Letter from a Young Contrarian
TONIGHT UK viewers can enjoy a screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ – a movie dubbed ‘The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre’ by one US critic. It’s a film that:
Lovingly and in detail recycles the bloody myth that all Jews are historically and collectively responsible for the murder of Jesus.
These are the words of Christopher Hitchens, who, in a Slate piece earlier this week, robustly tore into the “paranoid, racist” Gibson, identifying his latestÂ disgusting, racist outburst against the mother of his youngest child as the product of his upbringing in “a fascist splinter group that believes it is the salvation of the Catholic Church”.
Hitchens has recently been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus, and has begun chemotherapy. And yet, his work has continued as brilliantly as ever. This is important to me, as the man has been one of the single most significant influences on my life. Most of the nicest things are said about people after they die, but I have no concern for such formalities.
Is that so? Well, in a style Hitchens might approve of, we might notice thatÂ here is a man who has enjoyed a long, productive life, years of wealth and recognition, of book tours, signings and debates, travels around the world, of engagement with the world’s finest minds, of raucous applause and standing ovations, of smoking and drinking at a now legendary pace, and that all the while, the heavens watched with folded arms…
A man of true enlightenment principles, Hitchens illustrates so clearly the distinction between the old and new left; between those who stand with equality, and those who treat as a friend anyone that opposes capitalism (Islamic fascists included). He proved himself willing to turn away from even former friends when they allied themselves with theocratic or totalitarian forces, and in doing so showed the devotion of an ideological and principled mind.
Hitchens prompted me to see that my atheism must be political too. I didn’t believe in any supernatural mind, and yet, those who claimed to know the wishes of such a mind wielded extraordinary power in real and not merely spiritual affairs. This, I realized, had to change. My newly discovered anti-theism inspired my first piece for the Freethinker, written at age 19.
In his book, Letters to a Young Contrarian, I felt as if I was being addressed directly. The book came at a pivotal moment, inspiring me to dedicate my life to the annihilation of the “mind-forg’d manacles” and the institutions of their construction.
Hitchens showed me that theocracy was the great human evil; that men with a weapon in one hand and a Holy book in the other encompass much of what is debased in thought and action. And he managed it with charm and wit I had never expected to find in theological debate.
Chris “call me Christopher” Hitchens warned me that one must not have heroes, for we are all merely mammals: members of a fearful, semi-rational species with delusions of grandeur. Not without his own unique weaknesses, Hitchens had claimed to have quit smoking, but would sneak away for his fix away from critical eyes.
I am skeptical of his ability to quit even now. Similarly with drink, Hitchens’ personal Christ went by the name of Johnny Walker, and Hitch might just be disciple number one.
I met him only once, in London. I said, “I’m from the Freethinker.” He looked me over and replied, “What? Are you serious? This isn’t some kind of trick?” I did my best not to be offended. He told me that a lifetime of education is worth having, and said with a twinkle in his eye, that if I learn enough, someday someone might ask my opinion.
It is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. With that in mind, I raise my glass of Black Label to Christopher Hitchens, the badass of atheism, and to his speedy recovery.