--Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
I am not a reader. I prefer movies, video games, music, food, and motorcycles to reading a presumably good book. In college, I barely cracked open my textbooks. I'm not proud of it, but it is true. The act of reading has almost always caused me to fall asleep. I do much better with lectures, debates and YouTube videos. With that said, about a year and a half ago I stumbled upon a YouTube play list called "Hitchslap." Provocative, intriguing, pointed and ruthless; this is a fantastic collection of interviews, speeches and debates by the late (Great) Christopher Hitchens.
Here, watch this video on heaven to see what I mean:
And this on C.S. Lewis and the teachings of Jesus:
And this on morality:
Hitchens is one of the great intellectuals of our age. As Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) says, whenever you find yourself disagreeing with Christopher Hitchens, you had better rethink your position, because you are likely wrong. Now, I don't condone putting people on a pedestal of infallibility (I will leave that to the religious), but Hitchens is very well versed, well researched, and insightful enough to demand your attention and consideration. And not just on topics of religion. He was a contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine and Slate, as well as many other publications where he addressed topics like literature, sexism, the war in Iraq, Henry Kissinger, and water boarding.
On the water boarding subject, he started on one end of the argument, and, after experiencing it first hand, changed his view (this is how a rational mind works).
Going back to his religious views, after watching hours and hours of clips and debates, I finally caved in and tracked down his best selling book, "god is not Great." With the aid of a luminous ipad screen, this is the first book I have read cover to cover for fun since high school. And it felt good. Aside from the points he makes on "how religion poisons everything," one gets a look into a truly rational, highly intelligent mind with incredible articulation and vocabulary.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Six: Arguments from Design:
"There is a central paradox at the core of religion. The three great monotheisms teach people to think abjectly of themselves, as miserable and guilty sinners prostrate before an angry and jealous god who, according to discrepant accounts, fashioned them either out of dust and clay or a clot of blood. The positions for prayer are usually emulation of the supplicant serf before an ill-tempered monarch. The message is one of continual submission, gratitude, and fear. Life itself is a poor thing: an interval in which to prepare for the hereafter or the coming--or second coming--of the Messiah.
"On the other hand, and as if by way of compensation, religion teaches people to be extremely self-centered and conceited. It assures them that god cares for them individually, and it claims that the cosmos was created with them specifically in mind. This explains the supercilious expression on the faces of those who practice religion ostentatiously: pray excuse my modesty and humility but I happen to be busy on an errand for god." (pg. 27)
Needless to say, I love his style and flair. He makes me want to be a better writer. He was as close to a hero as I have had in many years and I was quite sad when his esophageal cancer got the better of him last December. Here is the last public speech he gave at the Texas Free Thought Convention just a couple months before his death:
That is all I care to say about Christopher Hitchens. To end I will link a few of my favorite debates and lectures. Also, I put a link to a Christopher Hitchens fan page on the right.
"Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?" with Stephen Fry:
Debating Al Sharpton:
At the Festival of Dangerous Ideas:
Hitchens vs Hitchens
Collision (full movie):
With Sam Harris and two rabbis on the afterlife:
Interview with Anderson Cooper:
On Fraulein Friesel:
On fighting religion: