The editorial sphere has encountered a challenge in remembering Christopher Hitchens. Not because he’s slipped away from our collective memory, but because, really, he hasn’t. Hitchens’ comments, ideas and observations — long at the forefront of many a discussion or holiday brawl with family — make the man terribly difficult to place into a box.
This was a man, you’ll recall, who once wrote that Mother Teresa — a woman whose name has become pop culture shorthand for all that is selfless and saintly — “a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud.” This was a man who described himself as an “anti-theist” at a time and in a nation where a politician can be deemed not quite Christian enough, or not the right sort of Christian. And this was a man who voiced his support for the War in Iraq, who spoke out against “fascism with an Islamic face,” a man who flipped off Bill Maher‘s audience before crisply informing that salivating mob that not one of them was as smart as President George W. Bush.
He’s a tough one to pin down, a person and a thinker neither team can firmly and definitely claim as their own. And that’s what makes remembering him difficult, as he resists becoming a platform for any agenda or manifesto that is not his own. It should come as no surprise that Hitchens’ take on religion and theism have featured fairly prominently in how many of chosen to look back on his life and his work. If you’re a person whose religious faith colors much of your worldview, how do you go about memorializing someone whose views were, in part, shaped by the lack thereof? It’s an interesting thing to see.
Take, for example, Reuters, which ran its announcement of Hitchens’ death under the headline “Atheist intellectual Christopher Hitchens dead at 62.” And Michelle Malkin, who writes about Hitchens’ life and death with tenderness (and a fun holiday anecdote), but is sure to note his “extreme atheist stunts.” The commentors on the Free Republic’s thread about his death, of course, devote much virtual ink to his anti-theism, some with what are sure to be the greatest of intentions, others… much less so.
But what we do (or do not) worship is just one factor in shaping our thoughts, aren’t they? David Frum‘s very funny, very touching remembrance, for instance, includes not one mention of atheism, faith, or religion. But it does include this, and for that I’m forever grateful:
For the very uncharacteristic fee of $200, he and David Brooks divided a page to settle the question, who were sexier: left-wing women or right-wing women? Christopher championed right-wing women, and told the story of the erotic thrill he had experienced when Margaret Thatcher had slapped him on the bottom with a rolled-up newspaper.
And Alex Massie makes the important distinction that “though he was often a contrarian, he was rarely a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. There was a point to it all and it was not a pose struck for the sake of, well, just striking a pose.”
Big Hollywood’s John Nolte echos that sentiment, writing that the “word being tossed about in reference to the passing of Hitchens is “contrarian,” and that strikes me as a little unfair. Hitchens could be infuriating and even wrong, but there was nothing dishonest or insincere about the man. Though it’s not the perfect definition of contrarian, I don’t believe for a second that Hitchens ever once took a stand simply to be provocative or contrary.”
As for where Hitchens’ career takes him now (Tongue only partially in cheek, there. Writers’ jobs don’t end when they die, after all), that’s anyone’s guess. But one sentiment echoing online among editors of faith is “if he is wrong — and I hope he is — I hope he’s pleasantly surprised.” And across the hall from Margaret Thatcher.
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