairs as a young man, some with individuals now prominent in the U.K. political scene. His memoir, Hitch-22, was published in June 2010. Touring for the book was cut short later in the same month so he could begin treatment for newly diagnosed esophageal cancer.

On December 15, 2011, Hitchens died from pneumonia, a complication of his cancer, in Houston, Texas. I, for one, miss his razor sharp intelligent, iconoclastic voice.