Richard Dawkins helped me understand why religion is incorrect. Christopher Hitchens helped me understand why it is evil. If Dawkins was my motivation to finally declare myself atheist, Hitchens was my inspiration to enter the fight against religion’s dehumanizing effects with vigor.
Millions of words have been written this weekend in memory of Christopher Hitchens, who died Friday following a long fight with esophageal cancer. One of the original “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheist movement, Hitchens, along with Dawkins and fellow authors Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, launched a veritable revolution among the godless. Their popular books brilliantly expressed centuries of atheist thinking in a way that was not only accessible, but also catalyzing for members of the most reviled minority in America. Hitchens’ work is one of the primary reasons millions of atheists are mad as hell, and not taking it anymore.
Hitch’s contribution, “God Is Not Great” was the second of the four books I read. At the start of the book, I still harbored the ex-believer’s common warmness toward religious stories — Jesus seemed like a pretty nice guy, and the Bible still seemed to contain much that was commendable, even if I didn’t believe it was true. By the end of “God Is Not Great,” I wanted to punch JC in the face. He laid bare, in a single volume, the moral horror that religion entails when it places dogma over human needs (which is to say, always).
Quite apart from his work on behalf of rationality, the thing I’ll miss most is Hitch’s inimitable writing style. He was an absolute master of the high-brow put-down. In a time when smug cleverness is often mistaken for wit, Hitch showed what the latter really meant, simultaneously delivering both seriousness and humor that gave an intimidating glimpse into the mind of what must have been one of the most well read people alive. Even if he was writing on a subject about which I knew little, I devoured his columns just for the pleasure of reading some of the best writing on the planet.
We’ll miss you, Hitch. There’s not another like you.