One of the people I admire most is dying of cancer. Over the last year his body has been assailed and torn asunder by a combination of chemotherapy and tumours. To see this great man diminish should be a horror to behold, yet what has emerged instead is something more powerful, more resplendent and more precious. Many of you will not have heard of Christopher Hitchens, author and columnist and philosopher. Yet he has been at the forefront of a movement that has consigned religion to the realms of ridicule and fantasy, which after all is it's true spiritual home. Christopher was never one to suffer fools gladly, and should you disagree with him you'd best come equipped to withstand the intellectual firestorm that results. He scythes through religious apologists like a knife through butter, exposing at every turn the nonsense and the lies and the false consolation it brings.
And now he is dying. He is weary and gaunt and, in the words of a great poet, "Not as I was"
His demise looms over him, yet not once has he been tempted by the lies, or the cheap liquor sold as eternal salvation, that great fools promise that if he would just lower himself to believe the absurd an eternal salvation awaits.
He faces death as we all should. Staring it down, with honesty and acceptance and tenderness.
We cannot live for ever. It would be perfectly awful. As another departed great Steve Jobs once said, death is life's greatest invention. It freshens things up, keeps the wheels moving. Who but the most selfish, the most self consumed would want more? Irrespective of whether life deals you a fair hand or a foul one what every person who reads this has is a shot, their shot, their time in the sun. Some of this ride is in your power to shape, yet much will unfold against your will and often in the teeth of your deepest desires. Yet what would you prefer? Never to have been? Never to have opened your eyes and seen the sun or the stars of the great oceans or the sunset? I could never wish for such a thing, even in the darkest nights of my soul. I am forty now, and I hope for many more good years where I have some say in my own destiny. I don't assume this, and I accept that life doesn't owe me a thing. Yet I will live my time with gratitude and awe and a spirit of enquiry because I do not know when my eyes will close for good. I'm hungry to see, hear, discover, and also to love, embrace, encourage. I have dreams for myself and hopes for those I love, and none of these require me to swear allegiance to the stupefying inanity of any revealed religion. What a filthy idea, what a grotesque garb, how rancid and vile and festering? Religion is ugly, and it's ugly because it makes good people believe in really stupid things. Brain acid, retardation, accepting the absurd when reality is the most inspiring thing of all.
You can keep your petty Gods and your disgusting books. You can keep your prayers and remain on your knees. You can bow the knee and demean yourself before a fiction, yet the one you rob most is yourself. Instead I choose to live strong, to live powerfully, with honesty and a keen eye and a sharp wit. It beats delusion any day of the week.