Christopher Hitchins is NOT an atheist — he’s a fundamentalist.
Is there a more annoying personage on the face of God’s green earth than Christopher Hitchens? His wit and intelligence are justly renowned, and I’ve long admired his energy as a journalist. He’s clever, too: the title of his memoir, Hitch-22, occasioned a deep smile when I first saw it.
“Hitch-22” is, of course, a play on the title of Joesph Heller’s novel, Catch-22., but it tells more than Hitchens intends: Since the publication of his bestselling anti-religion screed, God is Not Great, in 2007, Hitchens has paraded his own personal Catch-22 like the emperor’s new clothes:
How can a man who so ferociously worships himself claim to be an atheist?
I blame Hitchens for the loss of my own unbelief. When God Is Not Great came out, the only thing in the universe I knew for sure was that there is no God. In 2005 I even wrote a little essay defending atheism as a philosophical and moral system, which you can find reprinted at AtheistParents.org.
To my surprise, though, I found myself bridling against the tone and some of the arguments in God is Not Great. Though there was much I agreed with in Hitchens’ book, it was less a nuanced humanist argument than a rhetorical carpet bombing, a flaming expression of a kind of intolerant triumphalism that would not be out of place booming from the lips of an evangelical preacher or a radical Islamic cleric.
If atheism did not help its adherents become more principled and tolerant, I mused, then what good was it? This question led to others, and eventually I stumbled upon A View of the Ocean, a memoir by the late Dutch-American novelist and playwright Jan de Hartog–an atheist describing a spiritual experience. You can find my review here.
In the end, I moved one square on the chess board, from atheist to agnostic. What an ugly word: “agnostic.” But it more accurately describes what I think and believe today — that we humans cannot know. Not me, not you, not Franklin Graham, not Hitchens.
The vulnerability of Hitchens’ views is widely perceived, as indicated by the decidedly mixed reviews of Hitch-22 from Britain: “[S]parkles with funny stories, treasurable quotations, witty apercus and deft descriptions,” writes Lynn Barber in the Sunday Times. “Why then did I find myself reading it with increasing distrust and eventually, I have to say, distaste?”
Less measured but funnier, John Crace spoofs Hitch-22 in his “Digested Read” column at the Guardian. Crace, a gifted literary ventriloquist, makes a living reading books then rewriting brief versions of their essence: “I find I have written nothing of my wives,” Crace’s version of Hitchens writes, “save that they are fortunate to have been married to me, and nothing of my emotional life. That is because I don’t have one. The only feeling I have is of being right, and that has been with me all my life.”
The Guardian also has an excellent, fully rounded profile of Hitchens by Decca Aitkenhead. Titled “I Was Right and They Were Wrong,” it reveals Hitchens as a legendary intellectual who has slipped, in degenerate middle age, into solipsism and simpleness obscured only by his rhetorical skills.
Apart from the ugly self-promotion of his atheism, Hitchens’ other big flaw was his flop from lefty radical to neo-con poster boy after 9-11, and his thunderously self-righteous endorsement of George Bush’s ruinous and unjustified invasion of Iraq. No less an authority than Hitchen’s own wife, “the American writer Carol Blue,” suggested it was a question of manhood, her husband one of “those men who were never really in battle and wished they had been.”
Hitchens tells the Guardian of his “exhilaration” on 9-11, when the terror attacks on New York conveniently simplified the world for him: “Because I thought, now we have a very clearly drawn confrontation between everything I hate and everything I love. There is something exhilarating about that. Because, OK, now I know what I’m doing.”
Hitchens is referring here to the “Islamofascism” he thinks wants to destroy the West. Such seeking after moral simplicity is one of the signal defining characteristics of fundamentalism.
So there you have it. Christopher Hitchens: Fundamentalist.
Oh, and in answer to the question posed in the first paragraph: Not by a long shot. But he’s annoying enough.
Do we have any Hitchens’ acolytes or disciples who would care to rise to the prophet’s defense?