The death of Christopher Hitchens hits like the 2008 death of Tim Russert. Both were men you really wanted to hear from during a looming presidential election.
The word being tossed about in reference to the passing of Hitchens is “contrarian,” and that strikes me as a little unfair. Hitchens could be infuriating and even wrong, but there was nothing dishonest or insincere about the man. Though it’s not the perfect definition of contrarian, I don’t believe for a second that Hitchens ever once took a stand simply to be provocative or contrary.
Hitchens was a truth-teller. Whether it was the war in Iraq, Mother Teresa, or Bill Maher’s trained seal audience, Hitchens always told what he believed to be the truth.
It was never as simple as opinion with Hitchens. What he was for or against rose above opinion. Again, he wasn’t always right (especially when it came to Mother Teresa), but his arguments never failed to be so beautifully designed that even when he was wrong, you had to respect the fact that so much study and thought and reasoning went into them.
Hitchens was incapable of lying and of insincerity, which is more complicated than being a contrarian, and that’s why I both admired and respected him.
Besides his battle with cancer, during his final years, Hitchens became most famous for his atheism; going so far as to take the act on the road with a series of highly publicized and very engaging debates. There was something different about Hitchens’ atheism, though. His lack of belief wasn’t a pose, but at the same time I always felt that his being so open and public and willing to engage on the subject said something more. It wasn’t so much that Hitchens was trying to prove believers wrong as much as he wanted believers to prove him wrong.
“Seek and you will find.”
In his own incomparable way, Hitchens did seek. And if he was wrong about the existence of God (and I believe and hope he was), I’m guessing that counted for something and that we haven’t heard the last from him.