I have known Christopher Hitchens as a champion of the ‘New Atheism’ movement in the West. It was sad to know that he died on the 15th of December, 2011 at a relatively ‘young age’ of 62 years only of cancer. Following is a small introduction of Hitchen’s life and work.
Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was a British American author and journalist. Hitchens was identified as a champion of the "New Atheism" movement. But, he considered himself as an antitheist rather than an atheist. Hitchens differentiated between atheism and antitheism as “a person can be an atheist and wish that belief in god were correct", but "an antitheist, a term I'm trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there's no evidence for such an assertion." According to Hitchens, the concept of a god or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization. He wrote at length on atheism and the nature of religion in his 2007 book “God Is Not Great”.
He was a strong critique of Mother Teresa, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger and Britain's royal family etc. He was of political left leaning but, departed from the established political left starting in 1989 after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the Western left following Ayatollah Khomeini's issue of a fatwā calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie. The 9/11 attacks he advocated a more interventionist foreign policy, and he was strongly critical of what he called "fascism with an Islamic face". His wrote numerous editorials in support of the Iraq War. Because of this, he was often labeled as a neoconservative. But, he never considered himself a conservative of any kind.
Though Hitchens retained his British citizenship, he became a United States citizen on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial on 13 April 2007, his 58th birthday. Asteroid 57901 Hitchens is named after him. His memoir, Hitch-22, was published in June 2010.
Hitchens was educated in Cambridge, and Oxford, where he read philosophy, politics, and economics. Hitchens was highly influenced in his adolescence by Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, R. H. Tawney's critique on Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and the works of George Orwell.
Hitchens started his journalistic career by working as a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism, published by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today's British Socialist Workers Party. This group refused to defend communist states as "workers' states". Their slogan was "Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism".
Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree. His first job was with the London Times Higher Education Supplement, where he served as social science editor. He did not like the job and was later fired. In the 1970s, he started working for the New Statesman, where he became friends with the authors Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, among others. At the New Statesman he acquired a reputation as a fierce left-winger, aggressively attacking targets such as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War, and the Roman Catholic Church.
After moving to the United States in 1981, Hitchens wrote for The Nation, where he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and American foreign policy in South and Central America. He became a contributing editor of Vanity Fair in 1992, writing ten columns a year. He left The Nation in 2002 after profoundly disagreeing with other contributors over the Iraq War.
Hitchens spent part of his early career in journalism as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus. Through his work there he met his first wife Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, with whom he had two children, Alexander and Sophia. Hitchens continued writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Chad, Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan. His work took him to over 60 countries. In 1991 he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.
His strong advocacy of the war in Iraq had gained Hitchens a wider readership, and in September 2005 he was named one of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. An online poll ranked the 100 intellectuals, with rankings of Hitchens (5), Noam Chomsky (1), and Abdolkarim Soroush (15).
In 2007 Hitchens' work for Vanity Fair won him the National Magazine Award in the category "Columns and Commentary". He was a finalist once more in the same category in 2008 for some of his columns in Slate but lost out to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. He won the National Magazine Award for Columns about Cancer in 2011. Hitchens also served on the Advisory Board of Secular Coalition for America and offered advice to Coalition on the acceptance and inclusion of nontheism in American life.
He wrote extensively on socialism, Iraq War and the war on terror, Criticism of George W. Bush, Israel–Palestine
He was a prominent anti-Zionist. He viewed Zionism as an injustice against the Palestinians. He said that instead of curing anti-Semitism through the creation of a Jewish state, Zionism has only replaced and repositioned it. He said that: "there are three groups of 6 million Jews. The first 6 million live in what the Zionist movement used to call Palestine. The second 6 million live in the United States. The third 6 million are distributed mainly among Russia, France, Britain, and Argentina. Only the first group lives daily in range of missiles that can be (and are) launched by people who hate Jews." He argued that instead of supporting Zionism, Jews should help secularize and reform their own societies.
Other issues Hitchens has written on include his support for the reunification of Ireland, abolition of the British monarchy, and his condemnation of the war crimes of Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman in Yugoslavia, and the Bosnian War.
Views on religion
Hitchens often spoke out against the Abrahamic religions, or what he called "the three great monotheisms" (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). He said: "The real axis of evil is Christianity, Judaism, and Islam". In his book, God Is Not Great, Hitchens expanded his criticism to include all religions, including those rarely criticized by Western secularists such as Hinduism and neo-paganism. His book had mixed reactions, from praise in The New York Times for his "logical flourishes and conundrums" to accusations of "intellectual and moral shabbiness" in the Financial Times. God Is Not Great was nominated for a National Book Award on 10 October 2007.
Hitchens contended that organized religion is the main source of hatred in the world, "violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children", and that accordingly it "ought to have a great deal on its conscience". In God Is Not Great, Hitchens contends that:
Above all, we are in need of a renewed Enlightenment, which will base itself on the proposition that the proper study of mankind is man and woman [referencing Alexander Pope]. This Enlightenment will not need to depend, like its predecessors, on the heroic breakthroughs of a few gifted and exceptionally courageous people. It is within the compass of the average person. The study of literature and poetry, both for its own sake and for the eternal ethical questions with which it deals, can now easily depose the scrutiny of sacred texts that have been found to be corrupt and confected. The pursuit of unfettered scientific inquiry, and the availability of new findings to masses of people by electronic means, will revolutionize our concepts of research and development. Very importantly, the divorce between the sexual life and fear, and the sexual life and disease, and the sexual life and tyranny, can now at last be attempted, on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse. And all this and more is, for the first time in our history, within the reach if not the grasp of everyone.
His book made him one of the four major advocates of the "New Atheism" (the other three being Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Sam Harris), and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. Hitchens said he would accept an invitation from any religious leader who wished to debate with him. He also served on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group for atheists and humanists in Washington, DC. In 2007, Hitchens began a series of written debates on the question "Is Christianity Good for the World?" with Christian theologian and pastor, Douglas Wilson, published in Christianity Today magazine. This exchange eventually became a book by the same title in 2008.
On 26 November 2010 Hitchens appeared in Toronto, Canada at the Munk Debates, where he debated religion with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a Roman Catholic convert. Blair argued religion is a force for good, while Hitchens was against it. Preliminary results on the Munk website said 56 per cent of the votes backed the proposition (Hitchens' position) before hearing the debate, with 22 per cent against (Blair's position), and 21 per cent undecided, with the undecided voters leaning toward Hitchens, giving him a 68 per cent to 32 per cent victory over Blair, after the debate.
Hitchens was raised nominally Christian, and went to Christian boarding schools but from an early age declined to participate in communal prayers. Later in life, Hitchens discovered that he was of partially Jewish ancestry. According to Hitchens, when his brother Peter took his fiancée to meet their maternal grandmother, who was then in her 90s, she said of his fiancée, "She's Jewish, isn't she?" and then announced: "Well, I've got something to tell you. So are you." Hitchens found out that his maternal grandmother, Dorothy Levin, was raised Jewish (Dorothy's father and maternal grandfather had been born Jewish, and Dorothy's maternal grandmother – Hitchens' matrilineal great-great-grandmother – was a convert to Judaism). Hitchens' maternal grandfather converted to Judaism before marrying Dorothy Levin. Hitchens' Jewish-born ancestors were immigrants from Eastern Europe (including Poland). In an article in the The Guardian on 14 April 2002, Hitchens stated that he could be considered Jewish because Jewish descent is matrilineal.
In February 2010, he was named to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Honorary Board of distinguished achievers.
On a personal front, Hitchens married Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, in a Greek Orthodox Church in 1981; the couple had a son, Alexander and a daughter, Sophia. In 1989 Hitchens left Meleagrou for Carol Blue, an American writer. The couple married in a New York synagogue and they had a daughter, Antonia.
Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. In accordance with Christopher’s wishes, his body was donated to medical research.