A retrospective: Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Eric Hitchens was born in Portsmouth in 1949 into a Christian family, and was the older brother of the future journalist, Peter Hitchens. His father was a commander in the British Royal Navy, which saw him relocated several times, and Hitchens was admitted to boarding school at an early age, and eventually attended the The Leys School, Cambridge, and then to the Balliol College, Oxford.

At Oxford he discovered his love for politics and discovered socialism and he joined the Trotskyism group which was a Marxist ideology by Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronshtein), who was a Communist theorist, and a prominent figure in the Russian October Revolution of 1917 when the Bolsheviks seized power. He believed that a country should be in a permanent state of revolution that represents the worker’s interests. This interested the young Hitchens, who was becoming extremely left wing, and strongly opposed Nuclear Weapons,war and bigotry. Upon leaving University, he obtained degrees in philosophy, politics and economics. It was 1970.

Hitchens began a career as a journalist, and became a writer for the New Statesman, before joining the team behind the Evening Standard and the Daily Express. In 1981 he decided to make the bold move of relocating to the United States of America, which began in New York and then Washington D.C. as an exchange between the New Statesman, and The Nation, an American paper.

In his younger years, despite being raised a Christian, he admitted to having male relationships, and during his ‘younger days’, he considered himself bisexual, but refused to publicly announce his partners when questioned. This was the beginning of him distancing himself from his religious upbringing, and considering himself opposed to the idea of organised religion.

“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.” -Christopher Hitchens

As soon as he started writing in America he became a harsh critique of their politics and foreign policies, and in 1992, he became an editor and writer for Vanity Fair. Hitchens developed a reputation of saying what he was thinking, and had no qualms about upsetting people with the truth, including his own brother, Peter – a Christian, who he debated with, and frequently disagreed with on TV panels, including shows like Question Time.

Christopher had become extremely critical of religion, and was a big voice in the movement (that I loathe the name of) ‘New Atheism’, which describes religion as being irrational, alongside superstition, and it shouldn’t be tolerated; it should be criticised. New Atheism is a combination of antitheism, and secularism, which is something Bertrand Russell discussed over fifty years prior to the birth of New Atheism.

“We owe a huge debt to Galileo for emancipating us all from the stupid belief in an Earth-centered or man-centered (let alone God-centered) system. He quite literally taught us our place and allowed us to go on to make extraordinary advances in knowledge.” – Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens was a firm believer that it was irrational, illogical and he strongly disapproved of God being a concept of a ‘supreme being‘. Religion, to him was Totalitarian control which oppressed personal freedom, and humanity along with science should be the foundations of ethics, something that I strongly agree with. He covered his antitheism views in his 2007 book, God Is Not Great.

“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organised religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” – Christopher Hitchens

Throughout his time in America he continued journalism, but focused more on writing and activism, and joined the board of many societies that opposed religion being joined with the state, including the ‘Freedom from Religion Foundation’, and the ‘National Secular Society‘, and the ‘Secular Coalition of America‘. In 2007 he invited Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Bennett to his home for a discussion, on which lasted two hours and was filmed.

If you’re familiar with Christopher Hitchens, then you’ll no doubt be familiar with the ‘Hitchen’s Razor‘, and if not, allow me to elaborate. Essentially Hitchen’s Razor is about the burden of proof, in which the person making the claim, being the one required to provide proof of said claim, before their argument is worthy of acknowledgement. This was initially about the God claim from theists, but it can be used in any argument, and the wording is as follows.

What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence —Hitchens’s Razor

It’s an echo of Occam’s razor, which came from the English friar, and philosopher, William of Ockham, in which is essentially that the simplest solution is most likely the right one, that if worded differently a person should prefer the solution with the least assumptions. This can also be applied to the theory of the existence of any Gods. Can any theists prove that there’s a God, so that anyone has no argument? No, they cannot, so in this case Occam’s Razor would be the simplest solution with the least assumptions, and that would be disbelief in Gods due to the lack of evidence. In the scientific method, Occam’s Razor is also often used, as there could be endless theories to a solution to a problem, but often the simplest of theories is the one most testable.

I seem to have distracted myself with philosophy, and that’s because philosophy is life changing, and it’s fascinating. Philosophy can teach you to look at the world, nature, morality and ethics in different ways. It makes you think for yourself and helps you to study ideas, and this is where Hitchens came onto his own. He was often adamant, often confrontational and often controversial, but his philosophy of life was always about representing humanity, and wanting to remove oppression, racism, sexism and fascism in any form. He’s remained in the public eye since his death because of his convictions, and the world needs more people like Hitchens to stand up and rock the world.

“I am not even an atheist so much as an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. Reviewing the false claims of religion I do not wish, as some sentimental materialists affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true…. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque.” – Christopher Hitchens