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Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

Post #1475 • December 16, 2011, 11:30 AM

Christoper Hitchens, December 16, 2011, ink on the back of an envelope, after a photograph by Gasper Tringale

On our journey from Boston to Dana Point, California for what turned out to be a yearlong teaching appointment, we stopped in a bookstore somewhere unmemorable en route for coffee and driving entertainment. Thus the dulcet British lilt of Christopher Hitchens accompanied us all the way to Utah, in the form of an audiobook version of God Is Not Great, read by the author himself.

So it came as no surprise when he mopped the floor with Rabbi David Wolpe in a debate arranged between them in March last year by the New Center for Arts and Culture, a Jewish organization here in Boston. The perennially useless NPR host Tom Ashbrook moderated. The rabbi, though no dummy, was no match for Hitchens' extraordinary erudition and rhetorical powers.

Two moments stand out. One was when he said that he should hate all religions equally, but he had a reserve of respect for Judaism because of its emphasis on justice instead of mercy. (This ought to put the lie to Benjamin Kerstein's intellectual contrivances that try to pin anti-Semitism on the man.)

The other came when a questioner from the audience, who identified himself as a Sufi, asked whether is was really necessary to entitle his book on atheism with a negation of allahu akbar ("God is great"). Hitchens didn't hesitate to answer that it was. Of all the threats that religions pose to free society and civilization at the moment, he said, the most dire are coming from Islam. There would be no apologies that evening.

Had he been diagnosed with cancer a week earlier than he was, we would have missed this awe-inspiring display of intelligence, probity, and moral courage. For that I am grateful.

This rememberance by Christopher Buckley is a must-read.

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