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Friday, 16 December 2011

The Unmet Friend

Strange how it is possible to grieve for a man I was never fortunate enough to meet. Actually scratch that, I've met Christopher Hitchens through his written words and debates untold times, and as I write this I am actually reading his autobiography, Hitch 22, a searingly honest account of his life, loves, and journey's across this war torn globe. A brilliant man, a brilliant mind, an agile speaker with the ability to illuminate and transform with the power of language.
He was a contrarian, steadfastly refusing to sit in any pigeon holes people might ascribe to him. He challenged authority, stood up for injustice, and called a spade a spade in a way that few could. YouTube is rich with videos of him destroying his opponents; he possesses a formidable rhetorical armoury that few could match. He wrote numerous books, including a critique of Mother Theresa titled mischievously "The Missionary Position" which gave some hint as to his views on mainstream religion. His 2007 best seller "God Is Not Great" propelled him to literary superstardom and earned him the disdain of the evangelical right. I recall the first time I heard him speak I was either still a Christian or certainly in the death throes of my faith. Through listening to him, reading him, and thinking about his arguments I was able to cast off what he described as the mind forged manacles of religion. In full flow he really was utterly devastating, and his loss at the age of 62 robs us of a true great and a hugely influential thinker. There is so much I want to write about this man, but above all as I compose this the overwhelming feeling I have is one of gratitude.
His death may be the end of him in physical form, but his words and thoughts will be forever immortalised and hopefully shared from generation to generation.
We seem to live in a world where people think only of the trivial and the trite; I often despair at just how few actually ask big questions and engage with what it truly means to be alive. Christopher Hitchens was an open Atheist, so had to live out his final days absent the fear soaked comfort blanket known as religion. No snivelling death bed conversion for him, no inane cry for the priest to lessen the inevitability of our own destruction. He died as bravely as he lived, a feat I desire to emulate, although I fear I do not have his raw courage.
One final thing; don't think that I raise this man onto a pedestal that blinds me to his undoubted many faults as a human. Pedestals are lethal things and none belong atop them. No, today I just want to acknowledge an immense fellow human being, a fellow traveller, and mourn the loss of a man who lived life to the very full.
Christopher Hitchens; I salute you. Farewell my unmet friend.

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