Christopher Hitchens had been battling cancer and passed away this past Thursday, and he left the world as one of the world’s most prominent atheists. He was known for his piercing wit, eloquent British speech, and vicious criticism of anything he found objectionable–which, for the latter part of his life, was mostly religion, particularly Christianity. Despite my deep disagreement with the man, I found his passing sad, and I wish he had many more years to rankle us religious people with his polemics… and maybe hear the Gospel for the millionth time and repent, though the former was far more likely than the latter.
When I was first introduced to Hitchens and listened to him speak, I must confess that I was hardly impressed: As I have noted in my post here, this so-called New Atheist movement is less about argument as it is about appealing to people’s bitter emotions, which is ironic considering their proponents’ self-advertisement of being the towers of logic, and Hitchens was no exception. While he was witty and wrote and spoke well, he had largely a poor grasp of arguing with coherence and proved incapable of examining his own philosophical presuppositions. Such unpreparedness of real argument did not suit him well when he debated William Lane Craig, and he was clearly out of his league when it came to philosophical debate. It was yet another irony; Craig is accused by atheists of not being a real philosopher but just a “rhetorician,” largely because he has embarrassed many an atheist, yet this more accurately described someone like Hitchens. As a journalist, he could capture one’s attention with his skillful sentences, but when examined with any careful thinking, it mostly fell apart.
That said, I grew to have an appreciation for Hitchens for both his measured civility, his honesty, and his willingness to face those whom he blasted in debate. This is quite unlike Richard Dawkins, a man who is like a chihuahua and barks with a high pitched squeal from far away, never to actually engage those he is attacking. Hitchens seemed to have the admirable quality of not taking debate too personally despite strong disagreement, and when I saw him debate, he normally conducted himself with class. I may have found his arguments exceptionally weak, but at least he was willing to come out and face criticism without acting like a buffoon. Continue reading