I’m sure you marked your calendars for today: it’s Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day. Hitchens, of course, is having none of it:
Hitchens doesn’t know exactly how “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day” began, other than that it’s one of those things that appears on the Internet and goes viral. He declined an invitation to appear at a rabbi’s prayer service in Washington that day, and he doesn’t see any point in the exercise.
“I’m perfectly sure that there is nothing to be gained from it in point of my health, but perhaps I shouldn’t even say that. If it would do something for my morale possibly it would do something for my health. We all know that morale is an element in recovery,” he said. “But incantations, I don’t think, have any effect on the material world.” . .
Already into his fourth round of chemotherapy, which he is receiving every three weeks, Hitchens says it’s difficult to gauge his eventual legacy. He hopes to be remembered with affection by some; with passion by others; and hopefully as a good father by his three children.
As for his work, Hitchens says he would be happy to be recalled simply as one of those “who are attempting to uphold reason and science against superstition.”
“I’d be proud to have my contribution at that,” Hitchens said. “This is a very long, long, long story. It’s humanity’s oldest argument. If I played a small part in keeping it going that would be enough for me.”
In lieu of prayer, perhaps we can all recall how we’ve been influenced by Hitchens. (If you want to bash him for his unfortunate stance on Iraq, please go elsewhere.). I was reading him long before God is Not Great appeared. I’d read several of his books, including The Missionary Position, Elgin Marbles, and No One Left to Lie To, but it was in his essays and short pieces, collected into three volumes, that I really grew to admire him. He’s the Orwell of our era: indeed, even better, since he’s more erudite, is a vociferous atheist and a superb public speaker. (Orwell, of course, didn’t appear much in public, though he did broadcast for the BBC.) Like Orwell, he’s a man of action, is both journalist and author, has a wonderful, clear prose style, takes strong stands, is deeply engaged in politics, and knows his literature. It’s no accident that Hitchens wrote Why Orwell Matters. And it now appears that, like Orwell, Hitchens will be taken from us at an unconscionably young age.
He’s a tiger on the platform, whether giving talks or debating. No other public intellectual has his charisma and eloquence. And of course there’s his atheism. I’m convinced that Hitchens, along with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, will eventually be recognized as major figures in turning the tide against religion, at least in America. Steven Weinberg said that “One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious.” I’d add that one of the great achievements of Hitchens has been, if not to make atheists vociferous, then at least to make make them proud.
We won’t see his like in our lifetime.