As I reluctantly welcome the cold heart of another winter, I recall that three years have passed since my favorite thinker and writer departed this earth. I would have recalled Christopher Hitchens’ death after precisely three years, on December 15th, but my patience was to be tested, as The Jewish Link’s official launch date forced me to wait a month. Honoring the memory of Mr. Hitchens in a Jewish newspaper to some may seem peculiar. The British-born, naturalized American Hitchens always regarded antisemitism as an evil that must be fiercely combated. But even after learning of his Jewishness he insisted on doing so because it poisoned all of humanity. Hitchens never denied his Jewishness, but to a certain extent he insinuated its irrelevance. Members of the tribe were seldom uncomfortable with his atheism. In fact, famous rabbis of all denominations relished the opportunity to befriend and debate this witty Israelite on the issue of religion. It was rather his apparent indifference towards his own Jewish identity that made him mentionable, but not honorable, among his fellow Jews.
But no one who has heard him speak or read his work can deny a special wit and eloquence about him. Hitchens’ love for irony was inspiring, and he was never too shy to insist that such a love was immeasurably more virtuous and praiseworthy than faith. His use of humor to extinguish fear was reminiscent of Vladimir Voinovich poking fun at the Soviet Union, and was deep enough to strike an intellectual chord. In his provocatively titled book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, the slayer of theism writes: “There can be no question that a human being, whether standing up or lying down, finds his or her hand resting just next to the genitalia… Now, who devised the rule that this easy apposition between the manual and the genital be forbidden, even as a thought?”
The first time I read this very legitimate question, I sensed that Hitchens had killed two birds with one stone. He presented clergymen to be more obsessed with controlling sexual behavior than the common wanker is with behaving sexually, and simultaneously accused any supposed creator of humankind of being inept when it came to exterior design. Any horny 20-year-old reader could have toasted to that. Or was it just me?
Perhaps Hitchens’ claim to fame was his willingness to challenge figures normally held in the highest of regards, and his talent for destroying reputations through honest discourse. Those familiar with his Leftist origins are unsurprised by his thorough prosecution of Henry Kissinger as a war criminal, but his relentless attack on Mother Teresa probably raised several eyebrows…at least before he backed it up. He dedicated a mere hundred pages to that project, but probably needed even less to reveal an honest portrait of Teresa: an admirer of suffering, a hindrance to female empowerment, and an aid to, rather than an alleviator of, poverty. What most people overlooked in order to idolize, Hitchens magnified in order to humanize, if not downright demonize.
Of course I still have some beef with Christopher Hitchens. His support for the war in Iraq did not in and of itself bother me. After all, whether I agreed with it or not, I did appreciate the war’s liberating aspect. But Hitchens’ arguments only dealt with intentions of the United States and the effect on Iraq, and failed to address the issue of sending American troops on a nation-building mission. If there was an argument to be made, so be it, but I never heard him make it. By ignoring the question, he implied that just as we owe oppressed people our resources and support, we owe them our blood. I found it odd that while Hitchens praised George Orwell for joining the battle against fascism in Spain (and taking a bullet in the throat), and insisted that America battle fascism wherever fascism breathes, we never had the privilege of seeing Hitchens pick up a gun. Him doing so may or may not have confirmed that liberating Iraq was equivalent to defending the United States, but at least it would have assured us that he thought so.
Hitchens might not have been the best writer or the best thinker, but he was certainly the most entertaining between my birth and his death, and the most influential on me. Sixty-two years was not nearly enough, but it was enough for him to teach that the null hypothesis should always be “no.” With such a questioning attitude, it is no wonder he was Jewish.
Josh Warhit grew up in New Rochelle, NY and recently completed his IDF service as a fighter in the Nachal Infantry Brigade. He currently lives in New York and can be reached at [email protected]
By Josh Warhit