The passing of Christopher Hitchens, at the far too early age of 62, leaves an empty chair at the dinner table of life which no one will ever be able to completely fill. As we mourn his passing, it is vital that we remember the spirit in which he lived.
He would not have enjoyed our wishes to rest in peace as much as he would our resolve to honor his memory by living in action. Hitchens has been described as a ferocious Humanist, and this was expressed daily, and until the very end, in his eloquent and incisive writings, his devastating debating skills and his ceaseless exuberance for the sheer act of living.
His life exemplified the best Humanist values: the lifelong quest for knowledge, the powerful belief that only action brings change, a deep concern for global justice and a genuine understanding that our time is gloriously finite. If every life can be compared to a painting, his is now complete and stands among the brightest in the gallery of history – crafted in bold, vivid and striking color.
Christopher Hitchens knew his work caused controversy, and that he was often at odds with the majority on powerfully emotional issues. Among these was his outspoken and withering criticism of the poisonous violence, and terrible legacy of harm and repression he found in organized religion.
A constant traveler he saw the damage done in the name of faith and dogma everywhere, and how this far outweighed any small good that may have come from these institutions. His bravery was to call out evils, injustices and hypocrisy where he found them. No cow was too sacred to escape his eye and his pen. His genius was to discomfort the hypocritical by forcing them to turn their gaze inward.
He was from childhood a confirmed and proud atheist. He examined the evidence and argument for the supernatural and it simply did not stand the smallest scrutiny. For Hitchens, it was critical to put the considered and established facts above any need we may have for false comfort in mythology. This is a position we should all have the self-respect to embrace.
Many expected Hitchens to succumb to a deathbed conversion. The religious community hoped to bask in smug self-superiority at any hypocrisy spoken in the dying breath of one of their greatest and most powerful critics. He did not give them that satisfaction. He faced death with pragmatism, great humor, strong character and realism. I hope, when the inevitable time comes to face the end, I leave life with such flourish.
As Humanists, exemplified by great men like Christopher Hitchens, we embrace a complete mortality. The truest glory is in living fully the best of life each hour we have. Every moment we should strive to make our own the greatest story ever told, and in doing so enrich the lives of others. The life and work of Hitch enriched mine enormously and he lives on as long as he is read, remembered and admired.
In January the Wilmington Humanists and Freethinkers will hold an evening of remembering with readings and film from his life. His brief candle burned with a marvelous brilliance and, as a fellow Humanist and an Atheist, I am proud to stand in its light. His pen may have ceased moving, but his words remain forever, and this world is better for them. Thank you Chris for some true inspiration.