"We barely got our trousers off" ~ Christopher Hitchens.
I'm not inclined to turn public figures into heroes, because I think it dehumanizes them and also removes the impetus from us to try to do great and good things ourselves. We don't have the whole picture of what public figures are like. Even they probably don't have that. What we have is our perceptions, and the recorded perceptions of others.
Many people share many of my perceptions of Christopher Hitchens. I'm sure there are loads of pre-written obituaries being tinkered with and published today. I don't know how many of them I'm going to read, but I'm sure most of the positive ones will notice (and try to subtly equal or outdo) his eloquence and rhetorical skills. Many people will hail him as an important journalist, and a champion of reason and democracy. Some will also relish capturing every idiosyncracy he possessed, and will celebrate his death.
Before he began writing and talking about his atheism, he amused me. After he began writing and talking about his atheism, he inspired me. I began to look into some of his other thoughts a little closer, and found some I liked and some I didn't. I usually had a good time reading anything he wrote about. His most superficial public persona was entertaining, but the more you watched him and read him, the more you saw his essential honesty and humanity. In public he was a passionate defender and believer in human freedom, an epicurean spirit who threw himself into the wonderful carnal aspects of life, and ultimately a deeply moral man. I got a shiver when in a debate he said that if a god asked him to kill his children to please the divine will he would respond with a heartfelt 'fuck you'. I appreciated the moment in another debate where he said to a person in the religion profession who stated he didn't think he'd be a very good person if there wasn't a god, 'don't give up on yourself so easily'. I loved how frankly he talked about dying. I took great comfort in seeing the issue approached without any sugar coating, and with great humanity and reflection. Death is something that I think about a lot, and in Christopher Hitchens I can refer to a person who took it seriously, and didn't move towards it with any blinders on.
Hitchens didn't believe in an afterlife. Neither do I. He is gone, and he'll never make an original statement again. We have his writings and various recorded appearances, but it's not the same. He's dead.
But if it turns out that Hitchens and I are wrong and there is an afterlife, then let me say this: Mr. Hitchens, I'll see you in hell. If it exists it's full of all of the people I have ever loved and admired while on this Earth, so it can't be such a bad place after all.
this was posted in the comment section over at Why Evolution Is True: