Dec 16, 2011

The Only Hitch

These things aren't supposed to mean anything, but that Christopher Hitchens' thoroughly examined life ended on the same day as the misbegotten Iraq war for which he was the most vociferous—and, speaking for myself, most persuasive—advocate seems cruelly poetic. For it was he, more than Kenneth Pollack or Tom Friedman or Paul Berman or George Packer, who convinced me for longer than I care to admit that invading Iraq was, if never quite a wise idea, then a morally defensible one. (My shame-faced feelings about the war since have mostly closely tracked Packer's.)

It is an odd fate for Hitchens, whose overarching cause was anti-theism, to be linked forever with a disastrous invasion that has vanishingly little to do with the religious/secular battle he felt awakened to (with his famous "feeling of exhilaration") by 9/11. The best I can say in retrospect about the folly of this otherwise fiercely bright, clear-eyed man's case for war was that I, for one, never saw it as cynical or career-minded. Like his disgusting Clinton/Blumenthal betrayal years before, it was yet another sign of his thoroughgoing intellectual mischievousness and unreliability. That which made him a compelling figure also, on regular occasions, made him repulsive. As with his longtime colleague and compatriot Andrew Sullivan, you could neither really trust the man nor entirely dismiss him.

He was ultimately a kind of dead-serious literary/political entertainer, and even as I gladly wash my hands of much of what he stood for, I find myself still dazzled by his vigor and volubility. And I cherish this entirely typical quote, from the closing remarks of one of his jillion God-vs.-no-God debates, addressed in particular to young evangelicals:
For me, the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can't give way, is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don't know anything like enough yet. That I haven't understood enough, that I can't know enough, that I'm always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn't have it any other way. And I urge you to look at those of you that tell you (at your age) that that you are dead until you believe as they do. (What a terrible thing to be telling to children.) And that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don't think of that as a gift, think of it as a poison chalice. Push it aside no matter how tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.
That's evangelism I can endorse.

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