I had the fortune to meet Christopher Hitchens briefly during his stop in Palo Alto in 2007–I found him to be drunk, surly, and completely irascible. It was not a disappointment.
Going through life we collect intellectual heroes. As someone who was raised with academic ideals (critical thinking, intellectual integrity, fearless inquiry), I quickly fell in love with Hitchens when I happened across him during my late 20s as a result of his book The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice. More than a mere polemicist, here was a rabble-rouser who embodied the classical Western values, who didn’t give a damn about what people thought, but cared passionately that people thought. Right or wrong on any given issue, he never failed to provoke in me the determination to examine anything I might care about, and to engage and understand–rather than dismisss–my opposition.
He was not the first such hero, nor will he be the last. But when it comes to rehtoric, to eloquence, and to an unshakable sense of groundedness in his own arguments, I can think of no finer example since, perhaps, Robert Green Ingersol. Though perhaps Stephen Fry was correct in his assessment when he said of Christopher: “He is the greatest debater since Demosthenes.”
From his delight in literature, to his determination in moral argument, to his flair for wordplay, to his rambunctious humor and the desperate love he displayed for all that is best in humanity, Christopher Hitchens was one of the rare figures who truly was a public intellectual. Such people enrich and invigorate democratic societies, and I’ve got my glass raised to all of you in the hope that the vacuum he leaves will not remain long unfilled.
Almost a year ago, during one of the worse phases of his illness, Hitchens debated Bill Dembski in front of an audience composed mostly of Christian elementary and Jr. High school children. My friend Dr. Zachary Moore was there, and recorded it. He’s posted a three minute excerpt in which Hitchens sums up his life with an invitation to everyone to join the conversation.
You’ll find that video below.
Good night, Christopher. You will be sorely missed, but we’ll keep the Enlightenment lit for you. Cheers!