The Hitch is dead.
Thursday, December 15, aged 62. Cause of death: pneumonia caused by esophageal cancer. Cause of cancer: excessive smoking and drinking. Contributing cause? Maybe the vagaries of existence with no intrinsic order or meaning, as Hitchens, ever the devout atheist, even unto death, might have said.
If you knew of Hitchens, then you know all of this and maybe more. If you didn’t, then he might be a posthumous discovery for you. Hitchens, according to the spate of obits and remembrance columns, is (was?) a preeminent 20th century intellect, journalist, essayist and debater. A sort of modern-day George Orwell. Last year, his blond hair sacrificed to the gods of chemotherapy, Hitchens debated Tony Blair on television, worried only that his mind would retain its clarity, which, apparently, it did. And now the mind, the tongue, are silenced.
The trouble with dying as an atheist is that there is no one to meet: no Maker, no St. Peter, no loved ones waiting to be reunitied.
Worse, it’s a lose, lose proposition: if Hitchens’ denial of god is wrong and God exists, then he’s going to meet a god he’s spent his entire adult life prodding and jabbing. That could be shock enough to kill him all over. If Hitchens is right, and there’s no one to meet on the other side, then Hitchens won’t even have the satisfaction of knowing that his was the correct assumption. As Hamlet so well remarks, death is the “undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.”
On second thought, did Shakespeare accidentally, or possibly even purposely, leave a loophole there? After all, Hamlet the ghostly father, has returned from some sort of purgatory to exact the promise of revenge from his son, our Hamlet. The ghost visually describes the world in which he is doomed to wander until the wrong is put right. It’s not going to attract too many “Vacation-To-Go” offers, for this is a terrifying place, but Shakespeare describes it so concretely that you have to wonder whether the bard himself made a round trip. And should Shakespeare be waiting, Hitchens might well consider a meeting worth his early demise.
But of course, if there is a heaven, and Hitchens qualifies at least for a preliminary interview, then he’ll have to deal first with a God likely just itching to meet his unruly, prodigal son. What a conversation that might be!
God: (depending on your interpretation, looks like Charlton Hesston or George Burns; to St. Peter) Take a harp break, Peter, I want to handle the next traveller personally.
Peter: (looks off through clouds and makes out the figure of Christopher Hitchens ascending) Be back in a couple centuries.
God: Well, well well! The prodigal son returns. Welcome to North Korea, Christopher.
Hitch: You really exist? (caught off guard but only for a second before Hitch goes on the offensive about the North Korea reference.) Nice use of irony there, and you plagiarized one of my good retorts, too. I’ll be damned!
God: Oh, I can arrange that, you know. You have indeed garnered some sterling qualifications in that direction.
Hitch. You refer to my so-called immoralities? You’re not so great yourself!
God: Indeed I well know your feelings towards me.
Hitch: Ah yes, the omnipotent, all –knowing god! Eavesdropping on everyone 24/7. Sort of like Santa Clause’s naughty and nice bit, but without the yearly presents.
God: Yes, well, there is that, I suppose. But also, I read your book. Quite good, actually, Christopher, if wrong, nevertheless.
Hitch: Do you deny it then – the violence on your earthly paradise, the death and misery?
God: How could I deny it.? But contrary to your gem about North Korea, my children have freedom. You can choose your fate, you humans. That is a precious gift and some of you have made fine use of it. Unfortunately, not by all of mankind. But there is still life, and still hope.
Hitch: Freedom to choose? Like Adam and Eve.
God: Exactly so
Hitch: Oh, c’mon! They didn’t stand a chance. Good god!
God: Thank you.
Hitch: You’re pretty funny. Actually. I prefer you this way.
God: So you do admit of my existence!
Hitch: Nice try, God, but no, I’m simply speaking metaphorically, clothing an idea in a personified wrap, for how else could we have this debate?
God: Nevertheless, we are. To paraphrase one of my happier disciples, Descartes, of whom I’m sure you’re familiar: ‘You think, therefore, I am.’ I rather like that.
Hitch: I’m not so sure the Descartes would like it, but anyway, it’s not even me who’s thinking. It’s this turgid blogger who fancies that he can write not only a Platonic dialogue, but that he has the intellectual capacity to engage us both in repartee.
God: He’s my creature as well, Christopher.
Hitch: Yes, well, I wouldn’t be bragging about that one, you know? You don’t exist, and now I don’t exist either, except in the minds of a few people such as this ill conceiving blogger.
God: You are indeed a harsh critic.
Hitch: Exactly how I made my living! And now to put an end to this. Hey, blogger! I’m not playing along for your benefit. If you want fame, don’t try to hitch – yes, yes, I know, it’s weak, but look who I’m relying on here – I say, blogger, if you want fame, then hitch a ride on your own merit. And you better post this soon, because death is time-sensitive. Tomorrow my death will matter less than today, which is already less than yesterday.
So go ahead and post, because now, we’re….done.